My unfashionable views on regulating nonsense

April 19th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, psychic nonsense, regulating nonsense | 47 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday April 19 2008

Paranormal phenomena are on the rise this spring, as any viewer of Street Psychic, Most Haunted Live, The Psychic Detective, Psychic Investigators, Mystic Challenge, and Psychic School would know. In Durham, Easington district council has paid for psychic Suzanne Hadwin to exorcise a poltergeist from the home of one of its tenants, who complained of objects moving, doors slamming, and a dressing gown floating down the stairs.

The family report that the spirit has now gone, and the house has a “lovely atmosphere”: an excellent psychic service at a competitive price (only £60).

Zombie CatBut there is a darker side. In February a psychic was called to investigate a reported zombie in underground tunnels at an Eastbourne sewage plant. “It’s not funny going to work and worrying that a zombie might be around the corner,” said one plant worker. It’s even less funny for a consumer to be cynically exploited by a psychic, because everybody knows that although psychics have their merits, they are entirely useless in this situation: to kill a zombie, you must destroy its brain.

How, then, can we police this kind of mis-selling? Next month the Fraudulent Mediums Act will be repealed, and replaced with general consumer legislation, which is to regulate various popular psychic services including predictions for the future, casting good luck spells, managing spooks (but perhaps not zombies) and communicating with the dead. The burden of proof is shifted to the psychic, and they are up in arms, with their union visiting the government yesterday to lobby against the new regulations.

Psychics are popular. They do what they say on the tin. They serve consumers who possibly shouldn’t watch telly after 9pm, but who have chosen to seek out practitioners with a very odd take on evidence. Apparently, special protection will be given to those who may be “particularly vulnerable” on account of their “credulity” (“consumers who may more readily believe specific claims”).

With my tiny brain, I can’t see how anyone is going to rationally police this kind of thing, given that the whole industry is, by definition, based on nonsense, and it’s plainly undesirable to ban things simply because they’re stupid.

Would the psychic who cleared the council house poltergeist be culpable? How about if she had failed? What about the psychic who failed to take out the zombie? Who will decide?

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has given us a taster of the comedy to come, adjudicating last month in all seriousness on Zara, the “UK’s premier psychic adviser”. It was concerned that statements like “I will cast a spell to grant your wish”, “might be interpreted to mean that her spells would be successful”. Thank God the ASA is there to save us from this underhand marketing practice. I don’t understand why anyone would pay for a spell if they didn’t think it would be successful.

Then the regulator tried to assess Zara’s powers. “We considered that the claim ‘premier psychic adviser’ implied that Zara offered an objectively superior service to all other psychic advisers … because we had seen no comparative evidence to show that Zara offered an objectively superior service to all other psychic advisers, the claim was misleading.”

It’s unclear what kind of evidence might have sufficed for the ASA. If it was a provable phenomenon then perhaps that would genuinely have been mis-selling. Maybe Chris Forster, the BNP’s moustachioed psychic candidate for the London Assembly, could have helped the ASA take a more quantitative approach. His speciality is “remote viewing of people, property or businesses, ie to analyse accurately at a distance”, and he promotes himself as “the only qualified internal auditor and accountant working full-time as a psychic”.

This nonsense is everywhere, and I’m glad of it (although not the BNP part). I am very happy to live in a world where “Alien doctors treated my cystitis” can be a news story in the Hartlepool Mail (“I don’t tell people … I don’t think they believe me. That’s why I’m telling my story to the Mail, to give credibility. I want to get it into concrete evidence”).

If we’re going to be paternalistic about the credulous, you might hope we start with Carol Vorderman’s high interestloan consolidation” adverts before we get to Cilla Black’s £1.50 a minute Psychic Hotline service. Although I bet they make a great pair.

Okay.

So I realise that is a slightly unfashionable view, and many of you would like to see quacks and psychics locked up. But I think the answer to bad ideas is better ideas, that people walk into these situations with their eyes open, and that the greater threat are the morons who present themselves as superficially plausible and “sciencey”, while undermining the public understanding of evidence.

Mainly, though, I just think the psychic magic woo people are just too funny to risk banning.

Here is an excellent video from badpsychics.com, my brothers in anality, who have devoted themselves to gathering quality video evidence of fakery in TV psychics shows and more.

