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Watch Out, Willy Wonka PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

Let’s be clear here: I like chocolate. It’s not my intent to have this article bash chocolate in general. Nor is it my intent to suggest that eating chocolate can’t make you feel better. However, it is my intent to suggest that the chocolate makers at Intentional Chocolate make dubious claims. What claims you ask? How about this one:

All Our Chocolate is Embedded With This Intention:

“Whoever consumes this chocolate will manifest optimal health and functioning at physical, emotional and mental levels, and in particular will enjoy an increased sense of energy, vigor and well-being for the benefit of all beings.”

Wow, I need some of that! Or do I?

Before we get too far ahead, I should explain what they mean by “intent.” They equate it with a “blessing,” so it is safe to say this chocolate is blessed, the way a communion wafer or holy water is. I believe that the word "intent" may soon be added to the words "energy" and "quantum" as being red flags for woo-wwo.

I took a closer look at their site, intentionalchocolate.com to see why they made these claims. Lo and behold, a study was conducted in 2006 that showed a strong result for chocolate with “intent” having an effect on elevating mood and vigor. While the abstract is available online, I had to shell out $10 to read the actual study, which appeared in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. The specific article is Effects of Intentionally Enhanced Chocolate on Mood by Dean Radin, PhD, Gail Hayssen, and James Walsh.

First, some notes on the authors. Dr. Dean Radin, according to his site, is currently working on a study that will test “Using Quantum Randomness to Send a Message Back in Time.” He is perhaps best known for his book The Conscious Universe, in which he states, “the eventual scientific acceptance of psychic phenomena is inevitable.” Confirmation bias? Hmm.

Gail Hayssen was involved with a Dean Radin led study on the effect of “intent” on water crystal formation ala Masaru Emoto as seen in the movie What the BLEEP Do We Know? (a useful review is found here.) Those crystals that had intent applied were judged to be more aesthetic than control water. I'll leave that without comment.

James Walsh is an interesting name to have on that list. He is or was chairman of Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate Company, and is now Founder of Intentional Chocolate, the company that cited the study in the first place. Since the study was done in 2006, years after James Walsh was involved with a chocolate company, one wonders how independent and unbiased it could be. Jim Walsh personally supervised the treatment of two of the groups consuming blessed chocolate, including the one that used the method that Intentional Chocolate uses (an electronic device).

The study included a total of 62 people, in four groups. Three of the groups ate chocolate “blessed” by different methods and one group was the control, which ate “normal” chocolate. There was no control group that didn’t eat anything, which seems like an oversight to me. More importantly… 62 people in 4 groups is hardly enough of a sample size to make. There were two groups of 17 including the control, and two groups of 14.

One group ate chocolate blessed by “experienced meditators,” and another ate chocolate chanted over by a Mongolian shaman. The third group (described as ‘second method’) ate chocolate blessed by an electronic device. To quote the study:

The second method involved six meditators from the Deer Park Buddhist Center, including the Venerable Geshe Sopa. He and five other monks chanted in front of an electronic device while holding the assigned intention in mind. This device’s design was based on the concept of an intention-imprinted electrical device, which can purportedly record an intention and later play it back, and thereby influence physical systems in the vicinity. To date, the majority of the experimental evidence for this device has been reported by Tiller and colleagues. Independent replications of the concept have proven to be difficult, but we nevertheless decided to test the idea by using a new electronic circuit design based on Tiller’s publications. After 30 minutes of running the device in record mode during the chanting, it was turned off and later played back continuously for five days inside a Faraday cage along with samples of chocolate.

A device with an intent? Surely a Nobel prize is in order.  Anyway, to cut to the chase, the chocolate that was blessed by the device was the most effective, with that group reporting a significant change in mood and vigor. That’s an interesting result. If that were true, imagine the things that could be accomplished… banks of these machines could be set up in the Middle East to promote peace. Diseases could be eliminated and everyone could get rich. And... hmm, I'd better shut up before they start marketing these ideas.

And what is the Faraday cage for? To keep radio waves away from the chocolate? I don't know how the modified Tiller device works as it's not described in the study, but if it records sound and plays it back, the Farraday cage isn't going to do anything to inhibit other sounds. And If blocking waves is important during this process, why wasn't the other chocolate treated the same way? Surely if radio waves can effect chocolate being chanted at by a machine they can also effect chocolate being chanted at by actual people. And if the device doesn't record sound, what exactly does it record?

But I digress.. the results of the study: all the blessed chocolate groups self-reported better mood and vigor than the control did. The site is, in fact, correct in saying that this study supports the claim that its chocolate makes people feel better.

