The Nocebo Effect

We are all so busy today that we now “filter out” things that we consider distractions, intrusions to our privacy, meaningless or irrelevant.  I think this is the reason so many people do not return phone calls, emails, or even care about relationships.  Couple this with a texting generation who doesn’t call people but rather resorts to cryptic codes and short snippets and you can see the impacts in many dimensions of life today.  This propensity to disengage from the communities in which we live makes us prone to depression of course.  We increasingly dislike the world we live in and decide Star Trek’s Captain Kirk was right in asking Scotty to beam him up … there were no signs of intelligent life.

I try to resist the temptation because I find that I learn something new about myself and the world around me when I take a few minutes to consider the views of those I generally do not agree with.  I search for the nuggets of truth that hold their argument or point of view together and, hopefully, see a higher or deeper meaning to how our modern world can be made better if we could get beyond talking past each other.  So, I listen to atheists defend their beliefs about God and criminals about how they justify breaking our laws.

This may sound warped to you, but let me give you an example from an article I just read about how the wind industry dismisses claims from many about the ill effects of nearby wind turbines.

Read the Wind Watch article here. 

I paraphrase a key section here about a paper published in November 2014 in Frontiers in Public Health of what is called the “nocebo expectations hypothesis.” The nocebo effect is related to its better- known sibling, the placebo effect.  Or, if you expect to get sick, you just might.

Here’s how the paper explained the nocebo effect: “Research consistently indicates that the expectation of adverse health effects can itself produce negative health outcomes,” it said. “Negative expectations generating nocebo responses have been shown to have a powerful influence on health outcomes in clinical populations, and reported symptom experiences in community samples.”

The paper lists symptoms frequently associated with living near wind farms: sleep disturbance, headache, earache, tinnitus, nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, vibrations within the body, aching joints, blurred vision, upset stomach, and short-term memory problems.

Becoming familiar with the list can have an effect. “Simply reading about symptoms of an illness can prompt self-detection of disease-specific symptoms, a phenomenon seen in medical student disease,” the paper noted. It has been noted that medical students learning about an illness start to experience symptoms of the disease.

Perhaps this explains why we can’t seem to move forward on any key issues in our country’s well-being.  Nocebo effects are everywhere and fueled by our media.

Hopefully I have not added to that in your lives.  Thanks for keeping me in your reading list.


When you are rich they think you really know.

Steven Chu, former U.S. Secretary of Energy, 1997 Nobel Prize winner in physics, and the new president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

I have always loved the play/movie Fiddler on the Roof.  Tevya laments his hard working life and asks God whether it would spoil some vast eternal plan that he should be a rich man.  The song is a lovely contemplation of how he would live out his life honoring such good fortune … spending time in the synagogue with others, the Rabbi and of course God.

At one point in the song, he makes the statement that when you are rich people think you are smart.  After all, as the common adage goes, if you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?  So, the implication is that only smart people are rich.  But, should you trust the advice of smart people in one area in other areas where they not trained?

Read this article in Forbes Magazine and wonder for yourself. 

Store hydrogen underground?  Are you kidding?  Anyone who has coped with the key questions around a hydrogen economy knows that storage IS THE PROBLEM in any and all of this concept and no one in their right mind would think about storing it underground.  Yet, when the press interviews a nationally renowned leader in one area they should check with experts in the area before proclaiming the view newsworthy.

Oh, wait a minute, I forgot.  This is the same news media that thinks the opinions of movie stars and professional athletes about the world energy issues are worth printing.

Oh, that’s right … all the news that’s fit to print … where fitness is now defined as possibly selling media.



Nobody Taught Me!

Click to view the clip.

I have often praised Waffle House for their execution and culture which frankly amazes me in this modern world.  They have relatively low turnover and people working there generally seem very happy.  I have jokingly suggested that it must be all the greasy food they serve that creates the happiness.  Recently I asked an employee why he had stayed with Waffle House and he told me about their employee stock program.  For the past year I have been stunned at how this culture works so well.

That is until this morning, which started out the same way as usual.  However, I noticed my waitress Gail was not happy this morning when I got there at my usual 6:40 arrival time.  As she placed my usual ham and cheese omelet order, nothing seemed to be wrong.  That is, until I watched as the grill operator seemed to be struggling to fulfill it.  I thought he had been the same one to make my omelet last week, but apparently not.

After about 20 minutes of failed attempts to make it he finally gives up and tells Gail he can’t … “nobody taught me how to make a ham and cheese omelet!”  What?  Waffle House didn’t train him how to make whatever they had on the menu?  Apparently not.  And, worse yet, his performance making everything else seemed to go to pot.

This reminded me of a scene in the movie The Replacements which I have also blogged about in the past.  The team has suffered a humiliating defeat even though everyone was trying hard, but they didn’t really know how to perform as a team yet.  After all, the strike had thrown everything into chaos and they were all learning how to play as a team.

The coach has an after game review of what happened and stresses that fear of failure was at the root of all this.  After several silly comments about what made each player fearful, Keanu Reeves uses the phrase quicksand to summarize the basis.  Here is a link to the scene.

It is a profound thought and in some ways captures the challenge today in many companies.  Perhaps most damning this morning is that no one took the opportunity to respond to that employee’s cry for help.  They let him wallow in it.  Someone else made the omelet … they missed the opportunity to pull that employee up … and they all suffered for it.