Interesting things from Astral Codex Ten

I think I’ve linked to Scott Alexander’s blog Astral Codex Ten before (the name of the blog is an anagram of his name). He publishes lists of links that he comes across from time to time, and some of them are quite fantastic. Here are some from a recent collection that I liked, or that I wanted to save for later:

Impossible colours: Researchers did a test in which they restricted participants’ vision and forced them to view a field made up of two colours, and they would up seeing not a combination of those two colours but “new colors entirely, which are not in the CIE 1931 color space, either in its real part or in its imaginary parts. Some of the volunteers reported that afterward, they could still imagine the new colors for a period of time.”

Luck-based medicine: Elizabeth Van Nostrand is a software engineer who writes about her lifelong problems with food and digestion, and how modern medicine was almost completely useless until a doctor accidentally helped her. “This finalized some already fermenting changes in how I view medical interventions and research,” she writes. “Namely: sometimes knowledge doesn’t work and then you have to optimize for luck. I assure you I’m at least as unhappy about this as you are.”

The effect of open-label placebos in clinical trials: In other words, if you give patients a placebo, saying “This is a placebo, try taking it and maybe the placebo effect will make you feel better”, do they? This gets investigated a lot, but the latest study says yes, with a medium-to-large effect size.

Do anti-depressants work? Despite decades of research, there’s still quite a bit of debate about whether SSRI drugs — which are prescribed for millions of people every year — actually help those with depression. A large meta-analysis of the research seems to show that if they do work at all, they don’t make much of a difference for those who suffer.

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