News of Otsego County

Edition of 05/25/2023

Citizen Science: The Power of the Placebo Effect, Part I: Magic Feathers and Medical Transparency
Citizen Science by Jamie Zvirzdin

The Power of the Placebo Effect,
Part I: Magic Feathers and Medical Transparency

Dumbo! C’mon, fly! Open them ears! The magic feather was just a gag! You can fly! Honest, you can!”

I can recite many Disney movies almost word for word, but I also recall that the 1941 version of “Dumbo” made me acutely sad and anxious. And no wonder: a poor baby elephant with big ears is mocked by others at the circus, torn away from his mother, given hallucinogenic alcohol by his best friend and a magic feather by horribly stereotyped crows. The magic feather itself is a trick of the mind, a symbol of the powerful psychological phenomenon known as the placebo effect. Knowing more about this phenomenon can help us make more informed medical decisions and improve our mind-body connection and overall health, so grab your popcorn or peanuts and get ready to enjoy—and wince at—the circus of the human mind.

Placebo, a Latin term, literally translates to “I shall be pleasing.” Healers of all stripes have long administered placebo pills or healing treatments that pleased and comforted the patient but had no intrinsic therapeutic value. These wispy, non-medical interventions, like Dumbo’s magic feather or cotton candy at a circus, are all fluff, yet they still harness the power of belief and expectation—for some people—to activate the body’s natural healing mechanisms—sometimes. Even if they’re therapeutically null and void, placebos can still draw out real effects in us, influencing our health outcomes.

Those real effects can linger, too. Dr. Kathryn T. Hall, in her book “Placebos” (MIT Press, 2022), says, “Even though the placebo interventions themselves have no biological qualities that would induce a physiological change, placebo effects can be long-lasting.” Moreover, she adds, those effects compete with clinical benefits of active treatments. That competition has become so fierce, in fact, that pharmaceutical companies struggle to develop treatments that perform better than the placebo effect. It’s far easier and cheaper to market fast-acting, triple-strength, long-lasting miracle cures. Homeopathic Cold Remedies! Advanced Certified Blends! Immune Support! Himalayan Salt Crystals! Healing Crystals! Essential Oils! It is a little wild to walk down the aisle at my local drugstore and see all these products and their claims.

The history of how we discovered the placebo effect is as sad as giving hallucinogenic alcohol to a baby elephant. Around the time “Dumbo” came out, during World War II, an anesthesiologist named Henry K. Beecher ran out of morphine to treat soldiers in pain. He decided to inject a harmless saline solution into his patients, telling them it was a powerful painkiller, and he found that 40 percent of the soldiers reported pain relief. This “pure placebo” did no harm but at least gave relief to 40 percent of soldiers instead of zero percent. The other 60 percent? Out of luck, man.

Intrigued by this phenomenon, however, Beecher continued his research into the placebo effect when he returned home from the war. Despite controversy over Beecher’s methods and findings, his work helped to establish the placebo effect as a legitimate subject of scientific inquiry. Beecher’s work also influenced the design of clinical trials, and now researchers use placebo-controlled trials as a way to test the efficacy of new treatments.

Since then, medical researchers—and enterprising marketers—have learned that the placebo effect can be influenced by a wide variety of factors, from the color and size of a pill to the way a healthcare provider talks to their patients. There are “pure placebos,” like sugar pills or the saline injections Beecher used, and there are “impure placebos,” like low doses of an active treatment (homeopathy), vitamins, or supplements. Worst of all are poisons peddled as miracle cures—including “Morphina-Cura” (1906), a mixture of morphine and heroin to help people overcome their addictions to morphine, and a deadly dose of antifreeze relabeled “Elixir Sulfanilamide” that killed 71 adults and 34 kids in 1937, which led to the creation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1938.

