From the unending quest to turn metal into gold to the major discoveries that reveal how the universe works, experiments have always been a critical part of the hard sciences. In recent decades social scientists have started to catch up and the results are shifting the way we do nearly everything. Randomized control trials, called RCT’s, have a logic so simple that anyone can understand how they work and even run them themselves. It’s simple. You come up with an idea to get something to happen. You take a group of subjects and randomly split it in half. You try your idea on one group and leave the other group alone. The difference in outcomes will tell you if your idea works or not.
In Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Are Changing Our World (Yale University Press, 2018), Andrew Leigh demonstrated the impact that social scientists are making with this powerful tool. From opportunity experiments to changing your socks, researchers are putting old ideas to the test and finding out what works and what doesn’t. The book reads like a series of interesting examples places beautifully together to shed light on how it is that we can be better at finding out what we do and do not know.