Magic Medicine, maybe not

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Wed Jan 02 2002 - 23:39:11 MST

I should also have drawn attanetion to the many responses linked from the
end of that article. I liked this one:


A second, cross-over trial can be performed in which the control group
becomes the experimental group and is prayed for. Should the results of the
second trial demonstrate that the new experimental group have
retrospectively improved outcomes then that really would be a breakthrough
in the study of the existence of the non-material world. Thus God would
have been shown to exist and one could return to a comforting Universe
where a paternal, loving anthropomorphic being gives us protection from
reality. And fairies would take up residence at the bottom of my garden.


and this one:


As any student of Star Trek will tell you, the first rule of time travel is
that you cannot change the course of history, otherwise you get into an
infinite regress.
 In the case of Leibovici's study, if we accept that people can be made
better by future prayer or other intervention then must have been made
better at the first time of that intervention, when they were ill.
 In which case it would then be impossible for them to be subsequently
allocated to the placebo arm of the study.
 That means this paper is not a randomised controlled trial.
 But then you knew that already !


but perhaps the real crunch is this:


It was very brave of both the author and the BMJ to publish this paper in a
scientific journal and be prepared for the inevitable criticism from the
outraged masses. The idea that retroactive intercessory prayers could have
an influence on the outcome of septicaemia is intriguing and challenges our
notions of cause and effect.However, if it is true, this is not the paper
to prove it. The data on the the most significant finding,length of stay,
appears to be skewed by a few abnormally high results in the control
group.This is demonstrated by the fact that the median length of stay is
the same in both groups but the maximum length of stay in the control group
is twice that in the intervention group. This may represent a type I
statistical error,despite the large sample size. From a cynical stand
point, it is a shame that God cannot save your life but might get you out
of hospital a few days earlier.Either way, it was a thought provoking paper
but may just prove the power of statistics, not of prayer.
 Shehan Hettiaratchy MA FRCS Carolyn Hemsley MA MRCP


Damien Broderick
[praying hard to the Omega Point to let me win Lotto ten years ago]

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