Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Should you hike, or go to church?

I recently wrote about a study of the medical effectiveness of prayer. Well, today's Washington Post reports on another installment in the unholy blend of scientific studies of religion: a study of whether regular religious attendance increases longevity. According to the article:

The study jockeys numbers from life expectancy tables and mortality studies to suggest that weekly worship may add two to three years to life. That compares to three to five years for regular exercise and 2.5 to 3.5 years for cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

Now, as the WaPo article points out later, this is truly a crock. I had to look at the date to make sure it was the 18th of April, not the 1st. The "study", despite its "peer review", does not control for a plethora of cause/effect possibilities, many of which are simple cases where those who tend toward religious observance also tend toward other behaviours that are beneficial to longer life. Implying that the benefit comes from the religious participation alone is irresponsible science, as well as ridiculous logic.

If one wanted to study this properly, one would have to set up a controlled study, not just cull data from other sources, and one would have to make sure the groups differed in no statistically significant way other than their religious observance. Further, I'd think the study would have to be at least single-blind, to avoid the possibility that knowing one's religious activity was being studied would have an effect on one's stress level, fervency, or other such things. It seems very unlikely that one could really succeed, and less likely that it would be worth the money or time spent. If religious participation makes you feel good, do it. If it does not, don't take it up just because some charlatan tells you that a bogus study shows it's good for your health.

This seems a perfect example of the acronym "WOMBAT": Waste Of Money, Brains, And Time.

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