Thought of the day

This is a two-fer.

First, it is ridiculously expensive to climb Mt. McKinley. Not counting personal equipment expenditures and airfare, most services come in around $6500, not to mention the 21 days of not working while on the mountain (plus buffer days for travel and rest). Between airfare, visa and passport expenses, vaccines, personal equipment, and the guide service itself, I spent significantly less on my Kilimanjaro trip.


Prayer does not work

I think the most annoying habit I witness when discussing what science has to say on a topic is that people will find the most obscure individual studies to bolster their case. That might work depending on the particular study, but it’s rare. A basic of science is that we defer to the body of evidence. That’s why we can say cigarettes cause cancer but marijuana does not (at least until the body of evidence changes). It’s also why we can say that prayer does not have healing properties. Unfortunately, it is possible to abuse the body of evidence. PZ has managed to find some kook who has done just that:

Equal healing benefit has been demonstrated whether the prayer is Hindu or Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant, Jewish or Muslim.

(Quote from the kook, not PZ.)

I suppose a big, fat “NO” across the board is equal, but that’s cheating. And if someone is willing to cheat logic once, why not do it again?

Can medical science prove the benefit of prayer to im- prove the result of an operation? I refer you to the latest Cochrane review on this topic.5 This 69-page manuscript is a meta-analysis of 10 prospective randomized studies on intercessory prayer to help the efforts of modern medicine involving over 7,000 patients. Some studies in this meta- analysis showed benefit, while others did not. The conclusion of the authors was that there is no indisputable proof that intercessory prayer lowers surgical complications or improves mortality rates.

There you go. Nope, prayer does not work. That is what the body of evidence has been telling us for years. But the guy goes on:

So, have I answered the question, “Can prayer help surgery?” While there is not conclusive scientific proof that prayer improves surgical outcomes, it certainly can help relax an anxious preoperative patient and may help enhance the relationship between patient and surgeon. A surgeon must be comfortable with prayer to offer it. Professionalism can be maintained provided the prayer is offered in a non- confrontational manner and reflects the spirituality of the patient. Surgeons who want the best for their patients need to utilize every tool available, and to quote one of my patients, “Prayer is a powerful tool.”

The kook’s patient isn’t paying attention to the science. And neither is the kook. It’s mind-boggling that someone can throw out paragraphs that argue against his position and yet make the exact opposite conclusion. That, we know, is not a testament to the power of prayer. And neither is the body of evidence. It is, however, a testament to the power of blind faith and wishful thinking.