Thursday, August 16, 2007

Anti-Scientific Correctness

I apologise for the shortage of detail in this post but I was only just waking up and hadn't had any caffeine. Professor somebody or other Michael Hyland of Plymouth University, on Radio Scotland news, was rabbiting on about how some half-completed study into kiddie tantrums is suggesting that flower essential oils can calm the little toe-rags down.

Update: Apparently there were "no chemicals in it at all" and he mentioned homoeopathy but it still achieved a 40% reduction in ?.

So far so good. The presenter then dared to mention the newest horror word, "placebo".

At this point, the good Prof could have said a number of sensible things. He could have said "We don't know how it works, yet, that is what we are looking into now", or "The data suggests that the effect is sufficiently strong for that to be enough that so we are looking for the actual mechanism". But that's not the way things work nowadays, is it?

Play the word, not the idea. "We think that word is pejorative." And then I think he said "We prefer 'psychologically active'". I may be wrong. Updated: I was. He said "psychologically mediated".

Now, just thinking about it - it could just be not even a placebo effect, just a variation of the Hawthorne effect (but see also this delousing of the term). A friend of mine is just going through the rigmarole of adopting a young son - all he or his wife need to do is to walk into the room to stop the crying. The mere knowledge that somebody is there and cares is enough to silence the wailing.

Updates, and an MP3, will be posted sometime after 08:50, when "listen again" becomes available. Update - yup, can't figure out how to cut the feed up but it is here until am 23rd Aug. You are looking for about 55 mins into the programme.

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