Saturday, July 29, 2006
Prayer Studies and Lourdes
Someone calling himself "deepbeepitsme" posted this link on the comments to the peice "Why Doesn't God Heal Stupidity." The ony message was prayer has no effect:
The article speaks of a prayer study in which the prayer group fared worse than the control group. Of course even though this was the largest such study, that doesn't necessarily mean it outweighs the other 14 that contradict it. Harris study and Byrd study and the Targ study were all especially good.
I can thnk of a reason why it worked out this way. It may be that no study can control for prayer outside the group The control group get no prayer in the study, but presumably they know in their real lives. Those people, out on the streets, in churches and in their homes are probably praying for at least some of the control group. So there is no real way to isolate a control group to compare even if we have prefect double blinding. This means none of the kinds of prayer studies done are valid. It means there's no proof either way. One can't use this study to argue that prayer has bad effects, but if we stick with this answer, then we can't use the Byrd study or the others to argue that it has good effects.
This is why Lourdes is better. Now this is a thing that one must focus upon to understand. We all hear in college, in the media, that double blind studies are the most and only kind of kind of scientific study ever. But if you actually take a graduate social research methods class, as I have done (I was a sociology major) one learns that there are many different kinds of studies, and double blind is not always the way to go. It really depends upon the research design.
Now don't me wrong, I'm not saying a single blind study is ok. I'm not saying un blinded study is good. I'm saying sometimes the double blind (experimental group and control group) are not appropriate for the test at hand. Such is the case, since we cannot control for outside prayer.
In such a case we need totally different knid of method. Instead of a double blind quntitaive compariative analysis, we must use an empirical case study. Such we have at Lourdes. Here we have case by case, no attempt to construct a qunatiatibve analysis. We are not trying to say X% of pryaed for patients do X% better. In such an empirical case we focuss on one case at a time, we "can this be explained by naturalistic means." No? then we send it to the church committe to see if a miracle is involed. After, I say AFTER the medical guys do their thing and determine that they can't explain it naturalistically.
One simpley must accept that social research methods are complex and they very. They are not also stamped out of a cookie cutter with a control group and an experimental group. Case studies still have their place.