Bob Parks

 Bob Parks has such a refreshing skepticism. I'm sure he irritates people when he insists on double blind studies before accepting claims. For example, he often reports on modern studies on intercessory prayer which seems to have some effect so long as to person being prayed for knows of the prayers. However, he wrote in 2006:

The controversy (if there ever was one among scientists) was settled in 1872 by Sir Francis Galton when he published "Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer." Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, recognized that remote prayer by strangers would be blind to the placebo effect. Since the Order for Morning Prayer of the Church of England includes prayers for the health and long life of the monarch and the archbishop, he compared their longevity to that of the general population and found no difference.

He is just as determined that "natural" medicines and homeopathic medicines also be backed by solid research rather than the placebo effect.

He irritates scientists as well. So many times he's pointed out the foolishness of sending humans to Mars or even into orbit. He points out that any science that can be done by an astronaut can be done by a robot. Any viewing and probably better analysis of soils and atmospheres can be done remotely. Robots and other machines can be sent with lower cost and less risk to life.

In his weekly enewsletter there are interesting moments. He's a real skeptic that humans will ever travel to the stars and that aliens from other solar systems have or will ever travel here. His proof?

He recalls a calculation his classes of freshman physics students perform each year. He tells them to choose the nearest star and decide how long they are willing to travel to get there. Then, he says, calculate the speed needed to arrive in the time you've chosen.

"As a final step, calculate the kinetic energy that must be imparted to the spaceship to get you there in that time (one half the mass times the velocity squared.)"

The result should sufficiently convince you that it isn't practical to travel to the stars.

He calls himself a curmudgeon in this week's edition, but I find him to be refreshingly rational and witty.