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What are randomised controlled trials good for?

Cartwright, N. (2010) 'What are randomised controlled trials good for?', Philosophical studies., 147 (1). pp. 59-70.

Abstract

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are widely taken as the gold standard for establishing causal conclusions. Ideally conducted they ensure that the treatment ‘causes’ the outcome—in the experiment. But where else? This is the venerable question of external validity. I point out that the question comes in two importantly different forms: Is the specific causal conclusion warranted by the experiment true in a target situation? What will be the result of implementing the treatment there? This paper explains how the probabilistic theory of causality implies that RCTs can establish causal conclusions and thereby provides an account of what exactly that causal conclusion is. Clarifying the exact form of the conclusion shows just what is necessary for it to hold in a new setting and also how much more is needed to see what the actual outcome would be there were the treatment implemented.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), External validity, Probabilistic theory of causality, Causal inference, Capacities, Contributions.
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Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.
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Status:Peer-reviewed
Publisher Web site:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11098-009-9450-2
Publisher statement:© The Author(s) 2009. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com. Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.
Record Created:21 Sep 2015 12:05
Last Modified:21 Sep 2015 12:22

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