I doubt the Wall Street Journal will publish my letter, but thanks to Blogger I can do it myself.
Your Monday editorial opining on the Bethea and Benson study ( “Amen Corner”) reads a little too much into the American Heart Journal article. First, the study was expressly concerned with prayer in and of itself, and not with the existence or munificence of God as implied by the editorial. The Journal ignored the finding that there was no significant difference in the rate of complications for the other two groups, those patients for whom no one in the prayer groups prayed, and those patients who were not positively informed that members of the group were praying for them. In this the study failed to “prove” anything except that some of us don’t want anyone praying on our behalf. Where is the big to do in this? Given the same methodology, would the Journal have criticized the study had it “proved” the benefit of intercessory prayer? I pray that it is so, but alas, I have my doubts.
The study found that 52% of participating patients in the control group, those not being prayed for, and in the group of patients prayed for but not told, experienced complications after surgery. A total of 59% of participating patients int the group informed that they were being prayed for experienced complications after surgery. This looks like a small but statistically significant difference. It doesn’t prove anything however, except that praying for people might scare the shit of them.
The funniest thing about this whole kerfuffle, if it even qualifies as one, is how drastically differently each news agency has covered it. The Christian Science Monitor’s headline reads a Study highlights difficulty of isolating effect of prayer on patients. The Guardian reports that “If you want to get better - don’t say a little prayer”. The only thing any of the articles have in common is their obscene misunderstanding of the study, and that’s just judging from each agency’s own published account of the study. If this study has helped prove anything it is the twin problems of “innumeracy” and scientific illiteracy. Journalists are second only to politicians in their ability to warp statistics.
Actually, I think intercessory prayer does work, but God is just sick and tired of everyone asking for something, and this is way of fucking around with the religious. Even He must get bored - if Pat Robertson was on the line with me everyday I know I would.