Another thousand words of novel means another day of moderate neglect for the blog. Sorry, everyone. I’ll try not to be quite this totally awesome for too long.
Anyway. The Guardian’s usually rather good at reporting competently on science-based news, and not getting carried away with a right-wing agenda or deranged tabloid fear-mongering. Their articles tend to be much more grounded in reason and reality than the rags I usually end up ranting about here, even if their comment threads can be just as depressing.
But not long ago The Guardian published something rather tedious about homeopathy, and now their credibility has taken another lurch with their latest revelation: ATHEISTS WILL KILL YOU.
Seriously, I’m barely exaggerating the way they reported the findings here. The headline really does read “Atheist doctors ‘more likely to hasten death’“.
What that sounds like it means, to me, at a glance, is that being in hospital with a doctor who’s an atheist will make you more likely to die under their care than if they were religious. It sounds like there’s data suggesting that religious people do a better job of caring for their patients enough to keep them alive, and that religious belief is evidently a force for good, at least within the medical profession.
If you read the actual data, though, it can sound like something very different.
What it can sound like it means is that religious doctors are less likely to consider helping to end the suffering of terminally ill patients, by allowing them to die rather than drawing out their pain.
See how much difference a little framing can make?
I’m not getting into the whole debate on the ethics of euthanasia here. It’s just annoying to see an interesting study presented in such a needlessly provocative way.
The Friendly Atheist has talked about this, and there’s an excellent and thorough takedown on Skepchick, too. As Carrie points out, the subject under discussion is really something more like: “Doctors’ Religious Attitudes Can Impact End of Life Care”. But I’m sure it won’t be long before the argument from final consequences starts getting wheeled out again, and this study is presented as evidence that atheism is somehow wrong because it kills people.
Hey, at least it’s not the Mail I’m bitching about this time.
Edit 27/08/10: Evan Harris has now also discussed this in more sensible detail.