However, given that the study seems to have had a faulty design, one wonders what good that endorsement really is. I doubt any scientist would take it seriously. A peer-reviewed journal is only as good as the peers reviewing it, and based on my quick layman's glance, I'd say this peer group was lacking in credibility. Sadly, the study is probably pretty effective as a marketing tool, because so few people are going to spend the $10 to read the study, and even fewer are going to understand it.

Here’s the bottom line: we’re offering $1,000,000 if they can show us that this device works. It should be a very simple test and it wouldn’t take long at all. If they’re successful, the ENTIRE WORLD WILL CHANGE. If a device can focus intent and change things in the material world, NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME. I can’t overemphasize the impact such a discovery would have.

And yet… even though they claim it works, the best thing they can think of is to make chocolate with it. Although at nearly $35 a pound, the price might hint at the real intent of the makers.

 

 

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written by Kuroyume, May 17, 2009
This is obviously a ploy to extract money from wallets towards their brand of chocolate using the 'woo' 'intent' as a buzz word for increased sales through placebic enthusiasm. You can almost hear the conversation between them.

"Hey, you got some intent in my chocolate"
"Hey, you got some chocolate in my intent"

And the rest is history - as in, take the earnings and run before the authorities catch you.
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written by Kajabla61, May 17, 2009
Gosh, this stuff is even better than homeopathetic remedies since you don't have to add any potentially dangerous stuff to the product to start.

P.S. Common mistake that drives me nuts:

Surely if radio waves can effect (affect) chocolate being chanted at by a machine they can also effect (affect) chocolate being chanted at by actual people.

Except in rare cases, affect is a verb and effect is a noun.
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written by Tim Harrod, May 17, 2009
Willy Wonka has indeed got stiff competition. Not for chocolate sales, but in the "World of Pure Imagination" department.
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written by philandstuff, May 17, 2009
"There was no control group that didn’t eat anything, which seems like an oversight to me."

Why? If you're measuring the effect of "intention" on chocolate, you should compare chocolate with intent against chocolate without intent. A comparison with no chocolate won't distinguish between effects produced by chocolate and effects produced by intent. What exactly would we learn if we used your proposed control?

As for your faraday cage comments: does it matter? I don't think it's central to the design of the experiment; I don't think this criticism is what renders the experiment unsound. In fact, I would have to say that it sounds like the experiment was a reasonable controlled trial.

If I were to suggest my own reasons why this trial might not be entirely fair (and since the result is entirely implausible, I will), they would be the following, in rough order from incompetent to dishonest:

1. Was the trial randomised? Or did they (consciously or unconsciously) stuff the "intent" groups with people who like chocolate more, and the control group with people who like it less?
2. How many trials did they do before releasing this data? We'll never know. A classic "big pharma" trick is to conduct trials and not to report any negative results. Given the small sample size, it wouldn't take many repeats to get some good-looking data.
3. One of the authors clearly had an interest. This has a documented effect on the outcome of experiments -- again, trials organised by "big pharma" are much more likely to report positive results than independent trials.
4. Moreover, was the reported evidence a subgroup of a larger original group? It's easy to prove anything by selecting your subgroup appropriately. Of course, to not mention the original group would be massively dishonest. I don't know if anyone has ever done this, but I could believe it happens.
5. Did they just make it up entirely? Peer-review is not designed to catch outright fraud, even in the respected journals. It's designed to assure the quality of the research. We could ask ourselves, did these 62 people ever exist? There are statistical tests (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B...imitations ) to assess the likelihood of a dataset being genuine or made up, which might throw some light on it, although with so little data to start with, you couldn't be conclusive about anything.

I don't believe in the power of "intention" in the slightest, but I can't find any reason to dismiss this evidence completely. If this were the field of medicine, I'd like to see several more experiments done by different research groups, and then aggregated into a meta-analysis, to determine more conclusive results. But since this is the field of woo-woo, I'd just say this is scientifically implausible and I'd rather research money went on something more worthy.
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written by inquisitiveraven, May 17, 2009
Actually, intention seems to be New Age speak for "spell." As in, the store I used to own sold "items to help one focus intent" instead of spell components. Now I suppose that one could consider a blessing to be a type of spell, but I don't usually. Still you're right in identifying the word "intention" as a red flag of woo.
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written by salerio, May 17, 2009
"Wow, I need some of that! Or do I?"

