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Randomization — method or madness?

Summary:
Randomization — method or madness? Bill Gates has recently been promoting chicken ownership to address poverty in Africa. In an open letter, Professor Blattman of University of Chicago pointed out that cash transfers may be more cost effective than chickens said: “It would be straightforward to run a study with a few thousand people in six countries, and eight or twelve variations, to understand which combination works best, where, and with whom. To me that answer is the best investment we could make to fight world poverty. The scholars at Innovations for Poverty Action who ran the livestock trial in Science agree with me. In fact, we’ve been trying, together, to get just such a comparative study started.” [emphasis added] I think it is important for the

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Randomization — method or madness?

Randomization — method or madness?Bill Gates has recently been promoting chicken ownership to address poverty in Africa. In an open letter, Professor Blattman of University of Chicago pointed out that cash transfers may be more cost effective than chickens said: “It would be straightforward to run a study with a few thousand people in six countries, and eight or twelve variations, to understand which combination works best, where, and with whom. To me that answer is the best investment we could make to fight world poverty. The scholars at Innovations for Poverty Action who ran the livestock trial in Science agree with me. In fact, we’ve been trying, together, to get just such a comparative study started.” [emphasis added]

I think it is important for the development community to stop and reflect on how we, as a development community, arrived at this two-fold madness. First the madness that Bill Gates, a genius, a humanitarian, an important public intellectual, could be even semiseriously talking about chickens. Second, the madness about method, that the response of Chris Blattman, also a genius, an academic at a top global university, and also an important public intellectual would respond not “Chickens? Really?” but rather that the “best investment” to “fight world poverty” is using the right method to study the competing program and design elements of chickens versus cash transfers.

That this is madness is, I hope, is obvious.

Lant Pritchett

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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