Here is a video of Yvette Fielding faking a spirit noise from an episode of Most Haunted at Ordsall Hall. Notice how she blatantly makes an “aaahhhhh” sound when she thinks the camera is not on her.

It’s the way Yvette asks all innocently about the noise afterwards. More here, and it really is a great site.

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And who can forget the glorious spectacle of Sanal Edmaraku, president of Rationalist International.

India TV, one of India‘s major Hindi channels with national outreach, invited Sanal Edamaruku for a discussion on “Tantrik power versus Science”. Pandit Surinder Sharma, who claims to be the tantrik of top politicians and is well known from his TV shows, represented the other side. During the discussion, the tantrik showed a small human shape of wheat flour dough, laid a thread around it like a noose and tightened it. He claimed that he was able to kill any person he wanted within three minutes by using black magic. Sanal challenged him to try and kill him.

The whole episode was televised. The tantrik darts around, all sinister, while Sanal shakes his head and chuckles. At one point he gets a nice head massage. What’s funnier is that this went on for two hours, on national television, after which the host called the experiment to an end. The tantrik said Sanal must be under the protection of a very powerful god, to which he replied: “I am an atheist”.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7MtG7qOj9E[/youtube]


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47 Responses



  1. jackpt said,

    April 19, 2008 at 2:21 am

    Great article and I agree with your unfashionable views. The worst programme I’ve seen is a US show called Ghost Hunters. In my opinion it’s especially bad because it is the ultimate in the use of sciency sounding jargon and pretensions of authority (plus, they always go on about helping people). I shouldn’t watch it because it annoys me to the point of a headache while making me laugh. I don’t think that’s a healthy combination. I’m sure it’s on the tubes somewhere if anyone fancies a good shout at their computer screen.

  2. Dudley said,

    April 19, 2008 at 6:36 am

    Can’t you usually also kill a zombie by severing the spinal column?

  3. Andysnat said,

    April 19, 2008 at 8:28 am

    No no no no.

    Every fule kno that the correct way to kill a zombie is to bury it under a traffic intersection of two major highways at midnight.

    You don’t think that all those roadworks in the UK were actually mending the roads do you?

  4. MataHari said,

    April 19, 2008 at 8:32 am

    If I had a zombie or poltergeist I’d want it to do the shopping, laundry, cooking and mending, and feed the cat. But they have a dismal track record in that department.

    BTW, you mentioned your ‘brothers in anality’ Did you mean banality? I only ask.

  5. Dudley said,

    April 19, 2008 at 10:01 am

    According to this information poster –

    www.ex-robot.com/images/zombie-u.jpg

    – you can also deal with them using petrol and matches.

  6. Jonty_S said,

    April 19, 2008 at 10:33 am

    There’s a distinctly zombieist note to all this.

    Just because a person is undead doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings too.

    And rights!

  7. BSM said,

    April 19, 2008 at 10:35 am

    “But, high profile mediums raking hundreds off recently deceased widows?”

    Hummmmmm……I am channelling the spirit of Sylvia Browne………

  8. evidencebasedeating said,

    April 19, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Now, those who know me will confirm I’m not given to support nonscientific claptrap. But I have had experience of a poltergeist/ whatever and it was a rather odd experience. Especially as we couldn’t rationally explain what was going on.

    My partner once ran a shop in an 1880’s row of shops. When renovation work moved the external staircase of the upstairs flat there followed a period of weird non-human activity – which may still be happening today as we later sold the business.

    The smell of fish would be over-riding at times – we eventually discovered that a fresh fish shop existed on the site until the 1920’s – and no, he had no neighbours who sold/ cooked fish or had weird attitudes to fish storage…

    A fire extinguisher once fell from a secure pinboard bracket and hit my husband on the back of the neck – although he was standing some 3 metres away and it was initially positioned at waist height – and the shop was empty at the time. We took to taking the kettle home at night, as no matter where we put it, at various times of the day it would be plugged in and switched on – not by us, and usually it was dry. The radio would switch on to a different channel to one selected. No faulty connections – we changed the radio and the random selections and channel scanning stil kept happening. We stopped keeping a spare fluorescent light tube in the storage area as every so often a crashing noise would show the tube to have been flung a couple of metres away from its (secure) hold, and smashed.
    My father used to like helping out, but found the weight of a pair of hands on his shoulder – he initially thought my husband was trying to pass him whilst he lounged at the counter flap -a tad disconcerting.

