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Healing Power of Prayer Study
Status: Pseudoscience
Last night ABC News had a segment about a study being funded by the National Institutes of Health to determine if prayer can help cancer patients heal faster. Or more specifically, whether a stranger's prayers can help a patient heal faster. (The people running the study have invented the bs term 'distant healing' to make what they're studying sound more legitimate.) My jaw was on the floor as I was watching this. I couldn't believe the government had been suckered into paying for it. I suppose the NIH will next be funding studies of voodoo dolls. But unfortunately, ABC didn't spend a lot of time debunking the study. In fact, if you didn't know better, you might have got the impression from their segment that this was a perfectly scientific study, although they did give a critic a few seconds to make a quick point.

The woman running the study, Marilyn Schlitz, sounds like a real piece of work. She's head of something called the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Since she's a firm believer in the power of prayer, it's a good bet that her study will find that prayer does, indeed, have an effect. Never mind that a study conducted by Duke University has already determined that patients show no improvement in their condition when people pray for them. In an interview with SFGate.com, Schlitz desperately tries to duck this inconvenient fact, suggesting that "One study cannot prove or disprove a particular hypothesis." Oh, really? (Unless the study produces results she likes. Then, I'm sure, she would feel it was definitive.) Plus, in an effort to make what she's doing sound more secular, she suggests that she's not studying prayer, per se, but whether one person's "compassionate intention" towards another person, even if those two people are separated by thousands of miles and don't know each other, can have positive medical benefits. But it seems to me like we already have sufficient evidence to answer this. When celebrities (like George Harrison, for instance) are hospitalized, hundreds of thousands of people around the world pray for them. These prayers don't seem to do squat. Shouldn't that be proof enough that prayer has no therapeutic value?
Categories: Religion, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 09, 2006
Comments (30)
More from the Hoax Museum Archives:
No matter how many studies you do, I don't think it's possible to prove conclusively whether or not prayer helps the sick (or hurts them, for that matter).
Still, if somebody's claiming they have a cure (or even a beneficial treatment adjunct) for cancer or some other ailment, they should be required to produce some pretty solid evidence before, say, they're allowed to bill Medicare for it.
On the other hand, I do think it's reasonable to claim that praying WITH a sick person (you're both in the same room and both know what's happening) can make both you and the other person feel better, and there is some evidence that people who are happier and more optimistic have better prognoses. That's a pretty different claim from what Marilyn Schlitz seems to be proposing, however.
Posted by Big Gary in the northern hemisphere  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Mon Jan 09, 2006  at  01:55 PM
And it's not like there's a lack of legitimate, testable hypotheses in ANY field (and in health-related matters in particular) that will go un-funded. Really burns me.. .

I think your "vodoo doll" observation is spot on.

If they really wanted to show a bigger, measurable effect, they should have a control group (somehow guaranteed to have NO ONE on the planet praying for their recovery), one experimental group (with a FINITE number of people somehow doing an operationally defined "prayer" or "compassionate intention") and another experimental group (the "voodoo doll" group--with a finite number of people praying for their demise or sending out "ill intention"). That way, you see, you could get a maximal effect by comparing the two experimental groups against each other.

After all, if God can be ordered to make some people get better (in ways other than the normal laws of physics, presumably), then the faithful certainly should be allowed to order God to smite their enemies.

Ask Pat Robertson--it's all good science!
Posted by Joe  in  St. Louis  on  Mon Jan 09, 2006  at  02:35 PM
Nuts and hayseeds are indefatigable. That's the problem. The only thing that stops them is death, and that doesn't stop them; there's always a new crop of indefatigable nuts and hayseeds waiting in the wings.

On the other hand, God bless the nuts and hayseeds for providing me with endless entertainment.
Posted by ectovan  on  Mon Jan 09, 2006  at  02:54 PM
i love how your example is George Harrison rather than the Pope!
Posted by Nick  in  Merrie Olde Englande  on  Mon Jan 09, 2006  at  03:42 PM
Oh yeah. The pope. I didn't think about him. He's a much better example.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Mon Jan 09, 2006  at  04:03 PM
Joe observed:

"...If they really wanted to show a bigger, measurable effect, they should have a control group ..."

