To the Editor: The Journal’s unbalanced supplement on spirituality and health fails to satisfy your policy on sponsored supplements, cites at least one fraudulent study, and contains much poor science and non-science. I discuss here only a fraction of the supplement’s flaws.
Firstly, dissenting voices were not cited or discussed in the supplement. An objective appraisal of the field would have included sceptical viewpoints such as those of Paul,1 who demonstrated lower levels of societal dysfunction in highly secular democracies than in more religious societies such as that of the United States. It is remarkable that the supplement article by Williams and Sternthal2 ignored Paul’s study.
Secondly, Jantos and Kiat3 cite Cha and Wirth’s debunked Columbia University study into the relationship between intercessory prayer and fertility rates for in-vitro fertilisation treatment. Flamm, a Californian professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, demolished this article,4,5 and his rebuttal was reported widely.6 That this citation survived the peer review process suggests either that the reviewers did not know their field well enough, or that they deliberately allowed unqualified citation of a fraudulent study. Either way, they failed in their role as reviewers.
Thirdly, Jantos and Kiat state that scientific investigation of prayer may not be possible, adding that scientists “must” accept that “some aspects of prayer . . . may go beyond the reach of science”. (Yet prayer’s putative physical effects must be measurable!) They also regard bible stories of Jesus’ healings as scientifically valid observations, stating that “All were examples of healing by supernatural means” — an unsupported, unscientific statement of belief that has no place in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Similarly, Eckersley7 states that “we are spiritual beings, psychically connected to our world”. It is extraordinary and lamentable that statements such as these survived the editorial process.
Finally, potential authorial conflict of interest is not disclosed. Koenig8 is the Co-Director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University Medical Center, a significant role that is not noted in his author details. Despite Jantos and Kiat’s assertions about the limitations of science, Koenig’s Center supports many studies of prayer.
The well funded, US-based push to research the interface between religion and science, especially medical science, jeopardises scientific integrity. Its apotheosis, the Templeton Prize, is — at $US1.5 million — the world’s richest academic prize.9 The Journal’s supplement is best perceived as being a part of this agenda. It is an indictment on the MJA as a scientific journal that it was published.
- 1. Paul GS. Cross-national correlations of quantifiable societal health with popular religiosity and secularism in the prosperous democracies. J Relig Soc 2005; 7: 1-17. http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html (accessed Jul 2007).
- 2. Williams DR, Sternthal MJ. Spirituality, religion and health: evidence and research directions. Med J Aust 207; 186 (10 Suppl): S47-S50. <MJA full text>
- 3. Jantos M, Kiat H. Prayer as medicine: how much have we learned? Med J Aust 2007; 186 (10 Suppl): S51-S53. <MJA full text>
- 4. Flamm BL. The Columbia University “Miracle” Study: flawed and fraud. Skeptical Inquirer 2004; 31: 19-20. http://www.csicop.org/si/2004-09/miracle-study.html (accessed Jul 2007).
- 5. Flamm BL. Faith healing confronts modern medicine. Sci Rev Altern Med 2004; 8: 9-14. http://www.sram.org/0801/v8n1_columbia_prayer.pdf (accessed Jul 2007).
- 6. Jaroff L. Questioning healing prayer. Time 2004; 1 July. http://www.time.com/time/columnist/jaroff/article/0,9565,660053,00.html (accessed Jul 2007).
- 7. Eckersley RM. Culture, spirituality, religion and health: looking at the big picture. Med J Aust 2007; 186 (10 Suppl): S54-S56. <MJA full text>
- 8. Koenig HG. Religion, spirituality and medicine in Australia: research and clinical practice. Med J Aust 2007; 186 (10 Suppl): S45-S46. <MJA full text>
- 9. Saxton A. “Sir John” Templeton’s Foundation and the new trinitarianism. Free Inquiry 2007; 27: 27-34.
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