As my girlfriend would probably say, "if you were a woman, you would understand the true nature of chocolate and not ask such a foolish question"


smilies/cool.gif

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written by kenhamer, May 18, 2009
All Our Chocolate is Embedded With This Intention:


All your base are belong to us.
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written by MadScientist, May 18, 2009
Hey, whatever doesn't work for homeopathy should not work just as well for chocolate.
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@ philandstuff
written by BillyJoe, May 18, 2009
"There was no control group that didn’t eat anything, which seems like an oversight to me."

Why? If you're measuring the effect of "intention" on chocolate, you should compare chocolate with intent against chocolate without intent. A comparison with no chocolate won't distinguish between effects produced by chocolate and effects produced by intent. What exactly would we learn if we used your proposed control?


Well said.

Yet you'd be surprised (or perhaps you wouldn't) how often a completely useless control such as this one is included in a clinical trial. All it does is to dilute the numbers in each group which mostly already struggles to reach an acceptable minimum of 25 per group (as in this case).

Acupuncture trials are fond of including a "no treatment" group and when the results of acupuncture is no different to sham acupuncture but both show greater affect than no treatment, they conclude that both acupuncture and sham acupuncture are more efeective than placebo!!!

BillyJoe
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Legal Solution
written by GusGus, May 18, 2009
I think that this company has developed the perfect legal solution to any sort of FDA or other challenge. They say that their INTENTION is to (whatever). They didn't say that their product actually does (whatever). A scammer can claim any sort of intention at all. How can you prove lack of intent? Or given that a product is manufactured with some given INTENT, what can you complain about? They never said that is actually DOES something, just that that is their INTENTION!
.
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Oops!
written by GusGus, May 18, 2009
"that IS actually" should be "that IT actually"

Sorry!
.
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Placebo Effect
written by atholk, May 18, 2009
In this case the skeptics are on the wrong side of the science. There have been tens of thousands of experiments for drug testing that do indeed show a strong placebo effect for sugar pills. The standard practice for drug testing is to have a group getting the actual drug, a second group being told they are getting the drug but in reality getting sugar pills, and a control group getting neither. Typically the sugar pill groups experience a moderate health improvement, and with less side effects noticed that the actual drug group.

Now replace "intentional chocolate" with "sugar pills", and I think the burden of proof starts shifting to the skeptic to prove that in this remarkable case that the placebo effect isn't happening for some strange reason.

Is this particular outfit making the chocolate sleazy money hungry predators? Yes of course they are. There is no more magic in the chocolate other than the perception the consumer puts on it. The standard way to expose this sort of thing in the past would have been to send a camera crew in and say "look - NO MAGIC HERE, IT'S ALL MADE BY MACHINES!" Though in this case they do have an evil genuis in claiming that the machines themselves are the focuses of special intent rather than having to pay a group of mystics to pray over the chocolate every day. Perhaps we can find out who made the machines in the first place.

Plus it's chocolate! Every one feels happier after eating chocolate! That's like feeling less thirsty after drinking water. DUH.

Silly silly silly.
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Speaking of placebo.....
written by Careyp74, May 18, 2009
Does placebo include effects that occur on their own that aren't caused by emotion? Let's say that there is a creme that dissolves wrinkles, and the directions call for putting it on in the morning. Wrinkles are more apparent in the morning, and later on the are less noticeable, so it seems that the creme works. Is this the placebo effect, or is there another name for it?
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written by bosshog, May 18, 2009
Back in the 70s I made chocolate brownies with intent.
I was busted for possession with intent.
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written by LovleAnjel, May 18, 2009
I don't think plain chocolate would have been an adequate control. I would have used Vosges' bacon chocolate, that is the closest thing to blessed I have ever had.

http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/product/bacon_exotic_candy_bar/exotic_candy_bars
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written by Bruno, May 18, 2009
@jeff, link is incorrect (it says international instead of intentional)
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written by redwench, May 18, 2009
I would be interested to know what the differences between the chocolates (other than "intent") are. For example, do they take 4 lbs of hershey milk chocolate, divide it up, and treat it according to protocol? There are great differences between chocolates that would account for the results, irrespective of being "blessed". The abstract makes no mention of the details of the chocolate, and I am unwilling to pay for the full study.
Other than that, I can think of one obvious reason not to include a nonchocolate control group. They don't want to have a record of results that might show that eating fruit, or nothing at all, would have a similar effect. I usually feel better after I eat something....
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written by philandstuff, May 18, 2009
@BillyJoe: Actually, I think that showing that sham acupuncture is as good as real acupuncture is indeed worth knowing, purely in terms of which placebos are better than others. It is fascinating that sham acupuncture is better than red sugar pills at pain relief, which in turn are better than blue sugar pills. In this trial, I don't think anyone needs telling that chocolate is better than no chocolate.

