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Medicine Idle Science

Bad Science Writer Talks About the Placebo Effect *NSFW* 131

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-want-to-believe dept.
The Guardian newspaper's Bad Science columnist Dr. Ben Goldacre does a stand-up routine about medicine, the placebo effect, and the mysteries of the human body at Nerdstock. From a scientific standpoint, I can't accurately say how funny it is because I was told it was great before I saw it.

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Bad Science Writer Talks About the Placebo Effect *NSFW*

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  • by KPexEA (1030982) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @02:21PM (#34918504)
    Or do you just think he is because he said he was going to?
    • Or do you just think he is because he said he was going to?

      Placebo effect

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      All I know is that the speed of his mouth and the speed of my brain were neck and neck the whole time.
    • I see what you did there. Funny!
    • by md65536 (670240)

      I had skipped past where he said that, and I didn't even realize he was talking at all until I read your comment.

      Also, I didn't think that I was watching a video until I hit "preview" on my comment and read where I'd written about watching the video.

  • Bad Science book (Score:5, Informative)

    by flynt (248848) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @02:21PM (#34918508)

    I can highly recommend Ben's book "Bad Science". I bought a copy for each of my family members for the holidays. It gives a very realistic overview of the current state of medical research, both from the "mainstream" and "alternative" medicine worlds.

    • Re:Bad Science book (Score:5, Informative)

      by drfireman (101623) <dan@kim[ ]g.com ['ber' in gap]> on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @05:21PM (#34920404) Homepage

      Let's not forget his column/blog (badscience.net).

    • by syousef (465911)

      I can highly recommend Ben's book "Bad Science". I bought a copy for each of my family members for the holidays. It gives a very realistic overview of the current state of medical research, both from the "mainstream" and "alternative" medicine worlds.

      Despite the standup routine, this story doesn't belong in idle.

    • by Simmeh (1320813)
      I had his book until my ex girlfriend burnt it in a ritual book burning of my belongings. Who said fundamentalism was dead? I also recommend his site www.badscience.net
      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        I had his book until my ex girlfriend burnt it in a ritual book burning of my belongings.

        I hope that she was an ex before you discovered her penchant for burning books. Dangerous animal. Back away carefully and make good your escape. Not human and not safe for sex.

        Try to get her to fuck a lawyer (another non-human animal form) and then look on from the sidelines as she burns his belongings and gets deeply fucked over herself.

    • by caluml (551744)
      I did the same. "My" copy is at my girlfriends, and I bought one for my Mum.
  • Those are some badass anecdotes.
  • Citation Needed.
  • And now... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sconeu (64226) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @02:30PM (#34918618) Homepage Journal

    I can't accurately say how funny it is because I was told it was great before I saw it.

    And now, neither can the rest of us.

    • by Minwee (522556)
      Don't worry. There's a pill you can take that will make that feeling go away.
    • how is it not surprising, that in true /. fashion, both of those comments took place before reading/viewing TFA.
    • Not me - I just clicked on the video because I saw a link.

      What's this? A lemon party?
    • It wasn't funny, it was British :)

      On the other hand, this guy should start reading for a collegiate text audio book company. I think his extremely rapid speech is much better than speeding up a normal audio book. This way, you can cover a chapter or two of text reading while driving to class.
  • That thoughts create and manifest themselves in the physical world.
    • by BobMcD (601576)

      That thoughts create and manifest themselves in the physical world.

      Modern medicine is just shamanism, then, isn't it? Different totems, but same result - the believers heal themselves.

      • It's nice to believe that but reality is a lot of drugs have measurable, repeatable effects that placebos don't create.

        • by BobMcD (601576)

          So... Didn't watch the video, did you?

          • by Sockatume (732728)

            I'm pretty sure that if you were to email Ben Goldacre right now claiming that all medicine's effectiveness is psychosomatic, you'd not get a very positive response.

          • He says beliefs can override the effects in some cases but he never said that the effects aren't real in the first place. I assure you that there are many drugs that do exactly what they say they do without any psychosomatic influence.

