Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection: randomised controlled trial

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7327.1450 (Published 22 December 2001)
Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1450

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14 October 2010

Dear Professor Leibovici, Thank you for your study.

Professor Leonard Leibovici wrote "The article has nothing to do with religion. I believe that prayer is a real comfort and help to a believer. I do not believe it should be tested in controlled trials."

If the metaphysical realm such as prayer has potential to improve the health of patients, then why not test it in controlled trials so that it can be of benefit to people?

I do not believe that prayer should be relegated to scientific study, but if it can help ease suffering then why prevent further investigation?

Thank you, Yosef Sherman

Competing interests: None declared

Yosef Sherman, Student

Ohr Somayach Institutions

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26 July 2009

If people read their Bibles, they would know that you cannot test God, 'Do not test the LORD your God', Deut.6:16.

However, God may test us! 'I will refine them like silver and test them like gold', Zech. 13:9.

Competing interests: Evangelical Christian.

Competing interests: None declared

Paul E Shannon, Con Anaes

Doncaster Royal Infirmary. DN1 5LT

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“ We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future".

Omar Al-Khayyam

"The dawn of the first day of creation wrote what the evening of the last day shall read"

I prefer Omar's version of destiny.

Michael Innis

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Michael D Innis, NA


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In addressing "Some Logical and Philosophical Objections and a Parallelism to the Newcomb Problem" I quoted the statement that, "When one tries to decide on the best strategy to follow when making one's choice, a paradox results. Two widely accepted and supposedly equally valid principles in logic (the evidential expected utility (EEU) principle and the causal expected utility (CEU) principles respectively) give opposite strategies as optimal...", and asked if "this [might] be a philosophical formulation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle?"

The uncertainty principle holds that it is not possible to define the position and momentum of a particle at the same time. In his book, Universe in a Nutshell", Steven Hawking claims that acceptance of the validity of this fundamental law in quantum mechanics renders LaPlace’s scientific determinism false. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle may, however, be interpreted as proof of the validity of the Alice hypothesis which posits that bosonic forms of existence, in which all movement occurs, alternate with fermionic ones, where all matter resides in a succession of incrementally different static forms.

If then, as the Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel claims (1), free will is exercised uncosciously and, as posited in the Alice hypothesis, all thought and executive decision making occurs within bosonic phases of existence and fermionic complexities are dictated by antecedent bosonic simplicities (2), what is free will? Might it be the products of an individual unconscious, a collective unconscious, and/or a "Creator's" unconscious? Might it, and even the power of prayer, be the product of all three.

Laplace strongly believed in causal determinism, which is expressed in the following quote from the introduction to the Essai:

“ We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.[22] ”

"Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and behavior, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences"(Wikipedia). Pierre- Simon, marquis de Laplace is credited with being the father of scientific determinism. Laplace's Demon: "This intellect is often referred to as Laplace's demon (in the same vein as Maxwell's demon). Note that the description of the hypothetical intellect described above by Laplace as a demon does not come from Laplace, but from later biographers: Laplace saw himself as a scientist that hoped that humanity would progress in a better scientific understanding of the world, which, if and when eventually completed, would still need a tremendous calculating power to compute it all in a single instant" (Wikipedia).

When asked by Napoleon why he hadn't mentioned God in his book on astronomy, Celestial Mechanics, Laplace replied, "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là" (I had no need of that hypothesis) (Wikipedia).

1. Eric Kandel. Free will is exercised unconsciously. In: John Brockman. What Is Your Dangerous Idea?

cmaj.ca -- eLetters for Cavalcanti, 171 (4) 328[Read eLetter] Might biochemical fermionic complexities be dictated by antecedent bosonic simplicities? Richard G Fiddian-Green (26 August 2004) ... www.cmaj.ca/cgi/eletters/171/4/328

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Richard G Fiddian-Green, FRCS, FACS


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An important side effect of the Leibovici paper is its impact on the religious community. Please search in Google: “Leibovici” and then “prayer” on ‘search within results’ (at the bottom of the page). You will have a lot of entries where many religious congregations take the Leibovici ‘experiment’ as a proof of the prayer benefits or of the existence of God.

