That prayer boondoggle

The best analysis of American Heart Journal prayer study that I’ve seen yet is over at Rhosgobel. It uses solid methodology, and its results are clear: prayer didn’t help, and might even have hurt.

I’ve read the paper. It was hard. Every time I saw the word “prayer” on the page (and it’s used like several times per paragraph), my eyes would cross and I’d giggle, and then I’d get cranky because millions of dollars were wasted on this stupid, if well done, study. There was absolutely no justification given for this work, other than “Many patients report using private or family prayer to cope with this stressful experience [coronary artery bypass graft].” No mechanism was discussed. Its closing paragraph simply disavows any interpretations about religion…in a study whose sole motivation is a widespread religious belief.

The whole thing is based on a wild-assed guess plucked out of thin air, with an expectation that no matter which way it turned out, the results would be meaningless. That isn’t science, and it doesn’t matter that they carefully followed the forms of a scientific study—it was a waste of time. It wasn’t going to change medical or social practice, and wasn’t going to lead to any insight on how to better heal people. No one is going to discourage people from praying because of its result, although if the data had skewed the other way, you just know we’d never hear the end of it.