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Prayer Study

Science or Not?


Kathy Gallucci
Biology Department
Elon University


In this case, students read a news article about a study of the effects of intercessory prayer on cardiac patients published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. After reading the case and discussing the questions in small groups, students evaluate the study for its scientific validity and defend their reasoning. The case was developed to teach non-science majors in an introductory biology course about the scientific method. It could be adapted for courses in the allied health and rehabilitation fields, and perhaps for courses in sociology, psychology, and religious studies.

  • Describe why science is distinct from other ways of knowing.
  • Explain that science is defined by its method and describe the essential parts of the scientific method (hypothesis testing, collecting and analyzing evidence, and making conclusions).
  • Identify the independent, dependent, and controlled variables in a study.
  • Identify the control group and the experimental group in a study.
  • List the assumptions made by researchers in a study.
  • Use skeptical thinking to analyze a news story about a study.
  • Identify missing information that would be essential or helpful in making an objective assessment.
  • Analyze reports of studies in the news media as "pseudoscience," "junk science," or "anti-science."
Keywords: Prayer; scientific method; experimental design; pseudoscience
Topical Area: Scientific argumentation, Scientific method, Science and the media
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion, Journal Article
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Psychology   Sociology  
Date Posted: 09/03/03
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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The case was very well-received. Students appreciated being able to learn more about what is and isn’t science by working with a concrete example. I modified the flow chart that helps students distinguish science vs. pseudoscience, junk science and antiscience (e.g., it seemed that “anecdote” should not be listed as part of the methods of science).

Editor’s Note: You can access the modified version in either PDF or editable XLS format.

Alexis Grosofsky
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
Beloit College
Beloit, WI

Anecdotes are often used as evidence, especially by nonscientists. The goal is to recognize anecdotes as weak evidence, which are often used to attract attention to an issue.

Kathy Gallucci
Elon University
Elon, NC

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