In fact, this talk of placebos leads me to ask a much more important question than any of those I asked above but which atholk alluded to: were the trials blind? If they weren't, the trial is blown completely out of the water.

If you want a course in good trial design, I recommend Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (a TAM London speaker).
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Deano does it again!
written by Michieux, May 18, 2009
When I read that one of the individuals conducting this "study" was Dean Radin, a very large red flag appeared on my monitor, thanks to my Firefox Bunkum Detector add-on.

Say, can I interest anyone reading this in my Lucky Water? It is water passed through my patented filtration system that is very much like the human body. In fact, it is the human body. The filtration system, that is. Once it has been filtered in this way, my Lucky Water is bottled directly, via a patented delivery system that ensures no impurities are added to the water as it leaves the filtration system and enters the bottle. The startling results are, well, startling.

When I invited a friend, who is an accredited person, to partake of my Lucky Water, not only did his lumbago vanish, but he won USD$160,000.00 with the next lottery ticket he bought, after first bathing the ticket in my Lucky Water.

Lucky Water retails for USD$25.00 per liter -- a scant price to pay for this marvel of scientific, quantum ingenuity that will change all paradigms for all eternity.

Lucky Water can be ordered directly from the provider via luckywater@yahoo.com.
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Lucky Water
written by GusGus, May 18, 2009
I think I'll pass (!!!) up that offer.
.
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written by MadScientist, May 18, 2009
@Careyp74: The placebo effect is the small increase in improved conditions of a group given a treatment with no pharmaceutical value compared to a group given no treatment at all. It is a measurable effect in most cases and has been known for a long time. So, if you take a bunch of people with the same illness and complaining more or less about the same things, do nothing for one group but give chocolates to another group and tell them there's a secret chemical put into the chocolate to relieve their symptoms and cure the disease, you can expect the placebo group to report more improvements (less severe symptoms). In general, there is a vast gulf between improvements with pharmaceutically active compounds and placebos - otherwise physicians would be prescribing more placebos. So the effect you describe (apparent change after applying facial cream) is not at all a placebo effect; if you had a control group (no face cream), the possible placebo effects could include: a. actual effect (even less wrinkling on a significant number of people using the cream) or b. imagined effect (oooh - my face is so much smoother!, even though measurements show otherwise).
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atholk
written by BillyJoe, May 19, 2009
In this case the skeptics are on the wrong side of the science.

I don't think so.

There have been tens of thousands of experiments for drug testing that do indeed show a strong placebo effect for sugar pills. The standard practice for drug testing is to have a group getting the actual drug, a second group being told they are getting the drug but in reality getting sugar pills, and a control group getting neither.

Our scepticism questions what the third group tells us about the test drug. So, it's no use telling us that that is "standard practise". Rather you must explain why the third group is necessary and the rationale behind it being "standard practise".

BJ
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@ philandstuff
written by BillyJoe, May 19, 2009
@BillyJoe: Actually, I think that showing that sham acupuncture is as good as real acupuncture is indeed worth knowing, purely in terms of which placebos are better than others.


Of course.

But my point was that it is not worth knowing that real acupuncture is better than no acupuncture because it doesn't tell you if the effect was due to placebo or acupuncture.

My point is that sham acupuncture is the proper control for true acupuncture because only sham acupuncture accounts fully for the placebo effect. Hence if real acupuncture is no better than sham acupuncture (ie placebo), then real acupuncture is a purely placebo effect.

This means that you can just stick the needles in anywhere you like. You can even pretend to stick them in and you'll get the same effect.

In this trial, I don't think anyone needs telling that chocolate is better than no chocolate.

Exactly. And true acupuncture is going to be better than no acupuncture. So why waste one third of the patient base on a group that will tell you nothing.

BJ
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Placebo effect
written by Griz, May 19, 2009
I looked up the Placebo Effect on Wikipedia, and I'm not sure the article is accurate. It states:

"The intervention [placebo] may cause the patient to believe that the treatment will change his/her condition; this belief sometimes causes the patient's condition to change, a phenomenon known as the placebo effect."

Can the Placebo Effect actually cause a patient's condition to change as objectively measured, or does it cause the patient's perception of the condition to change as subjectively measured? I have always thought it was the latter, but the Wikipedia article suggests it's the former.

