Next time I experience some vague malaise while taking a treatment, I'll have to remember that the faint nausea, the headache, or what have you might actually be caused by my expectations, not the treatment itself. Fascinating.The best moment was Dr Peter Fisher from the (NHS-funded) Royal London Homeopathic hospital explaining that homeopathic sugar pills have physical side-effects – so they must be powerful.
Can a sugar pill have a side-effect? Interestingly, a paper published in the journal Pain next month looks at just this issue. It found every single placebo-controlled trial ever conducted on a migraine drug, and looked at the side-effects reported by the people in the control group, who received a dummy "placebo" sugar pill instead of the real drug. Not only were these side-effects common, they were also similar to those of whatever drug the patients thought they might be receiving.
And the next time somebody babbles about how awesome homeopathy is, here's a useful tidbit for ye:
There were comedy highlights, as you might expect from any serious inquiry into an industry where sugar pills have healing powers conferred upon them by being shaken with one drop of the ingredient which has been diluted so extremely that it equates to one molecule of the substance in a sphere of water whose diameter is roughly the distance from the Earth to the sun.
Ben Goldacre's whole article is worth reading. As are all his others. Definitely don't miss the possible role of aliens in siting Woolworth's stores. Bad science has never been so good!
(Tip o' the shot glass to Matthew Cobb, who's doing a stellar job filling in for Jerry Coyne)