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December 24, 1955


Author Affiliations


From the Anesthesia Laboratory of the Harvard Medical School at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

JAMA. 1955;159(17):1602-1606. doi:10.1001/jama.1955.02960340022006

Placebos have doubtless been used for centuries by wise physicians as well as by quacks, but it is only recently that recognition of an enquiring kind has been given the clinical circumstance where the use of this tool is essential "... to distinguish pharmacological effects from the effects of suggestion, and... to obtain an unbiased assessment of the result of experiment." It is interesting that Pepper could say as recently as 10 years ago "apparently there has never been a paper published discussing [primarily] the important subject of the placebo." In 1953 Gaddum1 said:

Such tablets are sometimes called placebos, but it is better to call them dummies. According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary the word placebo has been used since 1811 to mean a medicine given more to please than to benefit the patient. Dummy tablets are not particularly noted for the pleasure which they give to their recipients.

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