FreeThought Fort Wayne

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The Placebo Effect

Posted by Skeptigator on September 23, 2008

I’ve just finished listening to Dr. Ben Goldacre’s 2 part series on The Placebo Effect that originally aired on BBC Radio 4. (Part I, Part II) You can subscribe to Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science podcast through iTunes as well.

There are 2 things that I enjoyed about these episodes and it was not that many alternative medicines get their curative effects primarily due to the Placebo Effect. This is a well established fact, with reams of evidence to support (see below for additional citations).

It is that many of our “traditional” medicines (particularly painkillers and anti-depressants) also get a significant boost from the Placebo Effect. In fact, many anti-depressants have nearly the same effect as a placebo for those with mild depression.

The other thing is that it is often the context in which the placebo is given that informs how pronounced it’s effect will be. Simply being administered “sham” acupuncture with no interaction between the acupuncturist and the patient produces a greater response than nothing but performing “sham” acupuncture with an optimal “doctor-patient” interaction has a profound effect on the efficacy of the “sham” acupuncture.

If you’ve got the time (each episode is about 30 minutes long) they are well worth the listen. For further reading I would suggest the following articles:

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One Response to “The Placebo Effect”

  1. Penn and Teller just did an episode of Bullshit, about New Age Medicine… of course the satire of the whole things was brilliant.

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