An epidemic of quackery, that is. Shame on CNN for allowing this babbling to go on. The producer of their medical news wrote an absurd anecdote, a story that reveals his credulity.
My husband’s best friend, Hans, was supposed to be in our wedding. But three weeks before the ceremony, Hans learned he had testicular cancer. He was 38. The prognosis wasn’t good. The cancer had spread to his lungs, part of his stomach and his liver. We visited Hans a few days before we left on our honeymoon. He looked awful, and we were not optimistic that he would be alive when we returned. In a cold and dingy hospital room, we bowed our heads and prayed for our friend. The doctor who was treating Hans came into the room too, and the three of us held hands and prayed together.
By the time we got back from our honeymoon he was sitting up in bed. Six weeks later he would walk out of that hospital, minus part of his lung, and he would live way beyond the number of years the doctors had given him. I believe it was a miracle. Now, I have another friend who is a Harvard-educated scientist who will tell you that no miracle took place. He’s an atheist and believes that everything that happens can be explained scientifically. He would say that God didn’t save Hans, but rather, the doctors did. In many ways I can’t argue. Hans was treated with a cutting-edge vaccine designed to fight testicular cancer, much like Lance Armstrong’s treatment. But there was something in that room the night we prayed that makes me believe it was more than just a vaccine that kept Hans alive. I believe prayer, hope and faith had an awful lot to do with his healing.
Anyone see the problem here? Anyone? There is nothing to associate the prayer with the recovery. As anyone with any sense will tell you, the real reason he got better was sympathetic magic. The producer touched the afflicted person, generating a metaphysical connection between their testicles, and then went off and boinked like a weasel in rut for a few weeks. The vitality in producer Wadas-Willingham’s procreative organs was transmitted via ley lines directly to Hans. Note that Hans apparently later died of this disease; no doubt his death is directly attributable to Wadas-Willingham’s post-honeymoon decline in ardor. If only he’d kept plowing away 3 times a day, Hans would be with us still.
Now just maybe that “cutting-edge vaccine” had something to do with his survival, but what are you going to trust? A recent discovery based on naturalistic principles and tested in double-blind trials, or an old myth hallowed by thousands of years of tradition that encourages you to boink? I know where I’d put my faith.
If that isn’t enough medical woo for you, check out Michelle Malkin’s taste in science. She likes this “interesting” abstract:
Physicians’ Observations and Interpretations of the Influence of Religion and Spirituality on Health
Background In spite of a substantial body of empirical data, professional disagreement persists regarding whether and how religion and spirituality (hereinafter “R/S” and treated as a single concept) influences health. This study examines the association between physicians’ religious characteristics and their observations and interpretations of the influence of R/S on health.
Methods A cross-sectional survey was mailed to a stratified, random sample of 2000 practicing US physicians from all specialties. Physicians were asked to estimate how often patients mention R/S issues, how much R/S influences health, and in what ways the influence is manifested.
Results The response rate was 63%. Most physicians (56%) believed that R/S had much or very much influence on health, but few (6%) believed that R/S often changed “hard” medical outcomes. Rather, most physicians believed that R/S (1) often helps patients to cope (76%), (2) gives patients a positive state of mind (75%), and (3) provides emotional and practical support via the religious community (55%). Compared with those with low religiosity, physicians with high religiosity are substantially more likely to (1) report that patients often mention R/S issues (36% vs 11%)(P<.001); (2) believe that R/S strongly influences health (82% vs 16%) (P<.001); and (3) interpret the influence of R/S in positive rather than negative ways.
Conclusion Patients are likely to encounter quite different opinions about the relationship between their R/S and their health, depending on the religious characteristics of their physicians.
Let’s see. Doctors are arguing about whether and how religion influences health, so we’ll resolve this by asking doctors whether religion influences health. And the conclusion is that doctors have different opinions. Wow. Nobel material there.
