Years ago, when a friend recommended Airborne for staving off colds, I was skeptical, as I always am with such claims.  But after reading the ingredients and deciding they wouldn't hurt me (and I'm past the age of worrying that what I ingest will hurt someone else), I tried it.  And it worked.  Repeatedly.  The number and the severity of my upper respiratory tract infections were drastically reduced, even though I was travelling and visiting young children, two definite risk factors.  One year I had none at all.  Zero.  At the time, I exclaimed to all who would hear, "Maybe it really works, or maybe it's just the Placebo Effect.  I don't care.  I'm quite willing to pay a dollar a tablet for something that 'doesn't work' but so obviously improves my health."

The Federal Trade Commission disagrees, claiming there is no evidence for the efficacy of Airborne's products, and requiring the company to issue refunds for the price of up to six packages to those who request them.  That won't include me.  Not only am I not certain that $30 would be worth the paperwork involved, but more importantly, I don't see how I could in good conscience ask for a refund when the product worked.

Even Steven Gardner, director of litigation for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which was part of a class-action lawsuit against Airborne, admitted, ""It is pretty much impossible to prove that it didn't prevent a cold if you don't get a cold."  And that's the point.  Doctors, lawyers, and the government can worry about advertising claims and scientific proof of efficacy, but my concerns have a narrower focus: if I don't get a cold, that's good enough for me.

Speaking of the Placebo Effect, here's an interesting story on how it relates to exercise and fitness.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 10:19 am | Edit
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For the fitness placebo test, they should talk people with a desk job into believing they were actually exercising enormously while they work to see if the placebo works in a positive way, too. All they seemed to have shown with the maids is a negative placebo effect: that if you don't believe you exercise, you'll be as though you didn't.

Posted by Stephan on Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 4:28 pm

"pgr88" has the best comment on there - that the class action lawyers are the only ones who win in the end. It sounds like they go around looking to see who changed their packaging label, found out that the old label was in violation, and then sued them after their label was changed. I read quickly, so maybe I missed it.

Class action suits do have a place for some things - but it seems like they get used too often. And even sometimes in the defendants favor (there was a suit against one of those trial credit report/monitoring services, and the penalty imposed on them was having to give a free month to any of the customers, and all of the customers were automatically signed up for the paid version, unless they canceled out - good deal for the monitoring agency - be "forced" to get new customers.)

Posted by joyful on Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 5:59 pm

Stephan -- Didn't it show both positive and negative? In the first part, the maids who thought they weren't getting exercise had bodies that reflected what they believed. But in the second part, when they informed half of them that they were, actually, getting a lot of exercise, they lost weight and their blood pressures went down. Of course, even though the researchers said there was no change in the maids' level of activity, that's a pretty objective determination, so I don't know what to think.

Joyful -- I think over the years we've gotten (automatically) some pocket change from class-action lawsuits. I agree that it seems the only people who win are the lawyers.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 6:55 pm

That comment was actually by Jon. I used his Firefox on the laptop the other day before our computer was set up in the new house, and he didn't notice that I'd changed the comment name.

Posted by joyful on Monday, August 18, 2008 at 9:28 pm

I'm finally catching up on blogs, but I have to say I agree with Stephan here. The maid study showed the bad effects of negative thinking, and the good effects of right thinking, but not any positive effects of (over) positive thinking. Taking a group of people who do not exercise and 'educating' them so that they think they are getting exercise might better show whether you can eat chocolate and watch TV and still loose weight. It does shed light on the problems women have loosing weight since so much of a woman's problem is in self-perception. It also gives some weight to women who claim that their husband can just 'think about it' and shed the pounds. (oo, no pun intended)

Posted by IrishOboe on Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 4:11 am
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