Yeah, but how could you ever prove that some loose cannon somewhere hadn't buggered up the whole experiment by praying for somebody in the control group?
Posted by Big Gary in the northern hemisphere  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Mon Jan 09, 2006  at  06:15 PM
Exactly, Gary. That's why I said "somehow guaranteed to have no one on the planet praying for their recovery."

It's not a testable hypothesis. It's not science.

The NIH should spend our money more wisely.
Posted by Joe Welling  on  Mon Jan 09, 2006  at  06:51 PM
Unfortunately, ABC has a history of running stories about voodoo nonsense in such a way as to allow the audience to walk away with the impression that it's legitimate. Randi has had much to say about this in recent months (randi.org).

One can only speculate why a national news organization might want to keep its audience in the dark about science and the truth about "supernatural" stuff.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Tue Jan 10, 2006  at  04:55 AM
Speculate no more, Cranky Media Guy. It's called "Neilson ratings". Sensationalism and Mysticisim trumps boring old reality any day. Most viewers prefer fairy tales to science, or so the network believes.
Posted by JoeSixpack  on  Tue Jan 10, 2006  at  09:57 AM
Isn't George Harrison dead?

It'd be rather amasing if they could pray for his recovery
Posted by Peter  in  Melbourne, Australia  on  Tue Jan 10, 2006  at  06:31 PM
Yes, George is dead now, and the point is that while he was still alive many of his fans presumably prayed for his health, but he died anyway. Of course, this neither proves nor disproves anything, because we have no way to know how long George might have lived if nobody ever prayed for him. Maybe the prayers gave him 20 extra years. Or maybe not.
Posted by Big Gary in the northern hemisphere  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Tue Jan 10, 2006  at  07:04 PM
JoeSixpack said:

"Speculate no more, Cranky Media Guy. It's called "Neilson ratings". Sensationalism and Mysticisim trumps boring old reality any day. Most viewers prefer fairy tales to science, or so the network believes."

Well, without access to the Neilsons I can't say absolutely that nonsense trumps REAL reality, but I sure suspect as much. Let's put it this way: the TV executives certainly believe that bullshit sells or they wouldn't put it on the air.

"Faith-based" TV, anyone?
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Tue Jan 10, 2006  at  07:11 PM
Joe said:

"After all, if God can be ordered to make some people get better (in ways other than the normal laws of physics, presumably), then the faithful certainly should be allowed to order God to smite their enemies.
Ask Pat Robertson--it's all good science!"

The continued existence of Pat Robertson should be all the proof you need (if you were ever in doubt) that not all prayers are answered.
Posted by Big Gary on cloud eight  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Wed Jan 11, 2006  at  06:27 PM
You can do a control group. I recall there was an experiment that involved molds in petree dishes and prayer. It is testable. Also the reasoning for the name change (instead of prayer) could very well be that if this proves true, it does not need to directly relate to a particular faith.

Not to be rude but your bias are rather evident. This does not need to be a Secular vs. God topic. In fact the researcher seems to have gone out of her way to avoid that.

As for God being ordered, that is another topic all together. The idea of prayer is rather complicated as in God, no one could hope to adequately explain either.
Posted by Elliott  on  Thu Jan 12, 2006  at  01:11 PM
No offense, Elliot, but if you're praying for a dish of mold, I've got to wonder what religion you're following.
Posted by Big Gary on cloud eight  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Thu Jan 12, 2006  at  07:01 PM
The mould experiment I believe involved Nuns so in the case of "praying to mold" you would be right, it was Christian based with a Catholic denomination. But religion is not what this experiment is about, and that is my point.

As for what I was stating, this person for this experiment has gone out of their way to make this a faith neutral project. The project is not testing prayer or faith as the way to manipulate matter, in this case cellular (health) with thoughts from distances, but IF it can be manipulated it at all!

If you chose to do that by praying, meditation, thinking, singing etc then that is your option and for this test, is irrelevant (though there may be other controls in place for methods that are not public knowledge at this point).

I think there are more checks and controls in this experiment then there are in those "take our pill and your cold will be gone faster!"

Bottom line is this

The person in charge of the experiment never brought religion to the table, in fact is trying to do otherwise, only the readers projecting their own ideals.

There is so much we don
Posted by Elliott  on  Thu Jan 12, 2006  at  08:41 PM
Interesting reading here.

http://www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com/
Posted by Ponygirl  on  Sat Jan 14, 2006  at  12:34 AM
The healing power of God comes by faith. This same "amount" of genuine faith is the same as having eternal life (an everlasting spirit) in Heaven with God.

