You know, of course, about the placebo effect, in which patients report positive results from taking a mere sugar pill. Turns out there is also something called a nocebo effect, too. This is defined as a negative placebo effect. It happens, for example, when patients take medications and actually experience adverse side effects unrelated to any specific pharmacological action of the drug. The nocebo effect is associated with a person’s prior expectations of adverse effects from the treatment. In other words, if we expect a treatment to hurt us, cause harm, or make us feel sick – it likely will.
The U.K.’s bright and brainy Dr. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science describes this phenomenon in this short but entertaining presentation from last year’s irreverent Nerdstock tour (“Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People). Continue reading →
Dr. Ben Goldacre, a British doctor writing in his weekly Bad Science column in The Guardian last fall, told this disturbing cautionary tale:
“In 2007, the British Medical Journal published a large, well-conducted, randomised controlled trial, performed at lots of different locations, run by publicly-funded scientists. It delivered a strikingly positive result. It showed thatone treatment could significantly improve children’s anti-social behaviour. The treatment was entirely safe, and the study was even accompanied by a very compelling cost-effectiveness analysis.
“But did this story get reported as front page news? Was it followed up on the health pages, with an accompanying photo feature, describing one child’s miraculous recovery, and an interview with an attractive happy mother with whom we could all identify? Continue reading →