Monday, May 15, 2017

Speech #9: The Nocebo Cure

[Toastmaster Project 9: Persuade With Power. Objectives: Persuade listeners to adopt your vie or ideas and to take some action. Appeal to the audiences interests. Use logic and emotion. ]

Dick Mills is a retired engineer, a sailor, a pilot, an exterminator, a fireman, a blogger, a carney, and a toastmaster.

The title of his speech is:The Nocebo Cure
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A librarian was told that there was formaldehyde in her new library bookshelves. Formaldehyde is a suspected human carcinogen and the librarian knew this. Soon she was suffering from a headache, aching joints, and labored breathing -- all classic psychosomatic symptoms.

But then she heard there was no formaldehyde in the shelves. Suddenly the symptoms disappeared.

But the final word was that the shelves contained formaldehyde after all but the librarian didn't know that and she remained symptom free.
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Madam Toastmaster, friends, and guests. I speak tonight about the nocebo effect. I'll explain what that means. I'll offer several example. I'll offer you a simple cure, and tell you how applying that cure can improve your life.
Most of us already know of the placebo effect, and placebo pills. If someone tells you that you should feel better, you do feel better. A negative placebo is called a nocebo. If someone suggests that you should feel sick or, you do feel sick.
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Let me first read something from an article aimed at plastic surgeons.

The nocebo effect is a well known causation of, and contributor to … psychosomatic conditions which can make life a terrible ordeal.

The vast majority of treatment-resistant pain syndromes ... are either directly caused by … or … contributed to …by psychosomatic factors.

The most common symptoms include headaches, back pain, fibromyalgia, ulcers, GI discomfort, jaw pain, and carpal tunnel.

There are many situations which may cause a woman to suffer a nocebo effect related to a surgical breast procedure including:

  1. Diagnosis of breast cancer can create a severe effect on the mind and body.

  2. Reading inflammatory information suggesting that breast implants might be harmful to the patient’s health.

  3. A warning from a doctor or radiologist that breast implants are dangerous.

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More than half of all health products list headaches, rashes, and GI problems as side effects. But those are also common psychosomatic symptoms. Therefore when a new drug is tested, and test subjects are asked about side effects, they say headaches. Therefore headaches are among the listed side effects, therefore causing more headaches.

Ay ay ay ay ay. Now we have the dog biting its own tail. Even on an industrial level we are unable to separate objective truth from psychosomatic effects.

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Nocebo effects are harmful to public health. Dr Dean Edell, said in 2008, that fears in today's world cause the average anxiety level of today's kindergarden students to be at a level considered neurotic in 1952. I'll say it again. Today's children, by 1952 standards, would have be considered to be mentally abnormal.
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But we can't go overboard. We can't sue doctors for delivering a bad news in the form of a diagnosis. Nor can we sue a drug manufacturer for putting warnings on a pill bottle.

What can we do? Let me offer a simple cure. Something, easy to remember, easy to apply, and that will make you resistant to the negative effects of the nocebo effect. It's called critical thinking. My definition is simple.

  1. Consider the source's motivation
  2. Look for cooberating evidence
  3. Shift the burden of proof to the source.

It's more than just being skeptical. I'll elaborate.


  1. Does the source have a financial or other motivation to want to scare you? If yes, be careful.
  2. Consider cooberating evidence. You already have a lifetime of experience. You know how the world works. Applying that knowledge is what we call common sense.

    Can you see evidence of this new scary thing in the things you already know about this world? Make your own judgement. Is it likely true or false.
  3. Shift the burden of proof to the source. Sources commonly pose questions that you can't answer. They are attempting to shift the burden of proof to you. Don't fall for it. Demand proof from genuine experts not motivated to scare you. Ignore celebrities and politicians.

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If you apply those simple rules in your everyday life, you will be resistant to being scared unnecessarily. Drug ads on TV won't scare you. Predatory lawyers won't scare you. Neither will predatory doctors, journalists, TV producers, authors, demagogue politicians, or your neighborhood gossip mongers. Become the master of your own life and your own emotions.

Therefore, I urge you. Become nocebo resistant. Remember and apply those three simple rules. 

1. Consider source motivation
2. Use common sense
3. Put the burden of proof on the source.

Madam toasmaster, the floor is yours.

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