Researchers Say Thoughts & Prayers Are Harmful, Confirmed With Wee P-Values

I don’t know if Wall Street has a Science fund. If they do, short it.

Why? Take this peer-reviewed paper by the two ladies Linda Thunstrom and Shiri Noy in the very Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; “The value of thoughts and prayers“.

Abstract:

A standard response of both policy makers and private citizens to hardships—from natural disasters to mass shootings—is to offer “thoughts and prayers.” Critics argue that such gestures are meaningless and may obstruct structural reforms intended to mitigate catastrophes.

We start with the proof that “critics” are idiots. Let’s see what else we can learn from the Abstract.

In this study, we elicit the value of receiving thoughts and prayers from strangers following adversity. We find that Christians value thoughts and prayers from religious strangers and priests, while atheists and agnostics are “prayer averse”—willing to pay to avoid receiving prayers. Furthermore, while indifferent to receiving thoughts from other secular people, they negatively value thoughts from Christians.

Say this out loud: atheists and agnostics are willing to pay to avoid receiving prayers.

If this is so, and the authors use Science&tm; to claim it, so it must be, then atheists and agnostics are irrational. For if there is no God, prayers cannot harm them, or indeed do anything to them. But if God exists, prayer might help them. To pay not to receive them, in either case, is rank irrationality.

But this just might be the kind of atheists our authoresses hang out with. We’ll see.

You want an example of university professors thinking too well of themselves? This is it:

Despite the frequent usage of [thought and prayer] gestures on behalf of people experiencing hardship, the value of thoughts and prayers to recipients remains unknown. In the United States, this knowledge vacuum exacerbates public debate about the value of thoughts and prayers.

No it doesn’t. Nobody was debating this. Not a soul outside of any ideology factory, anyway.

“Because there is no market for intercessory thoughts and prayers (i.e., thoughts and prayers conducted on behalf of others), their value cannot be inferred from existing prices.”

What was that about knowing the price of everything and value of nothing?

Instead, values may be assessed by willingness to pay (WTP), a measure that captures the net monetary value of perceived costs and benefits. Recipients may expect direct benefits (increased health or wealth) or direct costs (reduced material gain) to result from either thoughts or prayers. Recipients may also experience hedonic gains (feelings of hope or closeness to others) or distressing costs (anger, annoyance) from such gestures.

The class of people who claim “distressing costs” are (and here, since this is a family blog, I use the polite word), pansies.

Anyway, here’s what these clever lady scientists did.

They went on line and offered to pay people $5 to play a game. These were divided into Christians and atheists or agnostics.

Participants were asked whether they were affected by Hurricane Florence, and if so, to categorize and describe their hardship. If they were not affected by Florence, they were asked to categorize and describe another hardship from the previous year.

Such as learning their favorite character on a soap opera didn’t commit suicide, maybe? The authoresses never say. Only 30% claimed the hurricane bothered them, so the range of other distressing events must have been highly varied, and therefore incomparable.

Anyway, gamers were told that to alleviate their negative affect “they could exchange some or all of their $5 for supportive thoughts from a Christian stranger (C1), thoughts from an atheist stranger (C2), prayers from a Christian stranger (C3), or prayers from a priest (C4).”

These were not fake prayers and thoughts, friends. “We also recruited senders of thoughts and prayers via Amazon Mechanical Turk.” I promise you this is so. The priest—an actual priest—“was recruited in the first author’s local community”.

Well, virtual currency went this way and that, and prayers for only the Lord knows what went out to some people. Though others only sent thoughts, which are not the same as prayers. All anonymously, as far as I could tell.

Lo, more Christians than atheists wanted prayers from a priest. “P < 0.001”. And some atheists thought it would be fun to pay their bundle of money not to receive prayers or thoughts from anybody in this wholly artificial situation.

That, besides a lot of superfluous detail, is it.

“Wait, Briggs. They said they could tell the value of thoughts and prayers. Surely they must have checked whether the thoughts and prayers actually worked. Right?”

Nope.

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19 Thoughts

  1. As I understand it, to exacerbate is to make something bad worse. Since they say, “this knowledge vacuum exacerbates public debate about the value of thoughts and prayers” I conclude that they feel that this debate is a bad thing. I wonder why, in that case, they are engaging in it.

  2. The agnostics and atheists are, I think, saying that they would pay to not be told that they’re being thought of and prayed for. Paying in that case would be perfectly rational, because such comments they deem annoying. They think of such comments as spam.

