July 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


What Is the Nocebo Effect? (Joseph Stromberg, 7/23/12, Smithsonian)

Last week, researchers from the Technical University of Munich in Germany published one of the most thorough reviews to date on the nocebo effect. Breaking down 31 empirical studies that involved the phenomenon, they examined the underlying biological mechanisms and the problems it causes for doctors and researchers in clinical practice. Their conclusion: although perplexing, the nocebo effect is surprisingly common and ought to be taken into consideration by medical professionals on an everyday basis.

In many of the experiments they analyzed, the suggestion or expectation of pain brought about significant increases in the amount of negative side effects experienced by participants. For example, in one study, 50 people who suffered from chronic back pain were given a flexibility test. Half were told beforehand that the test might cause some pain, while the others were not. Afterward, the first group reported a significantly higher amount of pain, despite enduring the exact same procedure.

In another experiment, the drug finasteride was administered to help relieve symptoms of prostate disease, and half the participants were told that it could cause erectile dysfunction, while the other half was kept in the dark. Forty-four percent of the first group reported that they'd experienced ED, compared with just 15 percent of the uninformed group.

The nocebo effect might even be powerful enough to kill. In one case study, researchers noted an individual who attempted to commit suicide by swallowing 26 pills. Although they were merely placebo tablets without a biological mechanism to harm the patient even at such a high dose, he experienced dangerously low blood pressure and required injections of fluids to be stabilized, based solely on the belief that the overdose of tablets would be deadly. After it was revealed that they were sugar pills, the symptoms went away quickly.

The researchers suggest that doctors reconsider conventional beliefs about pain management to avoid magnifying painful side effects. It's commonly thought that properly preparing a patient for pain--for example, "this might hurt quite a bit"--is the best way to minimize anxiety, so the patient knows what to expect. But one experiment analyzed showed that the very words used by a doctor before injecting radiographic substances affected the amount of pain experienced. The more frequently the words "sting," "burn," "hurt," "bad" and "pain" were said, the more discomfort felt by patients.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Microsoft's Lost Decade : Once upon a time, Microsoft dominated the tech industry; indeed, it was the wealthiest corporation in the world. But since 2000, as Apple, Google, and Facebook whizzed by, it has fallen flat in every arena it entered: e-books, music, search, social networking, etc., etc. Talking to former and current Microsoft executives, Kurt Eichenwald finds the fingers pointing at C.E.O. Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates's successor, as the man who led them astray.(Kurt Eichenwald, August 2012, Vanity Fair)

The story of Microsoft's lost decade could serve as a business-school case study on the pitfalls of success. For what began as a lean competition machine led by young visionaries of unparalleled talent has mutated into something bloated and bureaucracy-laden, with an internal culture that unintentionally rewards managers who strangle innovative ideas that might threaten the established order of things.

By the dawn of the millennium, the hallways at Microsoft were no longer home to barefoot programmers in Hawaiian shirts working through nights and weekends toward a common goal of excellence; instead, life behind the thick corporate walls had become staid and brutish. Fiefdoms had taken root, and a mastery of internal politics emerged as key to career success.

In those years Microsoft had stepped up its efforts to cripple competitors, but--because of a series of astonishingly foolish management decisions--the competitors being crippled were often co-workers at Microsoft, instead of other companies. Staffers were rewarded not just for doing well but for making sure that their colleagues failed. As a result, the company was consumed by an endless series of internal knife fights. Potential market-busting businesses--such as e-book and smartphone technology--were killed, derailed, or delayed amid bickering and power plays.

That is the portrait of Microsoft depicted in interviews with dozens of current and former executives, as well as in thousands of pages of internal documents and legal records.

"They used to point their finger at IBM and laugh," said Bill Hill, a former Microsoft manager. "Now they've become the thing they despised."

Today, Microsoft stands at a precipice, an all-or-nothing opportunity that may be Ballmer's last chance to demonstrate to Wall Street that he is the right man with the right plan to lead the sprawling enterprise into the future. With Surface, the recently unveiled tablet, Windows 8, Windows Phone 7, Windows Server 2012, and Xbox 720 in the offing, he could be on the verge of proving his strategies--including last year's controversial, $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype. But whether these succeed or not, executives say, the Microsoft of old, the nimble player that captured the passions of a generation of techies and software engineers, is dead and gone.

"I see Microsoft as technology's answer to Sears," said Kurt Massey, a former senior marketing manager. "In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Sears had it nailed. It was top-notch, but now it's just a barren wasteland. And that's Microsoft. The company just isn't cool anymore."

Cool is what tech consumers want. Exhibit A: today the iPhone brings in more revenue than the entirety of Microsoft.

How was it supposed to survive once governments started enforcing the laws?
Enhanced by Zemanta