Respectful Insolence

Bonus Woo: Global prayer

This one didn’t seem big enough to deserve the full Your Friday Dose of Woo treatment, but I certainly don’t want to let this additional bit of religious woo go by unnoticed:

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – March 27, 2007. Regardless of creed, ethnicity, age or culture, throughout history people have steadfastly believed in the power of prayer. Now a team of scientists and over a million people around the world will put this belief to the test. From May 15th through May 29th the “Breakthrough Celebration: Compassion to Action” will be the largest interfaith global meditation and prayer for peace. What makes this event unique is that scientists will be simultaneously monitoring emergency calls during the two week period. It is expected that as the number of participants increase, emergency calls reporting crime and domestic violence will decrease.

“This is the first meditation event to study how people affect the actions of others through meditation and prayer while the event is happening,” says Joseph R. Giove, founder and executive director of CommonPassion.org, the primary organizer of the Breakthrough Celebration. “Over the last three decades, certain meditation assemblies have apparently reduced crime and terrorism by as much as 20 percent, but always with a time lag between the meditation program and our understanding of its effects. We want to show that certain types of meditation and prayer affect social harmony at that moment.”

Giove is not alone. Over 150,000 people from various faiths and wisdom traditions have agreed to participate, and several well-known scientists have embraced the study. “Social cohesion is strongly dependent on people’s values and priorities,” says Professor Ervin Laszlo, world-renowned systems theorist, Goi Peace Prize recipient and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. “We know that people influence each other’s values and priorities and this collective intention influences the community. Joint meditation assemblies can intensify this effect, as demonstrated in the Transcendental Meditation studies performed since the 1970s.” Laszlo’s global humanitarian organization, The Club of Budapest, is a major participant in the May “Breakthrough” event.


Hmmm. I wonder who these “well-known scientists” are who are “embracing the study,” other than Laszlo, who is indeed into a fair amount of woo, as his quote above is enough to demonstrate. Note how he states that “joint meditation assemblies” can intensify the effect of “collective intention” without presenting any sort of evidence that this is so. Of course, this sort of “study” will also prove absolutely nothing. For one thing, there’s no control group determined prospectively. For another thing, there’s no blinding. For yet another thing, there’s no indication that the number of emergency calls would necessarily have anything to do with whether there is “peace” or not. Emergency calls fluctuate in a stochastic manner, and there are seasonal variations in the number of calls, with a tendency towards more calls in the summer as people are out and about more to crack up their cars in auto crashes, for example. It is virtually certain that in some of the cities and towns participating that emergency call volume will fall during that two week period. Anyone want to make a guess that any such fall will be touted as a “successful” test? It would take a lot more than two weeks to separate real trends from random and seasonal fluctuations, and you’d need a control group, which would be very difficult to come up with, given that different cities have different characteristics.

Of course, the organizers think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread:

CommonPassion.org is working with major cities in the US, Europe and Asia to provide emergency call data as indicators of social cohesion. When a municipality agrees to participate, CommonPassion.org enlists the cooperation of the faith and wisdom traditions in that community for the May event. “It is a unique and efficient opportunity for municipalities,” says Giove, “considering the money already invested in crime reduction and prevention programs. Our approach complements existing municipal strategies and costs the taxpayers nothing, other than statistical data that they already have. We believe the effects of this study will be far-reaching, but even if it saves one life, prevents one rape, thwarts one assault or robbery, isn’t it worthwhile?”

Sure. If you say so. The problem is, the whole “study” is designed in such a way that it will be impossible to tell if it’s done anything.

You know, if people are going to do “collective meditation” to release “collective energy,” I think I like the Global Orgasm project better.

Comments

  1. #1 daedalus2u
    April 6, 2007

    I don’t doubt “that as the number of participants increase, emergency calls reporting crime and domestic violence will decrease.” I think the reason 911 calls will go down is because the people who are the cause of the 911 calls will be otherwise occupied, doing praying, and not preying.

  2. #2 Woodwose
    April 6, 2007

    Is this substantially different from the Maharish Mahesh Yogi’s plan to gather 10,000 yogic fliers to send pacific thoughts out to the world? Well yes and no, the effort and effect is the same but the showmanship of having squads of yogic fliers doing Immelman’s over major cities while emitting peace and tranquility will be hard to beat.

  3. #3 Badger3k
    April 6, 2007

    Want to bet that this gets touted by George Nouri on Coast to Coast? I’ve heard him mention how successful these stunts have been in the past (well, he believes they are successful). Of course, then we also have Deepak Chopra – guess a post by him will be coming.

  4. #4 Joe
    April 7, 2007

    Ah yes, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (with John Hagelin) did this in Washington in the summer of 1993. It became the bloodiest summer on record. Hagelin is a physicist, so he was able to prove that it would have been much worse if the meditation had not taken place. Physicist Bob Park has a good book “Voodoo Science” (Oxford, 2000) covering this topic, and quackery as well.

  5. #5 Old Ari
    April 7, 2007

    They should pray for something useful, like a reduction in Global warming.

  6. #6 John M. Knapp, LMSW
    April 9, 2007

    Many critics consider Transcendental Meditation a cult led by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. For a critical view of the TM Movement, readers may be interested in TM-Free Blog.

    J.

  7. #7 Bourgeois_Rage
    April 10, 2007

    Hmmm, I’ve been looking for information on Laszlo for a small amount of time. I figured he would back something like this.

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