  3. uhhh, well I’m sending a lot of, ummm, thoughts & prayers, toward Donald Trump these days… I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve received indication they worked

  4. Actually, I’m thinking of jumping in the “no prayers or thoughts” market. Seems ripe for monetization. A news scanner, combined with zip-code level marketing contact info, can give disaster sufferers a paid opt – out opportunity. For a small fee, my team of prayer warriors will delete a name from the Daily Thoughts and Prayers List. And, by the way, Certified Carbon Credits are still available to preserve mature hardwood trees on my recreational property. Hi – def photos of your tree are also available for a small fee, as are naming rights.

  5. “For if there is no God, prayers cannot harm them, or indeed do anything to them. But if God exists, prayer might help them. To pay not to receive them, in either case, is rank irrationality.” So if we substitute “having a pin NOT stuck in a voodoo doll” for “receiving prayers and thoughts”, the atheists would quadruple their monetary donations to avoid the voodoo dolls? Heck, if magic and superstition offend atheists that much, we’re overlooking a huge revenue stream.

    By value, one should have easily surmised the broke and not-wanting-to-work-for-a-living research students meant “CASH”. They were not referring to any kind of value whatsoever beyond “CASH”. Is anyone surprised???

    James: I wouldn’t pay not to get spam even though it annoys me. I have yet to throw a brick through my TV due to the stupidity and offensive nature of news and ads, but I’m still not willing to pay to remove them (IF that were even possible, and it is apparently not). I ignore them—most things have an off-switch. One has to wonder how rational someone is to pay to not be exposed to things that bother them. Oh, and much richer than the rest of the world, too. It’s that lack of tithing, right, or a complete lack of moral restraint? They can then pay to be insulated from reality, which in not in any realm “rational”.

  6. trigger warning: I see you posted a way to monetize this while I was typing! Way to go! I’m with you on this.

  7. I think I’ll take the tactic of the peddlers I remember from Rome, and pray for an atheist, then demand money from them to take the prayer back.

  8. First I can get some free money, and then I get a bit less free money if somebody else does not do something? What kind of economy is that?

    You pay if you have money in your pocket and then give it to somebody else in return for some trinket you can put in your pocket or a service that you experience. This is just words on the internet.

  9. So god can be influenced by entreaties that routinely include bribes of s sort—“DearGod, please grant me my wish and I’ll stop doing some sin, or, tithe more, or, etc.”

    Believers claim God responds to such. Over and above all-knowing insight and a master plan.

    What does that tell us about God?

    Perhaps the same thing we’d conclude if some terrestrial jurist succumbed to a defendant’s similarly greased entreaties?

    Hhhmmmm.

  10. “In this study, we elicit the value of receiving thoughts and prayers from strangers following adversity. We find that Christians value thoughts and prayers from religious strangers and priests, while atheists and agnostics are “prayer averse”—willing to pay to avoid receiving prayers. Furthermore, while indifferent to receiving thoughts from other secular people, they negatively value thoughts from Christians.”

    Proof, as if more were needed, that these people are not atheists, but anti-theists. They don’t scoff at God, they positively hate Him.

  11. Ken –
    A genuine desire to be a better person, followed by actions to that end, are the heart of Christianity. As the old, old saying goes, God helps those who help themselves.

    And somehow you place no value on this, and scoff at the very idea? That tells me a very great deal about your moral character.

  12. McChuck – Where did I scoff at the idea?

    My observation of prayer requests, such as in Catholic Churches, is people pray for medical interventions (commonly qualifying as miracles), to get s job, etc, Those formalized entreaties invariably reduce to, “Dear God give me (—-)”.

    In decades of church attendance NEVER have I heard prayers for the medically infirm to better bear the trouble or hurry things along to meet god (and if they really have faith why do ALL the prayers reflect god-avoidance by requests to get well …. why don’t the faithful seem, when the option is near, to be encouraged about going to heaven and request accordingly? That is a curious inconsistency, almost universal).

    Hearing formal prayer appeals in church are invariably just direct requests for results. Indiscernibly different from a craps player calling out for a number before tossing the dice.

    Joel Osteen, for example, typifies the mega churches that treat prayer as a means to an alternative Santa Clause. Many Christians consider that ilk heretics. But that is increasingly the trend—prayer equating to gimme gimme gimme with the requested results measured in economic terms – $$$$

    self improvement that ain’t.

