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Randomistas by Andrew Leigh. Book review

August 5, 2018

Randomistas book cover. Red book cover with silhouettes of people on it.

Randomised controlled trials are usually associated with science or clinical trials. But for a while they have been used in the field of social sciences. Something, as a scientist who has recently converted to the field of social sciences, I found intriguing.

How can you possibly conduct a randomised controlled trial in the social science field when it usually involves ensuring the people involved in the trial, including those administering the intervention, do not know whether they are getting a placebo or the actual intervention?

The answer is a variation on the process. It might not have the same rigour considered from the perspective of a science-related trial, but this can be developed to accommodate the very messy world of social science research, which has to be conducted with the types and amounts of variables which would make a science researcher lose their grasp on reason.

Andrew Leigh has tried to bring together as many examples as possible in order to provide the reader with a description of as many different experimental approaches used by researchers in social science and education-related projects as possible. Using these examples, he is also able to discuss the problems and the advantages of the process.

In many cases the more conventional social science research approach has failed to identify particular problems, whereas the randomised control trial has revealed them in all their glory and as a result made it possible for the intervention to be adjusted. In other words, a randomised control trial approach has the capacity to increase awareness of the potential ‘blind spots’ in social science research.

There is no doubt that this, like every research approach, has its flaws and Leigh’s balanced approach addresses this. But it is certainly a book that makes you think and pull yourself out of complacency when it comes to considering how to study society’s problems and change policies for the better through this new approach to social research.

Although I did receive a copy of Randomistas courtesy of Yale University Press via NetGalley, I have actually gone out and purchased the hardback version for further study.

  1. Elaine, thank you for the thoughtful review. I’m delighted you enjoyed the book.

    • It’s really made me think about those research blind spots and given me a different perspective with which to think about education and social science research.

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