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March 26, 2012 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Science: What’s It Up To?

the Placebo Effect – WTF

Scientists are generally pretty good at explaining the world around us by way of logic and evidence–that is, after all, their job. Nonetheless, there is some shit out there that is still very puzzling. I know you’re probably thinking, “oh yeah like buzzy physics and multiple dimensions and time travel and that.” Well, yeah, you’re right, but there is some stuff closer to home that has people just as lost.


It’s what happens when a person takes a medication that he or she perceives will help, despite it actually having no proven therapeutic effect. By believing and expecting something to happen, it actually does.

Not only do placebos work, they have different degrees of success depending on the form of consumption. Placebos can come in pills, lotions, injections or even in the form of surgery. Taking two pills will have a greater effect then just one, and taking a capsule is more effective than a pill. At this point, we are unsure how effective they are when snorted through a $100 bill—Salient is investigating.

Often, doctors prescribe placebos because they have no other form of relief to offer the patient. One example of this is the use of “arthroscopic lavage”—in other words, cutting open the knee, buffing down all the rough cartilage and hosing it all out—as a last-ditch effort to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis.

There is no clinical evidence that arthroscopy cures the osteoarthritis, yet in uncontrolled studies of knee arthroscopy for osteoarthritis, about half the patients report relief from pain.

In 2002, a medical team from San Francisco conducted a randomised, placebo-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of arthroscopic surgery of the knee in relieving pain and improving function in patients with osteoarthritis. Patients with bad knees were blindfolded and put under anaesthetic, and for half of them, surgeons went in and performed the actual surgery. For the other half, their knees were cut open but nothing more. Afterwards, the patients were sewen back up and sent on their way, not knowing if they had been actually attended to. Here’s the crux: the same ratio of patients experienced relief after receiving either surgery, with many of them making a full recovery. Look it up. Some veterans fully recovered from 10 years of osteoarthritis (sore-ass knee syndrome) because they thought they had surgery that hasn’t even been proven to work consistently. Badass.


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