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The authors of the Columbia Prayer Study (two of whom were faculty members at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons) claimed to have demonstrated that distant intercessory prayer could double the success rate of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Although the study has now been discredited, apparently it has yet to be retracted by the Journal of Reproductive Medicine (JRM) and it continues to be listed as a valid scientific study by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) on PubMed.
NOTE: The lead author took his name off the paper and resigned as chair of gynaecology, and on 22nd November 2004, study co-author Daniel Wirth was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release (parole) after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and bank fraud.
“Even with one of his co-authors in federal prison and the other disgraced, Korean fertility specialist Kwang Yul Cha stood by the allegedly supernatural study. He eventually filed a defamation lawsuit against Bruce Flamm, a California physician who had published several articles questioning the validity of the Cha/Wirth “pregnancy by prayer” report. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in August 2007, was thrown out of court in April 2008. However, in June 2008 Cha took the case to the California Appellate Court. Today [24th October 2009] the Court of Appeals “affirmed in full” the Superior Court decision and thus ruled that Superior Court Judge James Dunn had acted appropriately in tossing out the lawsuit.” Skeptical Inquirer (Jan/Feb 2010)
Angered by Dr. Flamm's skeptical persistence, Cha filed a defamation lawsuit against Flamm, especially after he published several articles questioning the validity of the original pregnancy study. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in August 2007, was thrown out of court in April, 2008. However, in June, 2008 Cha took the case to the California Appellate Court. On Friday, October 24, 2009, a California Court of Appeals vindicated Dr. Bruce Flamm, an OBGYN physician and professor at the University of California, Riverside, and member of the Skeptics Society, by throwing out a defamation lawsuit filed against him by a man who claimed to have proven that prayer can increase pregnancy rates in women trying to conceive. Dr. Flamm issued the following statement: "Today's ruling is a victory for science and evidence-based medicine. Scientists must be allowed to question bizarre claims. Cha's mysterious study was designed and allegedly conducted by a man who turned out to be a criminal with a 20-year history of fraud. A criminal who steals the identities of dead children to obtain bank loans and passports is not a trustworthy source of research data. Cha could have simply admitted this obvious fact but instead he hired a team of lawyers to punish me for voicing my opinions. Physicians should debate their opinions in medical journals, not in courts of law. Judges have better things to do with their time and taxpayers have better things to do with their money." Article by Michael Shermer, Skepticblog (3rd November 2009)
"The SLAPP suit against courageous Ob/Gyn Bruce Flamm at UC Irvine was thrown out of court last month. Daniel Wirth, the con man who arranged the pregnancy by prayer scam completed his jail term last. Still, the absurd study has never been withdrawn by the Journal of Reproductive Medicine. You might ask the editor, Dr. Lawrence Devoe 314 991-4440, why?" Robert L. Park, Item 4, What's New newsletter (16th May 2008)
We have a most welcome note from Dr. Bruce L. Flamm, MD, who for the last eight years has been battling the ridiculous report that prayers intoned for infertility patients in Korea could result in a 100% increase in pregnancy rates among the subjects……Now, the Los Angeles Superior Court has — finally — thrown out the major defamation lawsuit that Korean fertility specialist Kwang Yul Cha filed against Dr. Flamm, a California physician who had published several articles questioning the validity of the report. That lawsuit, first filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in August 2007, was thrown out last November but then reinstated in January. Now it's finally dismissed. In 2001, a study was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine claiming that prayers from the USA, Canada, and Australia caused a 100% pregnancy rate in the subjects of those prayers — an incredible claim, indeed. Kwang Cha and his associates were widely reported in the news media, including on the USA ABC news program Good Morning America, who should have known better than to perpetuate this nonsense. The following year, the study's credibility was undermined when one of the co-authors, Daniel Wirth, was arrested by the FBI and later pled guilty to fraud. Cha's other co-author, Columbia University's Rogerio Lobo, later revealed that he *had not participated in the research* and