The Internet Is Making Us Sicker

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The placebo effect, as we all know, is the mechanism by which we sometimes feel better even when we’re given meds that later turn out to be sugar pills. The mere expectation that we will get better somehow helps us actually get better. The most eye-popping example of the placebo effect is probably this one here.

But there’s also a dark side to this. I don’t know if it has an official name, so let’s call it the anti-placebo effect.1 Basically, it means that your mind can invent miserable side effects from taking medication merely because you know that certain side effects are possible. Take cholesterol-lowering statins, for example:

At the Mayo Clinic here, Dr. Stephen L. Kopecky, who directs a program for statin-intolerant patients, says he is well aware that middle-age and older adults who typically need statins may blame the drugs for aches, pains and memory losses that have other causes. He also knows his patients peruse the Internet, which is replete with horror stories about the dangers of statins.

Yet he, like other doctors, also thinks some statin intolerance is real despite what clinical trials have shown. The problem: In the vast majority of cases, there is no objective test to tell real from imagined statin intolerance.

So there you have it: the internet is making us sicker. Does it make up for this by also making us healthier? I have my doubts. It is a spawn of evil.

And no, you still can’t take mine away. However, this is one of the reasons why I’ve avoided reading about multiple myeloma on the internet. I figure it’s unlikely to help, and might very well hurt.

1Turns out it’s called the nocebo effect. How about that?

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

payment methods

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate