Saturday, April 01, 2006

Will ethics boards allow further experiments with prayer?

Will future prayer studies pass review by Institutional Review Boards? IRB's have to approve human experiments. A novel treatment, like prayer therapy, can be approved if the likelihood of harm is considered miniscule. That is no longer true. A 40% increase in bad complications, even if it is within the range of statistical error, means the IRB must consider prayer as a possible toxic treatment. Given the limited results for a positive effect, and the suspicion of significant harm, ethical considerations will likely prevent any further experiments with prayer in medical settings.

Personally I find a toxic effect of prayer to be at least as interesting as a beneficial effect, though as I noted previously I await the P values with great interest. Even if the P values are not significant, however, the IRB issue will remain.


Anonymous said...

You are not serious, are you?

JGF said...

Until I get a better source than the NYT, it's really a thought experiment. But, yes, if there really was a 40% increase in bad outcomes among the experimental group then it's hard to image future studies getting IRB approval.

After all, there are really only two options:

1. Treat the results seriously, as though this were a study of a new anti-arrhythmia med. If a med had this kind of trend it would hard to get it studied any further.

2. Treat the concept as silly, in which case a study is a waste of money.

Either way, how could a rational IRB allow further studies?

Of course this is only a thought experiment since the NYT numbers may be wrong. Also, humans aren't rational.