Saturday, April 01, 2006

Prayer: Handle With Care

A study on prayer has received some mention in the blogosphere recently (notably from God is for Suckers, Skeptic Rant and Hokum-Balderdash) so EoR won't rehash ground already covered, but he does find the newspaper reporting of it interesting.

As we know, newspaper headlines usually bear little if no relationship to the material covered in the accompanying article. For example, a study that shows acupuncture has no effect any different from sticking needles randomly into a person for headache relief (that is, all this woo about "meridians" and "acupuncture points" is total gibberish) can be reported as Acupuncture Eases Headache Pain, Study Shows. No. It doesn't.

This particular study is headed "Study: Praying Won't Affect Heart Patients" but includes the following result:
The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.

To EoR this contradicts the headline. A more appropriate headline, surely, would have been "Prayer Harms Patients" or "Prayer Dangerous"?

Personally, EoR suspects the nocebo effect. Or it could just be that they prayed to the wrong god.

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