Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Power of Prayer

A new medical study did not find long-distance praying helpful to the patients:

A study of more than 1,800 patients who underwent heart bypass surgery has failed to show that prayers specially organized for their recovery had any impact, researchers said on Thursday.

In fact, the study found some of the patients who knew they were being prayed for did worse than others who were only told they might be prayed for -- though those who did the study said they could not explain why.

The patients in the study at six U.S. hospitals included 604 who were actually prayed for after being told they might or might not be; another 597 patients who were not prayed for after being told they might or might not be; and a group of 601 who were prayed for and told they would be the subject of such prayer.


Among the first group -- who were prayed for but only told they might be -- 52 percent had post-surgical complications compared to 51 percent in the second group, the ones who were not prayed for though told they might be. In the third group, who knew they were being prayed for, 59 percent had complications.

After 30 days, however, the death rates and incidence of major complications was about the same across all three groups, said the study published in the American Heart Journal.

Read the whole article for some interesting contortions required in this faith-based reality.

I wrote about another study on the power of prayer some time ago:

Another cunning campaign may have been carried out on the unsuspecting American medical establishment. In 2001, The Journal of Reproductive Medicine published a study which seemed to prove, quite decisively, that long-distance prayer works to improve medical outcomes. The authors, Daniel Wirth, Kwang Cha and Rogerio Lobo reported on an experiment where prayer groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia were given photographs of some women who were trying to conceive through IVF in Seoul, Korea, and asked to pray for their successful pregnancies. Other women at the same IVF clinics served as a control group as nobody was presumably praying for them. The experiment was a double-blind one, so that neither the research staff nor the women themselves knew who was being prayed for. The results were shocking: the women in the prayed-for group doubled their chances of conceiving. According to one expert in the area of fertility research, this sort of an increase would be a revolutionary one.

As the Guardian points out, many Americans took this study as a sign from God: prayer works, and even quite scientific organizations and groups were impressed. Questions were asked about how to incorporate this into general medical practise and so on. I must admit I was very sceptical of the whole study from the very beginning, not because I wouldn't believe in the power of prayer (just ask me something!), but because I very much doubt that any divine being would let humans play with prayer this way: some women were arbitarily excluded while others were allowed to benefit. This makes the experimenters the gods.

Anyway, now it turns out that one of the three authors, Daniel Wirth, is a well-known conman with special interests in parapsychological research. He is currently under house arrest in California awaiting sentencing for multi-million dollar fraud charges against Adelphia Communications. It's not clear what his role in the research was, but his prominent position among the authors of the study is at least a minor embarrassment for the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, and in the worst case the whole study may be a gigantic fraud. I vote for the latter alternative.

Let me also say that if I were a goddess who was influenced by the amount of prayer for someone's recovery, I'd probably mess up a study like this one, on purpose. There is a reason why religion and science should be kept separate.