Wednesday, August 20, 2008

At the risk of reopening a can of worms...

My original point on the religion post that seems to have caused all this drama was that "trend" stories like the one Erik linked are terrible, shoddy, attention-grabbing journalism and are a huge part of why I think the field has gone downhill.

If you didn't know, Karthika and I are both working on our master's in journalism, and one of the first things they told us about accurately reporting on 'scientific' surveys like the one quoted in the article was that you have to report the questions asked and how they were worded, the sample size, how the participants were selected, etc.

This survey used a random sampling of 1000, and I'm going to assume that the people doing it had reason to believe that that was a large enough number to be able to generalize it to the American population at large.

But what the reporter did not do was list the questions asked. Instead, he repeatedly used the word "could," which leads me to believe that the question was something like "Do you believe that God could save a gravely ill or dying person?"

Which, of course, is a quite different statement than "Do you believe that God will save a gravely ill or dying person?"

A woman interviewed for the article, who was not a survey participant, made the same point that I did in my rather hasty first response post: "When you're a parent and you're standing over the body of your child who you think is dying ... you have to have that" belief, Loder said.

The survey also asked questions primarily about trauma and accidents, which are more shocking to people and allow them less time to prepare for the death of a loved one.

And as one of the doctors pointed out, it is quite rare that cases such as Terri Schaivo's actually happen.

If you read the article, you can also see a trauma nurse noting a certain "miraculous" cure that she saw herself.

In any case, "trend" stories, as journalist Caryl Rivers points out in Slick Spins and Fractured Facts (which I happen to be reading right now for my thesis) often rise out of one media outlet reporting one set of 'scientific' results which may or may not be repeatable. The headline on this story is far more sensationalistic than the actual article, which was more balanced (though as I've said, to report accurately on this survey the questions asked have to actually be included). But especially in the era of click-on-the-headline news, the heads have to draw you in.

Nevermind that for many of us, all we have time to do is skim the headlines.

So what would your answer be if you were asked this question?

"Do you believe that God has the power to save people who are beyond medical hope?"

Would it be a different answer than the answer to...

"If your loved one was lying in a hospital bed after being hit by a car, would you pray for a miracle?"

I lost a friend this year. She was 24 years old. She had a drug interaction that put her into a coma, and doctors were fairly sure she wasn't going to wake up. She had zero brain activity.

Her parents are Jehovah's Witnesses. Her husband is an atheist. The three of them agreed, however, to wait a day just in case, and to give themselves time to come to terms with what had happened to her before they unplugged life support.

It gave my sister and I time to go down to Baltimore and hold her hand one last time.

We slept in the hospital that night with a bunch of her friends who had been there since the accident. We didn't hold hands and have a prayer vigil over her body, but we were all there waiting for some miracle. Waiting for her to wake up and laugh at us, even though we knew deep down it wasn't going to happen.

I prayed that night. I don't normally. And I'll bet that most of us did, no matter what our level of belief might be.

They took her off life support. They didn't keep her on in the continued hope that if they prayed hard enough, God would save her. That's the kind of belief most people have, and it's hardly dangerous the way say, George W. Bush's belief is.

On another note, a couple of people have apologized for the way they spoke in the other threads. Let me be clear about two things: One. I am not 'hurt.' I was quite annoyed for a bit by the way people seemed to be talking to me as opposed to the way I saw them talking to Erik or to each other.
Two. Declarations that entire groups of people are 'stupid' have no place on this blog. (Unless McCain gets elected president, in which case you'll see me ranting about the stupidity of America for a while ;) ). You never know who you're offending. And there are plenty of "smart people" who are quite religious. This guy and this guy are some good examples. (I particularly encourage you to check out the first one. I don't share his religious views but I find his story fascinating).