Prayer Still Doesn’t Affect Medical Outcomes

Last month I commented on evidence questioning the reliability of studies claiming that prayer increases the chances for a woman to get pregnant using in-vitro fertilization. Skeptico examines other such claims, finding no evidence that prayer affects medical outcomes. Previous posts there have argued that prayer doesn’t work, and prayer still doesn’t work. Today they looked at a claim from David R. Hodge, an assistant professor of social work in the College of Human Services at Arizona State University that prayer was effective. NeuroLogica Blog noted that this was a flawed meta analysis of earlier studies which provides no new data and did not prove any medical benefits of prayer. They concluded:

As others have pointed out the introduction of magic in general, and faith healing in particular, into modern scientific medicine should not be viewed as benign or harmless. It is often defended with the tired and lazy notion of “it couldn’t hurt, so why not give it a try.” But the introduction of supernatural forces into mainstream medicine can have an insidiously destructive effect, eroding the scientific and intellectual quality and integrity of the culture of health care.

This meta-analysis by Hodge is scientifically worthless and publicly misleading. I await the latest round of news stories saying that “A new study finds that prayer works,” even though it is not a new study (meaning there is no new data) and the entire approach has serious flaws. The later more detailed analysis that is sure to come will be largely overlooked. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised, but I doubt it. For those of us interested in scientific integrity, the best we can do is damage control.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Adrienne says:

    It seems to me like they’re dismissing prayer out of hand. I’m not saying that God is actually out there making a difference when they pray for it, but that I would think prayer would have some sort of effect. If it is one’s belief that praying, and having others pray for them, will make them better, they’re going to put that positive energy in to healing. It’s the placebo effect. They think they’re doing something that helps, so it does.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Adrienne,

    Prayer may definately have a placebo effect. Nobody is arguing that point.

    There are people who claim that prayer has an effect on medical outcomes beyond the placebo effect. There have been bogus studies which claim (but don’t hold up) that praying for someone who doesn’t know about the prayer will improve their outcome.

    The point of double blind medical studies is to show that a therapy is more effective than the placebo effect. If someone claimed that Vitamin X cures cures a disease and some get better due to the placebo effect but without any further evidence that the vitamin is effective, we would discount those who claim that Vitamin X is effective just as we discount those who claim that prayer is effective medically.

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