The one interesting result is that doctors who are religious believe religion matters, godless doctors don’t. Ah, the awesome power of observer expectancy. Does anyone believe that Malkin is smart enough to recognize that this is not a demonstration of the power of religion, it instead illustrates the effect of prior bias on perception?
Besides, as that first article illustrated, boinking is far more powerful than religion. We don’t need any studies to test that, either—just ask people whether they think rocking the awesome and bobbin’ and throbbin’ are good for you, and when most say “yes”, you’ll have your answer.
Scott Simmons says
I’d like to dedicate this to all men with testicular cancer the world over …
But I can’t do it all myself. Volunteers?
Conclusive proof that “spiritual, not religious” is a junk distinction! It’s Science!
Thanks, Scott! I had testicular cancer in 1983. It was treated with surgery and radiation. I’m still here, and I don’t think anyone prayed for me…
Unbelievable. How did the news agencies start down the path toward the likes of The National Enquirer and Weekly Whirled News?
So, if I just pray/fornicate in the sincere hope that I never get cancer, I never will?
Too bad nobody prayed for Hans before his cancer, the thoughtless pricks.
I hate it when people say stuff like, “Plenty of studies have been done on the effects of prayer. A good many have found that those with faith tend to be healthier. But other studies have found no such effect,” but then run with the reasoning that “Prayer works!”. What a dumb conclusion.
I urge everyone to read the comments people left in response to the posting. Amazing. Rational-thinking people are in the minority, it seems.
“If there was a God, I’d still have both nuts.”
I just dumped CNN from my news links yesterday for some other religous promoting junk. I’ll look to get my news from unbiased sources.
God gets the credit when he outlives expectations, but never the blame when he doesn’t.
Kind of OT, but it always reminds me of gamblers. Have you ever met a gambling fan who thinks they lose money on average? I’m not talking Bill Bennet, Gambler’s Anonymous members, legs broken by angry bookies types. I just mean your Aunt Mabel who likes to go to Atlantic City or nearest Indian Casino a couple of times a month. I’ve always tried to take a Laissez-faire attitude towards other people’s gambling: I’m too much of a pessimist to enjoy it, but if you don’t lose too much each time, and you enjoy the time you spend, is it really so different from any other hobby that costs money? I happen to like snowboarding, for example, and as an hourly cost, that’s probably as expensive as playing the $5 blackjack table. If you’re not going there every time hoping it will be your ticket to an early retirement, but appreciate that you can enjoy yourself even if you come home down a few hundred bucks, it doesn’t seem like such an unhealthy habit. But I can’t help but notice every single “twice a monther” I know thinks they win more money than they lose. I’ve never met one who articulates that “healthy” attitude, even though they’re generally smart enough to recognize that it doesn’t make sense. “It’s other regular gamblers who keep Casinos in business…somehow I just keep winning.”
Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD says
I never understand how god gets the credit but never the blame.
Can we expect a “Why did god kill my friend?” when another friend or family member of the producer dies?
Yesterday I was watching Discovery Channel and after watching Mythbusters and few of episodes of How It’s Made, they then started this “Haunting” episode. I definitely didn’t watch the whole thing. Maybe they had James Randi appear only towards the end to explain it all.
Er, since the writer refers to Hans as “my husband’s best friend,” I’m guessing this reveals her credulity.
But regardless, I adore your sympathetic magic explanation. I defy anyone to prove sympathetic magic doesn’t exist! Have the doubters been to every point in space-time simultaneously to determine there was no sympathetic magic present, huh, huh? Then anyone claiming not to believe is using FAITH, and is just as dumb as I am! HA!
Capt. Howdy says
CNN has become the new FOX.
not sure what that makes the old FOX.
Beat to the punch about this nonsense…
And of course, Lance himself is a stone-cold atheist. How did he get better?
Kenneth Mareld says
As to your Michelle Malkin link.
