I really want to reply to Alex Knapp, especially since he’s already found the time to respond to Rust Belt Philosophy’s critique of both me and Knapp, but I’ve been trying to prep for three exams, and two presentations all occurring in the space of two and a half day, so not so much on my end.
I’m still not up to doing a big post on consequentialism, so I thought I’d share a little of my coursework to tide you over. My epidemiology methods class read a well-known paper from 1999 called “A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit.” And then we had to any problems we had with the study design and what this illustrated about tradeoffs you have to make in research. The exercise was instructive and (to punchy, exam-mad me) hilarious, so here are the highlights from my notes for you to read while I keep coding.
- Prayers for patients came from a variety of denominations. Did this introduce confounding, since God might only be listening to one type of prayer? Given the wide range of religious practices, it would be prohibitively expensive to run clinical trials of each prayer tradition separately.
- Researchers did not specify how to pray, so some people may have prayed much more than others. Should researchers have tried to calculate a dose-response relationship?
- Now here’s my favorite: should researchers be required to obtain informed consent from patients who are being prayed for?
Doctors were worried that telling people that people were praying for them, or even that they might be prayed for would cause patients to assume they were seriously ill, even if the doctor explained it was part of a clinical trial. And after all, people pray for sick people with or without their consent. Do doctors need to obtain consent for a procedure that only exposes patients to risks they are already subject to?The researchers decided consent was not required, since there are “no known risks to receiving intercessory prayer.” When ever you see a sentence like that, remember that means a grad student in the lab was tasked to spend a day or two on PubMed trying to make sure that there’s no contrary result to cite.
And speaking of that, I’m off to the computer lab.