    Absolutely no rational explanation could be constructed. Locks were changed, electrics checked. No weird vibrations or underground trains etc.

    Never experienced anything like it since.

    And no, it doesn’t sit well with rational science….

  9. Mojo said,

    April 19, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    It’s not just psychics that this legislation affects. I wonder when Big Altie is going to notice item 17 in the list of “practices which are in all circumstances considered unfair”:

    “Falsely claiming that a product is able to cure illnesses, dysfunction or malformations.”

  10. zooloo said,

    April 19, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    The Fraudulent Mediums Act being repealed… I am at a loss to explain why the psychics didn’t see that one coming.

  11. ac12 said,

    April 19, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Ben is correct in saying the brain needs to be destroyed. Severing the spinal column may disable the zombie, but the head will remain animated. Fire, acid and other techniques are effective only insofar as they destroy the brain.

    And totally, you can’t ban nonsense. Are we going to require evidence of the existence of purgatory or let people sue the catholic church?

  12. Daibhid C said,

    April 19, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Your opinion may be slightly unfashionable, but the views of those of us who’d like to see the woosters locked up is surely even more unfashionable. The *fashionable* view, I thought, was that no-one had any business dividing ideas into “true” and “not true”, and if people wanted to believe in psychics you weren’t allowed to say they were nonsense.

    Personally, I don’t understand why you need a special law for this, anyway. Psychic powers are nonsense, ergo anyone being paid for using them is gulity of plain, simple fraud.

    (Or possibly has succeeded in deluding themselves. ISTR reading one case of a psychic who read about “cold reading”, suddenly realising she’d been doing this subconciously for years, and renounced the profession.)

  13. Daibhid C said,

    April 19, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Sorry, that’s what I get for replying without following the links. I now know that that’s exactly what the new law is.

  14. muscleman said,

    April 19, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Evidencebasedeating, firstly I should point that that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and that applies to rational explanations too. It is wrong to leap to the supernatural just because the natural cannot immediately explain it. After all we laugh at our ancestors who needed wind and thunder gods etc to explain the weather.

    You should read this:
    www.livesoundint.com/archives/2002/janfeb/low/low.php

    For a good account of what I mean. Don’t you think that the building works could have:

    1. altered the airflow, bringing smells from places not previously from?

    2. Changed the stiffness of the structure, thus making infrasound (see link) a nice explanation?

    3. Was the staircase metal? if so then it might have acted as a sort of Faraday cage shielding electrical equipment from magnetic interference.

    I could go on. Using your lack of knowledge, insight, thoughtfullness to leap into things without evidence as explanations when you can simply say “i don’t know” is just giving up.

  15. perspix said,

    April 19, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    You have a point, Ben. Perhaps people should be free to make their own decisions, stupid or otherwise, like buying a lottery ticket, using crack or employing psychics to talk to their dead relatives, despite how that may be taking advantage of the gullible.

    But traders, whether that be L’Oreal or Mystic Meg, need to be held accountable for the claims they make for their produts and services.

    I welcome this law and hope it will be enforced. The next step will be to extend it to claims about rewards in the afterlife made by certain organizations.

  16. db_c said,

    April 20, 2008 at 12:46 am

    the smell of fish can certainly be explained in other ways (and no i’m not setting up a bad vagina joke, make your own if you like). i once lived in a house with a room that also smelt of fish for no apparent reason, and it was only years later that it was finally traced to the light fitting – turns out the heat from the bulb was causing it to emit a strong fishy odour. fuck knows what it was made of.

  17. ayupmeduck said,

    April 20, 2008 at 8:39 am

    An old mates parents had some “poltergeist/haunting” experiences. They went over to his new house to help out with the renovation during the week while he was working. At one point they claim entire house shifted sideways. They were pretty down to earth people so it really freaked them.

    They also complained about the terrible tasting PG Tips.

    Moral of the story turned out to be – make sure that you clearly label your magic mushroom tea.

  18. Sili said,

    April 20, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Damn, zooloo beat me to it. I need to set my feed to update faster.

