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Spiritual Kids Are Healthier. Really ??!!

March 23, 2009

I came across this news report via Shantanu’s blog and found that this was all over the science-challenged Indian news media including Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Zee News ( to name a few), as well as the American Christian news media. Here is an excerpt.

A Praying Kid is a Healthy Kid

A Praying Kid is a Healthy Kid. Hallelujah !!

Spiritual Kids are Healthier

 

…..The researchers thus studied 16 children, aged six to 20, who were undergoing haemodialysis due to End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).

Nierenberg (Dr. Barry Nierenberg, associate professor of psychology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida) said: There was a significant negative correlation between spiritual attitudes and BUN levels. As children reported more agreement with statements like, “I am sure that God cares about me”, and “God has a plan for me”, their average BUN levels over the past year were lower.

The patients were questioned on a scale of spirituality behaviours and attitudes, and their responses were correlated to dialysis-related blood levels, including blood urea nitrogen (BUN), lymphocytes, albumin, phosphorus, parathyroid hormone (PTH), and urea reduction ratio. 

 

Even though, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Dr. Nierenberg is another of those evangelical Christians masquerading as a credible scientist (as has happened before with such studies) it’s even more ridiculous what passes off as scientific research in the Indian media – as the recent news report about ISRO finding bacteria in space  suggested. 

Unless it’s sensationalist or conforms to popular beliefs and stereotypes, it is not worthy of science reporting. If a person has a Dr. in front of his name he/she must be talking sense, right ?  Is it any wonder then that a majority of educated Indians (and Americans) have such low level of understanding of science and what constitutes the scientific method ?

Now let’s look at the report and ask ourselves some pertinent questions before we jump to false conclusions, shall we ?

1. What was the sample size of this research ?

16.

No. You read it correct. I didn’t miss any zeroes. It’s not 16000, not 1600, not even 160 but 16. Any statistician worth his salt would probably tell you that is a pretty small sample size for any sort of clinical study (even 160 is pretty small). And here is a Prof, making tall claims just looking at 16 subjects. Whoa !!

I doubt if anyone can arrive at any meaningful conclusion from such a small sample size. Even though correlation is not the same as cause, often we do find that there is a relation between the two. However, with a small sample size like this, it becomes extremely difficult to conclusively link the two.

2. Were these double blind studies? Were there any control groups ?

I couldn’t find the paper on Dr. Nierenberg’s website and reading the report doesn’t look like there were any. Double blind experiments, in which neither the individual nor the researcher knows who belongs to a control group and who belongs to the experimental group is one of the most stringent ways of conducting experiments on humans and is a preferred method for a lot of clinical studies, as it helps avoid subjective bias. Without a control group or a double blind study how do we know that the results were unbiased?

3. How was a subject’s position on the “scale of spirituality” arrived at based on the answers to the questions?

Framing theory and framing bias suggest that the way facts or statements are presented and the way questions are framed, influence the choices people make. Why weren’t the questions/statements framed differently to check if anyone had a more secular view? Looking at the statements, it is pretty obvious that they were skewed towards influencing the experiment towards belief in God.

 

Now, I must admit that I couldn’t get a hold of the actual paper (or even the abstract) even after searching for quite some time on the net (I don’t have membership access to any of those journal either). However from the news report, it seems the following questions have no answers to them either .

4. How was the prof. so sure that the children did not lie to the questions asked or were not acting under pressure from their parents who may have been present in the room?

5. Have other factors like diet, exercise, economic factors, social life etc.  been eliminated to arrive at the conclusion? How were the subgroups chosen? How similar were the group populations?

6. How are we sure that children as young as 6 understand the concept of God and can be called spiritual ? Since the age group was from 6 – 20, what were the effects on different age groups, since older children would be more likely to think independently ?

 

To my knowledge, till date, all double blind studies that have attempted to find a relationship between participatory prayer and health improvement have either failed or were proven to be inconclusive at best. So I am curious to see how the professor arrived at his conclusion. Can someone who has access to the paper please send me a link or answer the questions above so that we can better understand the experiment methodology ?

However, given the obvious bias of the researcher in framing the questions and small sample size, I can safely guess that this is another piece of idiotic research which will soon find it’s place in the junkyard of false scientific claims.

 

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. Hindu Atheist permalink
    March 23, 2009 3:28 pm

    I read that news and when I saw that their conclusions were based on 16 children, I had a good laugh. And out of 16 kids, you could really identify the “spiritual” ones? I say – good for you – and just ignored the study.

