All About Placebo

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.

via @jonahlehrer