She states that a majority of doctors believe that faith helped their patients recovery. She then states that 2 out of five doctors report this. Oh, I see! If you are faith based 2 out of 5 means that 40% is a majority. Now I understand how God graced that shrub to be president. In 2000 Bush got more than 40% of the popular vote, AND more than 40% of the not stolen electoral vote (I’m being generous here) he had a God given majority. That is more than 2 out of 5. His anoitment was obviously inevitable per Michelle Malkin’s math.
It had nothing to do with manipulated Supreme Court appointment.
I feel so much better now that Michelle has explained the math to me.
There are some real looneys in the comments section of that CNN blog. It’s sad that our species is so fearful and insecure that so many of us take refuge in such silly delusions. I really couldn’t argue with a sick person who honestly believes an invisible man is healing their illness. The real problem is when the power-hungry religious demagogues use these sick people to prop up their nonsense.
Jim D says
If CNN is the Fox
Fox is the new state-run Pravda
Peter McGrath says
‘I believe prayer, hope and faith had an awful lot to do with his healing. (But I can’t prove jack shit.)’
Credulous Nonsense Network.
My grandfather is a mean old agnostic that had colon cancer in 1993. It’s 14 years later and he’s still alive. I choose to credit his skepticism. Well… I suppose his good insurance, a great oncologist, a great surgeon, a positive attitude, and advances in medical technology should also receive a portion of the credit.
Also, testicular cancer vaccine? Wow, someone should have given that to poor Hans BEFORE he got the cancer.
Notice what the writer did here? “Atheist believes … everything that happens can be explained scientifically.” No, that’s not quite right. Atheists generally believe everything that happens has a natural explanation, as opposed to a supernatural one. But we don’t have a scientific explanation for everything. We may never be able to find scientific explanations for many things. And not all issues are scientific ones.
But what is the implication behind that particular phrase? That atheists think they know it all. Science tells them everything. They are never left puzzled, confused, amazed, surprised, or ignorant. Oh no, not an atheist. And if science can’t show them the beauty of a sunset, or find love at the bottom of a microscope, well, so much for beauty and love, Mr. Smarty-Pants Know-It-All Atheist.
It’s little stuff like that which makes me feel like the caveman in the Geiko commercials. … sigh …
Recently while watching Dr Sanjay Gupta on CNN, his segment was sponsored by Head-On, that homeopathic garbage and it’s offshoots. So obviously they are pretty credulous.
CNN has been scraping the bottom of the shit-bucket for a while lately. That whole religion thing last week made me want to puke.
but let us return to framing. when ~90% of John Q Public are god-botherers, then that’s where the bread is buttered. don’t expect too much from ye olde media.
and don’t expect some numbfuck to change the channel just because you don’t like it.
ridicule, ridicule, ridicule. changing minds is a lofty goal, but ridicule makes you feel better about being surrounded by the stupid.
J L Smith says
I can’t check the details as the book is up in the loft, but I’m fairly certain that Lance had chemo, and pretty hardcore chemo at that.
I’m interested to hear about these new retrospective vaccines though, anyone got one for atherosclerosis?
I don’t totally discount the idea that there is something at work here OTHER than the vaccine, It seems to me that people who believe they are going to live and want to live are going to take care of themselves better than those who don’t, and people who believe they are going to get better will have a better chance at it, even if it’s only the stress reduction that aides healing.
Do I believe that God is up their handing out invisible cures? Nope. Once again this kind of belief leads to the idea that those who suffer are poor in faith, and somehow deserve what they get as a trial from God. The only GOOD thing in this is that it also leads individuals who don’t really THINK and rely on prayer instead may refuse medical treatment, thereby ending their capacity to breed others like them.
God allows disease to exists, or, worst case scenario, even gives person X the disease. Person X’s heals because of perseverance, his/her immune system and other physical processes, and cutting edge medical treatment invented by predominantly non-believing scientists, and person X (and his friends Y and Z) think God had to do with it? Praise the Lord!
Maybe God shouldn’t have allowed the disease to exists to begin with.
Matt M says
I prayed over Pharyngula, and it started loading faster.
