The Plank

Forget Health Care Reform--we Have Prayer

Time magazine's cover story this week, 'The Biology of Belief: How Faith Can Heal,' is almost too silly for words. Here is a flavor of the article's thesis:

Here's what's surprising: a growing body of scientific evidence
suggests that faith may indeed bring us health. People who attend
religious services do have a lower risk of dying in any one year than
people who don't attend. People who believe in a loving God fare better
after a diagnosis of illness than people who believe in a punitive God.
No less a killer than AIDS will back off at least a bit when it's hit
with a double-barreled blast of belief. "Even accounting for
medications," says Dr. Gail Ironson, a professor of psychiatry and
psychology at the University of Miami who studies HIV and religious
belief, "spirituality predicts for better disease control." 

It's hard not to be impressed by findings like that... [Italics Mine]

Let us count the ways that the italicized sentence above does not belong in any serious magazine. Or instead we can simply marvel at how the writer, Jeffrey Kluger, tranisitions from one paragraph to the next by mentioning "findings" that he has not laid out. What, exactly, are we supposed to be impressed by? As best as I can tell, the point of the story is that while there is no existing scientific evidence showing the power of prayer, a certain placebo effect can occur; if you want to delude yourself, you may indeed become happier and healthier. In other news, people who convince themselves that they are dating Salma Hayek are also happier. 

Kluger concludes:

Few people think of religion as an alternative to medicine. The
frontline tools of an emergency room will always be splints and
sutures, not prayers and well-applied medicine along with smart
prevention will always be the best ways to stay well. Still, if the
U.S.'s expanding health-care emergency has taught us anything, it's
that we can't afford to be choosy about where we look for answers.
Doctors, patients and pastors battling disease already know that help
comes in a whole lot of forms. It's the result, not the source, that
counts the most. 

Sorry, but this is the sort of half-hearted defense of science that gives comfort to people who believe prayer is enough to heal their sick child. It has no place as a Time cover story.

--Isaac Chotiner 

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