bookmark_borderThe study without a prayer

According to Bruce Flamm, long-time critic of one of the best known studies that claimed real effects due to intercessory prayer, further reasons to be dubious of the study authors’ work has surfaced, in the form of one being caught in plagiarism.

In summary, the man who designed and supposedly conducted the prayer study resides in federal prison, and the man originally listed as lead author admits he knows nothing about the alleged research. The only remaining author has now been charged with plagiarism. . . This may be the first time in history that all three authors of a randomized, controlled study have been found guilty of fraud, deception, and/or plagiarism. Even more remarkable is the fact that the JRM has steadfastly refused to retract its physics-defying paper.

More interestingly, Flamm asks

One must therefore wonder if the Columbia researchers and the JRM editors have been blinded by religious beliefs.

Flamm’s full article has more details.

Mind you, given the history of parapsychology in general and intercessory prayer studies in particular, we’re sure to eventually get yet another study purporting to establish the efficacy of intercessory prayer, and we can be doubly sure that the media will trumpet the “amazing new results” while neglecting to give refutations any prominent play.

(Thanks to Keith Augustine for bringing this to my attention.)

bookmark_borderVonnegut goes off deep end about Darwin?

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite novelists (the somewhat obscure Deadeye Dick in particular) and cultural commentators. He is deeply rooted in the freethought tradition, and has served as honorary president of the American Humanist Association.

Lately, though, he seems to be on a strange anti-Darwinian kick. For example, about a year ago, the blog of the intelligent design-advocating Discovery Institute quoted Vonnegut expressing skepticism about evolution in an NPR interview. I didn’t think much of it — who knows about the context and so forth. But more recently, the left/liberal In These Times ran a fax to the editor by Vonnegut, saying “Darwin gave the cachet of science to war and genocide.”

I don’t know if it’s necessary to dissect the multiple levels of bullshit in Vonnegut’s views. Just because it’s a common fallacy to equate “natural” with “good” does not excuse Vonnegut from indulging such sloppy thinking. If our species has often engaged in warlike and genocidal behavior, it is perfectly legitimate to seek evolutionary explanations, even to speculate on whether such violence (under certain conditions) is deeply embedded in evolved human nature. None of this adds up to any endorsement. Moreover, there is a deeper problem with such moralistic Darwin-bashing, normally a staple of creationists. Creationists tend to think that the universe has an anthropocentric moral order, and hence they tend to think that ideas that they find morally objectionable are also factually false. How does Vonnegut harbor such a delusion, especially in the absence of a religious anchor for cosmic moral fantasies?

OK, so maybe I should retreat to a superficially reasonable centrism: if the religious right puts moral convictions ahead of science, maybe the nonreligious left can do the same, just in the service of different moral intuitions. A pox on both houses, both “extremes.” But that’s either a basically conservative complacency or a cynicism of the “well, we can’t do anything, so we might as well watch TV” variety. I don’t think the ends of the “spectrum” are mirror images. And so I expect better from an honorary president of the AHA, dammit!