We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

The Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Nancy Cartwright

Cowen, N., Virk, B., Mascarenhan-Keyes, S. & Cartwright, N. (2017). Randomized Controlled Trials: How Can We Know “What Works”? Critical Review 29(3): 265-292.

Author(s) from Durham


“Evidence-based” methods, which most prominently include randomized controlled trials, have gained increasing purchase as the “gold standard” for assessing the effect of public policies. But the enthusiasm for evidence-based research overlooks questions about the reliability and applicability of experimental findings to diverse real-world settings. Perhaps surprisingly, a qualitative study of British educators suggests that they are aware of these limitations and therefore take evidence-based findings with a much larger grain of salt than do policy makers. Their experience suggests that the real world is more heterogeneous than the world imagined by evidence-based policy enthusiasts.