So what happens in our brains when we partake of a placebo? Here’s what we know so far: When we believe a remedy will work, our brains release the “feel-good” neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins are natural painkillers and reduce discomfort, while dopamine is associated with reward and pleasure. In effect, our brains reward our positive expectations with feelings of pain relief and happiness. Our brains release their own painkillers, called endogenous opioids. These natural painkillers change how pain is processed in the lower parts of the brain and spine. Activating this part of the brain is like turning down the volume on a painfully loud TV.

Simultaneously, the placebo effect can increase activity in certain areas of the brain closely linked with mood, emotional reactions and self-awareness. These include regions like the prefrontal cortex, which is linked to decision-making and social behavior, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in mood and emotional regulation. When these areas show greater activity, it may lead to an enhanced sense of well-being and a more positive mood, further reinforcing the placebo effect.

Sadly, not all diseases can be improved with a placebo—especially those that aren’t controlled by the thinking parts of our brains. When we choose a placebo treatment instead of seeking better treatments with more robust studies backing them, we’re gambling with our own health. Caretakers who promote placebo treatments for a quick potential fix or to make a quick buck can end up harming their patients.

So I’m against quacks or overly optimistic caretakers who prey on the faith of those who trust easily—especially if patients pay for expensive placebo pills or treatments instead of seeking better and more effective care. That said, I’m all for positive and honest life hacks, MacGyver style. If the placebo effect is a type of health hack that can reduce pain for some people, let’s better understand it and use it—wisely—to our advantage. In fact, recent studies show that even if a caregiver actively identifies a treatment as a placebo, some patients can still experience that reduction of pain. These non-deceptive treatments are called open-label placebos.

In fact, Dr. Kathryn Hall—whose dog, her constant companion, is named Placebo—writes that patients who were given OLPs reported significant benefits in dealing with chronic low back pain, cancer-related fatigue, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and allergic rhinitis. We’re still figuring out what works and what doesn’t, but it seems honesty is still the best policy when it comes to administering placebos ethically. If Dumbo could soar to the heavens after realizing his magic feather was as magical as a rubber chicken, perhaps there’s hope for us yet. In the meantime, we’ll keep our ears open and see you next month when we dive into the fascinating world of the nocebo effect—the evil twin of the placebo. Until then, enjoy the circus of the human psyche and stay away from questionable beverages.

Jamie Zvirzdin researches cosmic rays with the Telescope Array Project, teaches science writing at Johns Hopkins University and is the author of “Subatomic Writing.”

Cultural Critic Speaks at Writers Salon

Cultural Critic Speaks at Writers Salon



Cultural critic, artist and award-winning journalist Anne Elizabeth Moore visited the Community Arts Network of Oneonta on May 18 to present selections from her new book. The Feminist Press at the City University of New York released a second, expanded edition of the award-winning “Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes,” originally published in 2017, in April.

“Body Horror” is a wide-ranging collection of essays that examine the ways consumerist capitalism assaults and exploits women’s bodies. They range from investigative journalism to corporate history to the deeply personal, such as Moore’s struggles with chronic illness in a healthcare system that expends as much effort denying treatment as it does providing it. Featuring chilling illustrations by Xander Marro, “Body Horror” is an impressionistic look at the “gore of American culture and politics.”

Local Riders Complete Endurance Ride

Kylie Robinson rides Lucky Jody along the Biltmore Challenge course. (Photo provided)

Local Riders Complete Endurance Ride

Kylie Robinson, Lucky Jody Bring Home Junior Division Award


Kylie proudly displays her award. (Photo provided)

Nine-year-old Kylie Robinson and her grandmother, Pat Robinson, both of Oneonta, competed recently in the 27th annual Biltmore Challenge Endurance Rides. Hosted by the Biltmore Equestrian Center on the grounds of George Vanderbilt’s historic Biltmore Estate on Friday, May 5 and Saturday, May 6, the American Endurance Ride Conference event is comprised of a series of rides ranging from 25-100 miles.

Kylie, riding Lucky Jody, finished first in the Junior Division on Friday in the challenging limited distance course of 25 miles, one minute before the second-place junior competitor.

