Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Value of Clinical Trials, in Education and Cancer Research

A great op-ed in today's New York Times explains the value of randomized trials. The parallels with education are striking.

As explained in the article, many pharmaceutical companies, doctors and patients are frustrated by the failure in randomized trials of so many cancer drugs that looked promising in uncontrolled trials. I have heard the same frustration vented in education circles, with the What Works Clearinghouse disparagingly referred to the "What DOESN'T Work Clearinghouse." 

The education trials that find no positive effects are not failed studies. They are successful studies in that they keep us from wasting millions of dollars (and kids' and teachers' time) on the latest cool, sexy, exciting, elegant fad that doesn't work. They also keep us searching for something better.

I admire the patient (and beautifully scientific) perspective of the cancer researcher quoted at the end of the article: 
"His definition of a successful clinical trial? 'At the end of the the day,' he says, 'regardless of the result, you've learned something.'"