Saturday, March 15, 2008
Having, so it is said, established that drugs and counselling don't work against depression, we now learn that anti-oxidants are powerless against cancer and antibiotics are useless against sinusitis. I don't know whether these things are true or not, but the mere fact that the efficacy of these treatments can be seriously challenged indicates a problem. The problem is a combination of excessive faith in the possibility of a cure and the placebo effect. Placebos work very well as long as the patients don't realise they are placebos. I would guess almost everything sold over the counter of the average pharmacy is a placebo, but they make people feel better because the context - pharmacist, packaging, names of obscure ingredients on the box - is so convincing. Any honest doctor will tell you that 90 per cent of prescriptions are useless, primarily because most conditions clear up of their own accord. But, feeling unwell, we just like to think something is being done and that should be enough to sustain the placebo effect and the pharmaceutical industry. This, of course, raises the question of how, exactly, the placebo effect works - how can the mind affect the body in this way? These are ancient, deep waters on which we float, unaware, every time we buy a bottle of Benylin.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:10 am