Locals: People and Businesses in the News, May 25, 2023

Locals: People and Businesses in the News, May 25, 2023

RUGGLES ROYALTY: The finalists for this year’s Cooperstown Central School Ruggles competition were Coralise Bailey, Lily Shanker, Peter Lofrumento, Violet Gentles, Onyx Loewenguth, Avery Croft, Chris Savoie, Emerson Toulson, and Vincent Koedderman. Lofrumento took first place and Bailey was second.

HONORARY DEGREE: At the Hartwick College 91st Commencement ceremony on May 20, an honorary degree was conferred on Francesca Zambello, artistic and general director emerita of the Glimmerglass Festival and artistic director of Washington National Opera. Zambello is pictured above with Hartwick College President Darren Reisberg. (Photo provided)

TAKE A BOW, BOWEN: Hartwick’s own Riley Bowen was one of 16 students who presented “Evil Dead: The Musical” alongside the SUNY Oneonta Theatre Department last month. Based on the “Evil Dead” franchise, the musical featured five unsuspecting college students who travel to an abandoned cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway, accidentally unleashing an evil force that turns the group into demons. Bowen played Cheryl and was the show’s choreographer.

Coop Resident Interviewed by NBC
Photo by Joseph Membrino

Coop Resident Interviewed by NBC

NEW YORK CITY—The Commissioning Ceremony of the USS Cooperstown in New York City on Saturday, May 6 brought together many people. It was estimated that about 1,000 attended the ceremony, with roughly 300 in the VIP seating at the front of the stage. Attendees ranged from the Secretary of the Navy and the New York State governor to the ship’s crew and their families.

One of those attending the commissioning was Bill Waller, husband to former Cooperstown Mayor Carol Waller. Bill attended as a guest of one of the members of the Cooperstown Board of Trustees. Board of Trustee members received invitations to the breakfast, ceremony and luncheon.

Cooperstown’s Seamon Commits to St. John Fisher
Photo provided

Cooperstown’s Seamon
Commits to St. John Fisher


Cooperstown High School three-season star Danielle Seamon announced that she has committed to St. John Fisher University. Seamon played soccer for the Hawkeyes and led the girls basketball team to a 19-6 record in the 2022-2023 season. She was named to the Class C All-State third team for basketball in April. As the basketball season ended, Jon Rathbun of the “Herkimer Times Telegram” named her one of his 10 returning All-State softball selections to watch in 2023. She has more than lived up to the expectation.

Seamon was named a Class C All-State honoree in her sophomore and junior years, batting .500 over two years and hitting 13 home runs. She picked up a great deal of the team’s pitching responsibilities last year, although she usually prefers to play outfield or third base.

Cooperstown Honors Doug Walrath

Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh reads the Village Arbor Day Proclamation as Peg Walrath looks on. (Photo by Cynthia Falk)

Cooperstown Honors Doug Walrath


The Village of Cooperstown and Rotary Club of Cooperstown celebrated Arbor Day with a ceremony in memory of Doug Walrath on May 22. Walrath was a U.S. Army veteran and 52-year member of Rotary. He graduated from Cooperstown High School in 1947 and earned a Purple Heart after he was severely wounded in the Korean War. Walrath served as village clerk and treasurer from 1965 to 1990. One of two village employees in the 1960s, he oversaw the construction of the wastewater treatment plant; at the time, its associated bond issue was the largest in village history. After retirement, he continued to serve the community as a village trustee and as a member of Rotary and his lifelong faith community at Christ Church Cooperstown.

