The increased use of randomized experiments in development economics has its enthusiastic champions and its vociferous critics. However, much of the argument seems to be battling against straw men, with at times an unwillingness to concede that the other side has a point. During our surveys of assistant professors and Ph.D.
The methodology debate
At a recent seminar someone joked that the effect size in any education intervention is always 0.1 standard deviations, regardless of what the intervention actually is. So a new study published last week in Science which has a 2.5 standard deviation effect certainly deserves attention. And then there is the small matter of one of the authors (Carl Wieman) being a Nobel Laureate in Physics and a Science advisor to President Obama.
Concerns about external validity are a common critique of micro work in development, especially experimental work. While not denying that it is useful to learn what works in a variety of different settings, there seems to be two forms of double-standard (or a double double-standard) going on: first, economic journals and economists in general seem to apply it to work on developing countries more than they do to other forms of research; and second, this concern seems to be expressed about experiments more than other micro work in development.