The Entry of Randomized Assignment into the Social Sciences

25 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2016 Last revised: 30 Apr 2017

See all articles by Julian C. Jamison

Julian C. Jamison

University of Exeter Business School - Department of Economics; World Bank eMBeD (Mind, Behavior, and Development); Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL); Innovations for Poverty Action

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Date Written: February 27, 2016

Abstract

Although the concept of randomized assignment in order to control for extraneous factors reaches back hundreds of years, the first empirical use appears to have been in an 1835 trial of homeopathic medicine. Throughout the 19th century there was primarily a growing awareness of the need for careful comparison groups, albeit often without the realization that randomization could be a particularly clean method to achieve that goal. In the second and more crucial phase of this history, four separate but related disciplines introduced randomized control trials within a few years of one another in the 1920s: agricultural science; clinical medicine; educational psychology; and social policy (specifically political science). This brought more rigor to fields that were in the process of expanding their purviews and focusing more on causal relationships. In a third phase, the 1950s through 1970s saw a surge of interest in more applied randomized experiments in economics and elsewhere – both in the lab and especially in the field.

Keywords: randomization, RCT, field experiment, lab experiment, selection bias, causality, history of economic thought, psychology and economics

JEL Classification: B16, C91, C93, C18, D04

Suggested Citation

Jamison, Julian C., The Entry of Randomized Assignment into the Social Sciences (February 27, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2739005 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2739005

Julian C. Jamison (Contact Author)

University of Exeter Business School - Department of Economics ( email )

Streatham Court
Exeter, EX4 4RJ
United Kingdom

World Bank eMBeD (Mind, Behavior, and Development) ( email )

1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) ( email )

30 Wadsworth Street, E53-320
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Innovations for Poverty Action ( email )

1731 Connecticut Ave, 4th floor
New Haven, CT 20009
United States

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