“Head-On, that homeopathic garbage”
Oh, it’s not homeopathic. Have you tried it? I have (I get migraines and my loving wife bought me some). It’s got an active ingredient for sure–I suspect capsaicin–that makes a forehead to which it’s been directly applied tingle and burn like a SOB. Not sure how stimulating capsaicin receptors in forehead dermis is supposed to help a headache with an internal etiology (other than maybe distracting you with a different kind of pain). But it’s not infinite-dilution/law-of-similars homeopathy.
(What I find fascinating about the marketing of Head-On is that they make no claims of efficacy whatsoever; they never even specify what symptoms are supposed to indicate its use–headache is merely assumed by the consumer. Their entire approach is to tell you where to apply it, period! It’s a woo-y sort of genius.)
I noticed a distinct change in tone in the comments section at CNN after it hit PZ’s blog. (There’s a delay before they’re posted.) See the link below for a small study on sympathetic magic conducted by JREF members. It really seems to work! The study begins at the 2oth post.
We visited Hans a few days before we left on our honeymoon. He looked awful, and we were not optimistic that he would be alive when we returned.
If my husband’s best friend was dying, and we were about to go on our honeymoon, with the great possibility that the friend would be dead by the time we got back, there’s no way we would go. A honeymoon is a vacation taken after a marriage–nothing more. Vacations can be rescheduled. I think those people were class A assholes. But apparently, when you think you’re going to see your friend again in “heaven” someday, you don’t think it’s important to be with them on their last days here on earth–screwing your new spouse in a hotel room is more important.
So one of the incentives for models to pose for those glossy magazines is better medical outcomes?
Hey, even Mr. Deity knows that prayer has a placebo effect at best.
James Orpin says
“I don’t totally discount the idea that there is something at work here OTHER than the vaccine, It seems to me that people who believe they are going to live and want to live are going to take care of themselves better than those who don’t, and people who believe they are going to get better will have a better chance at it, even if it’s only the stress reduction that aides healing.”
Actually I don’t think that is the case, the evidence for ‘positive-thinking’ being beneficial (mostly studied in the context of cancer) is weak to say the least.
What about those patients who can’t think-positively, you’re effectively telling them that if they don’t cheer up they wont get better. This wont have an effect on their disease but will be psychologically detrimental.
Positive-thinking is something we need to be careful about. Patients need to come to terms with their disease in their own way and they need hope but not the false hope of wishful thinking.
Back to the CNN article, some of those comments have to be seen to be believed. One woman describes how prayer worked for her aunt with lung cancer but not for her child with heart defects. So god will intervene to save someone who has given themselves a disease by smoking twenty-a-day for years but wont help a child born with a defect. God truly is a vicious bastard.
What we discovered in the JREF study (which, by the way did include some supermodel photos) is that even if there were no provable medical effects, there was still a positive overall effect for all the participants.
What, no one else took it that way? …Nobody?
I need a mind-in-the-gutter intervention, except I’m pretty sure nothing can be done about it.
David Marjanović says
It fell like scales from my eyes…
David Marjanović says
It fell like scales from my eyes…
Krystalline Apostate says
So what, the term ‘psychosomatic’ isn’t allowed any more?
I forget what phrase Dr. House used last night.
Krystalline I think the official name is conversion disorder.
Doc Bill says
A couple of comments about the general theme.
First, man has been around for quite a while, and man has been praying to various gods for quite a while. Don’t you think that after all that time and all that praying, if prayer actually worked, that is, produced tangible results, we wouldn’t have hospitals, rather we’d have prayer houses?
Second, although I understand the irrational but heartfelt gratitude that a parent feels for a child saved from some tragedy, it has always bugged me when I read a report of a parent praising god for saving their little one, although the tragedy happened in the first place and others may have been killed. Like the guy who was drunk and fell out of a hotel window, but survived. The parents said “god protected our son,” rather than saying “god got our son drunk and broke his legs.”
Human nature to look on the bright side?