Weekend Spotlight

Weekend Spotlight

Clinton Canoe Regatta Set for May 26-28

BAINBRIDGE—The 61st annual General Clinton Canoe Regatta will take place on May 26, 27 and 28. Most attractions and the finish line for all events will be at General Clinton Park in Bainbridge. The 70-mile race on Sunday, May 28 is the longest one-day flat water canoe race in North America. It begins at Brookwood Point outside of Cooperstown. Friday night will feature the generation gap races, live music and local food and beverage tastings. Saturday will have kids’ races, wrestling, tractor pulls, hot air balloon rides, comedy shows, and much, much more. For more information or to register, visit

Hall of Fame Classic Returns May 28

COOPERSTOWN—Baseball’s biggest stars will return to the Hall of Fame Classic game in Cooperstown on May 27. Hall of Fame members Bert Blyleven, Rollie Fingers, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Jack Morris and Lee Smith will serve as coaches and managers. They will be joined by recently retired players representing all 30 Major League teams for a seven-inning legends game at Cooperstown’s historic Doubleday Field. The Classic will headline an entire weekend of family-friendly events designed for baseball fans of all ages. Gates open at 11 a.m., the Home Run contest starts at noon and the 13th Hall of Fame Classic will begin at 1 p.m. The popular “Night at the Ballpark” event also returns on May 27, with tickets at $75.00. Visit for a full roster and tickets. Any remaining tickets will be available at the Doubleday Field Will Call tent at 9 a.m. Due to a construction project, there will be no seats available on the third base line for 2023.

Memorial Day Activities Planned Countywide

OTSEGO COUNTY—Parades, a memorial 5K race, festivals and more are planned throughout the county over the upcoming three-day weekend:
• Cherry Valley ‘Spring into Summer’—Three-day festival, May 26-29, celebrating the start of summer. Visit to learn more.
• Hartwick Pancake Breakfast—Saturday, May 27 from 8-11 a.m. Connect Church Seniors, 4354 State Highway 80, Hartwick.
• Milford Memorial 5K—Saturday, May 27 from 9 a.m. to noon. Celebrate the life of Andy Jones, an active member of the Milford Fire Department who passed away unexpectedly in January. Wilber Park, Dave West Drive, Milford.
• Richfield Springs Memorial Day Parade—Monday, May 29 from 10:30 a.m., followed by the Memorial Day chicken barbecue at the Veterans Club, 13 Lake Street.
• Cherry Valley Memorial Day Parade—Monday, May 29 beginning at 10 a.m. Honor the sacrifice of our nation’s fallen heroes. Parade kicks off from the Cherry Valley Library and marches to the Cherry Valley Cemetery where a memorial service will be held. Parade is followed by a chicken barbecue at 11 a.m. at the Tryon Inn.
• Cooperstown Memorial Day Parade—Monday, May 29. 11 a.m. step off from the Cooperstown Vets Club.
• Oneonta Memorial Day Parade—Monday, May 29. The day will begin with a parade on Main Street (line-up at 9 a.m. and step off at 10), to commemorate Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Robert Eramo. After the parade there will be a ceremony of remembrance at 11 a.m. on the Veterans Memorial Walkway in Neahwa Park.

Universities Establish Oneonta Inclusive Business Award

Universities Establish Oneonta Inclusive Business Award


SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College honored five organizations with the inaugural Oneonta Inclusive Business Award at a ceremony on May 9. Students, faculty and staff from both colleges were invited to vote for their choices from a pool of 18 businesses nominated by campus-wide surveys. In order to be nominated, a business had to provide “exceptional service to diverse populations, treat customers with utmost respect and civility, and go above and beyond in meeting the needs of its diverse customers,” a release said.

Editorial: Decoration Day 101

Decoration Day 101

In spite of the incessantly confusing and mildly annoying weather patterns we have been confronted with recently around here, we have come to Memorial Day weekend, reputedly the harbinger of summer, though we have hardly seen spring. It’s supposed to be warm and pleasant, a packed weekend filled with family and friends, parades, taps, salutes, speeches, frost-free gardens, canoe races, and tag sales.