Can anyone answer that question with references?
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written by redwench, May 19, 2009
yes Griz, there is a Santa Clause. Oh, wait, that's not what you asked. The answer to your question is: it depends. Any illness/injury with any psychosomatic component will have a measurable placebo effect. Can't quote you any studies, but check out studies on psoriasis or eczema. Skin ailments are the poster child for this stuff, because they are measurable, but also influenced by psychological factors, particularly stress.

A broken leg will probably not heal much faster (as determined by xrays, or some other neutral method) with placebo drugs than no treatment.

BillyJoe: a nontreated control group is always desirable, so that the placebo effect during the study can be measured. Particularly if the placebo and treatment groups show results that are within a small variation of each other. If you knew that the placebo effect counted for 85% of the improvement from a drug, would you use it and risk side effects?

philandstuff: the abstract states that it was a double blind study, as well as a few other salient details.
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written by Steel Rat, May 19, 2009
To me this "study" is studying the effects of one thing on another thing, and those effects on yet another thing, when the first effect has not even been established. They first need to establish that such a thing as "intent" can have a physical manifestation. Then they need to establish that "intent" can change the physical properties of chocolate in any way. Then they need to establish that ingesting said chocolate has any effect on humans.

They haven't yet established premise #1, therefore the rest is rubbish.
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written by Kuroyume, May 19, 2009
And we'll all love it when they say that "intent" cannot be measured - but they can get subjective placebo effects from participants in their studies of chocolate supposedly impregnanted with it. That makes it unfalsifiable and out the window it goes (along with nutter Dean Radin).
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Placebo?
written by pxatkins, May 19, 2009
Daft question, but ... 'placebo = sugar pill' ... is that literal?
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written by Kuroyume, May 19, 2009
From the dictionary:

a. A substance containing no medication and prescribed or given to reinforce a patient's expectation to get well.
b. An inactive substance or preparation used as a control in an experiment or test to determine the effectiveness of a medicinal drug.

A 'sugar pill' can be a placebo but a placebo doesn't necessarily need to be represented by a sugar pill.
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@ redwench
written by BillyJoe, May 19, 2009
BillyJoe: a nontreated control group is always desirable, so that the placebo effect during the study can be measured. Particularly if the placebo and treatment groups show results that are within a small variation of each other. If you knew that the placebo effect counted for 85% of the improvement from a drug, would you use it and risk side effects?

Hmmm...good answer. smilies/smiley.gif
I'll have to think about that one.

It just worries me though that acupuncturist use the "no treatment" control to say that acupuncture works. Some studies even conclude: "acupuncture and sham acupuncture are equally effective"!!!

They win even when they lose.

BJ
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@ kuroyume
written by BillyJoe, May 19, 2009
The dictionary defintion you found is incomplete.
A placebo does not have to be a "substance". It can be a ritual. The ritual of acupuncturists sticking needles into people, for example, seems to be a very powerful placebo.

BJ
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@BillyJoe
written by Kuroyume, May 19, 2009
Agreed! smilies/grin.gif
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Billy Joe
written by Griz, May 20, 2009
"Exactly. And true acupuncture is going to be better than no acupuncture. So why waste one third of the patient base on a group that will tell you nothing."

Because the group recieving the placebo is essentially doing nothing and to demonstrate a placebo effect you have to demonstrate that the placebo had some effect greater than doing nothing whatsoever. As you probably know, the homeopathic remedies that claim to decrease or cure cold symptoms rely for success on the fact that about 100% of people who get a cold are going to get better on their own. Having a control group that recieves no treatment will allow you to say things like "on the average colds lasted 20% less time in the group that recieved the placebo" or "the group that recieved the placebo showed no improvement greater than the group that recieved no treatment."

This is, of course, only going to work on things that are measurable and quantifiable.
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What about 'Bad Intentions'?
written by tmac57, May 20, 2009
I wonder what the people who consume their chocolate would 'manifest' if the truck driver that hauled it across country was listening to Gangsta Rap all the way?
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@ Griz
written by BillyJoe, May 20, 2009
I'm having trouble following your explanation.

the group recieving the placebo is essentially doing nothing

The placebo group does not do nothing, not even essentially nothing. Perhaps you mean something else?

to demonstrate a placebo effect

We already know there is an effect of placebo above "doing nothing". I thought the idea was to demonstrate an effect of acupuncture above placebo. For that, all we need is a "true acupuncture" group and a "sham acupuncture" group.
(However, I'm still thinking about redwench's explanation above of why a "no treatment" group is used in clinical trials.)

BJ
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