Penn and Teller: Placebo Effect

Penn and Teller: Placebo Effect March 21, 2009

This is hilarious and yet sad. If you must skip, skip to 4:30 where people willingly put snails on their faces in order to remove wrinkles. It’s unbelievable.

Is there anything people won’t do just because someone in a white coat tells them to do it?

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  • I didn’t know where to leave this question or maybe I just didn’t feel like looking through this site (blog) to find a place. I read how you became who you are today as it relates to christianity. I think your site looks great and it apprears to be well written. It is very interesting. You probably get a lot of good traffic. Good job!

    Now my question(s):
    What is the propaganda about? What is the purpose of it? Who started it and how do they benefit from say…Joe the Plumber becoming a Christian and going to say…the little church down the street from his house?

  • ROFL! That’s just too funny! The snails looked like they were oozing around going “WTF?!” ;-)

  • spence-bob

    For some reason, the idea of making people look foolish in public just because they are looking for something to ease their physical pain bothers me. It’s got an element of point-and-laugh that makes me uncomfortable.

    Still, your larger point – people will do ridiculous things just because an authority figure tells them to – is spot on.

  • Somegreencat

    It just goes to show how easily peoples fears and pains lead to manipulation.

  • professoryackle

    I can guarantee the snails on my face would have an extreme adverse effect on me, because I am snail- and slug-phobic. For that reason I had to stop watching at the 4.40 mark or so, to go and be sick.

    In general I agree with your point though. Quackery is big business, and it’s not on – not just because it fraudulently separates people from their money, but because it also gives them false hope. In extreme cases, people who are promised cures from serious illnesses via toyist remedies give up their real treatments, such as vaccines, chemotherapy, etc. Such people sometimes go on to die, as indeed they would have done in the middle ages, without proper medicine.

    I have to say though that I do not agree with everything Penn and Teller say: in some of their other programs their own logic and/or research is flawed. Believing P&T’s take “just because they say so” (and are entertaining) could be a mistake too.

  • Elemenope

    And people laugh when I say science (and its bastard child, medicine) is our true religion.

    Let me put it this way; there aren’t a whole lot of people who would put a snail on their face if a reverend told them it would made their soul more likely to get into heaven.

  • That is absolutely unbelievable!
    It amazes me what the power of persuasion can do to people’s minds. It’s no WONDER so many of them fall for the religion scam too.

    btw, on a fun note, that was filmed at the mall right by my house (LOL).

    Keep up the great work!
    I love your blog.

    Winx, Jinxi

  • doesntworkthatway

    I would totally put snails on my face. I don’t have any wrinkles. It just looks like fun.

  • Keauxjak

    Consumer exploitation at its finest. This is why we have such a screwed up economy. Too much disparity between the ignorant and people who search for truth.


    If you look back at mainstream science and medicine in the past these types of things took place all the time. I just watched a public television program on the Lobotomy doctor Walter Freeman. He had the nearly convinced the entire medical community that his innovative new proceedure, the lobotomy was a scientifically proven solution to curing the effects of mental illness. Watching this show made me cringe a bit hearing about how Dr. Freeman (who was totally convinced in the effectiveness of this proceedure), ruined so many lives and actually killed many individuals by basically shoving a steel ice pick through peoples eyes and carving around in their brains. The interesting thing is that Dr Freeman actually did a lot of research, tested this proceedure out and recorded the results which seemed positive intitially. He was also published in medical journals, taught the proceedure to other doctors throughout the country, and as a side note, the man who first wrote about this proceedure and initially inspired Dr. Freeman to pursue the lobotomy actually won the nobel peace prize for his ideas.

    This show made me wonder what modern-day scientifically tested drugs and/or medical practices may be as well intentioned and potentially destructively deceptive as Dr. Freeman’s proceedure.

    I guess we are rather easily decieved (intentionally or ignorantly) into believing false ideas. We like to think that our society is beyond this type of ignorance today, but after watching this, I am not so sure.

  • Ok, i didn’t read this post or watch the video, this is a reply to your “about me” page, but you have comments disabled. So this is the only other place i knew to post.

    You said that you don’t believe in angels or demons. Well, i’ve seen them. What’s your answer for that? I don’t do drugs or drink or take part in any other mind altering activity. Is your answer just that i’m a crazy person and don’t know what i really saw, or do you have a legit explanation?

  • Mark T. Market

    Reminds me of “The Law Of Attraction” practitioners of “The Secret”.

  • professoryackle

    True, Daniel’s anecdote is merely that, and I agree we should be wary of accepting anecdotal “evidence” as proof, in this and any matter. However, there is the evidence from scientific trials which does prove the link between passive smoking and cancer in never-smokers, albeit at a lower incidence than in smokers. Roy Castle, who never smoked but died in ’94 of lung cancer – of a kind only ever seen in smokers – is another anecdote, but I doubt anyone would dismiss him as irrelevant.

    [See also Vineis P, Airoldi L, Veglia P, et al. Environmental tobacco smoke and risk of respiratory cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in former smokers and never smokers in the EPIC prospective study. British Medical Journal. 2005;330:277-287.]

  • Tom C

    We agree almost completely, professoryackle. (sorry, I can’t ‘reply’ to your comment–we’re too deep in the tree.)

    Just to be clear, I don’t have any idea what the evidence actually shows, one way or the other. My point was exclusively about anecdotal evidence.

    Regarding the anecdote you introduce: I do dismiss it, unless when you say “only seen in smokers” you are absolutely correct in saying “only.”

    I suspect (without knowing what type of cancer he had) that it would be more correct to say that Roy Castle’s cancer is almost always seen in smokers, and almost never seen in non-smokers. (BTW: even if “only” was correct before 1994, after he got it, it was no longer “only” seen in smokers.)

    The only thing this type of anecdote is useful for is to prompt us to look at the actual, non-anecdotal, evidence. On that question, I yield entirely to those of you who have looked at it.

  • dr.R.

    Is there anything people won’t do just because someone in a white coat tells them to do it?

    Maybe I should put my white coat on when I tell them not to blindly believe everybody in a white coat?

  • Yes, it is just an anecdote. And if that is all there was, then it wouldn’t be sufficient evidence. But I doubt Penn & Teller retracted their position on the basis of my anecdote. ;)