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The Powerful Placebo: From Ancient Priest to Modern Physician; Complementary Medicine: A Research Perspective

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 02 May 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1396
  1. Vernon Oh, professor
  1. Department of Medicine, National University Hospital, Singapore

    The Powerful Placebo: From Ancient Priest to Modern Physician

    Arthur K Shapiro, Elaine Shapiro The Johns Hopkins University Press, £33, pp 280 ISBN 08018 5569 1

    Complementary Medicine: A Research Perspective

    Charles Vincent, Adrian Furnham John Wiley & Sons, £24.95, pp 305 ISBN

    Both patients and doctor want to know the effectiveness and risks of complementary treatments. One issue concerning effectiveness is the extent to which placebo operates in different complementary treatments. Although all patients are not interested in mechanisms of action, the inconsistency of the placebo effect even in the same patient will influence the place of complementary treatments in the management of disease.

    In The Powerful Placebo, the Shapiros confine the terms “placebo” and “placebo effect” to treatments and treatment effects respectively, to avoid confusion with the phenomenon of “suggestion” in laboratory experiments and hypnosis. “Placebo” formerly encompassed both drug and non-drug treatments of disease, but with the proliferation of controlled treatment trials since the 1950s the term has come to mean an “inert” substance or procedure used as a control in bioscience experiments, in particular clinical drug trials. The psychiatrist authors …

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