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Placebo: The Belief Effect Hardcover – 20 Jan 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (20 Jan. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007126123
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007126125
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 182,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

My uncontrollable curiosity has led me in some weird and wonderful directions. I once led an experiment in post-apocalyptic living in the Scottish Highlands. On another occasion I made a film for British TV which got banned. I have worked as an interpreter for a Marxist Catholic nun and a Zulu, trained as a Lacanian psychoanalyst in Argentina, and been censured for sharing a scientific paper about fruitbats. I've also taught at various universities around the world, written several popular science books, and set up two companies.

Product Description


`The placebo effect is fundamental to medical treatment, and this book brilliantly explores the scientific evidence in an accessible and gripping manner’ Lewis Wolpert

`The placebo effect, of such huge importance in our lives, is an effect which, according to conventional scientific wisdom, ought not to exist. Now, out of left field, springs a modern-day philosopher with challenging – and persuasive – ideas about what the effect amounts to and why’ Nicholas Humphrey

From the Publisher

A fresh and original take on a subject of growing importance: there is now a Society of Integrated Medicine, founded to examine how alternative and medical science can work more effectively together.

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First Sentence
In the closing years of World War II, while the Allies were fighting to liberate Europe from German occupation, morphine was in great demand at the military field hospitals. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on 12 Jun. 2004
Format: Paperback
In this investigation of the placebo effect, the author asserts that orthodox medical opinion has for decades been convinced about the healing powers of the mind. This confidence in the power of the placebo effect provides scientific legitimacy to the many claims about mental healing.
By exploring recent research in evolutionary biology and immunology, Evans proposes a new theory on how placebos work while investigating and evaluating current ideas of health and disease. He looks at the history of the placebo effect and investigates the efficacy of placebos by sifting the evidence and providing an opinion on which medical problems can be cured by its use.
In chapter 3, The Acute Phase Response, Evans sets out his theory of the function of a single biological mechanism in the placebo phenomenon; he also states that this is not a proven theory and needs much further research. The next chapter looks at the belief effect, the key mental event that triggers physiological processes that result in healing.
Investigating the physical and psychological aspects of health in evolutionary context, he also considers the potential of placebos to harm. In more metaphysical terms, one may say he looks at positive and negative mental energy, the curse and the blessing, but in scientific terms. Various alternative healing modalities are also discussed, as well as psychotherapy, which the author claims may be the purest placebo.
Ethical questions are considered next in the chapter The Witch Doctor’s Dilemma. The author concludes that the impressive findings of recent scientific research in mind-body medicine have revealed that the healing power of the mind may not be unlimited, but that it is certainly not insignificant.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 3 Aug. 2004
Format: Paperback
I recently purchased the book and read it almost instantly - the light and easily understandable language made the pages fly by.
The book introduces the Placebo effect to the reader who previously knew nothing about it - and should also be (re)viewed in this perspective. There might not exist enourmous amounts reliable evidence concerning the placebo effect, but I still missed 100 extra pages with more detailed descriptions of the experiments already done as well as a more thourogh presentation of the other placebo theories other than the authors own.
But, in the current size the books is extremely well fitted for a pocket and can be read in busses and trains. For a more thourough understandig of the placebo effect you'd have to consult medical and psychological litterature.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dr. P. J. A. Wicks VINE VOICE on 9 Sept. 2005
Format: Paperback
Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking have a lot to answer for. Not the first time I've picked up a book with a very friendly and welcoming introduction designed to lure the browser with its lack of jargon and amusing anecdotes. A few chapters in, however, and it all gets rather meaty. Personally, I'm a scientist so I don't mind, but it does strike me that books like this might not be considered "light holiday reading" for some.
The author draws on a wide variety of disciplines to argue his case for an evolutionary design for the placebo response in humans; an alteration in the distribution of different immune cells in order to balance energy expenditure with fighting off infection. Generally scientific journals are not keen on grand unifying theories for peer-reviewed articles so a book like this is a great outlet for the author's imagination. One of the major strengths of this book is that he avoids the temptation to uncritcally cite studies in his favour; he does point out their (often profound) limitations and tries to coax rather than preach his point of view. If nothing else, this is an excellent exercise in persuasion on scientific theory.
Would I recommend it for a patient wanting to find out more about the use of placebos in a clinical setting? Probably not, it's a little too technical in places. As another reviewer commented, great size for the bus or the train and indeed this has accompanied me to work on several occasions. A good read, but know what you're getting into!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dan the Man on 13 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An interesting study of the placebo effect, positing a theory that the effect is based on the acute phase response - i.e. it is to do with the initiation of healing, which the author supports by pointing to the conditions that tend to respond to placebo - pain, ulcers, depression and anxiety - all being involved in the acute phase resposne. This, he admits, is not supported by the available evidence however, although he hopes that it will be in future.

However, this is a somewhat limited study of the placebo effect. This may be partly to do with revelations that have occurred since the book was written (which of course is not the author's fault) but I believe some information may have been available at the time. Firstly, he is incorrect about the range of conditions that respond to placebo - it is much wider than he states and has been shown to be effective in everything from arthroscopic surgery to Crohn's disease, IBS, asthma and about 40 other illnesses.

Other placebo research has shown that areas of the brain are activated when people are given a placebo, meaning it is not just an illusory or imagined effect. And perhaps most fascinatingly of all, people have been found to improve even after being told that they were receiving placebo, something that contradicts a large part of Evans' argument that belief is necessary for placebo to be effective.

Also of interest is the fact that in recent years the placebo effect has been increasing, with a greater number of clinical trials failing, not because the drugs aren't effective, but because the placebo response is getting stronger. Experts speculate this is because of the incessant advertising by big pharma and our seeming unwavering faith in them.
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