Can you hear it? All around us, that tinny tiny tinkling is the sound of homeopathic hopes shattering into teeny pieces. It would take the proverbial heart of stone not to laugh. The question now, and it should be asked, is to what extent are homeopathic practitioners dishonest or merely deluded?

That might sound harsh, but it’s the pachyderm in the parlour. There was a hint of it in the evidence check held by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, when Paul Bennett, superintendent pharmacist at Boots the chemist, admitted that the chain stocked homeopathic medicines because there was a market for them. “It’s about consumer choice for us”. Sod evidence of efficacy, proof of profit is what matters.

As Edzard Ernst has pointed out far better than I could, the essentially fraudulent nature of homeopathy is fully compatible with people going to a homeopath and feeling better. Homeopathy is centred around the ‘empathic encounter’ where the homeopath sits with the patient and considers their problems ‘holistically’ (a typical session with a homeopath will last much longer than a GP consultation. The reasons, if you think about it, are obvious). This is an obvious source of a strong placebo effect. Placebo is stunningly powerful. Daniel Moerman’s brilliant book “Meaning, Medicine and the ‘Placebo Effect” documents its extraordinary impact on of all sorts of illnesses. And one of the things which can influence its potential is whether the practitioner has drunk the same Kool-Aid (in homeopathic concentrations or not) as the patient. The more you believe something is going to work, the more likely you are to see an effect. This is one of the reasons why double blind trials are so bloody important. It also may explain why drugs with newer brand names tend to outperform their older competitors (even when the chemical content is exactly the same, as several trials have shown). People expect them to work more. Truly, we ignore the placebo at our peril.

But that is not to say that makes it OK for people to start pushing it at patients. Any placebo effect is in addition to the pharmacological properties of a drug. So why not have both. Furthermore, it is plainly unethical to lie to people about the active ingredients in the stuff they are taking.

And it’s not just placebo. People with the sort of self limiting illnesses which are popular with homeopaths tend to get better anyway, a phenomenon known as regression to the mean. This does suggest one possible use for homeopathy. Otitis media causes misery for parents and children. And it is the cause of a large number of totally unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions, because in the vast majority of cases it resolves in a short period of time without any intervention. So why not license homeopathic remedies for otitis? Pushy parents demand a pill for little Peter or Penny who’s screaming and clutching his/her ear – just give them a ‘powerful’ homeopathic remedy made of, I know, water. It would be at least as effective, and cheap. I know it’s unethical but you’ve got to think outside the box.

That last bit was not serious by the way.

In the main, I would guess that homeopaths fit into the deluded category, at least partially because they will be more effective the more they believe in their own medicine. If they want to persuade gullible people to part with their money they are welcome. But I am not gullible, and so like many I have long objected to my taxes being used to fund this parasitic and ignorant industry on the NHS. Hopefully, the conclusions of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee will now bring an end to this shameful practice.