Riker's Mailbox

Monday, May 04, 2009


I'm making my way through another blog out there, entitled 'The Everything Else Atheist'.  I was intrigued by her series of posts about the use of placebo, and had a thing or two to say in response to a couple comments left on her thread.

The original articles:

You may want to read the comments over at T.E.E.A. before proceeding.  Or, you can just take my word for it that what follows is my brilliantly-concocted and unassailable argument* against a commenter who disagrees with the use of placebo in modern medicine:
I'm going to chime in as a proponent of the use of placebo here. For one thing, treatment should not be judged or valued solely on chemical efficacy. Determine its validity by its results, not by its ingredients...

Otherwise, what do you suggest we do about all the therapists out there alleviating peoples' emotional (and in some cases physiological) problems just by *talking to them*? Both work by closely-related mechanisms, where the patient's own mentality is the primary vehicle behind their recovery. In one case it's a controlled activity: developing a trusting bond based in conversation with a trained professional, whose coaxing can yield significant results. In the other case, it's a trained professional engaging in the controlled activity of administering a physical remedy that takes advantage of the well-documented power of placebo.

I don't see a downside here, since at the absolute worst, it will provide no benefit. And it might cost some money. But if the idea of paying for sugar pills is what's so unappetizing, then the costs of their administration can be bundled with some form of therapeutic treatment, much in line with the author's suggestions above. You pay for treatment and it gets you sessions with your doctor and a pill, both of which work in concert.

The way I see it, the placebo effect is one of a thousand quirky evolutionary byproducts we've gathered up over time, in rank and file right along with such hits as the female orgasm... if it's a good thing, and it's ours, why deny ourselves of it?

The refusal to wield a useful and beneficial tool over thin moralistic quibbles is just one of the reasons we all rail against organized religion, after all. Let's not fall prey to the same tendencies.

* - I mean, I drew a link between medicine and orgasms, for Christ's sake... how can you argue against that?

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