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Ch. 3 - Research Methods: The Double-Blind Procedure... 
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Post Ch. 3 - Research Methods: The Double-Blind Procedure...
Ch. 3 - Research Methods: The Double-Blind Procedure, the Placebo Effect, and the Law of Parsimony



Thu Jul 30, 2009 12:55 pm
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It's interesting the number of methods we have to incorporate into figuring out the universe simply to offset our own biases and imperfections. The three topics in this chapter exemplify just how poorly we've evolved to be seekers of truth. It also makes me laugh thinking about people who believe in things without anything but their own sensory perceptions and their own thoughts. The next chapter has a good example of how sensory perceptions can be lead astray.



Mon Aug 10, 2009 10:52 pm
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Thanks for starting this up, Interbane.

I don't think you can overemphasize the importance of these research principles—the double blind protocol, the placebo effect, and the law of parsimony. I'm thinking eighth graders should spend a year just studying these. I remember being fascinated by the placebo effect when I was younger, but I didn't understand the full implications of it until I was much older.

As an aside, I think the Law of Parsimony is essentially the same as Occam's Razor.

Law of Parsimony: that among equally plausible explanations, the simplest is to be preferred.

Occam's Razor: when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.


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Tue Aug 11, 2009 12:04 pm
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Some have even advocated a modification of professional ethics in medicine, in order to take full advantage of the placebo effect. In cases where side effects of available remedies could be difficult or dangerous, inert medications could be proscribed (without the patients knowledge).

I think this would be unwise myself, for a number of reasons, but it is interesting that this effect is so powerful that it would be even considered being used in such fashion.



Tue Aug 11, 2009 6:05 pm
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If not eighth graders, then anyone wishing to pursue a career in science.

Ockham's Razor is another name for the Law of Parsimony. I thought the author wrote this in this chapter?

Etudiant, what do you think about consciously applying the placebo effect on oneself? I wonder if it's possible, with enough meditation and concentration.



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Interbane wrote:
If not eighth graders, then anyone wishing to pursue a career in science.

Ockham's Razor is another name for the Law of Parsimony. I thought the author wrote this in this chapter?

Etudiant, what do you think about consciously applying the placebo effect on oneself? I wonder if it's possible, with enough meditation and concentration.


Maybe he did mention Occam's Razor. I'm actually on Ch. 8 now.

Using the placebo effect on oneself? Maybe that's just the power of positive thinking. There's something to that.


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Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:22 pm
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Etudiant, what do you think about consciously applying the placebo effect on oneself? I wonder if it's possible, with enough meditation and concentration.

An interesting question interbane. I suppose we do, in a roundabout way.

Have you ever worried about being nervous when having to speak in front of a group, and sure enough, by the time you start, it’s anxiety city? Afterward, you tell yourself that a beer will really calm you down, and it really does have an excellent dampening effect? Our thoughts can have strong consequences, and sometimes our subconscious likes the driver’s seat, whether we like it or not. I think that what seeps down into the subconscious becomes less subject to re-evaluation and critical thought. So when we take on worry, about public speaking for example, it’s not that easy to just shrug it off as illogical. In a similar fashion, nightmares can be terrifying because there is no higher level of functioning available at the time to judge the events being experienced as unreal. In a more positive sense, repeated motivational statements may also trickle down and become implanted. This is the basis for some forms of therapy. And I understand that these days coaches in professional sports make extensive use of visualization techniques in order to improve performance on the field.

But as far as taking substances, like medications, knowing they are placebos, which I believe you meant, I’m not so sure about that. I think the value comes in really believing. If the pill is the focus, then we must be invested in that. If we accept other practices, such as meditation, as being legitimate and useful, they can be quite instrumental in influencing our behavior.



Wed Aug 12, 2009 12:08 am
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I finally received my copy and am enjoying the book. It's on a baisc level, for beginning college students, but that doesn't hurt. It's good for him to remind us that there may be many things that we accept as true that might not be--things beyond the obvious ones like the paranormal, UFOs, and spiritual beliefs.

One of the bogus claims he mentioned that gained wide acceptance I had some experience with. Facitilated Communication (FC) became the new big thing in the disabilities field in the early 90s. Riniolo explains the premise of FC, which to the average person probably sounds far-fetched, and it is. But this did not prevent FC from being adopted by the organization I worked for at the time. It got to be politically pretty tricky for me to fend off the people who were true believers in this completely unfounded method of communication. I was responsible for handling claims of abuse, and on a couple of occasions staff came forward to say that a client had "revealed" to them through FC that he/she had been abused. That was a drag. Riniolo says that the whole problem could have been avoided if double-blind studies had been done early on, but he might not understand that FC was close to a faith-based initiative. Nobody was interested in using science because adherents just "knew" in their hearts that these people had been locked in a prison of silence until now. The facilitators could be seen as miracle workers just by sitting at a keyboard with a severely handicapped person and "supporting" her hand as she "typed." Strange but true.


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Tue Sep 01, 2009 12:50 pm
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Riniolo's discussion of the placebo effect (also the related nocebo effect) made me reflect on how important this effect is in daily life, not just in instances such as homeopathic medicine which relies entirely on the placebo effect to retain believers in this practice. There are more examples than we might expect that are similar to the Scarecrow winning the diploma and finding his intelligence. The effectiveness of getting a college education has a good deal to do with the placebo effect, too, according to a guy on NPR who made a very good case for this. It's inculcating the belief in students that they are worthy of joining the ranks of high-income career people that is the larger achievement of education, not whatever is learned in classrooms. In other words, the treatment is effective for reasons other than those which are most openly promoted. Riniolo also mentions the placebo effect of talk therapy, in which the client believes that the therapist has some special ability to understand and treat his problems, and therefore will report that he feels better. But no one has ever been able to show that therapy has any greater effectiveness than talking to a friend, according to Riniolo.

