Wired has published what must be one of the most comprehensive articles looking at the phenomenon of the placebo effect.
From its humble beginnings in WWII with anesthetist Henry Beecher to the placebo’s transition from being treated as a purely psychological trait to a physiological one; there’s some great material here.
Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.
It’s not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It’s as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.
The fact that an increasing number of medications are unable to beat sugar pills has thrown the [pharmaceutical] industry into crisis. The stakes could hardly be higher. In today’s economy, the fate of a long-established company can hang on the outcome of a handful of tests.
Related: Placebo in History.