Why most sugar pills are not placebos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The standard philosophical definition of placebos offered by Grünbaum is incompatible with Cartwright’s conception of randomized clinical trials. I offer a modified account of placebos that respects this role and clarifies why many current medical trials fail to warrant the conclusions they are typically seen as yielding. I then consider recent changes to guidelines for reporting medical trials and show that pessimism over parsing out the cause of “unblinding” is premature. Specifically, using a trial of antidepressants, I show how more sophisticated statistical analyses can parse out the source of such effects and serve as an alternative to placebo control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1330-1343
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophy of Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Dec

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by the Philosophy of Science Association. All rights reserved.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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