          • If you actually believe this and are not just trolling, you are not familiar with anything Goldacre says. Much of his writing relates to homeopathy or "alternative medicine". He has an enormous amount of contempt for those people precisely because they try to convince people that their "medicines" - their placebo pills - are as effective as actual, properly tested drugs. So yes, this video suggests that the placebo effect is able to overpower the effects of certain drugs. But it very obviously does not
            • by BobMcD (601576)

              So you missed the result where four sugar pills is better at curing gastric ulcers than two?

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsFTgirKXHk [youtube.com]

              Seems like we have contradictory observations.

              • Or that giving the patient a placebo *and letting them know that* is better than nothing, and better than most IBS medicine.

                http://ibs.about.com/b/2010/12/27/the-ibs-placebo-study.htm [about.com]

                • by BobMcD (601576)

                  Yes, this too.

                  I predict that we're exiting a dark age of medicine.

                • by c6gunner (950153)

                  Or that giving the patient a placebo *and letting them know that* is better than nothing, and better than most IBS medicine.

                  Eh, I figured that out years ago. It used to be that whenever I got a cold, I'd go out and waste buttloads of money on all sorts of pills and liquids to try and get it to go away. Always thought they did a marvelous job. Then I became a skeptic and learned about the placebo effect, and figured out that they really weren't doing anything other than convincing me to feel better. So now I just have a cup of tea, and tell myself "this will make you feel better". Seems to work just as good as any of the oth

              • No one is arguing that placebos don't have an effect, indeed that's what the video is all about. But it is stupid to say that all medicines are no more effective than placebos. It is stupid because unless you are incredibly uninformed, you must know that when they test medicines they test actual drugs against sugar pills, and if the people receiving the actual medicine don't do better than people on the placebo then the pill is a failure. By their very definition, drugs that have gone through medical tri
                • by BobMcD (601576)

                  But it is stupid to say that all medicines are no more effective than placebos.

                  Yes, that would be stupid to say, but most strawman-paraphrases are, aren't they?

                  I'm saying simply that the pill clearly does nothing. The human does it. Getting the human to do it will continue to be the trick. So it may well be that giving them the actual pill is the best way to get them to do it today, as opposed to the placebo. BUT the fact that the placebo works AT ALL is strong evidence that we're going to find another way to achieve this same result. We'll be able to get the human to heal withou

          • by Gripp (1969738)
            most medicinal study's have control groups purely for the purpose of comparing results to the placebo effect - and are proven effective when the results are better than the placebo effect. so yes, they have a measurable, repeatable effect which the placebos do not. don't fool yourself into thinking that becuase this guy has proven to you that the body can heal itself given the proper motivation that all medicine is crap, that's simply not true.
            • by BobMcD (601576)

              I never said shamanism was crap, though. Without the power to induce the body to heal itself, then no, it clearly wouldn't work. But how it works becomes largely irrelevant in the face of the fact that it is the body itself doing all the work.

          • It's blocked at work and was just responding to the poster.

            Placebos DO have an effect.

            And after you've taken some real pills for a while, then placebos can even cause some effect similar to the medication.

            • by BobMcD (601576)

              A specific example in the video has subjects getting more tense after taking muscle relaxers... Check it out when you get home.

              • I finally got to take SOMA for the first time in my life after a recent car accident.

                It was nice and my back didn't go into spasm.

                I went straight for muscle relaxers this time since last time (back in the 80's) my back was fine for a week and then went into spasm which lead to about 8 weeks of pain.

                I've also used ephedrine for skiing and it makes a huge difference.

                And I've used 4 hour nose spray for when I have a cold. The effect is real and nearly instantaneous.

                I may get time for the video- not sure. wor

                • by BobMcD (601576)

                  I understand your skepticism. Please, though, don't try and assuage the points without taking in the content. All you can possibly do is speculate, and since you're not necessarily some kind of expert in the matter, it isn't necessarily a productive use of our time.

