Skip to main content

Event Poster for Rigor Versus Use with Nancy Cartwright


Nancy Cartwright, UCSD, Durham University


Eric Grodsky, UW-Madison, Sociology and WCER
Karen Bogenschneider, UW-Madison, SOHE, Emerita

Thursday, February 1, 2018
3:00-4:30 pm, Wisconsin Idea Room, 159 Education Building

Consulting the evidence should surely help in making better predictions about educational outcomes. That’s the core idea that makes evidence–informed policy so appealing. But what kinds of evidence can most help? Current orthodoxy majors on rigor: We want evidence that is rigorously established; we do not want to build our policies on shaky grounds. On this basis, RCTs have become widely accepted as gold standard sources of evidence for effectiveness in education and elsewhere. But there is often a trade-off between how rigorously a result can be established and how useful it is for achieving our goals. Nancy Cartwright will discuss this trade-off in the case of educational policy, and child welfare more generally. She will explain what kind of knowledge can be produced by RCTs and how policymakers can, and often do, go wrong when they fail to understand exactly what it is that has been rigorously established with an RCT; and she will offer some suggestions about how evidence can be more wisely used to make policy decisions and what other kinds of evidence this might require. Eric Grodsky and Karen Bogenschneider will comment.