Tuesday, November 3, 2009
new new things
This is the primary misconception about placebos: that the placebo itself is somehow “working” to treat a medical condition. You can see it even in the headline for an otherwise well-crafted article that appeared in Wired last August: “Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why.” As internist and medical professor Peter Lipson noted on the Science-Based Medicine blog, placebos by definition have no medical effect. The “placebo effect” is due to the subject’s (and sometimes, the experimenter’s) expectation that a treatment will work. And, of course, a patient sometimes recovers simply due to chance or because his or her immune response handled the problem. Researchers observe an improvement, and this gets attributed to the placebo. In the case of the Wired article, the misconception in the headline is cleared up by the text of the report: The placebo effect may be getting stronger for reasons that are unclear to researchers. Placebos themselves, as ever, remain ineffective.