I first spotted this as a small advert on Nature. "Help Reduce the Placebo Effect in Clinical Drug Trials" I smiled cynically and just had to check it out - and I was right!

"Placebo responses in as many as 60% of the placebo-receiving patients often mask the efficacy of drugs in clinical trials. Biomarkers predictive of placebo responders or new methods of trial design and trial procedure are desired. The biomarker, trial design, or procedure would allow individuals likely to show a placebo-response to be identified and excluded from trials during the patient selection process."

I love it: 60% of the placebo-receiving patients often mask the efficacy of drugs. Has it not occurred to any researcher in any university in any country that we should perhaps investigate precisely what is going on with the placebo effect? I can believe that there would be no funding from pharmaceuticals, but I'd have thought governments would save a fortune in medical bills if they could find the answer. Also, does it not show how worthless so many drugs are?

I've attended pharmaceutical events designed to find friendly science journalists; nice food, lots to drink, but that's about all I was prepared to swallow. However, if this is your field and you have a genius idea to screen those inconvenient placebo activated people, then the prize could be yours.

The irony here is that thinking there is a screening process to pluck out those people most susceptible to placebos may yield an answer to why placebos work. And at that point, if the trials are genuinely double blind, they may well have screened out those who would have actually yielded a false positive for the drug being tested. Maybe it's not such a bad idea after all!