Or is it totally explained here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaZDcS-rMf4
David Livesay says
People who attribute healing to “faith,” “hope,” “prayer” and/or “having a positive attitude” really piss me off.
Are they really too stupid to see that this saw cuts both ways, and the way they fail to mention is really nasty, mean spirited and pernicious?
It’s really very simple. If you say, “my friend survived his cancer because we all prayed for him,” what you’re also saying is that someone who dies of cancer either had no friends to pray for him, or their prayers went unanswered. Tough luck, I guess God didn’t love your friend as much as mine. If you say, “my friend survived his cancer because he had such a positive attitude,” you’re implying that those who died of their cancers are somehow to blame for not having the right attitude, not trying hard enough or whatever.
Those would be pretty shitty things to say to someone who has just lost a loved one, wouldn’t they? I’m sure no one would be thoughtless enough to actually say something like that, but when they anything resembling what this article says, they are implying those statements, and the implications are inescapable. If hope really saves a cancer patient, death from cancer must be the result of failure to hope. You can’t accept one without also accepting the other!
And there’s no reason to say those things anyway, because they are bullshit.
My friend and mentor, Will, was diagnosed with brain cancer 14 years ago. He had a type of cancer that was inoperable, and no effective treatments were available. He received the best care available, but the prognosis was not good, and he frankly told me and all of his other friends and his sons that he would most likely be dead in six to nine months. I was very sad to know that he wouldn’t be around, but I was grateful that I would have the opportunity to say goodbye, and I admired the courage and honesty with which he accepted his fate.
Well, fortunately, he didn’t die. He’s still with us. The experimental treatment he received was effective, against all odds. Will is an atheist and a realist. He is not a defeatist, but when presented with the facts, hope was just not a reasonable response. Nevertheless, he survived.
The bottom line is that there are some things that we can only understand in terms of probabilities. Sometimes the odds are in your favor; sometimes they’re not. You can’t tell in advance which way things will work out. Sometimes you just get lucky, and that’s all there is to it.
It would be interesting to study the relationship between religiosity and “yes” answers to the above, but I think we already know what the result will be…
Krystalline Apostate says
DrBadger – thanks. Dratted memory. If I don’t read it, I don’t remember it too well.
If you say, “my friend survived his cancer because we all prayed for him,” what you’re also saying is that someone who dies of cancer either had no friends to pray for him, or their prayers went unanswered.
What the Snopes folks call a glurge story.
Your friend’s story is an inspiring 1 (are we still allowed to use that word?).
We need more ‘reverse glurge’ stories. Tales of atheists overcoming obstacles, both real & imagined.
Nope, What I’m saying is that we know some chronic illness (like Lupus) becomes more symptomatic with stress. Living with less stress doesn’t CURE Lupus, but it may reduce some of the symptoms.
I think people can get better with adequate medical care despite their bad outlook. I also think they’re more likely to take care of themselves, reduce some symptoms, and if nothing else have a better life in their remaining time if they have something that helps them reduce stress, whether it’s a fuzzy blanket, good common sense, or a fairytale God.
“A majority of American doctors believe God or another supernatural being intervenes in patients’ health, a study has found.”
Malkin is a brian-dead shrew, but she didn’t produce that nonsense herself — she was merely quoting the Chicago Sun-Times.
I blogged about this the other day, so I asked “What the fuck?” and re-read the abstract. There’s nothing to support the above two passages at all (and I didn’t see the full study text, but given the researchers’ aims I find it hard to believe such a conclusion would have been omitted). And “Most physicians (56%) believed that R/S had much or very much influence on health, but few (6%) believed that R/S often changed ‘hard’ medical outcomes” (from the study abstract) doesn’t quite mesh with the claim about supernatural beings intervening or “…nearly two in five doctors believe religion and spirituality can help prevent bad outcomes … even death” (from the Sun-Times).
So again I ask you, “What the fuck?”
Malkin and her huge following of throaty rednecks are ignorant enough without major news outlets abetting their benightedness.
