Ignorance of history in evaluation

“Despite occasional statements that program theory is a new approach, its roots go back more than fifty years. […] The history of program theory evaluation is not one of a steady increase in understanding. Instead, many of the key ideas have been well articulated and then ignored or forgotten in descriptions of the approach. It is not unusual to have statements that demonstrate a lack of knowledge of previous empirical and theoretical developments, such as a call for proposals from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2008) that claimed that “‘theory-based evaluation’ is a relatively new approach” (p. 14).”

– Sue C. Funnell and Patricia J. Rogers (2011, pp. 15–16). Purposeful Program Theory: Effective Use of Theories of Change and Logic Models. Jossey-Bass.

Something other than gross self-indulgence

“More than anything, I’m excited. I’m excited to see how life is going to be different for the queer, trans, and even cis kids too, growing up in a world that has more language for gender variance. I’m excited to find out what sort of lives they will lead, from the genderqueer activists in the audience at my last reading to the barista with the orange mohawk who handed me the cup of tea I’m clutching for dear life as I write alone in this café, trying to believe that writing this piece is something other than gross self-indulgence.

“The barista is wearing two name badges. One says their name; the other one says, in thick chalk capitals, I am not a girl. My pronouns are They/Them.”

– Laurie Penny (2015), How To Be A Genderqueer Feminist

On the term “randomista”

Sophie Webber and Carolyn Prouse (2018, p. 169, footnote 1) write:

Randomistas is a slang term used by critics to describe proponents of the RCT methodology. It is almost certainly a gendered, derogatory term intended to flippantly dismiss experimental economists and their success, particularly Esther Duflo, one of the most successful experts on randomization.” [Emphasis original.]


Sophie Webber and Carolyn Prouse (2018). The New Gold Standard: The Rise of Randomized Control Trials and Experimental Development. Economic Geography, 94(2), 166–187.

Philip Larkin on how to write poetry

Philip Larkin interview excerpt in Paris Review (Issue 84, Summer 1982):

Yes, I was afraid you’d ask about writing. Anything I say about writing poems is bound to be retrospective, because in fact I’ve written very little since moving into this house, or since High Windows, or since 1974, whichever way you like to put it. But when I did write them, well, it was in the evenings, after work, after washing up (I’m sorry: you would call this “doing the dishes”). It was a routine like any other. And really it worked very well: I don’t think you can write a poem for more than two hours. After that you’re going round in circles, and it’s much better to leave it for twenty-four hours, by which time your subconscious or whatever has solved the block and you’re ready to go on.

The best writing conditions I ever had were in Belfast, when I was working at the University there. Another top-floor flat, by the way. I wrote between eight and ten in the evenings, then went to the University bar till eleven, then played cards or talked with friends till one or two. The first part of the evening had the second part to look forward to, and I could enjoy the second part with a clear conscience because I’d done my two hours. I can’t seem to organize that now.

Martin Creed defines dadaism

Vic Reeves: “You got anything that’s Dadaesque in here?”

Martin Creed: “Er, I don’t, well, I don’t know about, I don’t know, maybe a lot of it is because I think it’s sort of a bit stupid.”

Vic Reeves: “Yeah.”

Martin Creed: “You know? I think that’s what Dada is. Aye, like being stupid.”

Vic Reeves: “But there’s political meaning and then you’ve got to balance that with the daftness or the stupidness.”

Martin Creed: “Right, aye.”

Vic Reeves: “Cos I’d probably fall on the daft side.”

Martin Creed: “I would go…I think I would definitely fall on the stupid side.”

Vic Reeves: “You’d be even further, right the other end!”

Martin Creed: “Yeah. Cos I think it’s like more, you know, it’s more like life, cos life’s stupid.”

