Men Who Pray At Goats? Government Spends $1.4 Billion On Such Questions As Whether Remote Prayer Can Heal AIDS

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the federal government has spent almost a billion and a half dollars to explore politically popular but scientifically dubious claims such as $666,000 to determine if distant prayer could heal AIDS. It didn’t. I would be interested in how this was tested. I cannot get the image of Lyn Cassady praying at a goat in a secret military lab.

We have followed tragic cases where prayer was advocated as a better avenue than medication for AIDS and other ailments. However, that did not stop the funding of research into the question by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health. NCCAM also spent $374,000 to determine whether inhaling lemon and lavender scents can heal wounds. It couldn’t.

From coffee enemas to massages as a cancer treatment, the NCCAM pursued an array of dubious projects. One billion dollars could go a lot further in pursuing real science. I understand that many believe many citizens believe that prayer and laying of hands can heal the sick. However, such beliefs remain personal and should not be funded as a public project.

Now, “Men Who Stare At Goats” . . . that is worth an investment.

Source: Chicago Tribune

45 thoughts on “Men Who Pray At Goats? Government Spends $1.4 Billion On Such Questions As Whether Remote Prayer Can Heal AIDS”

  1. martin – anecdotes do not equal data. People given sugar pills report relief too but that does not mean they do anything. That is a fact.

    I don’t know much about Chiropractic other than one had my dad coming in 3 days a week, giving himself daily chemical enemas and several other unconventional treatments. After several years he quit & didn’t notice any change in his condition. I THINK (don’t know & not interested enough to look) that they can have some success in relieving back issues by manipulating the spine but when they start talking about curing cancer etc. they appear to be moving into quack territory. It deserves to be investigated but the results are the results science can’t be about how you feel about the thing or what someone thought happened.

  2. Chiropractors: they manipulate the spine and it relieves peoples pain. In my dads’ case he hurt his back when he was young and foolishly tried to lift an engine out of a car. He was on pain killers for years and had regular flare ups that would have him bent double. In the end he went to a chiropractor in the UK and they “popped” something and problem solved permanently.

    In my case I get middle back pain, probably due to bad posture. I visited a chiropractor in the uk and they did some manipulation and it felt great, but it came back. I went to one in the USA and they tried to sign me up for several thousand dollars worth of treatment which included the use of a wooden massage roller one can get at Bed, Bath and Beyond or Body Shop. I declined the hard sell.

    I now work with physiotherapists and they don’t like chiropractors because they just manipulate stuff and don’t implement a regime that will improve muscle support which relieves the pain.

    Frankly I think there is room for physical manipulation of the spine, I can see a logic to things being out of alignment and such is recognised physiological. That said I think a combination of quick fix manipulation and long term physiotherapy is likely best in most cases.

    Acupuncture is just a placebo but acupressure as I understand it seeks out and releases lumps in muscles which I’ve felt myself. I think they may be a localised build up of lactic acid which can be released by firm pressure and massage.

    Prayer is also a placebo as is homeopathy.

  3. Frankly you say “when complementary medicine has been tested …”

    Chiropractic was always considered quack when I was growing up, yet people say it helped their pain, and also was the only thing to help their pain. Same for acupuncture, I hear, though I have never heard that in person.

    How do you deal with that … fact.

  4. mespo, I do indeed think that was the study to which I was referring. Thanks.

  5. Puzzling regarding “What part of Keynes theory don’t people understand?”

    Yes, People need money, not jobs jobs jobs. (is that working 3 jobs, then?)
    But still, couldn’t “we” try to spend the money on things worth doing, and not just drop the cash out of helicopters?

  6. I seem to recall a study from the dim recesses of my memory–which admittedly is not what it used to be–there was a controlled blind study of patients who were prayed for and a control group of similarly diagnosed patients who were not prayed for. In a single study, the patients who were prayed for had a worse outcome than those who were not prayed for.

    I don’t think anyone had the nerve to try and replicate it.

