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Warning: subjective results may cause impotence.

Wired this month has a fascinating article about the problems drug companies are having with the placebo effect.

In particular, the placebo effect in drug trials has been growing *stronger*, which has been causing drug companies all sorts of headaches, as in order to meet FDA approval their drugs need to out perform placebos in double blind trials, which many new drugs are having problems doing. The article mentions that even some widely used anti-depressants of the day might not even pass drug trials right now as modern placebos are reaching equivalent effectiveness.

The only real explanation given for the sudden increase in effect? The FDA's 1997 decision to change how pharmaceutical can market drugs directly to consumers. The idea being that we've been so inundated with the concept that there are pills to fix every inconvenient ailment, that that has somehow amplified our expectations for what a pill might achieve, which *somehow* allows our brain to heal us all the more. The irony of the situation bathes me in eye sparkling glee.

In the article they mention that drug companies have never actually studied the Placebo Effect, rather they treat it like the flamboyant uncle of pharmaceutical science clad in science-proof leather chaps and motorcycle cap of subjectiveness, they ignore and loathe his presence, seeing it as an embarrassing mockery of all they strive to achieve. A thing they wish would just go away, if only because they have no idea what to buy for Christmas.

And thanks to globalization the Placebo Effect has been increasing worldwide. Although there are some interesting geographic discrepancies that vary based on the ailment being tested, or even on the size, number or color of pills being administered.

The Placebo Effect has always been of interest to me, if only because I think it is a perfect example of the one true blind spot that the Scientific Method possesses, the inner point of view. Please don't confuse this for Science-Hatin'. I'll be the first to come out swinging my Mr Wizard lunchbox to defend Science from it's wild-eye'd detractors, but that doesn't mean I also believe it to be a singularly complete tool.

The end of the article talks about a man who is finally doing a proper study of it, and rather than treating it as the bane of drug companies, is asking what things effect it? His studies involve variations on the "medicinal ritual" of administering the various sugar pills, and measuring the resulting effectiveness. Which is an open-mindedness to a result that I applaud.

One detail of the story buried in a seeming side note was how they were doing some research into possibly being able to *block* the brain from creating a placebo effect in the first place, in the interest of creating the "perfect drug trial" conditions. What is not mentioned is the reverse concept, of making a pill specifically designed to trigger those areas. Such a wonder pill could potentially be prescribed to anyone, for any condition that you need not even believe in to work, or at least, that is what their commercials will claim...


My friend-with-a-better-blog-than-mine Chuck shared a link with me showing off various new robot designs.

What surprised me was how many were health care related... Which makes a whole bunch of sense.

The end game of growing old has always seemed a depressing venture to me, the examples I have seen make it seem like a nearly totally dismal way of continuing.

But after seeing a robot spoon feed someone, I have to wonder if maybe in 40 years, old age won't be as bad. If the prospect of retirement just means my job is to sit around and play video games while a robot changes my diaper, then it just may be that my old age might be a lot like my youth, without the need for irritating bathroom breaks.

Bones of a Dybbuk

I believe dreams have meaning. Not all dreams mind you, but if a dream seems memorable in some unexplainable way, or replays itself night after night, I often take that as your subconscious' blinking neon sign method of pointing out something obvious you are missing.

Since my cousin's death I have had a reoccurring dream. The details often change, but the setting and framework are nearly identical.

It is always a noir murder mystery based loosely around the premise of Veronica Mars, often featuring some of its characters by name, and since not once in the dozens of times I have had this dream has it featured the titular character dressed as Slave Girl Leia I am forced to assume that there is some reasoned subtext inherent that I have been missing.

In 2007, my cousin Sunny had developed a seemingly peculiar interest into the death of our Great Uncle Elof some 60 years previous. She researched details of it eventually finding a copy of his death certificate, which was, "fun fact", dated the same day as Sunny's Birthday.

The evidence of the case seemed to indicate Elof had cashed out his bank account, taken a train from Duluth to Minneapolis, slit his wrists, and then jumped into the Mississippi river with $300 in his pockets. Sunny was convinced that he had actually been murdered, and she even filled the paper work to have the case opened as a Cold Case file.

A couple months ago we received word of the contents of Sunny's official death certificate. "Cause of Death" was ruled to be "Natural Causes". Which would make sense if she were 60 years older than she was, or perhaps was suffering from Progeria. But since she was instead 30 and otherwise completely healthy I read that ruling as "I am a California corner who would rather be out surfing on the beach than in a morgue, bye-ee".

(A more reasonable person might say that since Sunny's heart was stopped by a surgeon to facilitate organ donation, that it is SOP to rule it "Natural Causes", but I am not that person at the moment.)

The lack of a "Reason" for Sunny's death angers me in an acute way that I have been told is a healthy part of the grieving process. But this additional lack of a "reason" for Sunny's death just plain pisses me off.

I feel compelled to dig into the medical particulars of her case, to file petitions for her medical records, to harangue cardiologists for plausible hypotheses. Sadly, "double first cousins" isn't a high enough familial "rank" to allow me to request the necessary documents, although clearly, I think it should be.

So ultimately, I'd have to bug her husband, an idea that always stops me cold. My itch to uncover the truth just seems insignificant compared to whatever glacier of sorrow he is riding.

And so it is, I am stuck. My brain forced to play out its driving impulses on the stage of mind, ideally with a run shorter than Cats.