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« Post-mortem or pre-natal | Main | Run your own race »

Marketing of the placebo: Everyone gets their own belief

The placebo effect isn't a lie. In fact, if you believe something is going to help you get better, it may very well do just that.

This very same effect works with stereo equipment, wine, politicians... just about everything where our belief intersects with reality.

You can believe that Ford is better than Chevy, that California reds are better than French ones and that your particular tribe is right (and that everyone else is wrong.)

Marketers love the placebo effect because it opens the door to stories and fables and word of mouth and varied perceptions. It gives marketers room to sell more than price and features. The first cultural byproduct this benefit creates is the notion that everyone is entitled to believe what they believe, and it’s rude to question it.

The second, is a real problem, though. If you spend enough time experiencing your own take on reality, you come to believe that what works for you might actually be a universal truth. Marketing plus psychology might equal science, it seems.

For the placebo to work, you have to believe it, but sometimes believing requires suspension of your connection with verifiable fact.

When that happens, we might believe that we’re entitled to believe things that conflict with demonstrable truth and an understanding of reality. With enough internal spin, you can believe that the moon walk was a fake, that levitation is possible and that the world is only 6,000 years old. You are welcome to believe that aqua metals will improve your sports performance and that z-rays will cure your arthritis, but only until it collides with things that are actually true. Placebos are a good thing, and everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but they're not entitled to their own science.

We now have to deal with the fallout from personal science. We've so blurred the lines between stories we tell ourselves and our perception of the outside world that it's easy to be confused and easier still to confuse others if it advances your cause.

Consider the fact that the world is getting warmer. To be clear, everyone is entitled to have an opinion on what to do about global warming. The question I'm wondering about is whether we should solicit the opinions of the population as to whether or not it exists. We're asking people to bring their knowledge of statistics, earth science and atmospherics to bear on analyzing data... Of course, most people don't have that knowledge, or care that they don't. If all that matters is belief, why should they?

Dylan told us that you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows... I'm not sure you need to take a poll either.

Before you send me an angry email, consider that the question of what we should do about the trend is a different discussion, one that should be had. The question of how (or if) we should take action is not what this post is about. The trend I'm concerned with is the notion that we're entitled to get upset when the truth doesn't match our point of view. Does the weather care what you think?

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