Remember back in October of 2001 when news of a study by doctors at Columbia University on the power of prayer to help IVF patients to conceive made headlines around the world?
It was being touted as proof that prayer really works and, by extension, proof that God exists and the Evangelicals were just having a field day with it. Here’s a small refresher from an article in New Scientists about the study:
Prayer can double the success rate of IVF treatments, according to a double blind study published in the respected Journal of Reproductive Medicine.
A team in the US asked groups of people around the world to pray for pregnancy in one half of almost 200 women undergoing the fertility treatment in South Korea. The prayer groups were given only photographs of the women, and the women were unaware of the study.
Despite controls for age, length of infertility, type of infertility and number of prior attempts to become pregnant following IVF, 50 per cent of the women who were prayed for became pregnant, compared with 26 per cent of women in the control group. An independent statistician in the US had randomised the women into the two groups.
“Several factors are known to either positive or negatively affect the success of IVF procedures. The majority of physicians however would not consider prayer intervention to be one of the them,” write the team, led by Rogerio Lobo at Columbia University in New York. “We set out with the expectation that we would show no benefit of prayer.”
Remember that now? Yeah, well, it turns out to be completely bogus:
Many Americans took the Columbia University research – announced in October 2001 after the terror attacks on New York and Washington – as a sign from God. It seemed to prove that praying helped infertile women to conceive.
But The Observer can reveal a story of fraud and cover-up behind the research. One of the study’s authors is a conman obsessed with the paranormal who has admitted to a multi-million-dollar scam. Daniel Wirth, now under house arrest in California awaiting sentencing, has used a series of false identities for several decades, including that of a dead child.
Wirth is at the centre of a network of bizarre scientific research, often working with co-researcher Joseph Horvath. Horvath has pleaded guilty to fraud, has used a series of false names and is accused of burning down his house for insurance money.
Many scientists are now questioning how someone with Wirth’s background was able to persuade Columbia University Medical Centre to unveil his research in such a high-profile way. They also want to know why it appeared in the respected Journal of Reproductive Medicine, whose vetting procedures are usually strict. ‘We are concerned this study could be totally fraudulent. It is an amazing saga,’ said Dr Bruce Flamm, a clinical professor at the University of California.
The study claimed to show that a woman’s chances of conceiving through IVF treatment doubled when someone prayed for them. ‘IVF is a very difficult procedure. Increasing the success rate by 100 per cent would be a huge breakthrough, a revolution,’ said Flamm.
To say the least. Amazingly, Daniel Wirth has no medical qualifications at all, a long criminal record, and has a long history of authoring bogus research articles with Horvath, who also has an impressive criminal record, claiming to prove all manner of paranormal phenomena and yet they were able to bamboozle Columbia University into publishing their report and it’s still listed on the JRM’s website despite the charges Wirth has been brought up on.
It has emerged that Wirth has no medical qualifications. He graduated with a law degree and then took a master’s in parapsychology at John F. Kennedy University in California, where he met Horvath.
Wirth and Horvath have co-authored numerous pieces of research claiming to prove paranormal activities. Many of them are linked to a body called Healing Sciences Research International, which Wirth heads. However, the institute appears to be only a mail box with no telephone number.
So all you folks who keep forwarding me news items about how this study proves the power of prayer can stop doing so now. Surprisingly I haven’t seen much mention of this in the U.S. news media.