by Jessica Stoller-Conrad
New medicines may seem to pop up overnight on pharmacy shelves, but the drugs that make it to market have actually gone through a long period of testing. Today, one of the most important steps in this process—the gold standard for testing the efficacy of a treatment—is the randomized controlled trial, or RCT. By randomly assigning eligible patients to either an experimental group that receives the drug or a control group that doesn’t, researchers try to factor out some of the variables that differ among patients— and glean more accurate information about the actual effects of the drug. But the effects of human behavior can still seep into the results of such trials, says Caltech economist Erik Snowberg.
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