    It’s a tough one. I agree that people should be free to waste their money any way they want. But also that the easily exploitable should be protected. I’m not greatly in favour of the overly litigious society, but I think it’d be fair if the ‘psychics’ could be sued for failure to deliver. Make sure they prominently display disclaimers as to the fact that they’re nothing but entertainers. Let Equity sort them out.

    With the new Ofquack on the horizon I wonder if it would be possible to get some demands on the books for the alties. Say they have to fill out a form for each client to the effect that they have explained that

    1) they have no medical qualification, nor any other qualification acknowledged by any professional board

    2) their woo of choice has not been demonstrated to work

    The patient would then have to sign this form too. Furthermore it might be sensible if the client then had to get their GP to sign it too, to ensure that any serious ailments aren’t missed.

    Only then would the altie be allowed to send their bill. And for added fun let’s say that in case the GP doesn’t find any genuine illness, the altie has to cover the cost of the pointless examination.

    In short: Tie them up in red string.

  19. Sili said,

    April 20, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Red tape, even.

    That’ll learn me trying to use idiom.

  20. zooloo said,

    April 21, 2008 at 1:39 am

    Pshchic demo..

    “What do we want?”

    “Freedom from restrictive legislation!”

    “When do we want it?”

    “Some time in the future when it’s considered!”

  21. Jamie Horder said,

    April 21, 2008 at 6:50 am

    or

    “What do we want?”
    “Freedom from restrictive legislation!”
    “When will we get it?”
    “That’ll be another £20!”

  22. jasondenys said,

    April 21, 2008 at 9:24 am

    One would have thought that the psychics would have seen this legislation coming.

  23. outeast said,

    April 21, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Perspix etc have a point – why should those making claims to powers beyond our ken be exempted from legislation that binds everyone else?

    Surely the argument is not about fools being able to spend their money as they like, but about what businesses can tell fools about their products. If there is (or should be) a Right To Be Fooled, then surely that should apply equally to the awful poo lady, Equazen, et al…

    Maybe your conclusions here are right, Ben, but the logical extension is that all false advertising legislation should be swept away. Or no?

  24. maninalift said,

    April 21, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Zombies are mindless and soulless. Detecting them is no job for a psychic, there is just nothing there for them to pick-up. A half-competent necromancer on the other hand…

  25. Mr. Gunn said,

    April 21, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    I wouldn’t bring it up, but you all seem to be in for a woeful surprise if you ever had to face a zombie attack. In fact, I’m stunned at the lack of general knowledge on how to repel a zombie invasion. Clearly, the UK is dangerously vulnerable.

    Zombies don’t have brains. That’s why they want yours. The only way to repel a zombie is by dismemberment. Their limbs are animated autonomously, with no need for a nervous system or brain, so severing the spinal column and destroying the head will work only as a good start, which should then be followed by removal of the arms and legs from the torso. If you have barricaded yourself properly, a chainsaw(with a splatter guard) can be used for this, as your barricade should slow them down so you’re only facing one at a time. If you foolishly neglected the barricade, or if you’re on a supply run, dynamite or blades mounted on a vehicle(provided you’re one of the lucky ones with a supply of gasoline) can also be used.

    Glad to help my fellows across the pond with this bit of survival information. Let’s hope it’s never needed.

  26. Despard said,

    April 21, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Zombies do too have brains, Mr. Gunn. I refer you to the informative documentary Shaun of the Dead.

    Everyone knows that the only way to stop a zombie invasion is by removing the head or destroying the brain. This is basic stuff, people.

  27. Bass Tyrrell said,

    April 22, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    I think you should give more credit to the OFT Ben, as it has come up with an inventive update of catch-22 – “Apparently, special protection will be given to those who may be “particularly vulnerable” on account of their “credulity” (“consumers who may more readily believe specific claims”).” Surely this means that people with half a neuron are not particularly vulnerable as they won’t believe any of this crap in the first place, but on the other hand anyone stupid enough to give credence is clearly marking themselves out as particularly vulnerable and in need of protection.

    So psychics can market to anyone, without fear or favour, who is not going to take their snake oil seriously. Sounds perfect.

  28. Wonko said,

    April 22, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Okay, the stuff about mediums “who should have seen this one coming” is light hearted, but the new Unfair Commercial Practices Directive offers some serious redress here.