    In my opinion, catchy headline like that is aimed to make religious parents feel good abut themselves. After all they are helping the kids.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 23, 2009 4:17 pm

      Yep. Thats right. Anything to keep the faith strong in the supreme sky daddy 🙂

  2. March 23, 2009 8:00 pm

    16 kids is quite a big number 😀
    However I feel this GOD concept, its all psychology to keep the people happy even in their failures devised by some very intelligent man/woman.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 23, 2009 9:42 pm

      @tarun

      I dont think 16 kids is a big number for purposes of clinical studies…there are a lot of websites which discuss this issue..you can try googling for them if you are interested..

  3. March 23, 2009 8:05 pm

    There is this feeling that we need something – like faith to keep us kind and good. I feel if we are emotionally matured, understand fairplay, ethics and have respect for rights of others – we need no religion or god to keep us civilised or ethical or humane or simply civilised.
    If we have no sense of fairplay, no respect for the rights of living creatures (other than self) than no god or spiritualism is going to help us.
    What we need to protect human rights and civilised society is not god or religion or spiritualism or gurus but Democratic governments and respect for individual rights, and in India some respect for our Constitution.

    Any disrespect for the Constitution should not be pardoned by the voters, and now I am back to feeling bad about what’s happening in this country today ….

    Looks like we have a very gloomy future ahead.

  4. March 23, 2009 8:58 pm

    Right.
    Next up – Devout cats/dogs make the home disease-free.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 23, 2009 9:43 pm

      @holydude

      LOL!! let’s get started with the research..

  5. March 24, 2009 12:53 am

    That picture really gives me the creeps.

  6. March 24, 2009 3:50 am

    hey boss, again a very bad sense of humour 😦
    U shud see the smiley next to my comment, I am disappointed, and I am neither interested in kids nor in any studies related to them, I hate kids 😀

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 24, 2009 7:11 am

      @tarun

      sorry boss…I missed ur sense of humor..I read your comment in a hurry…sorry for hurting your humor-laden sentiments 🙂

      mujhe sue maat kar dena ;-)..

      btw the post was not about kids but about science reporting..i hope you don’t hate science too !!

  7. March 24, 2009 6:22 am

    16 as a sample size and they PUBLISHED the damn study

  8. March 24, 2009 7:16 am

    No need to say sorry, it hppens 😀
    As far as suing is concerned, I won’t do that and Science is not my style, I am beyond science although I am an Engineer but science and technology, I guess I have some firewall installed in my brain against them, but no loose talk here, its a serious topic 😀

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 24, 2009 7:22 am

      @tarun

      Thank God..now I can sleep in piece 🙂 ..although I just woke up..but maybe tonight

      “I guess I have some firewall installed in my brain against them,”

      LOL!!

  9. nitwitnastik permalink*
    March 24, 2009 7:35 am

    @IHM

    You are absolutely right. unfortunately not everyone thinks like us. But about our country…i think our demography is quite young and this can be an advantage if the rights steps are taken to educate them properly in science, rational thinking and secular values (although our high illiteracy rate is definitely not helping). Whether it can be done depends on our leaders. Given the way it’s going it may be difficult to change but not impossible. i am optimistic

    @uzza

    that picture wasn’t part of the report..I just found it to go with the post 🙂

    @allytude

    anyone can publish any study..but just publishing a paper in some small fringe journal or conference doesn’t mean anything..let it get published in nature or some similar prestigious journal and then maybe it will carry some weight

  10. March 24, 2009 1:24 pm

    Woah 16 is a large number by any Indian media standards! 2 would be more like it.

    Has anyone sued India TV yet? Two people had committed suicide when they reported that the earth would end when the Large Hadron Collider would be “switched on”.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 24, 2009 5:51 pm

      @siddharth

      seriously ….indian science reporting is a joke..:-)

  11. Chirag Chamoli permalink
    March 25, 2009 3:45 am

    Dude, 16 people 🙂 said that, objectively funny 🙂

  12. Chirag Chamoli permalink
    March 25, 2009 3:49 am

    I read a quote on “Some People Are Alive ONLY Because It’s Illegal To Kill Them” this goes for Indian media, also, do read An open letter to Indian Media :)when you have time, you’ll enjoy that.

    An Open Letter to Indian News Media

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 25, 2009 6:11 am

      @chirag

      LOL…thanks for the link. I will try to read it.

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