Friday, March 31, 2006

Pray about it...

Some religious folk set out to show how prayer heals. I know they were religious since one of them is a chaplain at a hospital. And another individual involved is from a religious hospital.

They studied 1,800 patients who had heart bypass surgery. They divised three groups of patients. Group A was prayed for and told that they may or may not be on the prayer list. Group B was not prayed for and told they may or may not be on the prayer list. And Group C was told they would be prayed for and they were.

Prayer begin on the day of the surgery and continued for each patient for two weeks. And then they looked at which group had the most complications. Group A and Group B were almost identical: 52% vs 51% respectively. The third group, who were prayed for and knew it, actually did the worst of the bunch. For this group 59% had complications.

The study concluded: "Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on whether complications occurred (and) patients who were certain that intercessors would pray for them had a higher rate of complications than patients who were uncertain but did receive intercessory prayer." This was the largest such study of its kind.

And it was biased in a direction that should have helped the case for prayer. According to Reuters, "The patients in the study had similar religious profiles with most believing in spiritual healing...." Now that factor should have encouraged a placebo effect at the very least but apparently not.

Of course they started looking for reasons why this study went wrong. Instead of just admitting that prayer is not effective they concocted this excuse: "with so many individuals receiving prayer from friends and family, as well as personal prayer, it may be impossible to disentangle the effects of study prayer from background prayer."

But that still doesn't get them off the hook. The "background prayer" should have impacted all three groups about the same. So they still have to explain why the people who knew they were getting more prayer than average did worse than the others. And for that they admit they have no answer. There is one but apparently it is an answer they find unacceptable.

And to stay on the safe side they say they did not study private or family prayer which "is widely believed to influence recovery from illness and the results of this study do not challenge this belief." Of course it was widely believed that the sun revolved around the earth at one time but that didn't make it factual.

As I see it the problem is this. We do know there is a placebo effect where thinking that something may be helpful can, by itself, be helpful. I would assume this is true for sugar pills, magnets, prayer, or healing crystals. The items may have no real effect but if a person believes it may that alone can help with healing. Now obviously the act of prayer itself is engaged in because a person imagines it may help. So there should be placebo results because the patients are the one's doing the praying. Ditto for chanting, postive thinking, meditation, etc. One way to remove the placebo effect is remove that person connection. So if you want to test prayer by itself have individuals other than the patient doing the praying.

At this point they have pretty much shown that praying for others does not produce a benefit for them that can be measured. Even if they now do a similar study showing that individuals who pray for themselves do slightly better they would only be confirming the well known placebo effect.


Blogger [ghost] said...

Here are my predicted defenses from monotheists everywhere:

* God proved his power over man by not helping him, and administered a Job-like test to the group that knew they were being prayed for.

* It is a widely accepted fact that prayer must begin at least two weeks prior to the event in question to have a meaningful impact (God has a lot of voicemails, you know). By failing to provide adequate lead-in time, this study guaranteed its own failure.

* The real God is [insert god here]. Obviously, these people were praying to the wrong one.

* The numbers were not calculated correctly. Rather than let scientists handle this error, it is being sent to the Supreme Court.

* It was supposed to be intracessory prayer, not intercessory prayer. Common mistake.

* "Background Prayer" is attracted to winners, which is why Group C was unfairly hurt by its effects. A future study will use sound- and prayer-proofed walls to prevent this effect.

Well, that's my take at least.

As a side note, I think that an examination of "Background Prayer" is called for to determine its effects on the radio microwave background; this might explain why the universe is "out of tune" by providing a weighted response in the center of the Milky Way.


April 01, 2006


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