@PNASNews published an RCT entitled "Unconditional Cash Transfers Reduce Homelessness." Quick take: The RCT found no discernible impact on any primary or secondary study outcome. The claimed effect on homelessness (an exploratory outcome) is unreliable due to sample loss >50%. (Continued below.)

Program & Study Design:

  • The study randomly assigned 22 homeless shelters in Vancouver, British Columbia - containing a total of 144 homeless participants - to treatment (a one-time cash transfer of CAD$7500/person) vs control (services as usual).

Findings:

  • The study found no discernible impact on any prespecified primary or secondary outcome (related to cognitive functioning, subjective well-being, & self-efficacy). The study abstract — shown above — doesn't mention this fact & instead portrays the findings as unambiguously positive.

  • Also, I think the claimed effect on homelessness over 1 y (an exploratory outcome) is unreliable for multiple reasons, but most notably: The study lost more than half its sample over the year, & the loss was higher in the C group (63%) than T group (51%), undermining randomization.

Comment:

  • Such inaccurate/unbalanced reporting of findings in study abstracts is unfortunately all too common, even in top journals like PNAS. I focus on abstracts because readers - who may be too busy to review a full study - often look to the abstract for an impartial summary of the main results.

  • Unfortunately, the study received uncritical press coverage in today’s Washington Post (9/1/23).

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