Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 419–432 | Cite as

‘Placebos’ and the logic of placebo comparison

  • Andrew TurnerEmail author


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’.


Placebo Placebo controlled trial Clinical trials Evidence-based medicine 



Thanks to those at the 2010 ‘Progress in Medicine’ conference in Bristol who offered comments on a very early version of this paper, and thanks to Robin Nunn for comments on a much more recent version. Thanks also to the helpful comments of the anonymous reviewers.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Science & Society, SSP, Law & Social Sciences BuildingUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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