I’ve been so busy I completely failed to spot that this show went out earlier this evening. It’s a smashing programme I made with Matt Silver from the BBC Radio 4 Science Unit on the placebo effect.
We charge through some of the most fun experiments in the field, and in part two we get all philosophical about what it means for mankind. Here’s the blurb from the BBC:
Our beliefs and expectations about treatments can have a dramatic effect on our health – the so-called ‘placebo effect’. Doctor and writer Ben Goldacre presents a two part series.
Programme 1: The Placebo Effect
When a new drug or treatment is dismissed as being ‘no better than placebo’, we all get the message: any benefits are probably ‘all in the mind’, it’s ineffective, not worth pursuing. Yet studies suggest that the placebo effect can have a significant impact on the course of a wide range of illnesses, including depression, irritable bowel syndrome and angina. It seems that it’s the meaning of a particular treatment to the patient that’s crucial. For example, research shows that the colour of an inert sugar-pill and even the branding on the box, can alter a pill’s effect. In this first programme, Ben Goldacre looks at the growing body of research into the placebo effect, and explores the factors influencing the strength of the placebo response.
Oh, and, er, here’s a nice mp3 for those of you who don’t like the BBC’s ludicrous inflexible proprietary commercial audio streaming formats:
Programme 2: The Implications for Medicine
Studies using placebo or ‘sham’ treatments show that what a doctor says to a patient, along with the ritual of the therapeutic encounter itself, can have a real impact on health outcomes. This raises important ethical issues for those who work in medicine. A doctor’s first commitment is to the wellbeing and health of the patient. Given the undeniable benefits of placebos in the management of many hard-to-treat conditions, can it ever be right to prescribe a placebo without informing the patient? Could complementary therapies, many of whose specific effects are unproven, represent the acceptable face of placebo prescription? Has modern, scientific medicine, with its emphasis on ‘magic bullets’ targeting specific diseases, lost sight of the importance of the ‘art’ of medicine?
Listen again available after Prog 2 Monday 25th August
I’m an enormous fan of BBC Radio 4 science, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about why they’re so great. As well as resisting the drive to dumb down, there’s also one very important structural factor: around 70-80% of a radio science documentary – by necessity, for auditory colour – is made up of words spoken by the people who have done the science themselves.
This is the kind of unmediated communication which is also so great in blogs by academics, because it is academic scientists explaining things in their own words, and even better, with the help of media people. This is exactly what the print world needs more of: fewer writers, and more editors, helping people who actually know about stuff to express it in a structured fashion for an intelligent audience lacking background knowledge.
Anyway, enough of that nonsense. The programmes’ page is here:
And the listen again link is here:
Part two, same time next week. Y’all come back now, y’hear…