Followup on Prayer-Healing Study: Reporting It Responsibly, From the Source 

In contrast to most other reporting on the recent Duke University study of prayer and healing, here's a good example of writing responsibly, the way it should be done. It comes directly from the source at  

Results of First Multicenter Trial of Intercessory Prayer, Healing Touch in Heart Patients

DURHAM, N.C. – Distant prayer and the bedside use of music, imagery and touch (MIT therapy) did not have a significant effect upon the primary clinical outcome observed in patients undergoing certain heart procedures, researchers at Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), Duke University Medical Center, the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) and seven other leading academic medical institutions across the U.S. have found. Therapeutic effects were noted, however, among secondary measures such as emotional distress of patients, re-hospitalization and death rates.

It continues in that tone. Note the difference between this and the distorted Baltimore Sun article I reviewed recently, one of many that said the study disproved the efficacy of prayer. This report does not say prayer has no value in general; it says it had no apparent impact on this group of patients. Because of limitations inherent in the research, that's about all they could responsibly conclude. This is the way social science research is handled by actual social scientists: they take care not to say more about their findings than is warranted.*

The article closes with this, from lead researcher Mitchell Krucoff, M.D.:
"While these are ancient healing modalities in all of the world's cultures, the scientific literature and understanding of the role of intangible human capacities in our world of high tech medical care is very, very young" said Krucoff. "The MANTRA II study shows that we can do good science in this arena, and that we can disseminate what we learn in high-level peer-reviewed publications. This is an early step, not a final one, in advancing our paradigms of optimal cardiovascular care." 
Dozens of publications said this study disproved the power of prayer. This tells the true story: the research is very young, and no such conclusions should be drawn. (Though I still hold, as before, that such research will always run into methodological problems, so I'm not optimistic it will ever show anything conclusive.) 
*I refer to this in terms of social science because that's where my training is, and where I can speak from knowledge. The study actually crosses the boundary between social sciences and medicine. 

Posted: Sun - July 17, 2005 at 09:27 PM           |

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