    • shame it doesn't work for God

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      The placebo effect causes physiological and behavioural changes in the believer, and through social interaction, those around them. However its effects are strongly bounded. You cannot arbitrarily generalise the observation, any more than I could suppose from the existence of gravity that all forces are attractive.

  • I liked that. Either he's a really good speaker, or he's a mediocre speaker that's successfully put in a lot of work at getting better :)
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @02:50PM (#34918832)

    If you try to watch it all the way through, you'll get diarrhea.

    • Crap.

      Anybody have any spare drawers? Size *mumble mumble*?
    • by MrHanky (141717)

      Mod parent up. I thought he was joking, but then I really got diarrhea towards the end.

      • by mathfeel (937008)
        Because you were told you will get diarrhea by the parent, so your body produced one per your expectation.
        • by alvinrod (889928)
          Outside of that, of the thousands of people who've read that comment, there's a non-zero chance that one will develop diarrhea-like symptoms through natural causes. For all we know MrHanky just got done eating Taco Bell and has digestive system was going to get a kick in the gut regardless of the fact.

          If you tell people you're psychic and ask them to randomly choose a number between 1 and 100, eventually you will get it right and look absolutely brilliant.
    • by Kaz Kylheku (1484)

      If you try to watch it all the way through, you'll get diarrhea.

      Why, do they play the brown note at the end?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_note [wikipedia.org]

    • by sskagent (1170913)
      You're shitting me, really?
    • I'm glad I watched the video all the way through before I read tha......uh, oh, gotta run the bathroom. BRB!

  • Here's a much better version of this performance with a good sound quality: 6Nerdstock: Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People [youtube.com]
  • Seems the BBC didn't want to transmit this year's Nerdstock (aka Nine Lessons for Godless People). Oh well.

  • Play at 80% speed, and you can understand the man.

    Pug

  • It is hard for me to fathom television in which something relevant and intelligent is presented, with a slight bit of profanity (just enough but not too much) and where the crowd is excited to hear it. Instead I turn on my television in the US and see the bitter dregs of society: The Real Housewives of ..., Jersey Shore, anything on the Oprah network, etc. Perhaps Dr. Goldacre has a placebo cure for those kinds of shows?

    • Perhaps you are watching the wrong channels? There is intelligent TV out there. You just have to know where to look.

      • Really? Where? Or are you just going to keep that secret to yourself? South Park is about the most intelligent thing I've seen on my selection of channels.

        • Did you watch Planet Earth or Life on Discovery? A lot of the stuff on Nat Geo and the Science Channel is interesting, too. If you are looking more for debunking you can watch Bullshit by Penn & Teller. I guess it depends on what you are looking for. Sometimes you just have to flip around.

    • Ah how you must want the BBC.
      • by acidradio (659704)

        What I would give to have at least SOME of the BBC channels. We do have BBC America and I watch it religiously. But I could go for more, lots more.

        • by 1s44c (552956)

          BBC iplayer?

          • by jo_ham (604554)

            BBC iPlayer is geo-locked. It's the modern internet equivalent annoyance - while once it was animated gifs and midi files embedded into web pages, now it is video services that refuse to play content if you are outside a specific geographical area.

            You can get around them with proxies, but it's annoying. I can't watch clips of The Daily Show on the website, for example, because they are not available to viewers in the UK (at the request of Channel 4).

      • > Ah how you must want the BBC

        Don't worry, the quality of the BBC's output is going downhill at record places.

        The Wikileaks news coverage was closer to Fox News than it was BBC News circ 2005.
        BBC One is now 24-7 cooking, property, reality or any combination of the three. Preferably with dancing.
        BBC Two seems to be repeats of BBC One, plus snooker or darts.

        BBC Three and BBC Four are where the quality content is to be found.... so the BBC have decided to close them to cut costs.

  • The mind have various strings it can pull to produce and help the body. E.g. we all know that if we want to get excited, you can make the body release adrenaline. The body and mind is somehow defined as a dead tool of some, however I think it's time we accept that the mind and body is a living organism designed to react and behave by stimulants beyond drugs.

    so, what he tell is hardly surprising.

