When it comes to human attempts to improve their health, placebos are among the most commonly used treatments. “Alternative medicine” consists of nothing but placebos. For example, acupuncture doesn’t actually work; instead it makes the patient feel better, because of the placebo effect—they expected that there must be some improvement, thus they feel like they have gotten better.
Unfortunately, it’s not just practitioners of alternative medicine who routinely prescribe placebos. Even in legitimate clinics you can get placebo prescriptions from people who are supposed to be legitimate doctors. Since placebos can make a patient feel better, somebody might ask what the harm is. Why can’t legitimate doctors prescribe some placebo to a worried parent whose child has a cold? After all, it will make the parent feel better while they wait for the cold to end. Unfortunately, carelessly prescribing unnecessary pills can result in serious negative consequences. [Read more…]