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There ain't no placebo effect!
Posted By Jude Wanniski On 05/30/2001 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled
Memo To: Gina Kolata, NYT Science Writer
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Teaching Myths
For the last few days, I’ve been thinking about your article in the Sunday “Week in Review” section, “Putting Your Faith in Science.” The discovery that placebos really have no curative effects is incredibly important. We learn this after textbooks and medical journals have been telling us for decades that about one-third of patients get better when given a dummy pill or a sham treatment. I certainly have had the idea embedded in my noggin, always assuming that medical science would not have allowed it to become conventional wisdom if it had not been subjected to rigorous proofs. You report that the discovery was made by two Danish researchers that placebos crept into the books because of one 1955 paper, “The Powerful Placebo,” by a Boston doctor who used selective statistics to make his case.
As a political economist who never studied the economics that is taught in our institutions of higher learning, I’ve been mystified as to how so many myths have crept into the conventional wisdom of “economic science.” In many ways economic and medical science are “soft sciences,” as opposed to physics, chemistry and mathematics, which deal in hard facts. Medical science treats the human body and economic science treats the political body economic. There is plenty of room for mythology in both, and your article about the placebos for the human condition comes at a propitious time, as global political leaders are scratching their heads about the maladies of the world economy. It is my considered opinion that the economic textbooks are replete with economic myths – the equivalent of the placebo effect in medicine. Political leaders who are paid to “manage” their domestic economies or, in our case, the world economy, are misled again and again into false prescriptions. Here are just a few:
Gina, this only scratches the surface of the scientific myths, the placebo effects, that are layered into our public consciousness. Our young men and women of science almost never decide to “check things out for themselves,” as those two Danish researchers did. We are now amused to read about how medical science believed a century ago that you had to “bleed” patients to drain off the bad stuff so they could be cured. It is bad enough when this practice is limited to individuals. It is calamitous when it is applied to all of human civilization.
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