    Clause 17 of the 31 banned practices makes it illegal to make a false medical claim for a product or service – that’s homeopathy and nutritionalism out.

    Clause 7.12 makes an offense of “misleading omissions” – eg, a homeopathist failing to point out that research has shown that homeopathy doesn’t work – where the omitted information would have resulted in the “average consumer” acting differently – i.e., not buying.

    Clauses 14.35 to 14.37 apply to “vulnerable consumers”, and oblige traders to take particular care with products aimed at this group – so a nutritionalist, claiming that a food supplement could help people with mental health problems would be in serious trouble here.

    Interestingly, there is scope to prosecute the publishers of these kind of claims. So, for example, if a newspaper accepts an advert for homeopathy when they could reasonably have forseen that homeopathy doesn’t work, they are comitting an offense.

    From a talk I gave to the Trading Standards Institute a couple of years ago, I know that trading standards officers are keen to go after alternative medicine, and in this directive, they seem to have the powers to make a difference.

  29. JoanCrawford said,

    April 22, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Link to the general legislation ferred to: ec.europa.eu/consumers/rights/index_en.htm

  30. JoanCrawford said,

    April 22, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    ferred = referred, numbnuts.

  31. NuttyBat said,

    April 22, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Ben – this is a bit off-topic, although homeopathy probably fits quite well into the realm of the paranormal.

    I’ve just been reading Ann Robinson’s (not that one – a GP) Guardian CiF piece expressing her “severe misgivings” about polyclinics (entitled “Clinical Opinion”), in which she makes the following statement:

    “In the days of fund holding, we had hospital specialists, a homeopath, osteopath and ultrasound all on site. The politicians said that fund holding wasn’t good or fair and took it all away, but our patients still talk about how good it was.”

    To which I responded:

    “A homeopath on the NHS – no wonder the clinic needed revamping! Ben Goldacre – please add Ann Robinson to the Bad Science ‘Hall of Quackery’.”

    Ironically, she begins her link with:

    “Politicians should come with a health warning stuck to their foreheads.”

    The weakest link, indeed.

  32. Ben Goldacre said,

    April 22, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    ah well, you see, time for another one of my unfashionable views: i think, for various reasons, it could be desirable that there is some facility for prescribing placebo to people (although i wouldnt want to do it myself). sugar pills are arguably a sensible measure in a limited range of situations. the problem is with the homeopaths themselves who are anti-medicine, reckless, demonstrably incapable of engaging in the tiniest bit of critical self reflection, and above all often very angry people, so therefore the worst characters for the job. ah me, the quest for the safe and ethical placebo continues.

  33. Jamie Horder said,

    April 22, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    What about Vitamin C? There’s some evidence that it might even work (maybe) in coughs and colds etc, but even if it doesn’t, it’s eminently *plausible* that it does (so both patient and prescriber can believe it – necessary for a good placebo) and it’s not going to do anyone any serious harm beyond a bit of GI upset.*

    A lot of the people who currently favor Vitamin C as anything other than a way of avoiding scurvy are a bit odd. But I’m sure you could encourage actual doctors to get in on the act…

    *Although that said, in the recent meta, it was almost significantly harmful – just not quite…

  34. NuttyBat said,

    April 22, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    Mmmm. Sugar pills. Much tastier than ‘diluted water’, but perhaps not so good for the waistline. Perhaps it’s time for a lo-cal nutritionist-approved version with added organic pro-placebo compounds!

    I was going to say that placebos would also be quite cost-effective for the NHS, but by the time all the required research into efficacy, tolerance and long-term safety has been conducted….

    (:

    Anyhow, must dash before the zombies emerge from the sewers.
    (and no one has mentioned salt yet as a way to return the reanimated dead to “their senses” – a much more humane method)

  35. Ben Goldacre said,

    April 22, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    cochrane on vit c and colds: modest benefits in slightly reducing duration of symnptoms at high doses once you have a cold, no benefits in preventing them. something professor patrick holford still fails to comprehend despite it being pointed out to him repeatedly. but then he’s only professor after all. so why should we expect him to be capable of interpreting a simple cochrane review?

    such a tedious disraction. I need to get some petrol and lock up before dusk.

  36. pv said,

    April 23, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Ben Goldacre said,

    April 22, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    cochrane on vit c and colds: modest benefits in slightly reducing duration of symnptoms at high doses once you have a cold,

    Wasn’t the duration reduction something ridiculous like 6 hours?

