Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Columbia University 'Miracle' Study: Flawed and Fraud (Skeptical Inquirer September 2004)

The Columbia University 'Miracle' Study: Flawed and Fraud (Skeptical Inquirer September 2004)

Just thought I'd post a comment I just left on Revere's Effect Measure blog this morning. Effect Measure is a public health blog I find highly worthy and keep towards the top of my list of daily stops. The post I commented on is here. It's about the prayer study that's been in the news lately.

> My question is, why are we
> spending time, money and journal
> ink on this?

My wife asked the same question the other night in reaction to the evening news' broadcast about this study. She also shared your reaction that this won't change any minds.

I suppose you are familiar with Dr. Bruce Flamm's reaction to a Columbia University prayer study that was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine a few years ago.

My guess is that the justification for the time, money and ink spent on this issue comes from the need to correct lingering effects of such as the Columbia "study". I don't think it's necessarily true that no minds will be changed. It depends on how deeply a given mind is hooked.

But what do I know?
I agree it's all a waste of money, but it seems that sometimes, if you don't throw good money after bad the bad money wins.


Updated to add Dr. Flamm's SCA bio.


jj mollo said...

Frank Warner also has some discussion on this.

I think you have to be open to testing this sort of thing, if only to show that scientific beliefs are sincere and not just a different religion. People are exposed to paranormal health claims all the time. Doctors, themselves, may well believe in the efficacy of therapeutic prayer. They also believe in Science. If prayer helps in terms other than spiritual, then it very quickly becomes a big deal. Even if it only helps a little, then doctors are duty-bound to recommend it.

It's a little like the cold fusion case. It was widely doubted, but also widely tested. It might have been valid. It might yet be accomplished. It fostered a lot of thinking. Debunking it has led to an improved understanding of fusion in particular, and allocation of scientific resources in general.

One hopes that the prayer studies will eliminate a lot of wasted effort and cut down on some of the health fraud perpetrated on those with end stage cancer. People can focus their efforts on more realistic choices and on employing their remaining time as best they can.

Steve said...

I'm open to the idea that prayer (or meditation, relaxation, entheogens, ...) can be helpful to the one praying, and possibly to the one being prayed for in some cases, even if only to make things more tolerable for the suffering. After all, the placebo effect is real enough (not that the only benefit of prayer, meditation, etc. comes from a placebo effect).

I've benefitted in the past from deliberate, learned relaxation techniques in times of stress, and there have been times when I've had conversations with God. This is all in my head, though, which is not to say it's a bad thing. The bad part comes when the thinking becomes magical and religionists start pushing their agendas.

The negative effect seen in this study upon those who knew they were being prayed for vs. the non-effect on those who didn't know was interesting. "Oh, shit, I've got all these people praying for me. If I don't get better soon I'll be letting them down." Stress. Who knows?

Dawkins has apparently coined another term: perinormal. I'm open to the existence of perinormal phenomena, but Sagan's bit about extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims reflects great wisdom.