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The lab

Geoff Watts considers the power of the placebo

By Geoff Watts   February 1998

From abductus and abortus to zona pellucida, none of medicine’s lengthy dictionary of Latinate terms is so commonly used, yet so undervalued, as the first person singular future indicative of placere, to please. “Placebo”-anglicised as a noun-means a dummy pill: something physiologically inert, the effects of which are a consequence of the taker’s own expectations of benefit. By what subtle interplay of nerves and hormones the state of our minds can influence the condition of our bodies is still obscure. But the greater puzzle about the placebo effect is that while all doctors take it seriously when doing clinical research,…

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