Professor Fabrizio Benedetti is the most famous and almost certainly also the most influential researcher investigating the physiology of placebo effects. In a recent commentary, he asks whether placebo research is fueling quackery, as quacks co-opt its results. The answer to that question is certainly yes. A better question is: How do supporters of science counter the placebo narrative promoted by quacks, in which placebos represent the “power of the mind to heal the body”?
As results from randomized clinical trials show that alternative medicine is nothing more than placeboe, quacks like to argue that they are “harnessing the power of placebo” with their methods and that placebos have real healing effect. They’ve even gone so far as to make up a genomics-based concept: The placebome. But is there such a thing as the placebome?
Yesterday the The New England Journal of Medicine published a high quality clinical trial that found no benefit in treating COVID-19 with ivermectin. Cue attacks on the study.
Acupuncture advocates have published guidelines for “rigorous” acupuncture randomized controlled trials. While that sounds good on the surface, the devil is in the details, which reveal that acupuncturists’ dedication to scientific rigor is perhaps not so strong.
Antivaccine alternative health tycoon Joe Mercola claims that the unblinding of participants in the clinical trials of Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines was intended to “blow up the trials” and undermine the science, making it impossible ever to identify long term adverse events. What he’s really doing is deceptively oversimplifying complex ethical and scientific issues surrounding these trials in the middle of a deadly pandemic, all in the service of his grift.