•Essay Questions - RCT US History
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Asking how well the new RCT movement reflects these criteria for epistemic governance, we have argued that trials hold the promise of increasing the plurality of evidence, but that the rhetoric surrounding the new movement provides a potential pitfall in promoting RCTs at the expense of other research methods. Avoiding this pitfall requires members of the movement to make their case as part of a broader culture of reasoning that is more sensitive to the multiple challenges and dilemmas of policy evaluation in the real world (e.g., the extensive oeuvre of Ann Oakley). Indeed, the EBM history drawn upon by the new RCT movement provides a caution against giving undue weight to any one research method. In particular, the hegemonic status of RCTs within EBM has narrowed, rather than broadened the availability of evidence, with insufficient consideration given to the possibility that complexity cannot be tamed without loss of meaning (Greenhalgh , p. 96). So while RCTs may seek to make expertise more transparent, an over-reliance on them as a research method may make expertise less public in other ways, particularly if they result in an approach to policy and its implementation which increasingly privileges rule-based practices and leaves the public facing an increasingly inflexible and bureaucratic state (Greenhalgh et al. ). Finally, RCTs should not be regarded as a counterweight to expertise but as a research method requiring its own set of expert skills to implement and, crucially, to interpret.
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These arguments were brought into sharp focus with the publication of Goldacre’s paper () for the Department for Education on increasing the evidence base in education, which was launched with comments by Secretary of State Michael Gove (Department for Education ). This development led to a mixed reception from education researchers, teachers and other onlookers (Allen ; Goldacre (comments); James ; Whitty ). Critics noted that Gove’s apparent to commitment to EBP was not supported by a recent controversy over changes to the history curriculum made with little reference to expert opinion (Cannadine ). Goldacre used the antipathy of many teachers to Gove as an argument for RCTs, arguing that increasing their usage would make teaching ‘a truly independent profession’, with teachers enabled to carry out their own research and provide the evidence necessary to affect policy decisions (Goldacre ).