Surgical stitch-up: meet the placebo surgeon

Xan Rice in The New Statesman:

At Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences, which he heads, Carr was conducting a clinical trial of decompression surgery, to assess its effectiveness. He explained to Brennan that if she agreed to participate she would be randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first would receive regular surgery. The second set would get “placebo surgery”, with all the surgical procedures identical to the normal operation except that no bone or tissue would be removed. Patients in these two groups would not know if they’d had the real or sham surgery. The third group would receive no treatment.

“My immediate reaction was: yes, of course I’ll do it, because that’s the sort of person I am,” Brennan told me when we met recently for coffee in an Oxford bookshop. “But I was concerned that I might end up in the ‘do nothing’ category, as I was already at my wits’ end.”

More here.