Posted Aug 19, 2012 21:24 UTC (Sun) by anselm
In reply to: Diluted sugar
Parent article: Garzik: An Andre To Remember
Placebos "work" for some people because many ailments people suffer from will tend to go away if they are left alone long enough. Consider, for example, the common cold, which so far has resisted the efforts of scientific medicine, but for which your friendly neighbourhood homeopath will be more than happy to prescribe some sugar pills at an outrageous price (for sugar). It doesn't matter if you take the sugar pills because they will neither help or hinder your getting better. However having taken the sugar pills you are likely to give them the credit. It is even likely that your symptoms will get worse after you have started the sugar pills, since they don't do anything, which homeopaths will conveniently explain away as the effect of the medication getting to work inside you.
Many other ailments people suffer from (e.g., chronic back pain, which scientific medicine has so far also failed from curing conclusively) tend to come and go, and since people are apt to go to the doctor (or homeopath) when their complaints are worst, even sugar pills will seem to help because of "regression to the mean" (you would have come out of the bad phase into a somewhat better phase, anyway).
Then of course there are those ailments that have a good chance of killing you when they remain untreated, like malaria or cancer. This is something that "ethical" homeopaths shouldn't touch with a 10' pole. If only they would. The BBC has found in an experiment that a vast majority of homeopathic pharmacies in London will be more than happy to sell you "homeopathic" malaria "prophylaxis", and one homeopathic remedy for cancer is sugar pills with hyper-diluted extract of mistletoe (i.e., no mistletoe), on the grounds - and I am not making this up - that mistletoe looks like cancer on trees.
The problem with stuff like homeopathy is that the placebo effect is a lot less powerful if your medical practitioner tells you that there's nothing in the pills except sugar, that they have not been able to be proven to work in clinical trials, and that indeed they have no conceivable way of doing anything to you as far as our concepts of physics, chemistry and biology go. Which is, perhaps understandably, why most people dealing in homeopathy neglect to explain this to their patients. In effect, they are being knowingly dishonest to their patients, which is unacceptable. Personally, I would have much less of a problem being told that there is no remedy against my cold that has been shown to work, but that the cold will almost certainly get better anyway, than being prescribed very expensive sugar pills or (for that matter) antibiotics (which too many non-homeopathic practitioners are prone to do, but that is a different problem).
to post comments)