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Are RCTs the Gold Standard?

Are RCTs the Gold Standard? The claims of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to be the gold standard rest on the fact that the ideal RCT is a deductive method: if the assumptions of the test are met, a positive result implies the appropriate causal conclusion. This is a feature that RCTs share with a variety of other methods, which thus have equal claim to being a gold standard. This article describes some of these other deductive methods and also some useful non-deductive methods, including the hypothetico-deductive method. It argues that with all deductive methods, the benefit that the conclusions follow deductively in the ideal case comes with a great cost: narrowness of scope. This is an instance of the familiar trade-off between internal and external validity. RCTs have high internal validity but the formal methodology puts severe constraints on the assumptions a target population must meet to justify exporting a conclusion from the test population to the target. The article reviews one such set of assumptions to show the kind of knowledge required. The overall conclusion is that to draw causal inferences about a target population, which method is best depends case-by-case on what background knowledge we have or can come to obtain. There is no gold standard. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png BioSocieties Springer Journals

Are RCTs the Gold Standard?

BioSocieties , Volume 2 (1) – May 1, 2007

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References (7)

Publisher
Springer Journals
Copyright
Copyright © 2007 by London School of Economics and Political Science
Subject
Social Sciences; Social Sciences, general
ISSN
1745-8552
eISSN
1745-8560
DOI
10.1017/S1745855207005029
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

The claims of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to be the gold standard rest on the fact that the ideal RCT is a deductive method: if the assumptions of the test are met, a positive result implies the appropriate causal conclusion. This is a feature that RCTs share with a variety of other methods, which thus have equal claim to being a gold standard. This article describes some of these other deductive methods and also some useful non-deductive methods, including the hypothetico-deductive method. It argues that with all deductive methods, the benefit that the conclusions follow deductively in the ideal case comes with a great cost: narrowness of scope. This is an instance of the familiar trade-off between internal and external validity. RCTs have high internal validity but the formal methodology puts severe constraints on the assumptions a target population must meet to justify exporting a conclusion from the test population to the target. The article reviews one such set of assumptions to show the kind of knowledge required. The overall conclusion is that to draw causal inferences about a target population, which method is best depends case-by-case on what background knowledge we have or can come to obtain. There is no gold standard.

Journal

BioSocietiesSpringer Journals

Published: May 1, 2007

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