In medicine, it’s long been recognised that a placebo, a sham medicine or treatment, can have a powerful positive effect on a patient’s health. Part of that effect relies on a person’s belief that an inactive substance or treatment (for example, a sugar pill) is in fact an active drug. Placebos come in many forms and the scientific study of placebo is an active area of research.
With this in mind, CrowdScience listener Nigel got in touch to ask if can placebos be used to improve sports performance? As an amateur sports enthusiast, he’s been reading up on his sports psychology to try and improve his game but he wonders if any coaches or psychologists use placebos to improve performance? Always ready to take up a challenge, presenter Anand Jagatia explores the world of endurance sport to find out how a placebo might used to improve athletes’ performances as well as his own and look at how advances in brain science are helping us understand the unusual neurobiology of placebo.
And what of the amateur golfer or rugby or table tennis player - can placebo help? On an individual level, so called ‘verbal placebo’ is a technique that can help players with anxiety, confidence and concentration, and ultimately make them win more. And what about team sports – when, say, a new manager takes over at an ailing football club, and sparks a massive reversal in poor results, is that placebo effect in action? The CrowdScience team investigates.
Produced by Dom Byrne, Presented by Anand Jagatia.
Can science explain why I love shopping?
If you've ever felt the urge to shop till you drop, then you may already know about some of the clever ways retailers convince us to consume. From flash sales to so-called unbelievable offers, there are a whole range of techniques aimed at encouraging us to flash the cash. Listener Mo works in marketing, so knows more than most about the tricks of the trade - but he wants CrowdScience to investigate how neuroscience is being used to measure our behaviour and predict what we’ll buy. Marnie Chesterton finds out how brain scans are being used to discover which specific aspect of an advertisement a person is responding to, and then she hears how this information is being used by companies who want to sell us more stuff. But there's also evidence to suggest we have less control over these decisions than we think, and that computers are getting closer to detecting our intention before we're even aware of it ourselves. And this could have huge implications for the way we shop.
Presented by: Marnie Chesterton
Produced by: Marijke Peters
Can I trust DNA ancestry tests?
Many of us are fascinated by our ancestry: knowing where our families came from can give us a sense of identity and roots. Tracing your family tree is a time-honoured tradition, but several companies now sell DNA tests that offer you insights into your heritage: so you might find out you’re 70% Nigerian, 39% Italian, or 11% South Asian, for example.
There’s no doubt that genes contain clues about your family history, but how reliable are these commercial tests? That’s what CrowdScience listener Karen wondered after an update of her test results showed her going from 39% Scandinavian to 2% Norwegian. How confident can she be in her results now? And what does it actually mean to be 2% Norwegian, in terms of your family tree?
Presenter Alex Lathbridge delves into his own African and European ancestry, talks to some of the companies offering these tests, and unpicks the complex relationship between genetic science and family trees. We meet a woman who found her long-lost uncle with a combination of a DNA test and old-fashioned archive research; and look to the Americas to ask whether genetic testing can restore ancestral ties erased by the inhumanity of the transatlantic slave trade.
Presented by Alex Lathbridge
Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service
(Photo: Elderly hands looking at old photos of self and family. Credit: Getty Images)
What are scientists doing about coronavirus?
Since the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus late last year, health workers and governments have been rushing to limit transmission by deploying containment tactics and anti-contamination campaigns. But, as the virus spreads around the world, what are scientists doing to help our bodies fight off or resist this new infectious disease?
Viruses that cause human disease can be notoriously tricky to tackle. They don’t respond to antibiotics, can spread rapidly between human hosts, and even evolve improved ways of working as they multiply. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads to the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine to meet the researchers who are urgently searching for solutions. Professor Tao Dong is Director of Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Oxford Institute, collaborating with colleagues on the ground in China to see how Chinese patients’ immune systems are responding to the virus, which could inform vaccine design. Professor Sarah Gilbert leads the Jenner Institute’s influenza vaccine and emerging pathogens programme. She’s been developing a vaccine against another strain of coronavirus that caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak, and is using the same technology to generate a new vaccine against the 2019 coronavirus. And, whilst that’s being developed, there is a possibility that some existing antiviral drugs may even help infected patients – Professor Peter Horby is working with colleagues in China on clinical trials to see what might work. CrowdScience goes into the laboratories using cutting edge science to combat coronavirus.
Presented by Marnie Chesterton
Produced by Jen Whyntie for the BBC World Service
(Photo: Coronavirus Credit: Getty Images)
Introducing 13 Minutes to the Moon Season 2
Jump on-board a doomed mission to the Moon. Apollo 13: the extraordinary story, told by the people who flew it and saved it.
Search for 13 Minutes to the Moon wherever you get your podcasts.