November 1, 2003
THE PLACEBO EFFECT:
Currently under attack by scientific reductionists, the centuries-old belief in self-healing through the mind is being rehabilitated--thanks to a new book on placebos for the intelligent layperson, and thanks to new initiatives by broad-minded scientists at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Since the time of Hippocrates, the effectiveness of placebos has been a cardinal belief of physicians--as well as people of faith. But international controversy broke out in March 2001 when a widely reported international study that sought to disprove the existence of the placebo effect was published by the New England Journal of Medicine. (See summary at
In response to those who would debunk placebos, the author of Faith and the Placebo Effect: An Argument for Self-healing (Origin Press: October 2001), Lolette Kuby Ph.D., responds by debunking materialistic narrowness and by establishing the placebo effect and faith-healing on a universal platform that links science and religion.
A similar attitude toward placebos is being struck by scientific researchers committed to "complemetary and alternative medicine" at the NIH: "As a Center that emphasizes clinical research, NCCAM needs to understand the placebo," said Stephen E. Straus, M.D., Director of NCCAM at the national conference convened by over a dozen divisions of the NIH held in November 2000. "There are numerous aspects to tackle with regard to the cultural, social and genetic factors associated with placebo effects . . . and questions about optimal clinical study designs to account for their confounding effects." (More information is available at http://nccam.nih.gov/ne/newsletter/winter2001/1.htm and http://placebo.nih.gov.)
More recently, the NCCAM has stated at its website: "Placebos and the placebo effect [are] a broad area of mind-body medicine with many potential health applications. NCCAM co-released three research initiatives on this topic in late 2001. One NCCAM grantee is studying in depth the brain's system that releases natural painkillers, including during the placebo response."
By contrast, the New England Journal of Medicine study used an arcane "meta-data analysis" methodology to supposedly disprove the existence of placebos. But those trying to rehabilitate the placebo are turning to other methods of data analysis--including the data of interdisciplinary analysis, the data of common sense, and historical medical data gathered from centuries of observation.
Author Lolette Kuby also presents the prima facie data of her own experience of healing breast cancer through faith. Additionally, Faith and the Placebo Effect explores the psychological, historical, anthropological, political and historical features of the placebo question--while for the first time thoroughly linking placebos with what is known about faith healing and healing through the mind.
What has been needed is a fresh approach to this complex subject that goes beyond mere religious claims, anecdotes, folklore, and medical tradition. Kuby supplies this in a non-sectarian approach that amply fills in missing dimensions in the discussion.
The NIH's new interdisciplinary inquiry into the placebo effect may provide the scientific analysis that is needed to complement Kuby's more wide-ranging argument. And Faith and the Placebo Effect is coming to the attention of such scientists. Marilyn Schlitz, director of research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, was moved to write that she found this book "inspirational. . . I am convinced that the mind has capacities only glimpsed by our dominant worldview." Dr. Larry Dossey called her book "clear, compelling, and insightful".
If the recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine represents the dominant worldview, it sets a stark background against which to consider the question of placebos. Lolette Kuby, Ph.D. accomplishes this reconsideration with a concise, radical, and comprehensive argument for self-healing through the mind.
Email Origin Press