The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘healing’

Prayer, Miracles, and Damned Statistics

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 7, 2010

We’ve all heard the line: There’s lies, damned lies, and then there’s statistics. The implication is that people can use statistics to deceive themselves and others.  But the opposite is also true: people often deceive themselves due to a stark ignorance of numbers & statistics (often referred to as innumeracy).

For example, at this time of year, at least in Christian circles, there is a lot of talk going around about prayer and miracles – usually in the guise of stories about supposedly “miraculous” healing.  And the media loves to give air time to these kind of anecdotal stories with nary a whiff of skepticism.  However, to its credit, ABC News did a segment recently with Elizabeth Vargas where she gave a fair amount of face-time to skeptic Michael Shermer.  Here are some excerpts from Shermer’s account of the interview at the really groovy SkeptiBlog…

Would I Ever Pray for a Miracle?

I really like how Shermer goes into the issue of large number statistics, confirmation bias, and believers counting the “miraculous hits” while discounting the enormous number of inevitable misses…

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Posted in mathematics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Good News – Alt-Med Gets Whacked in 2009

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 6, 2010

It looks like, upon looking back at the year 2009, that in many ways it was a good one for science & skepticism – at least, it was good for medical science.  That’s because, according to a breakdown by LiveScience.com, various forms of alt-med woo woo got a well-deserved smackdown.  That’s because a number of popular alt-med ideas were – gasp!actually tested out under controlled conditions to see if they actually do what their practitioners claim.  Let’s look at the results…

Reiki

Reiki is a spiritual practice developed in Japan in the early 20th century that, in the hands of Westerners, has evolved into a new-age healing practice. Popular in Hawaii and California by the 1970s, reiki has since become a staple at health spas and in granola-loving cities across the United States.

Reiki involves a practitioner (that is, someone who has taken a couple days of training) who places her hands on or just above a patient’s body to transmit healing energy — the “ki” or reiki, better known as qi in Chinese traditional medicine. Reiki has all the trappings of new-age healing: restoring balance and instilling life energy through mysticism and/or vibrational energy. Akin to a hands-off massage, reiki is said to relieve stress, fatigue and depression and promote self-healing for just about any disease, including cancer.

The two largest scientific reviews of reiki, published last year in International Journal of Clinical PracticeJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, reveal that reiki is not an effective treatment for any condition. and in November 2009 in the Also in 2009, the U.S. Catholic Church weighed in, stating at a March meeting of bishops that, “since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for… Catholic health care facilities… to provide support for Reiki therapy.”

Reiki is not an outright scam; the practitioners seem to believe in what they are doing. In the end the soft music and whispery speech of the practitioners during the reiki sessions merely helps one relax.

Well, regardless of the Catholic Church’s theological opinion on reiki, one thing is clear: the science shows that, despite the fervent belief held by its practitioners, reiki doesn’t work. I can wave my hands in the air just as well as a “qualified” reiki practitioner and achieve exactly the same results… nothing at all. What’s next?

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

The “Ghost” of Michael Jackson

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 6, 2009

Oh please… apparently, the ghost of Michael Jackson is now making the rounds.  That is, according to numerous slavering fans who have apparently thrown their brains right out the window.

I mean, we all knew it was going to happen (just like it has with other famous people, like Elvis), but I was holding out hope that it might take at least a bit longer than this so the news cycle wouldn’t have another reason to go on and on and on about MJ.  Arrrgh.

Anyway, here is the news story is making the rounds on the Internet (say, he sort of does look like a ghost)…

Ghost of Michael Jackson cures fan of fatal illness?

One rather expected consequence of the passing of the ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson is a rash of alleged sightings of Jackson’s ghost.

From the Philippines to Mexico, From Japan to the United States fans have been claiming to have been visited by Michael’s spirit.

Good grief!  As if this isn’t bad enough, it seems that some folks are making even crazier claims – namely that the King of Pop has miraculously cured them of their ailments!

Angelina Ramos, aged 38, a beautician and Manila native has been a serious Jackson fan ‘all her life’.  Last year never-married Angelina contracted a rare blood disease. Doctors gave her a ninety percent chance of not surviving for more than a year.

Angelina was shattered when her hero died. Two days after Jackson’s passing Angelina woke up at night and felt a presence in her bedroom. She sat up and felt a hand pull her back down. She looked up and she saw her hero.

‘He looked radiant, at peace, absolutely beautiful. It was Michael for sure. He had a warm smile on his on his face’ said Angelina.

‘I was both stunned and at the same time uplifted’

I wonder how long until there are calls for the Vatican to give MJ sainthood?  But, believe me folks, it gets even better…

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Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Power of Prayer… Fails

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 22, 2009

We have all heard on numerous occasions about “the power of prayer” to heal the sick & dying.  Stories abound about supposedly miraculous recoveries that are attributed to intercessory prayer – that is, prayer on behalf of someone else who is ill.  Sadly, the reality is that the power of prayer… fails.

Case in point: a couple in Oregon is facing jail for relying only upon prayer to cure their child of pneumonia.  It seems that whomever they were talking to wasn’t listening, because the kid died.

Parents face jail for praying instead of getting doctor for baby

A US judge has rejected defence arguments that claimed selective and vindictive prosecution in the manslaughter trial of a couple whose 15-month-old daughter died of pneumonia while they prayed for her recovery.

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Maurer told lawyers for Carl and Raylene Worthington that he had already determined the Oregon City couple had a duty to seek medical care for their daughter, Ava, despite their religious beliefs.

“There are limits, especially when it comes to the protection of young children,” Maurer said.

The couple face manslaughter charges in the death of Ava, who died of pneumonia in March 2008. A state medical examiner has said she could have been treated with antibiotics.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  Though I am an atheist, I can understand people wanting to pray to make themselves feel better in times of great stress, such as during the hospitalization of themselves or a loved one.  I was in the hospital recently myself, and a colleague of mine called me – he told me that he’d pray for me, and I thanked him.  I didn’t thank him because I thought his prayers would help at all (they don’t), but I instead thanked him because it showed me that he cared about me.  But this is beside the main point of this entry.

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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