The Magic Feather Effect: Placebos and the Power of Belief in Alternative Medicine

In her book The Magic Feather Effect, journalist Melanie Warner covers placebo research, shows that alternative medicine is placebo medicine, takes a “try it yourself” approach, and gives belief and anecdotes more credit than they deserve. In the movie Dumbo, a little elephant with large ears can fly by flapping them like wings, but he refuses to

Christianity Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Religion will always be a controversial subject, but its impact on health is one area that lends itself to objective investigation. Do religious people live longer? Are they healthier? Prayer, laying on of hands, pilgrimages to Lourdes, faith healing, and exorcism rituals might have a role in providing subjective comfort to some people; but do

Announcing: Video Lecture Course on Science-Based Medicine

A couple of years ago, the James Randi Educational Foundation commissioned me to develop a series of 10 video lectures on Science-Based Medicine. After a lot of work and many vicissitudes, it is now available. The lecture titles are: Science-Based Medicine vs. Evidence-Based Medicine What Is CAM? Chiropractic Acupuncture Homeopathy Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine Energy Medicine Miscellaneous

Medical Neglect of Children

Medical neglect caused horrific suffering for these children, ending in death or permanent impairment. Their parents failed them, but so did society. Parents usually cherish and protect their children. But sometimes they cause them horrific suffering and let them die. I recently read something so horrific I can’t stop thinking about it. It continues to

Washington State’s Unconscionable, Unconstitutional Child Protection Law

I recently wrote about the conflict between child protection and the religious freedom of believers in faith healing. That issue has reared its ugly head again in the state of Washington. Washington law currently denies the children of Christian Scientists equal protection under the law governing child abuse and neglect, and it grants a special exemption from

On Miracles 

Is there such a thing as a miracle? Miracles are defined as unusual events that are not explicable by scientific or natural laws and that are assumed to be the result of supernatural intervention. The very concept is so fuzzy that it borders on the unintelligible. Religious believers refer to many things as miracles: the

Faith Healing Tragedies

Most people have faith that faith can heal. According to a poll published in The Lancet, 79% of adults believed that spiritual faith can help people recover from a disease. In a CDC study, 45% of respondents reported using prayer for health reasons in the previous 12 months. Even doctors are convinced: a poll of family physicians

Faith Healing: Religious Freedom vs. Child Protection

We have written a lot about people who reject science-based medicine and turn to complementary/alternative medicine (CAM), but what about people who reject the very idea of medical treatment? Faith healing is widely practiced by Christian Scientists, Pentecostalists, the Church of the First Born, the Followers of Christ, and myriad smaller sects. Many of these

Faith Healing

Faith healing is based on belief and is about as far as you can get from science-based medicine, but it is not exempt from science. If it really worked, science would be able to document its cures and would be the only reliable way to validate its effectiveness. Miraculous cures continue to be reported on

AA is Faith-Based, Not Evidence-Based

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most widely used treatment for alcoholism. It is mandated by the courts, accepted by mainstream medicine, and required by insurance companies. AA is generally assumed to be the most effective treatment for alcoholism, or at least “an” effective treatment. That assumption is wrong. We hear about a few success stories, but