The placebo effect seems to have this great ability to disarm our critical thinking skills.


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Sun Sep 06, 2009 1:59 pm
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DWill wrote:
Riniolo's discussion of the placebo effect (also the related nocebo effect) made me reflect on how important this effect is in daily life.... The effectiveness of getting a college education has a good deal to do with the placebo effect, too, according to a guy on NPR who made a very good case for this. It's inculcating the belief in students that they are worthy of joining the ranks of high-income career people that is the larger achievement of education, not whatever is learned in classrooms.

The placebo effect seems to have this great ability to disarm our critical thinking skills.


Funny that you mentioned the NPR story. It made me so mad, I had to turn it off. What a crazy over simplification! Just for starters, generally, people who have a college degree do make more money than people with just a high school diploma (not me off course -- all 3 sibs with no college degree make more than me). They do not make more money just because of some dignitary makes a speech at graduation telling the newly graduated that now they have what it takes to make more money than those who stopped at high school. I do believe that the people who attend college acquire skills and knowledge beyond what they learned in high school; skills that are necessary to do those higher paying jobs. The placebo effect only goes so far -- from real ailments the pain does come back after a bit.


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Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:58 pm
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Saffron wrote:
What a crazy over simplification!

Oh, it was an oversimplification, no doubt, but in the way that satire is always an oversimplification--yet has a germ of truth.
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Just for starters, generally, people who have a college degree do make more money than people with just a high school diploma

I thought that was part of the point, that jumping through the hoops increases one's value in the marketplace.
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I do believe that the people who attend college acquire skills and knowledge beyond what they learned in high school; skills that are necessary to do those higher paying jobs.

For most of us, college seems to be the needed delivery system of greater knowledge, because we don't have the self-direction or talent to do without it. But of course those people who have achieved a great deal (including making lots of money) without college demonstrate that it's not a necessity by any means. Harry S Truman never went to college. Making a college diploma a needed qualification to get someone to consider you for a job was just an expedient for employers, and not a particularly good idea, IMO.

As a tuition payer, when I look at higher education, I do see an opportunity for reforming the system.

I like these kind of perverse outlooks on our accepted practices. You should know that by now! ;-)
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The placebo effect only goes so far -- from real ailments the pain does come back after a bit.

Well, the pain likely will come back no matter what treatment was used. I think the great thing about the placebo effect is that it's not really illusory. Even the effect the NPR guy claimed for higher ed. was in a sense real. It just isn't completely as advertised.


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Tue Sep 08, 2009 7:42 am
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DWill wrote:
education, I do see an opportunity for reforming the system.

Me too! Maybe even for the same reasons.

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I like these kind of perverse outlooks on our accepted practices. You should know that by now! ;-)

You are too much fun!


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Tue Sep 08, 2009 8:06 am
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I looked into going into law school a few years ago; did some research, sat in on some classes etc. It surprised me how often the profs talked about law school teaching you "how to think like a lawyer". There was a real emphasis put on learning how to read and analyze things, and very little emphasis on actual knowledge.

So much of the law is constantly changing that just learning what the law is makes little sense. I assume it's similar in science. Learning how to be a critical thinker probably has more influence on future income than the actual knowledge learned.


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Tue Sep 08, 2009 11:36 am
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CWT36 wrote:
So much of the law is constantly changing that just learning what the law is makes little sense. I assume it's similar in science. Learning how to be a critical thinker probably has more influence on future income than the actual knowledge learned.

"Are Critical Thinker More Highly Paid"? Now that's a title for a study that I'd like to read. Maybe they are, but I don't assume it to be generally true.
Todd Riniolo, author of our When Good Thinking Goes Bad selection, doesn't say anything about it, and in fact this advoate of skepticism is pretty skeptical that any class of people, including the highly educated, has a clear advantage in the consistency of their critical thinking. We are all very susceptible to chucking critical thinking in order to maintain our beliefs. Riniolo seems to tell us that, after a certain point in our intellectual growth, we shouldn't expect to overcome what is an evolutionary heritage of biased thinking. The most we can hope for is to recognize that our strong sense of being right may not be entirely based on detached analysis.


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Tue Sep 08, 2009 12:55 pm
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DWill wrote:
CWT36 wrote:
So much of the law is constantly changing that just learning what the law is makes little sense. I assume it's similar in science. Learning how to be a critical thinker probably has more influence on future income than the actual knowledge learned.

"Are Critical Thinker More Highly Paid"? Now that's a title for a study that I'd like to read. Maybe they are, but I don't assume it to be generally true.
Todd Riniolo, author of our When Good Thinking Goes Bad selection, doesn't say anything about it, and in fact this advoate of skepticism is pretty skeptical that any class of people, including the highly educated, has a clear advantage in the consistency of their critical thinking. We are all very susceptible to chucking critical thinking in order to maintain our beliefs. Riniolo seems to tell us that, after a certain point in our intellectual growth, we shouldn't expect to overcome what is an evolutionary heritage of biased thinking. The most we can hope for is to recognize that our strong sense of being right may not be entirely based on detached analysis.


I meant to say that the higher paid lawyers are probably the ones who mastered how to "think a lawyer", not the ones who mastered the facts.

The higher paid scientists may be the ones who mastered how to "think like a scientist" (ie: critical thinking), not the ones who mastered the scientific facts. I have no evidence that this is the case, just thought it was an interesting possibility.


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Tue Sep 08, 2009 1:12 pm
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