For the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Moshe Justman asks whether there may be tradeoffs in a model’s precision and its ability to inform policy. Justman explores the rise of randomized control trials (RCTs) in economics as the “gold standard” for inferring causality, and provides a detailed account of Project STAR—a landmark RCT study in education. A lesson for research informing policy on Covid-19, he argues, is that the messier models of epidemiologists are more useful to practitioners than the purportedly more rigorous RCTs designed by health economists.
Moshe Justman is professor of economics and dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at Ruppin Academic Center, and professor emeritus of economics and former dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. He holds a BSc in Mathematics and Statistics and an MSc in Mathematics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a PhD in Business Economics from Harvard University. His main areas of research include the economics of education, broadly defined; the economics of innovation and technology policy; and regional development. He has held visiting positions at Carnegie Mellon University, China People's University (Renda) in Beijing, Autonoma University in Barcelona, and the University of Melbourne. He has conducted applied research and consulted for the Israel Ministries of Education, Industry and Trade, Labor and Welfare, and the Interior; for the Jewish Agency; for the Ohio Science and Technology Commission; and for the Victoria Department of Education. He is a past president of the Israel Economics Association.