Most of Dominic Lawson's comments on homeopathy (9 February) were spot-on, but he fails to understand the power of the placebo, which is far more complex than mere "gullibility". While it does seem immoral for companies to be making money from people's scientific ignorance, there is perhaps a case for maintaining the availability of such "treatments" on the NHS.
Many GPs have patients for whom they are able to do nothing using conventional medicine. Such "heartsink" patients report medically unexplainable symptoms and are said to represent about 11 per cent of GPs' workload. I suspect many GPs would be happy to prescribe placebos for such patients, but medical ethics prevent them from doing so.
The use of homeopathy and other cheap alternative therapies is thus a useful fudge that allows such patients to be "treated" with substances and procedures that ought to cost very little, releasing NHS resources to be spent on more expensive but therapeutically effective treatments for real illnesses.
To judge whether the NHS expenditure on alternative therapies is justified we need first to know how much would otherwise have been wasted on conventional treatments for these patients.
Your article on homeopathy reports an allegation of unsafe practice on the part of pharmacists asked for a natural remedy for diarrhoea in children.
The Code of Ethics and professional standards of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society state that pharmacists should assist patients in making an informed decision when purchasing treatments. Pharmacists have a duty of care to their patients and as a minimum would establish details about symptoms and other medications currently being taken or already tried, and then offer rehydration treatment or refer the patient to a GP as appropriate. Whilst respecting an individual's wishes as to how to treat their child, pharmacists will always suggest the most effective therapies across a range of medicines.
The Society stated clearly in its recent evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that there is no clinical evidence to support the effectiveness of homeopathy.
Chief Executive, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London SE1
Stiglitz is wrong on spending cuts
Your front-page report "Forget cuts and keep spending" (9 February) outlined Joseph Stiglitz's views on UK fiscal policy. First, he argued that reducing public spending now was a "fiscal fetish" which threatened economic recovery. Second, he maintained that Conservative plans to implement token cuts in an emergency Budget would not be sufficient to appease financial markets, since they were a "crazy man" who couldn't be appeased. Both arguments are probably wrong.
Lower public spending and a lower budget deficit could be expected to ease gilt and corporate bond yields. If the indirect stimulus to business investment and consumption from lower rates outweighed the direct contraction from lower public spending, the prospects for economic recovery would be enhanced, not diminished.
Professor Stiglitz is probably correct in stating that token cuts would not appease financial markets. However, to say that token cuts won't appease financial markets does not make the case for no cuts; quite the contrary. Deep and credible cuts, building up over time, would appease the City and push down gilt yields.
Your article stated that Stiglitz dined with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor on Monday. Let's hope that fiscal fetish wasn't on the menu.
Chief Economist, Institute of Directors, London SW1
David Cameron's increasing timidity highlights the danger that the general election will be fought without any serious debate about the truly disastrous nature of the public finances. The overall level of government debt will, on any normal accounting basis, soon reach £3trn. This includes the cumulative effect of current annual budget deficits of between £150bn and £200bn, PFI contract liabilities, and the unfunded liabilities of public service pensions. It is the equivalent of an almost unbelievable £200,000 for each of Britain's families.
Political parties should set out in their manifestos how they will bring about a return to fiscal responsibility. They need to set out a vision of what they want the state to be doing in 10 years' time and what they want it to stop doing; how much it should spend and how much it should raise in taxes.
This should be necessary in a mature democracy so that the electorate can see what will be required of them – what sacrifices they will need to make. But it is also essential to reassure the financial markets from which these borrowings have to be raised; and business is not going to start investing and creating new jobs again until there is a clear idea of what the macro-economic framework looks like.
To do anything less will be a denial of the democracy which we urge with such enthusiasm on others.
Israelis, Jews and antisemitism
Why is it antisemitic to deny the right of Israel to exist (letter, 9 February)? If I call for a united Ireland, thereby denying the right of majority Protestant Northern Ireland to exist, I am not opposing Protestants, only arguing that they would be better off in a different political environment, like the Protestants of Donegal. I am not insulting or racially abusing them, or defacing the graves of their departed.
To call for a united state of Palestinians and Israelis where neither is privileged is to oppose discrimination, not to uphold it. We should look at the example of Daniel Barenboim; his orchestra, the West-East Divan, is composed of Jewish and Arab musicians, where excellence alone is privileged. To many people Barenboim is showing the way forward; his orchestra is a template for the future of Israel-Palestine. Surely no one could call him antisemitic.
