‘Placebos’ and the logic of placebo comparison

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Robin Nunn has argued that we should stop using the terms ‘placebo’ and ‘placebo effect’. I argue in support of Nunn’s position by considering the logic of why we perform placebo comparisons. Like all comparisons, placebo comparison is just a case of comparing one thing with another, but it is a mistake, I argue, to think of placebo comparison as a case where something is compared to ‘a placebo’. Rather, placebo comparison should be understood as a situation which sets-up the treatment and control groups in a particular way; not as a case involving objects or procedures called ‘placebos’ employed in order to control for ‘placebo effects’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-432
Number of pages14
JournalBiology & Philosophy
Issue number3
Early online date27 Sept 2011
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


  • Placebo
  • Placebo controlled trial
  • Clinical trials
  • Evidence-based medicine


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