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Michael Fox

Don't change your worldview based on one study « The Invisible Gorilla - 1 views

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    "In the past few weeks, the blogosphere has been abuzz about the dangers of non-replication and the "decline" effect, triggered by Jonah Lehrer's interesting piece in the New Yorker (mostly behind a firewall). The central claim in the piece is that initially strong or provocative findings diminish in strength over time. The decline might well come from more stringent methodology or better experimental controls rather than via mysterious forces, but that's not what concerns me today.

    My concern is about media reporting and even blogging about new and provocative scientific findings, the very findings that tend to decline. Following a murder, the arrest of a suspect is broadcast on the front pages, but when that suspect is exonerated, the correction ends up on the back of the local section months later (if it appears at all). The same problem holds for flawed scientific claims. The thoroughly debunked Mozart Effect still receives media coverage, just as other unsupported findings remain part of the popular consciousness despite a lack of replicability."
Michael Fox

Placebos Can Work Even When You Know They're Fakes - 0 views

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    "There's little doubt that the placebo effect's real, but it has always been argued that a person feels better because they think the pill is the real deal. But what if it works even when you know it's a fake?

    According to Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues at least one condition can be calmed by placebo, even when everyone knows it's just an inert pill. This raises a thorny question: should we start offering sugar pills for ailments without a treatment?

    In the latest study, Kaptchuk tested the effect of placebo versus no treatment in 80 people with irritable bowel syndrome. Twice a day, 37 people swallowed an inert pill could not be absorbed by the body. The researchers told participants that it could improve symptoms through the placebo effect.

    While 35 per cent of the patients who had not received any treatment reported an improvement, 59 per cent of the placebo group felt better. "The placebo was almost twice as effective as the control," says Kaptchuk. "That would be a great result if it was seen in a normal clinical trial of a drug."

    Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK, thinks that "the size of the benefit is too small to be clinically relevant". Kaptchuk agrees and wants to run some larger trials to get a better picture of the effect.

    If a dummy pill can improve IBS, shouldn't we be exploring its effect on other ailments? "It wouldn't work on a tumour or kill microbes, but it's likely to affect illnesses where self-appraisal is important, such as depression" says Kaptchuk.

    A 2008 study found that around a third of physicians had prescribed a dummy pill to unwitting patients. "Now we have shown that there are ethical ways of harnessing the placebo effect," says Kaptchuk.

    Surely now you can make a case for using a placebo when there are no other treatment options? Kaptchuk feels there is still an ethical dilemma here. "I'm against giving patients something unless it's been
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