What are randomised controlled trials good for?

Philosophical Studies 147 (1):59 - 70 (2009)
Abstract
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are widely taken as the gold standard for establishing causal conclusions. Ideally conducted they ensure that the treatment ‘causes’ the outcome—in the experiment. But where else? This is the venerable question of external validity. I point out that the question comes in two importantly different forms: Is the specific causal conclusion warranted by the experiment true in a target situation? What will be the result of implementing the treatment there? This paper explains how the probabilistic theory of causality implies that RCTs can establish causal conclusions and thereby provides an account of what exactly that causal conclusion is. Clarifying the exact form of the conclusion shows just what is necessary for it to hold in a new setting and also how much more is needed to see what the actual outcome would be there were the treatment implemented.
Keywords Randomized controlled trials (RCTs)  External validity  Probabilistic theory of causality  Causal inference  Capacities  Contributions
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Reprint years 2010
DOI 10.1007/s11098-009-9450-2
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References found in this work BETA
Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference.Judea Pearl - 2000 - Cambridge University Press.
How the Laws of Physics Lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - Oxford University Press.
A Probabilistic Theory of Causality.Patrick Suppes - 1970 - Amsterdam: North-Holland Pub. Co..

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