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?