Dr Jacob Amir is wrong (letter, 9 February). There is nothing wrong and certainly nothing racist about being opposed to the existence of the State of Israel while not opposing the existence of the other nation states.
Nation states are states that represent all of the people of the countries they rule over. Israel is the state of the world's Jews and it exists at the expense of the native non-Jewish Palestinian people. There is no other state that exists more for people that do not come from there than for people that do come from there.
Dr Jacob Amir claims Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Britain is the nation-state of British citizens, regardless of their ethnic or religious background; can he not tell the difference?
Your correspondents Peter Robb and David McDowall (letters 9 February) have got it totally wrong on antisemitism.
The European Union and the British Parliamentary Committee on antisemitism long ago defined antisemitism as including conflating or comparing Israelis or the Israeli government with Nazis; portraying Palestinians fallaciously as victims of a Holocaust or genocide, like the Jews – both demonstrably lies – and similarly juxtaposing images of the Holocaust alongside images of Palestinians killed or injured in wars with Israel.
Yet these practices are precisely what all Palestinian support groups in this country and abroad, are doing. Antisemitic, pure and simple.
I concur with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Opinion, 8 February). If Jews in this country feel threatened by antisemitism, they should think themselves lucky they are not suffering the pogroms that another Semetic group, the Palestinians, are experiencing.
My friend Bilal is currently lying in hospital with a fractured spine and a fractured skull after being attacked on his land by ideologically driven Israeli settlers. He will get no compensation for his injuries or his lost land. The village has come under attack several times in the last months by gangs of these lawless thugs, who behave like latter-day Cossacks.
Money pours into holes in the road
As temperatures drop and gritting hysteria resumes, can I come to the defence of embattled councils who now have the job of repairing potholes?
In our part of north London we are looking at a bill of £2m to fix the damage – for a modestly sized borough. Our road crews are out six days a week fixing around 60 potholes a day, but it is like painting the Forth Bridge.
I hope the Government heeds the Local Government Association's plea for emergency funds to fix the roads, with more damage likely this week. Otherwise the deepest potholes will serve as handy foxholes we councillors can dive into to escape the wrath of our residents.
Deputy leader, Harrow Council
America quits the space race
Barack Obama's decision to cancel the Constellation programme looks like the death knell for American manned space flight, at least until the Chinese start putting crews into space regularly, or land someone on the Moon. That may spark a new space race.
In the meantime the only way for an American to get into space will be on a Russian rocket. Even if the private sector gets involved, a new design isn't even on the drawing board, which places the launch of any joint Nasa/private sector spacecraft a decade away. Nasa's new mission statement amounts to: To boldy go... nowhere.
Why does it matter? Because the Moon landings were the greatest technological achievement of the human species; and where does that species go when it has exhausted the resources on its home planet?
Words as well as music
David Lister asks why conductors do not address their audiences more often (6 February). Here in Birmingham it happens regularly.
Sir Simon Rattle began the trend many years ago, and it has now become an established feature of concerts by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Our dynamic and highly talented young Latvian conductor, Andris Nelsons, has clearly set out to build a rapport with his audience. We look forward to the moment when he turns to face us and addresses us as "Dear ladies and gentlemen..." The music becomes far more personal when he explains what it means to him and how he interprets it.
Chris Lilly reminds us that the location of the first "communist experiment" – that of the 17th-century Diggers – is now a private golf course (letter, 8 February). I trust that the ground is sufficient to bury the hundreds of millions who were murdered in subsequent "experiments".
If Cherie Blair were to pass judgment on paedophile priests, would it be reasonable for her to mitigate their sentences on the basis that they were religious people with no previous convictions?
Aquinas and sex
E Jane Dickson (6 February) erroneously states that for Aquinas "sex for any purpose other than procreation was sinful". Aquinas held (Supplementum q.49 a. 5c and elsewhere), as does the Catholic Church, that loving sexual intercourse need not be undertaken with the hope of conception. Both do, however, hold that to render a sexual act inapt for procreation is wrong because incapable of truly and fully uniting a couple in sexual love.
Mad tea party
I don't get the Tea Party movement ("Tea and no sympathy", 6 February). They say they want their government back. Back from what? A strong defence, good monetary policy, the right to privacy and the right to a lawyer. All good and basic things, but they had none of that with the past administration. Aside from all that, it looks like the reason the Tea Party members want our country back from this President is as clear as black and white.
Delray Beach, Florida, USA
Drink to that
It's just as well that beer can strengthen your bones (report, 8 February) because it also makes you fall over on to them. Proof of Intelligent Design, perhaps?