he withdrew his name from the published findings. As Dr. Flamm says: "[This] ruling is a victory for science and freedom of speech. Scientists must be allowed to question bizarre claims and correct errors. Cha's mysterious study was designed and allegedly conducted by a man who turned out to be a criminal with a 20-year history of fraud; a criminal who steals the identities of dead children to obtain bank loans and passports is not a trustworthy source of research data. Cha could have simply admitted this obvious fact but instead he hired Beverly Hills lawyers to punish me for voicing my opinions." We're struck by the fact that the Journal of Reproductive Medicine — which capriciously published the original report and then dug in its heels and refused to react to the very obvious fact that this was a spurious quack non-scientific action refused to withdraw the article! This journal should be taken to task for flying in the face of medical science and so blatantly deceiving its readers. Report by James Randi James Randi Educational Foundation Swift newsletter (25th April 2008)
LOS ANGELES -- A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge today reinstated Dr. Kwang Yul Cha's defamation lawsuit against Dr. Bruce Flamm, reversing an earlier ruling that dismissed the suit under California's Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) statute. The lawsuit stems from an article Dr. Flamm wrote in the March/April 2007 edition of OB/GYN News in which Dr. Flamm claimed that Dr. Cha has been "found guilty of fraud, deception and/or plagiarism."…..The Court in November ruled in Dr. Flamm's favor, dismissing the suit. Dr. Cha's attorneys then filed a motion to vacate the decision based on new evidence and other arguments, which was granted today by the Court…..When the study, "Does Prayer Influence the Success of In Vitro Fertilization-Embryo Transfer?", was published, the authors acknowledged the results seem incredible and said unknown biological factors may have played a role. "We are putting the results out there hoping to provoke discussion and see if anything can be learned from it." Dr. Flamm, who is reportedly on the advisory board of the lobbying group the Secular Coalition for America, called for the article to be retracted. But the Journal of Reproductive Medicine has refused to retract the paper. Dr. Lawrence Devoe, the journal's editor-in-chief, has stated publicly "…in principle, if the study was done with the proper passage of study components through an IRB (Institutional Review Board), which there was in this case, and the data were properly analyzed, submitted, and reviewed … there would be no reason to retract the article."" Report in Business Wire Report , (25th January 2008)
"You may find this hard to believe but authors of supposedly scientific medical articles are still quoting the fraudulent Cha, Wirth, Lobo "pregnancy by prayer" study as if it were valid… here is a brand new 2007 paper in the prestigious Medical Journal of Australia citing the amazing "pregnancy by prayer" study results as if they were uncontested facts!… [Editor-in-Chief Lawrence D. Devoe, M.D.] at the Journal of Reproductive Medicine has made it clear that he will never retract the absurd and almost certainly fraudulent prayer publication. He no longer responds to my emails." Dr Bruce Flamm quoted in Swift, newsletter of the James Randi Educational Foundation (3rd August 2007)
A published letter sent by Bruce Flamm M.D. to Donald Lindberg, director of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) regarding the continuing publication of the Columbia Prayer Study on PubMed. James Randi Educational Foundation (6th January 2006)
Dr Bruce Flamm looks at several significant developments in the wake of the publication of his September 2004 investigative article "The Columbia University 'Miracle' Study: Flawed and Fraud". CSICOP: Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (March 2005)
Synopsis of the Columbia 'Miracle' Study followed by Dr. Bruce Flamm's comments on the multiple valuable lessons to be learned from its unusual sequence of events. Report in Improving Medical Statistics and the Interpretation of Clinical Trials (January 2005)
An in-depth look at the Columbia University Prayer Study. Article by Bruce L. Flamm, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist with Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, Riverside, California, and Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California, Irvine. CSICOP: Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (September 2004)
Leon Jaroff takes a critical look at the controversy surrounding the Columbia Prayer Study. Time (1st July 2004)
Criticism of the Columbia Prayer Study from Bruce L. Flamm, M.D., Quackwatch (1st June 2004)
Letter from the Department of Health & Human Resources (DHHS) to Thomas Q. Morris, M.D., Vice President for Health Sciences, Columbia University Health Sciences Division. (21st December 2001) [pdf]