Gaga for Dada: The Original Art Rebels (2016) 

“I feel sure that I shall meet Morcom again”

Thurs 13 Feb 1930, Alan Turing’s first (and unrequited) love Christopher Morcom died. Turing was 17. “I feel sure that I shall meet Morcom again somewhere and that there will be some work for us to do together…” (Hodges, 1983/2014, pp. 61-62):

Dear Mother,

I wrote to Mrs Morcom as you suggested and it has given me a certain relief. […] I feel sure that I shall meet Morcom again and that there will be work for us to do together, and as I believed there was for us to do here. Now that I am left to do it alone I must not let him down but put as much energy into it, if not as much interest, as if he were still here. If I succeed I shall be more fit to enjoy his company than I am now. I remember what G O’H said to me once ‘Be not weary of well doing for in due ye shall reap if ye faint not’ and Bennett who is very kind on these occasions ‘Heaviness may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning’. Rather Plymouth brotherish perhaps. I am sorry he is leaving. It never seems to have occurred to me to try and make any other friends besides Morcom, he made everyone seem so ordinary […].


Andrew Hodges (1983/2014). Alan Turing: the Enigma. Princeton University Press.

I like the way you know / That I like how you look

Hannah Diamond (2014) [Every Night]:

I know you like the way that I look
And it looks like I like you too
You know I do

I like the way you know
That I like how you look
And you like me too
I know you do

I see you look at me
And I know that you think
You like what you see
I want you too

Thomas Nagel (1969, pp. 10-11) [Sexual Perversion. The Journal of Philosophy, 66, 5-17]:

At some point Romeo notices Juliet. He is moved, somehow, by the softness of her hair and the diffidence with which she sips her martini, and this arouses him sexually. […] Juliet now senses Romeo in another mirror on the opposite wall, though neither of them yet knows that he is seen by the other […]. But now, cleverly calculating the line of her stare without actually looking her in the eyes, he realizes that it is directed at him through the mirror on the opposite wall. That is, he notices, and moreover senses, Juliet sensing him. […] But there is a further step. Let us suppose that Juliet […] now senses that he senses her. This puts Romeo in a position to notice, and be aroused by, her arousal at being sensed by him. He senses that she senses that he senses her. This is still another level of arousal, for he becomes conscious of his sexuality through his awareness of its effect on her and of her awareness that this effect is due to him.

Intent-to-fail treatments

Westen et al. (2004, p. 651) on “intent-fo-fail” conditions in randomised controlled trials comparing two interventions with each other:

‘Researchers should also exercise caution in labeling control treatments not constructed to maximize their efficacy ([…] what might be called intent-to-fail conditions) with brand names that are readily confused with genuine treatments and create sleeper effects in the literature. For example […] to test the efficacy of CBT for bulimia, Garner et al. (1993) developed a treatment they called supportive– expressive therapy, an abbreviated treatment described as nondirective and psychodynamically inspired, in which clinicians were forbidden to discuss the target symptoms with the patient and were instead instructed to reflect them back to the patient. Such a practice is not in fact characteristic of psychodynamic therapies for eating disorders (e.g., Bruch, 1973) and is analogous to a researcher creating a cognitive therapy comparison condition in which the therapist is instructed to say, “That’s irrational,” every time a patient tries to discuss the symptom.’


Westen, D., Novotny, C. M., & Thompson-Brenner, H. (2004). The Empirical Status of Empirically Supported Psychotherapies: Assumptions, Findings, and Reporting in Controlled Clinical Trials. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 631–663.

What works for whom?

It can be interesting to venture outside the general evaluation literature. Here’s Gordon Paul (1967, p. 111) on what works for whom:

“What is the appropriate question to be asked of outcome research? In all its complexity, the question towards which all outcome research should ultimately be directed is the following: What treatment, by whom, is most effective for this individual with that specific problem, and under which set of circumstances?”


Paul, G. L. (1967). Strategy of outcome research in psychotherapy. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 31(2), 109–118.


“Oops! We Automated Bullshit.”

“AI systems like ChatGPT are trained with text from Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other huge archives of bullshit, alongside plenty of actual facts (including Wikipedia and text ripped off from professional writers). But there is no algorithm in ChatGPT to check which parts are true. The output is literally bullshit, exactly as defined by philosopher Harry Frankfurt…”

– Alan Blackwell (2023, Nov 9), Oops! We Automated Bullshit.