  7. Oro – that still leaves me taking your word for it & if you are wrong I could theoretically end up in hell for all eternity. But to the point prayer has never been shown to help anything at all. Why is it that no faith healer has ever regrown an amputated or deformed limb?

    Rich – Actually did read the article and related stories. The problem is that when complementary medicine has been tested by actual scientists using actual double-blind scientific methods they actually fail to give results. It certainly is a worthwhile field of inquiry (though we could argue over the cost & which treatments to test as many have already been completely discredited) My complain was over Senator Grassley whining that more treatments were not shown to be effective. Rather than allowing science to rule he wants passion to rule so medical payments can cover useless treatments.

  8. It looks like no one’s read the article (which speaks a little bit to methodology) or tried to find out more about the studies. The director of NCCAM got a little defensive with the questioning which probably doesn’t help her defend the Center. Their grant applications are peer reviewed and turn up in study sections where virtually all of the researchers come from mainstream research programs. Non-traditional medicine is used by an enormous proportion of the population, particularly people who face uncertain or terminal prognoses for their illnesses with available treatments. In addition, there are many traditional compounds that have evolved into standard treatments. A Center like this is in a position to evaluate whether any of these are harmful or rise above the level of quack cures. Policy makers need to be able to identify what is harmful and draw lines in terms of what can be reimbursed through Medicare, Medicaid, etc. and this work will never be done by the private sector (except in the most self-serving way). The coffee enema study probably could not be done ethically as a randomized trial (something not noted in the article). The article fails to challenge the idea that there is lots of worthy research that goes unfunded—the vast majority of studies that fail to get good scores in peer review aren’t very worthy of investigation.

  9. Makes the toilet seat fiasco seem cheap by comparison.

    designing a toilet that will work in free fall is not easy. i wouldn’t want to be on the trip that used the cheep version.

  10. Frankly – I appreciate the observation in your first post that the efficacy of prayer may depend upon the actual person doing the praying. I like the way Billy Shakes penned it: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” Hamlet (III, iii, 100-103)

    With respect to your second post, I have attempted to learn how the Bible was written and compiled as well as transmitted and translated into modern versions. These works of F.F. Bruce provided a jump-start to my endeavors –

    I have also studied various systems of hermeneutics concerning the interpretation of the Bible. I have no recommendation as my choices were so b-o-r-i-n-g.

    Finally, tax dollars need to be spent on things of science and not faith. And to use either to prove or disprove the other is pure fool’s folly.

  11. “However, such beliefs remain personal and should not be funded as a public project.”

    That’s the whole ticket … I will stay out of your spiritual/non-spiritual beliefs as long as you don’t take my money to test them or tell me I must accept them as my own.

    “All the studies I’ve seen on the matter show that prayer can have a positive effect on the “pray-or” themselves, but no more so than any other method by which a patient keeps a positive mental attitude about their situation.” (Gene) … that is a belief to which I subscribe but I’m not going to give Gene a cent to preach about it. However, I might pay money if a scientist wants to put Gene in a lab, attach electrodes to his body and then don a feathered headdress while waving a magic wand over him. (glittering fairy dust would also be nice)

    Prayer is a focused conversation with oneself seeking the positive. If one needs an imaginary friend to aid one in focusing, who am I to belittle that need. If I am experiencing a particular difficult time, I often use St. Anthony to help me focus and pay no heed to the fact that I am neither Catholic or Christian.

    Now, the power of the electromagnetic force upon human beings … that interests me.

  12. Oro – How are you going to decide which verses are to be believed & which are not? How can your opinion be better than that of hundreds of biblical scholars working a thousand+ years closer to the facts? I can find that passage in dozens of different versions from several of the major faiths (I’d tend to say ALL but can’t prove it & have no desire to look and see). And that is hardly the only place I could find to advocate for the power of prayer it is just the one that came to mind first.

    If we disagree we can each pick some portion of the text to support us & discount the portion the other picked. How do we decide which is correct? Jesus laid down some tests there in Mark but not if He didn’t actually say that.

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