Affirmative Action for Experimental Research: Why Randomized Experiments Require and Should Receive Special Treatment

David L. Weisburd, Hebrew University/University of Maryland

There is a broad agreement that randomized experimental studies provide a distinct advantage in making direct links between causes and effects in evaluation research. This has led some researchers and policy makers to define randomized field trials as the "gold standard" for evaluation studies. However, the federal government has supported relatively few randomized experiments in criminal justice, and there is evidence that this approach has not received increased amounts of government support over the last decade. This despite calls for increased experimental study from review panels and government agencies such as the GAO. In this presentation, I examine potential reasons for why the federal government has not invested greater resources in experimental research in criminal justice. I illustrate that randomized experiments, despite their advantage in linking causes and effects, are often at a disavantage in federal funding decision making. I argue that there must be a type of "affirmative action" for randomized experimental research if it is to become a more significant part the landscape of criminal justice evaluation.

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Updated 05/20/2006