  37. FlammableFlower said,

    April 23, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Just to add to the fish-smell thingie – the day we moved into our new house last year, a little while later came a strong smell of ammonia (I’m a chemist, so it wasn’t fish), took a while to work out but realised it came from near the lights. Switched one off, thinking I was clever – remembered a towel to remove the bulb….and promptly burnt my other hand on the plastic surround of the bulb-holder, which then fell into small pieces and had turned from usual cream to brown as they’d been charred. Seems the 150W bulbs the sellers had put in to make the place look bright weren’t compatible with the old light fittings…

  38. gazza said,

    April 23, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    I don’t know where I read it but I heard some years ago that a handy DIY cure for poltergeists or general haunted house phenomena is to play Led Zepplin (or your headbanging music of choice) on your Hi-Fi full blast (at 11 even).

    Saves the cost of an exorcist and seems to work for all ghostly experiences. Not sure why but the more cynical suggest that the hysterical panic associated with sensitive people in dark cold creepy rooms is broken by the natural oscillation of the head and the foot stomping that comes with the heavy rock musical experience. The ghosts just don’t get a look in then. Try it next time you feel a tingle down the spine….

  39. perspix said,

    April 24, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Is it possible that we are dealing with different species of Zombie with differing physiology? Some do seem to be relatively impervious to decapitation. Such zombies may have a distributed nervous system with autonomous limbs (cf a bee’s sting). I think a systematic review of the cinematographic data is called for.

  40. Despard said,

    April 24, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Oddly enough, perspix, I came to the exact same conclusion re. such diverse creatures as vampires, werewolves, witches, etc. when a child. Since every book or film dealing with them was different, but there was no evidence to tell which of the descriptions was actually accurate, I reasoned that there must just be different varieties of, say, vampire, possibly existing in different universes; parallel Transylvanias, if you will.

    In fact, I still hold this opinion. It’s a good model for the data. The disadvantage is that in the case of a zombie attack, one first has to determine which universe one is in before deciding on the best course of action!

  41. David Colquhoun said,

    April 24, 2008 at 9:55 am

    I don’t know anyone who thinks that quacks and psychics should be nanned or locked up. I don’t think either that they should be ‘regulated;, at least in the ineffectual way that the government proposes.

    There is a good case, though, that the existing laws on deceptive advertising and unfair trading should be applied with a bit more rigour to some of the more outrageous and outright dangerous claims made by quacks (like claiming to cure malaria). Since these laws doen’t apply to things that your homeopath (or Boots pharmacist) tell you face to face, or to advertising on the web, they are not really very effectice at the moment.

  42. Martin said,

    April 24, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Terry Pratchett’s book Carpe Jugulum (Seize the Throat) mentions different types of vampire depending on which area they come from, mainly connected to the mythology which the vampire itself believes. ie, if the vampire believes that something will kill it, it will. Hmm, sounds familiar.

  43. Jamie Horder said,

    April 24, 2008 at 11:25 am

    The placeblood effect?

  44. used to be jdc said,

    April 25, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Don’t want to bang on about Cochrane on vit c and colds, but there was some interesting stuff on Holford Watch re the Cochrane review and Professor H: here and here.

  45. Squander Two said,

    April 29, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Mr. Gunn,

    > Zombies don’t have brains. That’s why they want yours.

    What do they do this wanting with, then?

  46. banshee said,

    May 1, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Talking of Zombies.

    Coming to a country near you!

    s183.photobucket.com/albums/x118/aitchbird/?action=view&current=KOTD1024320x240.flv

  47. Nik said,

    January 25, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Ben Goldacre said,
    April 22, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    “ah well, you see, time for another one of my unfashionable views: i think, for various reasons, it could be desirable that there is some facility for prescribing placebo to people (although i wouldnt want to do it myself). sugar pills are arguably a sensible measure in a limited range of situations.”

    I don’t want to detract from the important information about destroying zombies, but had a comment related to the above. I wasn’t at work at the time, but apparently one of my colleagues was taken ill and saw a locum GP. She didn’t know what was wrong with him so prescribed a sugar pill placebo. His problem turned out to be diabetes and the placebo did more harm than no treatment at all would have.

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