- On 15th June I was mulling over the concept itself with – If Prayer works, then the UK Royals should be the most healthy people on the planet
- Then last week on 30th June I took a look at the scientific studies that have been done – Scientific Studies of Prayer – the good, the bad, and the really really ugly.
… and so now today I’ll take the next obvious step and consider the meta-analysis that has been carried out.
In 2006 there was a meta-analysis on the effects of prayer on medical recovery, funded by the Templeton Foundation.
Now least you wonder what a “Meta-Analysis” is, that is a process that involves combining the results from a collection of studies in order to determine of there is an actual detectable effect. In theory it is a more powerful means of estimating the true effect size; individual studies will have been conducted with a very specific set of assumptions and conditions, so by looking across a range and combining their results, you cover a broader range of assumptions and conditions in order to gain a better more accurate measure of the effect. It is not easy, you need to not only consider the obvious such as the sample sizes within specific studies, but also need to ensure that the studies you include adhered to a robust methodology.
The 2006 meta-analysis study of prayer was specifically designed to correct for faults in previous studies and combined the results of 14 studies. The opted to utilize a random effects model; this means that they calculated the weighted average of the effect sizes of a group of studies, and so the outcomes across the dependent measures within each study were pooled to arrive at one omnibus effect size.
Their conclusion within their published paper was …
“Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review” was as follows:
There is no scientifically discernable effect for intercessory prayer as assessed in controlled studies. Given that the intercessory prayer literature lacks a theoretical or theological base and has failed to produce significant findings in controlled trials, we recommend that further resources not be allocated to this line of research.
Department of Psychology, Syracuse University 2006
Shall we keep doing this until we get the “right” answer?
There have of course been further studies since 20006, and in the years to come there will continue to be more.
Those that adhere to a robust methodology will continue to demonstrate no effect and those that are flawed will continue to yield dubious results that generate excitement among individuals desperate to believe, yet when faced with a continuous stream of confirmed failures, one can only ponder the thought that the motivation that drives yet more research comes from the thought within some communities that the evidence-based result was the “wrong” answer, and so there is a desire to keep trying until the “right” answer is achieved.
“in the entire history of modern science, no claim of any type of supernatural phenomena has ever been replicated under strictly controlled conditions.”
Bruce L. Flamm, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology; University of California, Irvine at the end of his article that ripped a supposed positive prayer result to bits and explained why it was not only fraudulent but was also complete bollocks.