One argument I hear over and over again; it could be called ‘the fallacy of the benign placebo’ and goes like this:
- Alright, I accept that the evidence for xy isn’t brilliant.
- I might even accept it is a pure placebo therapy.
- But that is not important.
- What counts is that it helps suffering patients.
- Who cares about the mechanism?
- As long as a therapy can be shown to be helpful, we should use it!
I am sure you agree, this fallacy is extremely common. What is more, it is damn difficult to argue against. Whatever I used to counter, people would look at me in disbelief thinking: those scientists really sit in their ivory towers and haven’t got a clue about the real issues.
In my frustration of not getting through to many people, I have now thought of THE TELLING TALE OF THE PLACEBO BANKER.
Allow me to explain:
Imagine you are in real difficulties. You lost your job, your wife is ill, your children need feeding, the bills are stacking up – in a word, you need a loan to survive the next few months until things are sorted out.
Luckily, you know a very nice chap who is in charge of your local bank and who has a reputation of trying his utmost to help clients in need. So, you make an appointment and see him. He listens attentively and shows compassion for your situation. He gives you all the time to explain things in full detail and then re-assures you that there is hope: he will help you! At the end of the consultation you leave his office feeling well and optimistic. You even have in your hands a tidy amount of money that will get you through this bad patch. All is fine…because you have seen a real banker who knows his job in such situations consists mainly of two things:
- be kind, listen with empathy and give assurance that makes customers feel good,
- give the necessary credit.
- show compassion and empathy,
- prescribe an effective treatment.
Now, imagine you are in dire straights again. This time you go to a different banker, someone who has the reputation to be even kinder and more ‘holistic’. The consultation proceeds much as the last one. The banker listens, offers help and shows compassion. If anything, this new chap is even better at this task. He is more understanding than the last one, he even explains why you got into difficulties, and he has a full hour just to talk with you. Consequently, you feel really good about the whole thing, and you are happy as he gives you an envelope full of money that will assist you solving your current problems. You go home and feel great…until, three days later, you need to pay your first bill, open the envelope and discover that it contains plenty of notes, but they are all Monopoly money. You discover that you have become the victim of THE PLACEBO BANKER.
The placebo banker is, of course, akin to the placebo therapist who can do little more than:
- show compassion and empathy,
- dish out placebos.
I know, the analogy is not perfect but is explains the fallacy a bit, I hope.
Good banking consists of courteous behaviour and adequate financial assistance.
Good medicine consists of compassion and effective treatments.
If one of the two essential elements is missing, neither the banking nor the medicine can be good or ethical.