A little bit of inside information from someone who works closely with cancer treatment professionals. From frequently sitting in on case report meetings I can tell you that it is not completely uncommon that patients diagnosed with incurable or terminal cancer make apparently ‘miraculous’ recoveries.
The reaction of the medics to these cases is generally one of apprehension. This is not because they cannot explain the recovery with cold hard science but because these situations frequently turn out to be cases of initial misdiagnosis. To be mistakenly told you have terminal cancer and then be placed on a course of chemotherapy which then miraculously ‘cures’ the misdiagnosed ‘cancer’ can have serious long term effects for the patient. Many chemotherapeutic drugs can affect future reproductive ability and can lead to a large increase in the chances of developing acute leukemia years later.
The only miracle from these recovery situations is that there aren’t more malpractice lawsuits happening.
Dr. Gupta was much more serious when he got on Bill Maher’s case for his misunderstanding the usefulness of vaccination.
Funny, several times I have tried to post about it to Maher’s blog at the Huntington Post or his show site, but my comments don’t appear. Has Maher reconsidered?
CCP, it seems that HeadOn is most assuredly homeopathic. This is clearly stated by the manufacturers here. As to the tingling sensation you felt, it was probably the menthol used as an “Inactive Ingredient” – hypothesized here.
A sham? Probably.
Do I wish I had a cut of the marketing? Definitely!
Ginger Yellow says
Hang on. A vaccine for cancer? That works after the patient has already metastasised?
You all are right, there’s no vaccine against testicular cancer. It’s treated with platiunm-based chemo, and that’s what Lance got.
The writer seems ignorant of the fact that testicular cancer is one of the most “curable”: more than ninety per cent of men treated with platinum go into remission. Of course your chances are better when it’s caught early, but there’s no miracle involved when your disease has a 90% remission rate, at least in its early stages.
Anyone who confuses chemotherapy with a vaccine is by definition enormously mistaken about her facts. Why should the rest of her account be any more accurate?
George Bernard Shaw visited the healing shrine of Lourdes once: “All these canes, orthopedic appliances, walkers, and not a single glass eye, wooden leg or toupee.”
Doctors should profess atheism to practice medicine, but if a patient believes God can heal him, so long as this doesn’t cause him to avoid real treatment (as is sometiems the case), there may be some beneficial effect akin to the very real and measurable placebo effect associated with thinking you will be healed by a magical being.
And in the meantime, more and more Americans do not have health insurance and one-fifth of all children go without health care.
Don’t think there isn’t a reason why these “reports” abour prayer and miracles are coming out in the media.
At least CNN has seemed to eased away from the Rapture garbage for a while.
J Daley says
Well, at least you’re in the trackbacks section. CNN and quackery is the article mentioned, too. Delicious.
If you say, “my friend survived his cancer because he had such a positive attitude,” you’re implying that those who died of their cancers are somehow to blame for not having the right attitude, not trying hard enough or whatever.
Someone actually said that to me when I was telling her that my mother died of cancer when I was a child. Actually, it was more along the lines of, “Well, she must not have wanted to live.”
I stood up, walked away, and never said more than the bare minimum to that person again.
Keith Douglas says
Ian: I’ve noticed that. To be fair, there is a competing hypothesis to the delusion one – that is, that people who do lose money (the last time) at casinos just keep quiet. But that would suggest a lot more gambling than I think is done, so the delusion hypothesis probably has better support.
Kenneth Mareld: On an earlier thread we were wondering what Christian math was. You have shown us the way! Now, what does this theory of Christian proportions do to calculus?
David Livesay: Quite right – most believers (and most humans, I guess) have trouble with chance.
“it seems that HeadOn is most assuredly homeopathic. This is clearly stated by the manufacturers here. As to the tingling sensation you felt, it was probably the menthol used as an “Inactive Ingredient””
I stand corrected (cheerfully). Menthol makes sense. Fooled by an “inactive” ingredient!