I have to disagree with the main criticisms from the linked article. The blogger seems to have either missed the purpose of the study or forgotten that experiments tend to be most effective when they test only one variable.
Placebos, when administered, are portrayed as useful and effective. However, hiding the identity of the placebo, representing it as something with medicinal value, is thought to be unethical. The researchers wanted to find out if placebos could still be effective if subjects knew that that was what they were receiving. Had the researchers not made the subjects aware that placebos had been shown to be effective in clinical studies, the subjects would have no expectation for the placebo to work. That would have been a second variable and could have raised an unnecessary question that would cloud the conclusion. If there was no difference between the two groups, would it have been because there were no expectations or because the subjects were aware that the treatment was placebo? As performed, the experiment avoided the results being clouded by such a question. They eliminated the unethical deceit without eliminating the expectation, which is exactly what they set out to do.
I ABSOLUTELY disagree with your conclusions. This is in no way a good study to suggest replacing the "deceit" used for placebos with the methods used in this study. There is no comparison of the effectiveness of the "open placebo" to a blind placebo. Without a test of significance comparing those 2, there is no reason to conclude that this is a sufficient replacement for a typical placebo. If it turns out that the "open placebo" is only half as effective as the typical placebo method, then the standard for drug effectiveness is also affected. It would also need to be tested in multiple instances with differing conditions to safely conclude that it can be applied to other circumstances as well.
Also, the first comment in his link is worth reading. At best, I'd say it's a start for researching the area and maybe enough to warrant a couple of follow up studies. The way things are worded still makes it sound like they have to convince the participants that taking the pills is somehow directly responsible for improvements, which isn't exactly accurate. Even after mentioning that they are inert, it kind of makes it sound like this is some recognized treatment and they even go as far as to mention that it has been shown to make improvements for IBS specifically.
Some other problems to consider:
- Will there be differences in conditions in which participants are aware of an actual drug treatment being available?
- Will participants drop out of a study upon being informed of being in a non-treatment group?
- Will you have more issues with participants keeping up with the schedule?
- Will you have more issues with attrition?
- Are the expectations of the placebo participants still the same? Or does it result in other effects?
And I still really have issues with describing this study as showing that there is a placebo effect without deception. I'd like to have seen a follow up question asking about their understanding of the placebo they were taking. I still get the feeling that they had to distort the understanding of a placebo in order to have the participants form enough of an expectation to get the results found in the study.