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Placebo-without-deception is deceptive

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

This article about placebo is about how placebo allegedly works even when people know that it’s a placebo — placebo without deception. This is based on a well-known 2010 study of placebo for irritable bowel syndrome. The article is about that researcher’s plans to study open-label placebos for cancer next. And that’s really all the article has to offer: it’s basically a press release for the research sequel to the original placebo-hyping blockbuster. There is no new research, yet. It was just an advertisement for the idea.

I don’t like the idea.

Ironically, Kaptchuk’s 2010 evidence of placebo without deception was itself deceptive (or at least disingenuous), because patients were still given a clear reason to have faith in what they were given. In this way, the 2010 study was well-crafted to produce a placebo effect, just by raising expectations with a different kind of deception. And Kaptchuk will do the same with the next study, with completely predictable results. And it will be a big deal, mark my words … because cancer. And because everyone loves the “power” of placebo!

I explain the problem with the 2010 study in more detail in my placebo article.