Citizendium - a community developing a quality, comprehensive compendium of knowledge, online and free.
Click here to join and contribute
CZ thanks our previous donors. Donate here. Treasurer's Financial Report

Talk:Sham treatment/Related Articles

From Citizendium
Jump to: navigation, search


Placebo should be counted a subtopic of sham treatment only if every placebo is part of a sham treatment. But since this does not seem to be the case, both placebo and placebo effect belong under related articles. Right, or am I confused? --Larry Sanger 19:14, 9 January 2009 (UTC)

It's not a clear hierarchy. A sham treatment is generally considered a subset of placebo, and there are subleties depending if the use is research or therapeutic. Abstractly, a placebo-controlled clinical trial has the control arm using something that has no expected physiological effect. The ideal trial is double-blinded; not only the patient but the person administering the procedure does not know if he is doing the experimental or the control treatment. The double-blinding allows placebo effect, but prevents observer bias.
That's easy enough if the treatment is a pill. If it's a minimally invasive physical treatment such as acupuncture or therapeutic touch, the person doing the treatment cannot be blinded, because they have to know whether the patient is experimental or control -- they literally cannot act without knowing whether or not to perform a sham treatment or a real one.
Sham treatment, in some cases, carries the additional implication of causing risk but no benefit. That might be approved, in a research protocol, with something minimally invasive, such as joint aspiration under local anesthesia, but no one is going to authorize cracking a chest to do, or not do, heart surgery.
Can there be a role for sham treatment in clinical practice? Look at the articles about the ethics of use of placebo in treatment. That's written with respect to medications, but, hypothetically, I can picture a practitioner of some manipulative technique "laying on hands" with the same ethical intention as the practioner that injects saline with the suggestion it may relieve pain. Howard C. Berkowitz 19:33, 9 January 2009 (UTC)

Erg, I don't need to know all that! My question was a simple one. It is not the case that every placebo, or every placebo effect, occurs in the context of a sham treatment. Right? In that case, these are overlapping topics. The placebo topics are not subtopics. Is that not clear? If not, explain briefly the logic why not, without telling me all about how placebos etc. work. That's not relevant to my point! --Larry Sanger 22:00, 9 January 2009 (UTC)

Larry, "sham treatment" is a term of art, but there is not a pure hierarchical relationships. If I had to force the situation, I would say all sham treatments are placebos, but not all placebos are sham treatments. Sham treatments have attributes including the inability to blind the practitioner if it's a research study, and often have the additional connotation that they subject the patient to pain or risk that would not come from a "sugar pill".
Sham and real treatments/drugs can have placebo effect. Placebos may or may not have placebo effect.
Not all placebo effects come from placebos. In the placebo article, the patient, with clinical depression, who is appropriately given a pharmacologically active antidepressant (e.g., nortriptyline or fluoxetine) and reports immediate relief, is experiencing a placebo effect from a drug that is not a placebo. The drug takes 2-4 weeks to have an actual effect on disease, so the only reason for improvement is placebo effect. Neither of those drugs are completely benign, so there are technical and ethical challenges on what to do next. What if the patient, a few days later, says that their depression has been relieved, but they now have sexual dysfunction, a known side effect of fluoxetine? The Principle of Double Effect gets very complex here--if you are reasonably sure the relief of depression is due to placebo effect, do you substitute a different inert pill that shouldn't have side effects? What if that patient doesn't get placebo effect from an inert pink pill, rather than a white fluoxetine pill? Mind-body relationships are very complex.
Interested on weighing in on the ethical issues here, which I would argue get into philosophy? Howard C. Berkowitz 22:15, 9 January 2009 (UTC)

Well, the question was very simple: whether placebo and placebo effect are subtopics of sham treatment. You say that not all placebos are sham treatments. That's all you needed to say; it clinches it. I moved the two topics to the "Other related articles" section. --Larry Sanger 20:03, 10 January 2009 (UTC)

Speaking as one with a substantial background in information sciences, the headings on Related Articles are never going to be as neat a hierarchy as one would like. Pure hierarchical data bases, for many kinds of information, have not been preferred for years. Look at MeSH and look at Library of Congress multi-hierarchy subject cataloging, to take examples from the seventies. Eventually, for this sort of material, semantic links are most likely to be useful. Gareth, Matt and I are discussing the three terms, and related material, at Talk: Placebo effect. Perhaps you might join us. Howard C. Berkowitz 20:13, 10 January 2009 (UTC)

Speaking as a Ph.D. philosopher, teacher of logic, encyclopedist, person who has thought a lot about this stuff, and absolute despiser of argumentum ad vericundiam: duh. However that may be, right now, we do have rules that have not yet been changed, despite any discussion that may have happened about them. Someday in the future we may discuss these issues, but the question is how the present rules are to be applied in the present case. According to those rules, if it isn't an entire subtopic, it ain't a subtopic, and as these aren't, they ain't. Over and out. --Larry Sanger 23:51, 10 January 2009 (UTC)

That is a clear ruling for this case, although it still implies several assumptions. I'll review the instructions and verify if they are consistent with it; I'm not the only person who has found the directions on the Related Pages pages somewhat confusing. Thinking of my undergraduate logic courses, and my graduate courses and equivalent experience in information structures, I'm fairly sure that I can point out some relationships that aren't quite covered in what you just ruled. Until there are defined relationships variously dealing with what can be called context, or, to an information scientist, scope of variables, the relationships can get quite ambiguous. Under what heading in the Forums should it be discussed? Multiple inheritance, and the properties of belonging to multiple hierarchies, are decidedly nontrivial problems in data structures, and every bit of information in Citizendium has to be stored in a data structure that can be created in a software environment.
Do I understand that Related Articles is an extension to the basic Wiki software? If so, is there a technical specification of it? Howard C. Berkowitz 00:24, 11 January 2009 (UTC)

No, Related Articles and the related templates aren't part of MediaWiki, they are a set of rules and templates. They were designed by me originally and Chris Day greatly developed the templates.

I more or less understand what you're saying above, but you haven't explained how those various technical generalizations are (and which of them is) relevant to this particular case. Design of categorization schemes has its own board:,12.0.html --Larry Sanger 00:32, 11 January 2009 (UTC)