    • I think the fact that the placebo effect can completely override the real effect is pretty surprising. I can understand them netting out perhaps but that they actually were MORE tense than the placebo group is pretty amazing.

  • In review - Meh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pugugly (152978) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @03:44PM (#34919482)

    Not that I don't find placebo effects interesting, but what is it about a certain species of skeptic that says (in this case, explicitly says) they think the concept of people healing themselves through mental processes, whether you call it psychic or otherwise, is uninteresting and entirely unscientific to investigate.
    Call the same thing "The Placebo Effect" however, and suddenly it's fascinating and scientific?

    WTF Over?

    Pug

    • Re:In review - Meh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zzatz (965857) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @05:17PM (#34920354)

      The influence of the mind on the body is interesting, and well worth studying. What's not worth studying are the bullshit explanations that people come up with to psychically move money from the gullible to the promoters.

      Here are examples from a more easily studied area: perception of sound. The placebo effect is easily demonstrated with various audiophile gadgets and gimmicks. Make a change and it really does sound better. Or, more accurately, you perceive that it sounds better, because you expected it to sound better. But when blind tests are done, the difference can't be detected. Except when it is, which is why the change has to be hidden not only from the subject, but from the experimenter, to prevent the experimenter from unknowingly influencing the subject. It's amazing how people can no longer tell the difference between two devices when the tests are double-blind.

      Some differences are real, that is, can be reliably detected using double blind tests. But the explanations may be nonsense. Some people prefer vinyl to digital, or vacuum tubes to solid state. There's nothing wrong with preferences. But to claim that one is more accurate than the other is not preference, that's a claim that can be measured. Vinyl has limited accuracy, easily exceeded by inexpensive digital audio devices. It's OK to prefer the sound of LPs, it's not OK to claim that they are more accurate. It is well known that some sounds may be more pleasing with certain changes made; boost the mid-bass, add a little second harmonic, and so forth.

      The placebo effect is real. Homeopathy is a scam that uses the placebo effect. We can have the benefits of the placebo effect without rip-offs and mumbo-jumbo.

      • by swillden (191260)

        We can have the benefits of the placebo effect without rip-offs and mumbo-jumbo.

        Unless the rip-offs and mumbo-jumbo are what convince the person that the placebo will work.

      • How have you addressed the parent post? The placebo effect has real physiological effects that have been researched and documented. Audiophiles simply think they hear an improvement, whilst being demonstrably wrong. Thinking your hear something is not interesting. Thinking a sugar pill will make you well, actually making you well, is very interesting indeed.
    • by Spad (470073)

      Maybe because the Placebo and Nocebo effects have been repeatedly shown to exist in rigorously controlled double-blind scientific studies, we just don't really understand the mechanism by which they operate, whereas people saying that they use their psychic powers to cure people never stand up under rigorously controlled double-blind scientific studies?

      To put it another way; just because taking a homoeopathic remedy gets rid of your headache doesn't mean that homoeopathic remedies work, because taking a sug

      • by pugugly (152978)

        So what your saying is that homeopathy, psychic healing, et al is not scientifically acceptable because it doesn't beat the scientifically verified Placebo effect . . . which has no known mechanism, is growing markedly stronger and harder to overcome in current studies, but which is scientific because the term is derived from Latin rather than Greek.

        Thanks for your clarification . . . wait, what?

        {G} - Pug

    • by Peeteriz (821290)

      Anything that actually happens is 'scientific' enough to investigate.

      Nature and the truth doesn't care about what seems reasonable and interesting - what works, works, and should be studied scientifically.

  • From another Dr Ben item, research has found that if a given tried and tested drug shows say 80% effectiveness in patients and a new 'improved' one comes out, the previous one stops being so effective by quite a margin. Only the latest newest one works best.
    • by RockDoctor (15477)
      Does that work in a study population who do not know of the existence of the new, improved drug?
  • Placebo effect applies to other things too. For example, most elevator "close doors" buttons have been "wired" to do absolutely nothing for the past 20 years or so.

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