Friday, March 24, 2006
Today, in a major front-page story, staff writer Rob Stein tells
us that "the largest, best-designed study of intercessory prayer"
is being published in two weeks. What does it say? The secret
is guarded as tightly as the Academy Awards. However, as I write
this, the world population clock reads 6,505,424,096. Most of
them pray. A bunch of them pray 5 times a day. They pray mostly
for their health, or that of loved ones, making prayer by far the
most widely practiced medical therapy. It's a wonder anyone is
still sick. No one doubts that personal "petitionary" prayer
benefits believers. Optimism is good medicine. To the believer,
prayer is a stronger placebo than sugar pills. Stein, however,
has his facts wrong. The controversy (if there ever was one
among scientists) was settled in 1872 by Sir Francis Galton when
he published "Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer."
Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, recognized that remote prayer
by strangers would be blind to the placebo effect. Since the
Order for Morning Prayer of the Church of England includes
prayers for the health and long life of the monarch and the
archbishop, he compared their longevity to that of the general
population and found no difference. So who is doing this new
study? Herbert Benson, founder and president of the Mind-Body
Institute, who touted the health benefits of prayer in his 1975
bestseller "The Relaxation Effect." It would be a miracle if he
now discovers there's nothing to it. It's in our hands now, we
have two weeks to pray that the study turns out to be objective.
Today's Science magazine carries reports by three separate groups
verifying a controversial cure for Type I diabetes in mice.
First reported by Denise Faustman in 2001, the treatment induces
the pancreas to repair itself in half to two-thirds of the cases,
which many researchers thought was impossible. The findings are
encouraging, but there is a long history of cures for disease in
mice that do not work out in humans. However, a waiting list of
600 is clamoring for human trials. The alternative is prayer.
Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), Research Subcommittee Chair, announced
that next week he will introduce legislation to create a major
new incentive of perhaps $100 million to overcome scientific and
technical barriers to a hydrogen economy. Like maybe the First
Law of Thermodynamics? Inglis was inspired by the "success" of
the Ansari X-Prize, which awarded $10 million for bringing a few
minutes of space sickness into the lives of the rich and bored.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, told The Guardian on Tuesday that
creationism devalues the Bible as "just another theory." His
choice of words was ironic in view of the anti-evolution slogan.