Friday Woo Religion Skepticism/critical thinking

Bonus Woo: Global prayer

This one didn’t seem big enough to deserve the full Your Friday Dose of Woo treatment, but I certainly don’t want to let this additional bit of religious woo go by unnoticed:

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – March 27, 2007. Regardless of creed, ethnicity, age or culture, throughout history people have steadfastly believed in the power of prayer. Now a team of scientists and over a million people around the world will put this belief to the test. From May 15th through May 29th the “Breakthrough Celebration: Compassion to Action” will be the largest interfaith global meditation and prayer for peace. What makes this event unique is that scientists will be simultaneously monitoring emergency calls during the two week period. It is expected that as the number of participants increase, emergency calls reporting crime and domestic violence will decrease.

“This is the first meditation event to study how people affect the actions of others through meditation and prayer while the event is happening,” says Joseph R. Giove, founder and executive director of, the primary organizer of the Breakthrough Celebration. “Over the last three decades, certain meditation assemblies have apparently reduced crime and terrorism by as much as 20 percent, but always with a time lag between the meditation program and our understanding of its effects. We want to show that certain types of meditation and prayer affect social harmony at that moment.”

Giove is not alone. Over 150,000 people from various faiths and wisdom traditions have agreed to participate, and several well-known scientists have embraced the study. “Social cohesion is strongly dependent on people’s values and priorities,” says Professor Ervin Laszlo, world-renowned systems theorist, Goi Peace Prize recipient and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. “We know that people influence each other’s values and priorities and this collective intention influences the community. Joint meditation assemblies can intensify this effect, as demonstrated in the Transcendental Meditation studies performed since the 1970s.” Laszlo’s global humanitarian organization, The Club of Budapest, is a major participant in the May “Breakthrough” event.

Hmmm. I wonder who these “well-known scientists” are who are “embracing the study,” other than Laszlo, who is indeed into a fair amount of woo, as his quote above is enough to demonstrate. Note how he states that “joint meditation assemblies” can intensify the effect of “collective intention” without presenting any sort of evidence that this is so. Of course, this sort of “study” will also prove absolutely nothing. For one thing, there’s no control group determined prospectively. For another thing, there’s no blinding. For yet another thing, there’s no indication that the number of emergency calls would necessarily have anything to do with whether there is “peace” or not. Emergency calls fluctuate in a stochastic manner, and there are seasonal variations in the number of calls, with a tendency towards more calls in the summer as people are out and about more to crack up their cars in auto crashes, for example. It is virtually certain that in some of the cities and towns participating that emergency call volume will fall during that two week period. Anyone want to make a guess that any such fall will be touted as a “successful” test? It would take a lot more than two weeks to separate real trends from random and seasonal fluctuations, and you’d need a control group, which would be very difficult to come up with, given that different cities have different characteristics.

Of course, the organizers think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread: is working with major cities in the US, Europe and Asia to provide emergency call data as indicators of social cohesion. When a municipality agrees to participate, enlists the cooperation of the faith and wisdom traditions in that community for the May event. “It is a unique and efficient opportunity for municipalities,” says Giove, “considering the money already invested in crime reduction and prevention programs. Our approach complements existing municipal strategies and costs the taxpayers nothing, other than statistical data that they already have. We believe the effects of this study will be far-reaching, but even if it saves one life, prevents one rape, thwarts one assault or robbery, isn’t it worthwhile?”

Sure. If you say so. The problem is, the whole “study” is designed in such a way that it will be impossible to tell if it’s done anything.

You know, if people are going to do “collective meditation” to release “collective energy,” I think I like the Global Orgasm project better.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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