Torture talk: An uncontrolled experiment is still an experiment.

August 13, 2017
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(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Paul Alper points us to this horrifying op-ed by M. Gregg Bloche about scientific study of data from U.S. military torture programs.

I’ll leave the torture stuff to the experts or this guy who you’ve probably heard of.

Instead, I have a technical point to make. In the op-ed, Bloche writes:

In a true experimental study, the C.I.A. would have had to test its interrogation strategy against one or more standard interrogation methods, using experimental and control groups of captives. There’s no evidence the agency did this.

They [the psychologists, Mitchell and Jessen] argued that interrogation strategies can’t be standardized and therefore can’t be compared, like medical treatments, in randomized, prospective fashion.

No one, though, is claiming that C.I.A. review efforts involved experimental and control groups and so were “experimentation” as science defines it.

This statement, that a true experiment requires a control group, is wrong. In a controlled experiment there needs to be a comparison, but an uncontrolled experiment is still a form of experiment. To put it another way, we use the term “controlled experiment” because control is not a necessary part of an experiment. In many cases control is good practice, and control makes it easier to perform certain inferences, but you can do experimentation with out a control group.

The post Torture talk: An uncontrolled experiment is still an experiment. appeared first on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.



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