Friday, February 23, 2007

Placebo Nation

Here is John Horgan on the ineffectiveness of psycho drugs:
My problem with Big Pharma is that its products are often--and especially in the case of psychiatric drugs--much less effective than claimed. This was a major theme of my book The Undiscovered Mind. See also my short 1999 oped for the Times, "Placebo Nation." That's also why I've been so scathing about Listening to Prozac, which a responder to my last post recommends, but which I consider one of the Worst Science Books. Peter Kramer's book explores, yes, with great philosophical subtlety the implications of a drug that dispels despair and makes us "happy." Is this happy new me really me? And so on, blah blah blah. But the premise of the book is false! If you read the peer-reviewed clinical trials rather than the puffery of Kramer you would know that Prozac and other SSRIs are no more effective than earlier antidepressants, such as tricyclics, and antidepressants as a whole are no more effective than psychoanalysis and other talking cures. When I made this claim in The Undiscovered Mind in 1999, it was treated as highly controversial, but now it's been overwhelmingly confirmed.
He's right, and the evidence for the effectiveness of those talking cures is also extremely weak. If you hear someone swear that some psycho meds are helping, you are almost certainly observing a placebo effect.

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