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[Phys-l] Control group ethics and Ben Franklin. Was: Re: pre/post testing to determine student progress

Richard reminds me of the ethical problem of control group use. I've forgotten the details of a case where an early developer and researcher of inoculation was faced w/ whether to inoculate only half the sick. He chose to treat all. That was the missed opportunity. So, is it ethical to use intentional control groups in ed. research?

In searching for details I discovered that our first pre-eminent scientist attacked vaccination or at least assisted his brother in that. Furthermore the proponent C. Mather and the vaccinator, Dr. Boylston, were the first users of medical (bio)stats. in support of their procedure. In fairness to Ben, he later became a supporter of vaccination.

My source:

Note the advanced state of inoculation in China and Africa related in the page.

bc, thinks it was in Microbe Hunters, Paul de Kruif.

Richard Hake wrote:

ABSTRACT: In a POD post of 21 Sep 2006, I pointed out that the "Friendly Guide" prepared by "Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy" (CEBP) criticizes pre/post testing for its supposed failure to employ control groups. CEBP is evidently unaware of the fact that traditional courses provide reasonably well matched controls for pre/post testing in astronomy, economics, biology, chemistry, computer science, economics, engineering, and physics. In response Mike Theall: (a) suggested that CEBP "may have an agenda tied to current policies in Washington that have more to do with politics or personal beliefs than a comprehensive view of education," and (b) wondered about CEBP's connection with, and funding from, the U.S. Dept. of Education (USDE). Regarding "a": CEBP appears to have an agenda dominated by the personal beliefs of its members that randomized control trials (RCT's) are the "gold standard" of educational research. Regarding "b": a Google search disclosed that CEBP, although formerly under the USDE, is now part of the "The Council for Excellence in Government," with the mission to promote government policymaking (including education) based on "rigorous evidence" (read RCT's) of program effectiveness. Although not a part of USDE and therefore not directly funded by USDE, CEBP has influenced USDE's research funding. According to Michael Scriven, the USDE's "Institute of Educational Science" (IES) decided to "take all $500 million dollars of their research money and pull it out of anything except randomized control trials."

In a POD/PhysLrnR post of 21 Sep 2006 titled "Re: pre/post testing to determine student progress" [Hake (2006)] I quoted from "Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide" [CEBP (2003)] prepared by the "Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy":

". . . . A 'pre-post' study examines whether participants in an intervention improve or regress during the course of the intervention, and then attributes any such improvement or regression to the intervention. The problem with this type of study is that, WITHOUT REFERENCE TO A CONTROL GROUP, it cannot answer whether the participants' improvement or decline would have occurred anyway, even without the intervention. This often leads to erroneous conclusions
about the effectiveness of the intervention." [My CAPS.]

The CEBP was formerly a part of the Institute of Education Sciences [IES (2006)], in turn a part of the U.S. Dept. of Education [for the structure of this bureaucratic colossus see

I pointed out that the CEBP's criticism of pre/post testing is irrelevant for most of the pre/post studies in introductory astronomy, economics, biology, chemistry, computer science, economics, engineering, and physics [see Hake 2004 for references]. The reason is that control groups HAVE been utilized - they are the