The reason why God can not kill/destroy Satan (the devil) is because he himself is a spirit (as are all the other angels). God spoke and there was life and He saw it was good [paraphrasing]; anything that God breathes into becomes everlasting
Posted by Here me out  on  Thu May 18, 2006  at  05:46 AM
Here [sic] me out, everything you say in your posting is conjecture. You have ZERO evidence for any of it.

I find it interesting that, according to you, God is NOT all-powerful as most people believe. The reason for you having to say that is because you are caught in a logical conundrum. If God is all-powerful, He would be able to get rid of Satan and therefore evil. That, of course, would be the logical thing for a "loving God" to do. Since it's clear that it isn't happening, you have to conjure up this notion that God, for some strange reason, just can't deal with the pointy-tailed guy. Maybe Satan is the equivalent of Kryptonite to God or something.

I think you need to look up "rationalizing" some time. You're soaking in it.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Thu May 18, 2006  at  04:30 PM
Cranky Media Guy said:
Here [sic] me out, everything you say in your posting is conjecture. You have ZERO evidence for any of it.


Firstly, I think it depends on whether you want to seek/accept the truth that stood for all time (with evidence) or reject it all together. So I guess that if you do want to seek/accept the truth (with evidence) you really need to research it for yourself objectively by setting aside all bias thinking. But if you reject it altogether there is no point in me talking
Posted by Here me out  on  Mon May 22, 2006  at  07:02 AM
Hear me out, I can see that this conversation is a waste of time. You will continue to repeat the same things over and over, despite the fact that you do not have a single fact to back any of it up. Mere repetition does not convert an opinion into a fact, no matter how many times you say the same thing. You will NOT convince me (or any rational person) by saying the same things over and over.

Like many believers, you seem to think that this is the first time I've ever heard these points. I went to Catholic school for 12 years; you aren't going to say anything new, trust me.

I think it's a sad commentary on religion that, ultimately, adherents have nothing but endless repetition of the same unproven assertions in their arsenal.

If that's all you have (and that seems to be the case), save your breath. I fully expect, of course, that you will ignore this and keep repeating the same things I have been hearing all my life.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Mon May 22, 2006  at  04:23 PM
I would just like to ask you personally a few questions:

Who are you? (Note: I am not asking what you do or your name.)

How do you (an open minded person) know the difference between right (good) and wrong (evil)?

How do you (an open minded person) know that this life per se is real? / Are you living by faith everyday?

If there was no purpose for you to be created
Posted by Here me out  on  Tue May 23, 2006  at  08:15 AM
God lovers make me laugh,

It's funny cause we're on a site talking about hoax, well, guess what?

God, jesus, satan, whatever you wanna call it......... doesn't exist or did........ it's a HOAX.
There is no evidences what so ever, i repeat........ there is no evidences WHAT SO EVER, nothing....... oh yeah i forgot, there's that famous bible wrote something like hundred of years after that guy.... what's his name again (could be anything, right, well they said jesus so let's go whit that, why not) other than that, what?

''Don't believe in lifes on other planets or the logical evolution of humans species'', but do believe in a guy who did a lot of unatural things like, bring back the dead or came back from the dead and so on..... try to do that now, you'll probably go straight in a mental institut, but back then if you had a big mouth and can do a lot of things that nobody saw before, you we're like a god................ and somebody decided one day to write about it, extrapolate, exageration, let's put one more word here another one there, translated by this one guy then another one and so one for hundred of years, result, a book................ oh yeah the bible........ oufffffffff, feel better now smile

So prayer or not, it won't change anything, please use your common sense, it won't do anything because there is nothing to pray at!!!
And who came up with this....... '' let's do a research about prayers.........'' don't we have better thing to do!!!

ok enough, just talking about the bigest hoax makes me mad, it makes me mad to see peoples believe in nothing......

Now, about stupid reply like, '' you don't believe in god because of this and that (related to the bible) '' think before writing, ok!!!

I'm out and won't reply on this again............ Get a life!!!
Posted by Get a life  in  somewhere  on  Tue May 30, 2006  at  01:36 AM
See what i said....... didn't saw that one, it was on page two....

