When a fake treatment works as well as, or better than, the real thing, that's usually when medical researchers go back to the ol' drawing board. To which Harvard's Ted J. Kaptchuk asks, "Why to the who what now?" Kaptchuk is pushing placebo, not as a cure-all, but as a way to sooth pain when "real medicine" doesn't work.
Though recurring tummy aches from irritable bowel syndrome are among patients' most common complaints, drugmakers have had trouble coming up with a safe and effective treatment.
[Kaptchuk's] magic cure: fake acupuncture delivered with lots of warm talk from a sympathetic acupuncturist—but no needles. In a trial of 262 patients with severe IBS, 62% of those who received the fake treatment got better, according to results published in the British Medical Journal . By comparison, only 28% of a control group of patients put on a waiting list saw their symptoms improve markedly. A third group who got the fake acupuncture, but without any warm talk, showed in-between results: 44% improved.
Forbes: The Nothing Cure
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.