July 23, 2000

James E. Dalen, MD, MPH
Editor, Archives of Internal Medicine
1228 E Prince Rd, Suite A
Tucson, AZ 85719

Via fax: (520) 408-7414


Within his "Commentary [and] Response to Critics"(1) of the Harris et al. "prayer study"(2), Dr. Larry Dossey refers the reader to Appendix 1 of his book, Healing Words (3) for an overview of the "basic or bench science underlying the objective study of prayer."

Of the "131 controlled studies" referred to therein, apparently none has been published in a medical or other science journal; Dossey reports (pp. 211-212) that nearly all appeared in "parapsychology journals" which, Dossey states, "have peer review standards as rigorous as many medical journals." Unfortunately, that unintended criticism of medical journals may be all too true.

One series of studies cited in his Appendix (p. 216) involved the late Olga Worrall, whom Dossey earlier identifies (p. 147) as a "well-known psychic healer." As I relate in my review(4) of Healing Words,  when I read of those studies, I decided to telephone Worrall out of curiosity (we both resided in Baltimore at the time). As I began to discuss with her the generally accepted skeptical/scientific approach toward authenticating such extraordinary claims, she told me (verbatim), "You're not a true scientist, then. A scientist is supposed to be inquiring . . . but not with skepticism." One cannot help but suspect that a less-than-skeptical approach by parapsychologists toward their subjects may be typical of the "basic or bench science" that Dr. Dossey extolls.


Gary P. Posner, M.D.
Tampa, Florida
Contributing Editor,
The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine

(1) Dossey L. Prayer and Science: A Commentary on the Prayer Study by Harris et al. and a Response to Critics. Arch Intern Med.  2000;160: [ pages(?) -- I have only the web version ].

(2) Harris WS et al. A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit. Arch Intern Med.  1999;159(19):2273-2278.

(3) Dossey L. Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine.  San Francisco, Calif: Harper San Francisco; 1993:211-235.

(4) Posner G. Medical Practice Enters a New Age. Skeptical Inquirer.  1994;18:408-410. [Available at: http://www.gpposner.com/Healing_Words.html]

Return to Posner's Harris study Page

Return to Posner's Healing Words  Page