Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tomato Tomata Placebo Nocebo

The world of pseudoscience will never be the same. We had the placebo, but now we have the nocebo. Basically we can think ourselves sick, poor, crazy, or even stupid.

We have always had the ability to say quackery is still viable by calling on placebos. You may not be able to prove why crystals or health magnets work, but you can at least say the placebo effect makes people better. The new age pseudoscientists depend on the magic of the mind to transform a hunk of dirt into miracles.

The news today at the New Scientist is that the opposite affect of placebos has been found. But here is the real punch line, they found it with voodoo.

We are talking about hexes, voodoo dolls, and all sorts of curses. If you believe it will kill you, it is a pretty good chance that your brain will pull a reverse placebo and make you sick enough to die. So, no science that a pin through the Raggedy Ann version of your heart can kill you, but the nocebo effect will kill you just the same.

Things get better. Doctors have been mistakenly prescribing nocebos for hundreds of years without knowing it.

A doctor says you have cancer and three years to live. Odds are, you will die in just about three years. You may not die of cancer, but from the nocebo diagnosis from your doctor. There is in fact documented proof of just such a case. Dr Clifton Meador writes about it in this paper. He also has a book called Symptoms of Unknown Origin: A Medical Odyssey
that addresses voodoo and the beginnings of his theories.

I love to read any book by a real doctor that mentions hexes and voodoo curses. Don't you?

But what does this mean for the professional pseudoscientist? We have science not only for placebos, but for the reality of belief-based imaginary illness. It's true, we can think ourselves into sickness and even death.

A side affect of the nocebo (pun intended) is that hypochondria is real! You do have your imaginary disease, as long as you imagine hard enough. I'd avoid any medical publications just to be safe. You might want to give up watching House or any medical shows from now on because imagination leads to some very bad medical conditions.

For the pseudoscience entrepreneur.... Oh glory be! We have mana from whatever heaven is foretold by your personal religion or agnostic fantasies. Science is on your pseudoscience side and backing up your hokum and quackery. Not only can you sell your nocebo Voodoo Dolls and Voodoo Divorce Hex Books, you can sell the placebo oriented anti-voodoo too.

I'll add one more bit of entrepenureal genius. In exchange for this advice, if you start a company, you need to send me a sizable cut of the profits if you follow this advice. Really, you should send me money. I have a voodoo doll with your name on it. If you don't, well... Like I said, this nocebo stuff really works. Do you really want to take that risk? Either send money or I have a pin with your name on it.

Here is the advise that will make you, and me by definition, rich: You can also sell your charms against the bad diagnosis of doctors! 

Remember the three years to live diagnosis? You can sell anti-hex charms to counteract the doctor's diagnosis predicting the patient's eminent death. The funny thing is that no doctor can be 100% sure of when people will die of a disease. Plus there is a lot of wiggle room. Your anti-doctor charms don't need to exactly work, but they can be an enhancement or insurance against a doctor's own sloppiness.

Wow, I can hear the sound of my happy banker now. Dr tell you that you have three years to live? Why not glue this magnet with a sacred Mayan quartz crystal to your shin bone to break that medical profession curse.

I know you want to read the article and probably tired of my little spoilers. Here is another one. When doctors gave patients placebo drugs that were like the real drugs, patients got side affects just like those of the real thing. Wow, that itchy rash goes away because of the placebo affect, but your liver is failing from the nocebo affect. Nothing comes for free, including imaginary side effects.

Side effects? This is so cool. How can I put this into words... This is cool. Not only can your placebo psuedoscience quackery cure stuff, but it can have nocebo side affects that make your snake oil sing and dance like a poorly researched but expensive Pharmaceutical. 

Why not get rid of the side affects of regular drugs too? Got a queasy stomach from your diabetes medicine? Wear this Hopi charm bag of mouse knuckles and bat's blood around your neck and you'll be right as rain.

There's some downside to this nocebo affect. The law now has a way to convince a jury to convict based on nocebo effect. A curse, hex, and even a less than positive diagnosis by a doctor or placebo side affects can cause damages or mental strife. 

Lawyers can point to a scientific cause and effect relationship. If you shoot someone with a gun, that's murder. If you curse someone to death, and they die by any cause, that's murder too. It is a slippery slope and you know the lawyers want a cut of that action. As

Tomato or tomata, placebo or nocebo, voodoo or hoodoo, it's all pseudoscience. We can now feel confident that real research by real professionals backs up any claim we can imagine, especially when it is related to the mind. Good for the consumer and good for the pseudoscientist. Yes, some bad, but they said that about the atomic bomb and now we have radioactive glow in the dark watch faces, so we can live with the fallout. 

Let me know what you think. That's what the comment section is for. Cursing is ok, but please no curses.