Personal Views

Living in two worlds

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 07 February 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:482
  1. Ann Oakley, professor of sociology and social policy
  1. London

    Faced with a difficult decision about awarding a scholarship yesterday, I shocked my academic social science colleagues by proposing that we should toss a coin. We had agreed that two candidates were equal in terms of need and merit, so what could be fairer than random allocation as a method of determining who would get the scarce resource of the scholarship?

    The look on my colleagues' faces reminded me of the time some years ago when, as a member of the Economic and Social Research Council's research grants board, and faced with what we all recognise to be the ever imminent collapse of the peer referee system, I suggested a randomised controlled trial. Grant applications would be reviewed by the council's office staff to weed out any obvious non-runners, half would be allocated to the normal, cumbersome peer referee system, and half to a system of funding allocation by random numbers. Outputs would be easy to measure—completion of the project on time within budget, publications, other dissemination. I …

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