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Flying Carpets and Scientific Prayers
« on: 2004-11-10 04:36:23 »
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Flying Carpets and Scientific Prayers

Scientific experiments claiming that distant intercessory prayer produces salubrious effects are deeply flawed

By Michael Shermer

In late 1944, as he cajoled his flagging troops to defeat the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, General George S. Patton turned to his chief chaplain for help.

Patton: Chaplain, I want you to publish a prayer for good weather. I'm tired of these soldiers having to fight mood and floods as well as Germans. See if we can't get God to work on our side.
Chaplain: Sir, it's going to take a pretty thick rug for that kind of praying.
Patton: I don't care if it takes the flying carpet. I want the praying done.

Although few attribute Patton's subsequent success to a divine miracle, a number of papers have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals in recent years claiming that distant intercessory prayer leads to health and healing. These studies are fraught with methodological problems.

Suspicions of fraud. In 2001 the Journal of Reproductive Medicine published a study by three Columbia University researchers claiming that prayer for women undergoing in vitro fertilization resulted in a pregnancy rate of 50 percent, double that of women who did not receive prayer. ABC News medical correspondent Timothy Johnson cautiously enthused, "A new study on the power of prayer over pregnancy reports surprising results, but many physicians remain skeptical." One of those skeptics was from the University of California at Irvine, a clinical professor of gynecology and obstetrics named Bruce Flamm, who not only found numerous methodological errors in the experiment but also discovered that one of the study's authors, Daniel Wirth, a.k.a. John Wayne Truelove, is not an M.D. but an M.S. in parapsychology who has since been indicted on felony charges for mail fraud and theft, to which he has pled guilty. The other two authors have refused to comment, and after three years of inquiries from Flamm, the journal removed the study from its Web site, and Columbia University launched an investigation.

Full text at Scientific American
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