Our government at work

Remember that awful, terrible Templeton-funded prayer study that had no controls, was unblinded, and had nothing but subjective measurements of improvement? Now it’s being promoted on healthfinder.gov — with not a word of reservation, just a happy claim that prayer might help sight- and hearing-impaired people. It’s a beautiful example of bad science reporting, in which they’ll admit that maybe it’s just the placebo effect, but they still run out and get quotes from people saying this stuff might help.


  1. MikeTheInfidel says

    It’s worse than that, PZ. It appears that they’ve licensed Healthday.com as their primary source of news. Healthday has several other woo-friendly stories, no doubt endorsed wholly by the woo-meisters at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

    Sham Acupuncture for Knee Arthritis as Effective as the Real Therapy:
    Substantial relief found with both sham, traditional Chinese acupuncture, researchers find

    Acupuncture May Help Restore Lost Sense of Smell:
    Traditional Chinese therapy beat vitamin B for those with scent-robbing viral infection, study found

    Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia:
    Participants reported less pain, a happier mood and overall better quality of life

    I sent the following e-mail to the “Contact Us” link:

    To whom it may concern:

    The article “Can Hands-On Prayer Help Heal?” (http://www.healthfinder.gov/news/newsstory.aspx?docID=641876) gives the false impression that the study in question was scientifically rigorous and may mislead people into seeking bogus treatment for serious health problems. The study was totally unblinded, had no controls at all, and had only a subjective measurement of patient improvement, meaning that its not should not be promoted as meaningful in the way that the article does. It fails in every way the basic requirements for being considered valid.

    Moreover, the source that healthfinder.gov appears to have licensed for its health news, healthday.com seems to have a habit of misreporting the results and importance of studies. Another such study, “Sham Acupuncture for Knee Arthritis as Effective as the Real Therapy” (http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=642234), implies that since a completely random application of acupuncture needles is as effective as “real” acupuncture, the random (or “sham”) acupuncture could be recommended for any situation where people currently use “real” acupuncture. The primary researcher concluded that “The improvement in pain and satisfaction suggests that the benefits of acupuncture may be partially mediated through placebo effects related to the behavior of the acupuncturist.” More honestly considered, the study concluded that there is absolutely no difference between sham and real acupuncture, meaning that it is solely the placebo effect at work.

    I would suggest a more careful screening and more skeptical consideration of the articles being posted to healthfinder.gov. If the government is going to provide news about health to the American people, then it has a responsibility to make sure that the information is scientifically valid and free of bias.


    Hopefully I’ll get an actual response. I’d suggest that others make a stink as well.

  2. alfrodull says

    Here’s the letter I just knocked out:

    As a taxpayer I am appalled that the Department of Health and Human Services would promote magic and superstition in any way, shape, or form. Your reprinting of an article on prayer, http://www.healthfinder.gov/news/newsstory.aspx?docID=641876 is a disservice to every thinking person.

    First, do no harm is supposed to be the guiding principle of all health care providers. Unfortunately, relying on prayer causes nothing but harm and death. Here is just a partial list of children — children! — whose parents killed them because they appealed to superstitious beliefs instead of modern medicine.

    11 year old Madeline Neumann – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/02/us-daughter-pray-death
    11 year old Ian Lundman, 16 months old Matthew Swan, 7 year old Amy Hermanson, 2 year old Robyn Twitchell – http://www.childrenshealthcare.org/victims.htm
    5 month old Caleb Tribble – http://tvnz.co.nz/content/628769/423466/article.html

    For more, see http://whatstheharm.net/christianscience.html.

    Prayer kills. Prayer kills because it stops people from providing real health care. My hope is that people will not die after relying on the article you’ve posted. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that will not be the case.

    Too bad your article doesn’t start with an excerpt from the excellent and irreverent http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/.