The experiment cited most often by advocates of prayer is
one by a cardiologist at San Francisco General Medical Center (Randolph C.
Byrd, "Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary
Care Unit Population," Southern Medical
Journal 81 (July 7, 1988): 826-829. )
Byrd studied 393 patients between August 1982 and May 1983, dividing the group into 192 patients who were prayed for, and 201 who were not. He reported that, among other things, the people who were prayed for were five times less likely to develop pulmonary edema; that none required endo-tracheal intubation, and fewer of them died.
The Power of Prayer: An Interview with Larry Dossey, M.D includes these questions:
What led you to write a book on
Larry Dossey: I must say that I was dragged into it kicking and screaming. I was a typical physician educated to believe in things that have some kind of apparent physical basis like medication, surgery, and radiation.
I had my come-uppance back around '87 or '88, when I discovered a study that really looked like good science. It showed that prayer made a major
difference for heart attack patients at a coronary care unit. This study came out of San Francisco General Hospital. It was what is called a randomized, prospective double-blind study in which a prayed-for group did terrifically better on several accounts than an un prayed-for group. I was disturbed by the results.
Did this mean there was something I should be doing that I wasn't?
So I began to poke around the literature, looking for other studies that might corroborate or invalidate this. I was stunned at what I found: There are easily 130 studies that show that if you take prayer into the laboratory under controlled situations, it does something remarkable, not just to human beings but to bacteria, fungi, germinating seeds, rats, mice and baby gerbils.
One of the things that intrigued me about the studies was
material has been marginalized. You certainly don't hear anything about these studies in medical school. But after considering the evidence, I decided to incorporate prayer rituals into my medical practice. It seemed to me that not to do so was the equivalent of withholding a potent medication or a needed operation.
So these studies are all out there, but they're not well known?
LD: They've been gathering dust on the sidelines of medical research for a couple of decades at least.
Why do you think that is?
LD: I think most physicians in medical science won't even look at prayer
because it doesn't fit their theories. Well, if a pet theory doesn't work maybe it's time to get rid of it. The whole point of the scientific method is to guard against self-delusion. Refusing to give the evidence a fair hearing is not the way you play science.
It's true we don't have a clue about how prayer works, either. All I'm saying is that it's time we looked at the data. I was fascinated by the clarity of a lot of these 130 studies. Some of them were extremely clean, well designed, and very precise. And well over half of these 130 studies show statistical significance that something major is going on with prayer.
A lot of physicians would like to write it off as placebo
effect, but that's difficult to do considering that bacteria, fungi, and
germinating seeds aren't generally considered to be susceptible to