Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Are you feeling better?

Compared with how you were feeling before, are you feeling better now?
Coming out of the blue, this will sound an odd question. Nonetheless, please try to answer. For the sake of uniformity, are you feeling better today than you were feeling yesterday? In what way, and by how much? What caused the difference? Please use numbers in your answers.

For most of you this will still sound an odd set of questions, but for the third of you who probably had something go wrong with you yesterday, it may seem like an insightful and timely enquiry, showing I care for your well-being, which I do. Is your cold better? Has your stomach problem resolved? Are you in a better mood? Have you been able to banish troubling thoughts? Did you make the right choice of treatment?

Assessing the effects of medical interventions is notoriously difficult. I doubt whether many of us keep daily records of our health and mood, but once we start a course of treatment for an ailment we initiate a sub-routine of monitoring, so that we can judge whether the treatment is doing any good. There is a bias towards imagining that it is. After all, you would be a fool to be doing something pointless. Once something has been labelled a medicine then one expects that bright and diligent researchers have established its beneficial qualities.

There is a very large literature on the placebo effect, on compliance and adherence (whether patients actually take their tablets) and on the need for random controlled trials (one of Britain’s greatest achievements). There is also a thriving industry of liars, cheats and fraudsters willing to rip off the troubled public with useless remedies.

Emeritus Professor David Colquhoun has been battling against these charlatans for many years, and his blogsite “ DC’s Improbable Science: Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science”  has just been rewarded the 2012 Science Blog Prize. Yes, he is also at UCL, so this might be product placement, but after reading him you wouldn’t fall for that, would you?

In case you were interested, I’m fine, thanks. Mustn’t grumble. All well. How about you?


  1. Because of a side effect of one of my medicines I keep a detailed record of every evacuation of my bowels. It makes me feel very French.

  2. One cannot be too careful, mon ami.