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November 8, 1995

Subverting Randomization in Controlled Trials

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.

JAMA. 1995;274(18):1456-1458. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530180050029

Recent empirical evidence supports the importance of adequate randomization in controlled trials. Trials with inadequate allocation concealment have been associated with larger treatment effects compared with trials in which authors reported adequate allocation concealment. While that provides empirical evidence of bias being interjected into trials, trial investigators rarely document the sensitive details of subverting the intended purpose of randomization. This article relates anonymous accounts of deciphering assignment sequences before allocation based on experiences acquired from epidemiologic workshops for physicians. These accounts run the gamut from simple to intricate operations, from transillumination of envelopes to searching for code in the office files of the principal investigator. They indicate that deciphering is something more frequent than a rare occurrence. These accounts prompt some methodological recommendations to help prevent deciphering. Randomized controlled trials appear to annoy human nature—if properly conducted, indeed they should.

(JAMA. 1995;274:1456-1458)