Evidently these persons didn’t read the Leibovici auto-reply (Author's comments, BMJ, 12 march 2002, Leibovici L).

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Jose M Lopez-Lozano, Infection Control Team

Hospital Vega Baja, Orihuela 03314, Spain

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28 December 2006

Can I possibly get the data you used for the statistical tests? I am a statistician, and I would like to see what the results would be if Bayesian techniques were used.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Paulo Hubert, Graduate student

Universidade de Sao Paulo

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Not long ago a colleague gave me the Leibovici-paper without any comments. I read it once, and than again. I was sure, that it is a joke, and I definitely do not believe in retroactive praying. Of course, after reading several times, the caveats appeared, as they do in any paper. I thought that maybe Leibovici put the readers to a test: take a published pharmacological case-control study of a high impact journal, and reframe it into a faked study, using same methodology and stats, but only change the treatment into something esoterically. Look at the responses of the scientific community. The reframed study will be criticised because of bad stats, interpretation, description of methodology, etc. Question: Would the scientific community would be as critical to mainstream pharmacological studies as it would be for the faked study? I do not think that Leibovici paper has a worse methodology compared to most published studies.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Martin Ploederl, Research Assistant

Hellbrunnerstr. 34, 5020 Salzburg, Austria

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Throughout the studies on intercessory prayer, I have been seeing the study population as a mere microcosm for what the studies might really be studying. Taking "healing" (and all measurements like length of hospital stay and mortality) to be metaphorical for the process each person goes through to live a more fulfilling life, these studies, however indicative their statistical results, may come bear on the role of prayer for our planet and humanity.

I received some inspiration for this comment from www.peaceeveryday.org

Sincerely, Michael

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Michael A. Bedar, Outreach, Tree of Life Foundation

Patagonia, Arizona, U.S.A.

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Would you accept a RCT in which it is suspected that a considerable number of individuals in the control group were given the active drug? Since this study does not offer major precisions about the applied intervention (e.g. What kind of prayer? Prayers from who? Where was it made? To what God?), we must assume that any prayer should produce the same effects, and there is no way to rule out that any individual from the control group (or his/her relatives) had not prayed to God for their health during their time of illness. Control subjects, to be considered as such, must not have received any prayer, at any time (since “God is not limited by a linear time, as we are”). Therefore, the study is invalid, or it can lead us to a dangerous conclusion such that a prayer said ten years later by an unknown person is more effective than one said at the moment by a beloved one; and its consequent recommendation would be: if you need God’s help, don’t pray now, do it in a few years, it will be better. However, even if we accept the study and its conclusions as valid, it should be reproducible. Let’s suppose, then, that we want to reproduce this same study, but now with a crossed design (like a RCT in which those who were initially given placebo will receive the active drug). The subjects in control group should then improve their condition like those who received the intervention in the first place. That is obviously impossible, but… why? What are God’s excuses to not help these people? None of the following would be acceptable: - Sorry, there’s nothing I can do, it happened in the past. - I’m sorry, I have already helped the other group. - I’m not allowed to help control subjects.

Anyway, it would be enrichening to go on discussing about Religion, but only a miracle could turn this work into strong evidence about the effectiveness of praying. Finally, all this discussion is absolutely irrelevant, since regardless what science may prove or not, human beings will go on praying, because it is a matter of faith. Besides, it is cost-effective.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Sergio D Schvartzman, Physician

Neuquen (8300) Argentina

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2 July 2004

Purple Unicorns?-you must be a heretic Sir! The only true deity is the Great Invisible Pink Unicorn. Have you not beheld her in All the Glory of Her Ineffable Pinkness?

Competing interests: Member of National Secular Society

Competing interests: None declared

Reginald.H. Le Sueur, Social security officer

Jersey. JE3 7BE

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