Randomistas (Andrew Leigh, La Trobe University Press)
Randomised trials are scientific experiments that aim to clear the fog of our personal biases to arrive at the truth. Participants in a randomised trial are generally split into a control group and a treatment group, with the results contrasted. For example, a new drug could be tested by giving one group a placebo and the other the drug, then studying patient outcomes. A recurring theme of Federal MP Andrew Leigh’s insightful Randomistas is how often the assumptions of experts and top officials are completely wrong. When it comes to making important decisions, Leigh urges that we should be sticking to the science. Our own instincts aren’t reliable. Randomistas takes many fascinating examples from medicine, politics, crime, technology, agriculture and business to show how randomised trials are, in the words of one researcher, ‘the epitome of transparency’. Full of compelling and sometimes jaw-dropping stories of random trials that threw out surprising results, from the science behind Sesame Street to how the cure for scurvy was discovered, Andrew Leigh’s book entertains and informs in equal measure. It will change the way you think. Randomistas is certain to appeal to readers of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan.
Chris Saliba is co-owner of North Melbourne Books and a freelance reviewer