    Nice try with the hubris but stop making things up.

    Try and answer why an objective all-knowing omnipotent god would answer prayers over known (to god) desires by others not prayed for. Or, why more prayers, frequency and by more people, increase probability of answer.

    That sure looks Machiavellian — when the crowd trends in a certain direction better go along or lose power (and one’s life). It’s a proven pattern. Lee Iacocca put running a big organization like a small child walking a big dog – sometimes you walk the dog wherever it decides to go.

    If god is swayed by crowdsourcing prayer how isn’t that Machiavellian?

  13. Ken

    There is no bribery component to prayer to God(promises to not sin etc.). If a person does so they’re doing so in error. Christians are not pagans.

    Praying for the strength to endure trials or moral self improvement are of course part of the Christian faith. We are under orders after all to become like Christ.

    Why is it that people pray for material things(such as health), and God in fact wants us to(within certain bounds)?

    Case 1: Prayer for one’s own health or relief from distress, or the general success of one endeavors. This teaches people to rely on God and recognize their own limitations and shortcomings, as well as that nothing is possible without God’s permission, ie humility.

    Case 2: Prayer for the health/wellbeing of others. This teaches charity, praying only for their spiritual welfare can evade this.

    Case 3: what a person ought not do is pray for inordinate wealth or luxuries so that they may indulge themselves. This reveals an inappropriate and excessive attachment to material things.

    What we do changes who we are. You note that it is curious that Christians seem to be rather unsaintly and in fact sinners? Well that is a doctrine of the faith.

    The corruption of priests and that many will go to Hell is written in the Bible. They will spread false doctrines and lead people astray etc.
    You are correct that God already knows what people need, that’s in the Bible as well. There’s not really a probability of answer component either. God knows what we need, but he wants us to ask, for our own gpod. He wants others to ask as well, for their own good. Intercession for one another is something we are instructed to do.

  14. Ken

    Ultimately the question you should be asking is not whether Christianity is good or beneficial, but whether it is true.

    Who was Jesus Christ? is a good place to start. He declared He was God. He and His teachings must therefore either be a monstrous fiction, or true.

  15. In decades of church attendance NEVER have I heard prayers for the medically infirm to better bear the trouble

    I have, numerous times, esp. at mass in the “prayer of the faithful.”

    This does not stop people from praying selfishly, human nature being what it is. Additional details can be found here:
    https://wmbriggs.com/post/28025/

  16. I’ve long been convinced that the worst way to find out some truth about people is to ask them.

    Regardless, it seems we’ve seen this pattern before. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we start hearing about some long ingrained aspect of our culture that turns out to actually be quite offensive to some identity group. Who knew? Society responds with a collective yawn, or maybe with “get a life”. This dismissive attitude further enrages the offended, requiring a study be done that proves how horrible the whole thing actually is, with a not-so-subtle demand that society must change.

    The proper response, I believe, is schadenfreude. We should learn to just let go, and take pleasure in the vexation of the uber-offended. Rediscover your inner child, who so easily mastered the art playing the world’s saddest song on the world’s smallest violin.

  17. @sheri

    ‘One has to wonder how rational someone is to pay to not be exposed to things that bother them. Oh, and much richer than the rest of the world, too. It’s that lack of tithing, right, or a complete lack of moral restraint? They can then pay to be insulated from reality, which in not in any realm “rational”. ‘

    Given that people pay to avoid things that bother them all the time—e.g., the burden of walking instead of hailing a cab or driving oneself, the burden of grinding coffee beans oneself, the burden of composting one’s feces instead of paying for sewage—I’d say such agnostics and atheists are pretty damn rational. Do you drive or are you driven? That’s a form of insulating yourself from reality; and it, like paying to avoid bothersome announcements of being in someone’s “thoughts and prayers” is perfectly rational for many people, though perhaps not for you, given that you are, I presume, a Christian who actually believes that those thoughts and prayers can possibly improve the lives of people who receive them.

  18. “If this is so, and the authors use Science&tm; to claim it, so it must be, then atheists and agnostics are irrational. For if there is no God, prayers cannot harm them, or indeed do anything to them. But if God exists, prayer might help them. To pay not to receive them, in either case, is rank irrationality.”

    Briggs, do you agree with their results or not on that point? You do not believe any of their findings because they are from wee p values and randomization, or do you believe findings from wee p values and randomization now? 😉

    Justin

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