I said :''Now, about stupid reply like, '' you don't believe in god because of this and that (related to the bible) '' think before writing, ok!!!''

Here me Out said:

Who are you? (Note: I am not asking what you do or your name.)

How do you (an open minded person) know the difference between right (good) and wrong (evil)?

How do you (an open minded person) know that this life per se is real? / Are you living by faith everyday?

If there was no purpose for you to be created
Posted by Get a life  on  Tue May 30, 2006  at  01:55 AM
It's not the prayer that would heal, it's weather you belive that it will. It says in the Bible "Belivers will lay hands on the sick and they shall be healed" God has a plan for things and sometimes it's not always what you want....other times it takes time fo there to be results...

If I heard correctly, there was a study done that said that when you pray in tounges, and only when you pray in tounges, you're body releases a certian hormone that builds your immune system.
Posted by Ashley  on  Wed Jun 21, 2006  at  12:22 AM
Ashley said:

"If I heard correctly, there was a study done that said that when you pray in tounges, and only when you pray in tounges, you're body releases a certian hormone that builds your immune system."

Uh, I think you heard wrong, Ashley. Why don't you try going to Google to see if you can find any evidence of such a study. I'm willing to bet that you can't find any credible evidence that it exists. You ARE interested in the truth, aren't you?

The most recent study that I've heard of, in fact, said that prayer had NO effect on illness. Didn't hear much about THAT on your local TV news, did you?
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Wed Jun 21, 2006  at  04:22 PM
>>Never mind that a study conducted by Duke University has already determined that patients show no improvement in their condition when people pray for them.

No... you've got that backwards. Duke showed that people fared BEST when people prayed for them.

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117143
Posted by Marie  in  NY  on  Fri Aug 18, 2006  at  03:40 PM
I see where the 2nd half of the Duke study was inconclusive but the first half has been badly misinterpreted by what I call anti-religion fanatics who have become "me too" followers and have lost all ability to think critically, just because they are afraid to be labelled.

The fact is there was not only the Duke pilot study but a prior study done on a much greater scale and for a longer time in which those patients prayed for also fared better than those not prayed for.

This data was so convincing that another medical doctor, an atheist (because it was so 'cool' to be atheist), was inspired to gather all the research to date on prayer and wrote half a dozen books - in his spare time - on the subject.

Prayer: it's not just for religious fanatics any more.
Posted by Marie  on  Fri Aug 18, 2006  at  04:17 PM
Marie said:

"The fact is there was not only the Duke pilot study but a prior study done on a much greater scale and for a longer time in which those patients prayed for also fared better than those not prayed for."

I would love it if you could find that study. I'd like to take a look at it. The only other recent study on prayer that I can remember showed that, in the long run, prayer DID not increase a patient's chance of recovery (if I remember correctly).

"This data was so convincing that another medical doctor, an atheist (because it was so 'cool' to be atheist), was inspired to gather all the research to date on prayer and wrote half a dozen books - in his spare time - on the subject."

Sorry, Marie, but this is starting to sound like one of those emails I get from my cousin in which people who don't believe in God encounter some disaster, decide to try prayer and miraculously get out of their predicament. This just has the smell of an urban legend.

By the way, on what planet do masses of people think it's "cool" to be an atheist? Funny, when I walk around, I see lots of Christian T-shirts but ZERO Atheist T-shirts.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Sat Aug 19, 2006  at  03:39 AM
In my opinion, when studying the effectiveness of prayer, if you attempt to separate mental behavior (prayerful goal-directed thoughts) from physical behavior (physically making the goal happen), you significantly diminish the effectiveness of prayer.

For example, if you obsessively pray to pass a challenging written exam, you will be compelled to prepare well for it, thereby passing your exam. Prayer answered!

But what if you were prevented from preparing for your challenging written exam? Though you may pray hard to pass your exam, you will certainly fail!

That's exactly how many researchers study prayer. Many researchers tell their volunteers to pray, but under no circumstances may the volunteers act on their prayers.

No wonder many researchers are reporting that prayer doesn't work.

Physical behavior is a direct extension of mental prayer! Without physical behavior, prayer, in many cases, is rendered ineffective!

Sincerely,
Al Gammate
http://www.theguaranteedcure.com/
Posted by Al Gammate  in  New York  on  Sat Oct 25, 2008  at  03:01 AM
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