Bad Science/Placebo

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Bad science... the placebo effect![edit]

Do you believe your teacher?

From healing to sugar-coated capsules with no "active" ingredients, and from health food stores supplying various ointments and potions to maintain "well being" to a plethora of crushed up grasses and vines that really do make you feel on top of the world!

Perhaps this is a real scientific breakthrough, no more need for the pharmaceutical industry, but perhaps some of these claims are just a matter of what’s in our minds….

What the students had to say about this activity:

  • "I found it interesting how your mind can trick you!"
  • "I could tell it was decaffeinated coke by the taste!" (From a pupil in the caffeinated cola group!)
  • "The reaction time tests were good fun"
  • "It was funny that I speeded up just because I thought I had to"

The following are a selection of PDF documents for teachers and students.

Activities[edit]

Further links[edit]

  • Real research on the placebo effect by Professor Irving Kirsch (now at the University of Plymouth) can be seen in one of his scientific papers here.
  • Another point for discussion is the Nocebo effect. Nocebo is Latin for "I will harm", and is an ill effect caused by the belief that something is harmful.
  • For example, "…more than two-thirds of 34 college students developed headaches when told that a non-existent electrical current passing through their heads could produce a headache." See: The Skeptics Dictionary.

In one episode of the popular U.S. hospital drama, ER, the drug "Obecalp" was prescribed. This was none other than "placebo" spelt backwards… obviously the patient didn’t have a clue!