As a former research scientist, I am always bemused as I prepare for the Microsystems class. Each year, I prowl around the internet, searching in PubMed and other scholarly sources for good data on the effects of the various microsystems and techniques that I cover during the semester. And each year, I run into the formidable puzzle of the sham control.

The sham control is, in theory, a great idea. A person responding to an acupuncture treatment might just be responding to the idea of an acupuncture treatment, a placebo effect. Naturally, we want to rule this out, so we need a control group for comparison. The best control group would think they received the same treatment, but actually didn’t, so the psychological factors would be the same. Any difference between the groupswould be best explained by the treatment itself.