Randomistas: Dare we hope for evidence-based decisions in public life?
I’ve just listened to a great 20-min podcast, published by The Conversation. The podcast is here. It’s an interview by my colleague Fiona Fidler with Anthony Leigh, about his recently released book:
Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Changed Our World. Published by Black Inc. and La Trobe University Press.
Andrew Leigh is a Harvard-trained economist who was formerly a professor of economics at the Australian National University in Canberra. In Randomistas he argues that we should be using randomised trials much more often to guide public policy choices. He describes numerous examples of randomised trials, in a wide variety of fields. He’s well aware of the replication crisis and the Open Science practices needed to ensure trustworthy research.
So far, so good. But the really great thing is that Leigh is not just any ex-professor. He’s also an elected member of the House of Representatives, which is Australia’s Lower House of Parliament–approx. equiv. to Congress, or the House of Commons. Furthermore, he’s the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. If, as current polls suggest is likely, there is a change of government at the next Federal Election, due probably in early 2019, then he could easily be Australia’s Assistant Treasurer. And thus in a position to practise what he’s preaching in Randomistas.
Of course, it’s much easier to express good intentions when in Opposition than to put them in to practice when in Government. But it’s a great start that someone in his position knows enough, and cares enough about randomised trials and evidence-based policy-making to write so impressively about them.
Australia has had more than its share of atrocious political decisions that fly in the face of science and evidence. Dare we hope that a change of government might lead to an improvement?
I’ve now read the book, which has firmed up my convictions that (1) it’s great, and (2) it’s even better that a potential cabinet minister is so well informed about research and, apparently, so well-intentioned in seeking great improvements in public policy decision making.
Note also the comments (18 as of now)–scroll down below the brief Conversation article introducing the podcast. There’s a slightly distracting debate about anti-depressants, but then a number of on-point comments about effective research for guiding public policy. And the critical need for open data and open reporting.