Some positive thought therapy is harmless and maybe builds social capital of affection and community. Surely it’s good for me to concentrate on the welfare of someone else even if the magic mystery ray doesn’t actually transmit; if the patient is present, I can’t imagine that the zillion subconscious signals we are so good at picking up from each other (not to mention an actual hug) won’t do him some real, physical, good.
But the nonsense NPR is peddling destroys another kind of social capital, respect for science and actual facts and, um, thinking. It can also do much more direct injury. For example, the positive thoughts of these parents didn’t work out too well for their daughter, not to mention leaving the whole family with lifelong guilt that they didn’t pray hard enough. And not vaccinating children you want the best for because you get your medical guidance from entertainers can sure hurt them, and other children they can then infect.
It’s a wonderful world that has such effective public health measures in place – like plumbing that separates sewage from drinking water, and widespread vaccination conferring “herd immunity” – that obscurantist, self-indulgent, solipsistic behavior causes so little real harm, making cases like Neumann’s newsworthy. Good science protects the responsible and the Darwin Award contenders alike.