Sunday, September 17, 2006

What is the point of this study?

` A 2006 gold-standard study by Benson, Dusek, Sherwood, Lam, Bethea, et al, across Harvard, the Mayo Clinic and four other academic medical centers and funded by the John Templeton Foundation (which gives millions of dollars a year to promote religion and superstition) demonstrates that prayer has no measurable effect.
` That is, this only applies to people who think that when someone prays, either it does or does not have a the desired effect. For example, some may point out that perhaps God could help people as he sees fit, and prayers don't make a difference. Therefore, the work of God on healing is expected to be undetectable just the same.
` But, as for the problem of whether prayer in itself is detectable in vital signs and recovery rates, this is but one more study that shows nothing unusual.

` It has long been known that comforting words and prayer at the bedside is reassuring, and reassurance can facilitate the feeling of wellness and therefore may be an aid to healing. What this study is about has to do with distant prayer, where the pray-er and pray-ee haven't even met. If supernatural forces are at work, they should have an effect whether or not the person is aware of them.

` Called the Study of Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer, the trial was very thorough and as random as could be. This is how it went:
` One thousand, eight hundred and two cardiac bypass patients from six different hospitals participated in the STEP trial. Two Catholic and one Protestant group volunteered to do the praying, while the patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups.
` Group 1 - Containing 604 patients, Group 1 was informed that they may or may not receive intercessory prayer. Thoughout the trial were not told whether or not they were, and neither were their doctors. And, unbeknownst to anybody, all of them were prayed for.
` Group 2 - The second group of 587 patients were also informed that they may or may not receive prayer. They or their doctors didn't know it, but they actually did not receive any prayer.
` Group 3 - These 601 patients were told that they would receive prayer, and they did.
` (Personally, I think that there ought to have been a Group 4 - people who were told they were being prayed for but were not, but I don't know how much they would have liked it.)

` Of the patients, Groups 1 and 2 - the ones who were clueless - showed no significant differences while Group 3 actually had a worse outcome, suffering from difficulties such as irregular heartbeats. Why? Perhaps they thought that they were so bad off they required prayer!
` The only effect here appears to be subjective experience; Some people didn't know whether or not they'd be prayed for, and the effect was similar even though some actually were prayed for and some weren't. The rest knew they would be prayed for, and this apparently stressed them out and caused medical complications!

` Other studies such as 2005's MANTRA II by Krukoff et al, (which studied cardiac patients from nine medical centers), already demonstrated that such studying of prayer has no positive results.* Needless to say, any drug or medical treatment with results this unremarkable would not be approved by the FDA.
` Believers in prayer, however, don't really care. They say that people don't need a study to know that prayer works. Therefore, the results are not important. For all they know, God did not answer any of the prayers because he didn't want to be tested. Or maybe God does not heed prayers of someone if they are a stranger to the person being prayed for. Then again, the prayers may have been answered, simply not in the way specified and therefore one cannot expect to see the effect.
` (There are, of course, many religious believers who think that God has everything all planned out and therefore the idea of praying, much less free will, is laughable.)
` So... here's the thing: If positive results were not exactly something to be expected, then what was the point of the STEP study? Religious groups like to fund these programs, but if the results don't live up to their expectations, they treat the results as if they were not important.
` Well, if the results were not important to begin with, then why continue with research? The STEP trial was 2.5 million dollars alone!

` Summary: (1), it is abundantly clear that the effects of prayer - if there are any, as believers claim - are not detectable, at least when studied, thereby putting them outside of the realm of science. (2), believers will generally back up this view. (3), these studies are really damned expensive.
` Conclusion: Doing more intercessory prayer studies would be (1) not scientifically useful, (2) ignored by believers, and (3), a waste of millions of dollars for both science and the faithful.
` Recommendation: Stop wasting people's time and money on prayer studies! What has prayer ever done for science, anyway?

* Incidentally, The Cha, Wirth and Lobo study - the only randomized, controlled prayer study that did have positive results - was demonstrated to be not only highly flawed but apparently it was actually fraudulent! The most... unorthodox antics of Daniel Wirth actually resulted in some Federal Prison time for him. Rogerio Lobo, not wanting to be associated with the likes of this project, has removed his name from the whole thing.

` Update: Please take note that I've deleted today's bonus post on the speed of light because I realized just how pointless it was. (It ends with me asking my readers questions that I would know the answers to if I'd taken physics classes.) I hope you trust my judgement and appreciate this gesture. Thank you.


Aaron said...

You're right Spoony. The very idea of trying to scientifically study the effects (or presumed effects) of prayer is a fruitless waste of money.

It sounds to me like if these religious organizations have money to build multi-million dollar churches and finance ridiculous 'studies' they should be getting taxed, so I don't have to pay so much.

Aaron said...

I would've been interested in your 'speed of light' post.

Galtron said...

Yeah, speed of light is at least different from other stuff you have put up.

I have to say, the money going to prayer studies could be doing something more important like helping poor people or even buying someone a lifetime supply of supercomputer components!

S E E Quine said...

` Damn having to pay for food stamps. Oh wait... I'm on those ;)
` Yes, there is much waste in the world. I will try not to contribute too much.

` ...Basically my deleted post had been: Since someone traveling at 99% the speed of light would be so foreshortened that if they shined a light ahead in their path it would result in the light traveling 100% the speed of light away from them (even in their direction of travel), then what exactly would this look like to someone who is 'stationary' in relation to them? Would they be squashed flatter than a pancake or what?

` Well, what's the good of that? I think just writing about something like that and then asking a question that could have been answered by a physics professor sounds terribly shallow.
` I mean, it's not enlightening, and I don't expect anyone on Blogger to be able to tell me, so why would I bother?