Re: Scientific study of the effects of prayer

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Mon Oct 01 2001 - 13:12:59 MDT


"Robert J. Bradbury" wrote:
> Bryan Moss dissed the link Jeff Davis provided on the effects
> of "prayer" on in vitro fertilization success rates asking:
> >
> > Um. Then why would they do it?

Because they weren't as confident as you and I that the universe just
doesn't work that way.

> For the simple reason that it is an extension regarding
> studies of the placebo effect. I can easily see a
> perspective where "prayer" could substitute for a
> placebo, particularly in situations where the individuals
> involved might have a greater faith in their "god" than
> in their physician which seems likely to be the case with in
> vitro fertilization where the success rates are low.

They were allegedly very careful to eliminate that route - i.e., none of
the participants even knew they were being prayed for, the doctors didn't
know which group was which, etc.

I actually rather like this study. As described it has no apparent
methodological flaws, and the alleged effect is nice and blatant rather
than some tiny little statistical deviation. It doesn't matter whether
the original study was performed as claimed, because it's very easy to try
and reproduce the results using the method they outlined. You do what
they claim to have done, and either there's a nice big blatant effect and
the experimental result has been reproduced, or there's no effect or a
small just-barely-stastically-noticeable effect and the experimental
result has been disconfirmed. All discussion of psi should be this

You see, what I dislike most about psi research are all these claimed tiny
little effects. You shouldn't have to squint so hard to see reality. The
existence of a multitude of badly confirmed small percentage deviations
that require refined statistics to detect is the predicted result of the
investigation of imaginary phenomena by wishful researchers.

I have no problem with someone claiming a nice large blatant effect. You
investigate and either it's there or it isn't. Of course, I predict from
my own understanding of the Universe that the effect will fail to be

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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