Bassett at 100: How Bassett Will Survive and Thrive
Bassett at 100 by Dr. Tommy Ibrahim

How Bassett Will Survive and Thrive

Dear Friends, Neighbors and Colleagues,

As you are almost certainly aware, these are difficult times for health systems nationwide. For over a decade there has been a growing shortage of medical caregivers. Due to burnout following the COVID-19 pandemic, even more people have left clinical professions, and this is now a dire situation. The shortage is national and is especially pronounced in rural areas. The need for nurses, in particular, has driven hospitals like ours to rely on traveling nurse agencies to ensure there are enough staff members to cover even a minimal number of beds. Agency nurses are excellent (and we are beyond thankful to have them on our caregiving teams), but they are expensive. Relying on them is not sustainable long-term.

Katz: Local Businesses Give in Support of Library

Keith Gulla and John Walker, shown here with Bowie, are among the business owners who supported the Village Library of Cooperstown and Friends of the Village Library during this year’s National Library Lovers’ campaign. (Photo provided)

Letter from Karen Katz

Local Businesses Give
in Support of Library

The Friends of the Village Library would like to extend their thanks to the community and all of the local businesses who supported this year’s National Library Lovers’ campaign in February.

The campaign featured a full month of activities and events designed to bring awareness to and support of the Village Library of Cooperstown. More than 25 local businesses supported this year’s campaign by hanging posters—designed by local artist Peg Donahue—creating promotional items and offering discounts throughout the month.

Falk: No to Exclusion as an ‘Emergency’ Measure
Letter from Cindy Falk

No to Exclusion as an ‘Emergency’ Measure

This year, I had students in my historic preservation class at the Cooperstown Graduate Program do research on businesses in New York in the 1930s to the 1960s that were welcoming to Black travelers as documented in the “Negro Motorist Green Book.” One student, Megan Good, uncovered the story of the Trade Winds Motor Court in Yonkers and its involvement in the United States v. City of Yonkers segregation case.

In 1984, former city council member Michael F. Cipriani admitted to attempting to limit the number of minority patrons to the Trade Winds Motor Court to no more than 15 percent, citing rampant crime. While this was one small part of the overall case, the court found that the City of Yonkers, the Yonkers Board of Education, and the Yonkers Community Development agency had intentionally segregated public schools and housing. That was not only ethically wrong, but it was also illegal.

News from the Noteworthy: Ordinances Can Improve Tobacco Retail Environment
News from the Noteworthy by Tobacco-Free Communities: Delaware, Otsego & Schoharie

Ordinances Can Improve Tobacco Retail Environment

Just a few weeks ago, Tobacco Free Communities: Delaware, Otsego & Schoharie did a survey of tobacco retailers in the City of Oneonta. The survey results provide a microcosm of the tobacco industry’s marketing in the retail environment nationwide, which in turn challenges us to consider their impact on residents’ health.

As we have previously written, the tobacco industry spends about 97 percent of its $9+ billion annual marketing budget—$173 million in New York State—on point-of-sale marketing. To recap: In stores that sell tobacco products, especially convenience stores, tobacco products are clearly displayed behind a store’s checkout counter where customers make most of their impulse buys. The tobacco products are wrapped in packages that mimic popular candy and gum products, and located near candy, soda, and toys. These strategic displays and placements attract children’s attention and have them associate tobacco products with sweet, harmless treats.

Time Out Briefs: May 25, 2023

Time Out Briefs: May 25, 2023

Unadilla To Hold Memorial Event

UNADILLA—The Unadilla Memorial Day/Decoration Day ceremony will be led by Deacon Joseph DeGeorgio at Unadilla Village Hall at 10:30 a.m. on May 29. It will begin with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Veterans Monument on Main Street, followed by a parade to Saint Matthew’s Church Cemetery. Later in the day, there will be additional services at Evergreen Hill Cemetery. A wreath for those who died at sea will be dropped from the I-88 bridge. All veterans are invited to march in the parade. No uniforms are required.

Dance School Announces Classes

WEST BURLINGTON—The Otsego School of Dance and Performing Arts announced its summer program of week-long instructional day camps and group, solo, duo and trio classes. For more information or to register, visit The dance school is located at 5364 State Highway 51 in West Burlington.

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