New CSIRO head wants to make water divining easier for farmers

The incoming leader of our top scientific research organisation is promoting water-dowsing to Australian farmers.

The CSIRO has a new leader, Dr. Larry Marshall, who will take the reins in 2014-12.

Currently the managing director of the California-based Southern Cross Venture Partners, an outfit specialising in creating and growing Australian technology companies, Dr Marshall holds a doctorate in physics from Macquarie University. He has 20 patents to his name and has co-founded six companies.

The 52-year-old, who admits he hasn’t applied for a job in 25 years, suspects it was this combination of science and business that got him the CSIRO’s top job following a competitive global search.

“I started as a scientist, became an entrepreneur and learnt a lot about business the hard way,” he said.

[…]
Innovation Minister Ian Macfarlane, whose portfolio takes in science, welcomed Dr Marshall’s appointment.

Highlighting his commercial background, Mr Macfarlane said Dr Marshall’s arrival came at a time when the agency was embarking on a “significant new phase” in which the CSIRO would play an increasingly important role in the economy. This included strengthening links between business and science, he said.

The leader of CSIRO is chiefly welcomed by Australia’s Innovation Minister? What about our Science Minister? Oh that’s right, Australia’s current government has scrapped the ministry for science. Instead, our Prime Minister has appointed himself the head of a Science Council, with no minister responsible for science — and CSIRO left to the mercies of the “industry” portfolio.

So our federal government’s appointed head of CSIRO, Larry Marshall, himself seems to place much more emphasis on what is financially profitable than what is scientifically sound. He’s not been working as a scientist for a very long time; the past 25 years was spent as a venture capitalist.

And now, on the basis that charlatans can fool him, he wants to use his new position as head of CSIRO to fund research for water dowsing.

He’d like to see the development of technology that would make it easier for farmers to dowse or divine for water on their properties.

“I’ve seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy and I’ve no idea how they do it,” he said.

“When I see that as a scientist, it makes me question, ‘is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?’

“I’ve always wondered whether there’s something in the electromagentic field, or gravitation anomaly.”

Dr Marshall believes the CSIRO can ‘push the envelope’ with such projects and contribute to improving agricultural productivity.

Really? Shouldn’t we reserve funding for technologies whose claimed phenomenon can pass a simple blinded controlled objective study, rather than assuming Larry Marshall has seen it and he can’t be fooled? (The Victorian Skeptics has a guide to dowsing among other educational materials.)

In an age when all of climate science shows that we are in for, among other catastrophic results, devastating drought unless we act now to reverse our damaging activities, Australia’s leading government science body will spend its precious attention on pseudoscience and fakery.

We are under the rule of one of the worst governments in Australian history, in terms of the scientific soundness of policy.

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  • flydlbee

    My stepfather was a fairly senior civil service works-and-bricks engineer and as dry as dust. However when he needed a water supply for a new government building he would take out a hazel twig and dowse a water source. He regarded it as being as reliable as his test meter or slide-rule, and it had never been wrong. He would also dowse electrical cables with a pair of angle rods which he said was very easy as long as the cable was carrying a current. He tried to teach me the skills, but alas, I never got the knack. He said it was often associated with a susceptibility to rheumatism, and the material of the stick was irrelevant as long as it was springy – an old hazel twig wouldn’t work. I suspect it may be caused by water generating an electric field which is detected by the nervous system – such an aptitude would be very pro-selective in evolutionary terms – and the system is amplified by the hazel twig which is held in an unstable way so as to exagerate any trembling in the arms. The unusual posture of the arms would also accentuate any trembles.

    I watched him doing this, and I cannot explain it, but for him it seemed to work.

    • Chris Bourke

      Yes, I’ve heard of this working too!! In fact i can do it 100% of the time by channeling my inner ghost of Christmas past

    • I’ve also heard of it working. It’s just a shame that *every* good quality test of it has failed to show any result better than chance.

      • DanDare2050

        The tests have, so far, involved artificial conditions where water is placed in a scene. They rule out things like the electrical current mentioned above but don’t rule out some heightened perception for where water has been lying in a landscape for some time.

        An interesting experiment would be to survey terrain with and without water sources by other means and then test diviners against those natural surroundings. Such a test would not be looking for any kind of woo, just a skill to recognise details that correlate somehow to water sources.

        I would also be interested in running a pattern recognition system that has been trained against known landscapes to see if it can learn to recognise the tells for water.

        Of course, its also possible that in 80% of the places people bother to dig there is just going to be water there, in which case the best technology is an efficient, small bore, drill that’s cheap and can poke holes all over the place.

  • Dr Marius OShea

    I would also like to recommend divination by disemboweling kangaroos and examining their entrails. I believe that persons who follow this practice can tell with over 80% accuracy whether the kangaroo will die or not. It also has the side-effect of reducing the kangaroo population…..

  • John Samuel

    Lots of deniers believe in dowsing. http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/doug-proctor-dowsing-and-divining-the-direction-of-debate/

    You can’t have Dunning without Kruger.

  • Mace

    Nothing like a quick experiment to see how well his 80% hypothesis stands up..

    I’m happy to offer my property as test subject, providing they pay for the holes..

  • Andrei Rotariu

    Me, I voted labour. I sense some of the wankers behind Melbourne Skeptics voted liberal.

  • Peter_Rowney

    IT was recently reported that the newly appointed head of the CSIRO, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Dr Larry Marshall, is promoting the “technology” of divining or dowsing for water, as a solution to Australia’s drought problems.

    ‘‘I’ve seen people do this with close to 80per cent accuracy and I’ve no idea how they do it,’’ he said.

    Perhaps Dr Marshall is unaware of the Australian Skeptics’ prize of $100,000 for anyone who can successfully locate underground water by divination with a consistent success rate above random chance.

    With recent funding cuts, the CSIRO could certainly do with the extra money.

    The fact that a diviner can sometimes find water is no more impressive than a fisherman sometimes catching fish or a punter sometimes backing a winner.

    In Australia, there have been several conclusive blind trials done on dowsing, clearly showing that even sincere practitioners suffer from confirmation bias, an effect with which the head of any science department should be familiar.

    Peter Rowney,
    Lemon Tree Passage

    http://www.theherald.com.au/story/2639993/letter-divination-just-random-chance/?cs=315

    • Christopher Michael

      I know a guy who has done thousands and has a 100% accuracy rate, always finds water, not always enough water for what you are looking for but always finds water. He even get the depth to within a couple of feet, and the amount of water available. Would be more than happy to take the $100,000 money if it is real.

      • I too, always find water when I use a dowsing rod. I keep walking, and walking, and walking, and walking and wouldn’t you know it! I always end up near the ocean. Never failed me once, but I’ve had to walk pretty darn far a few times. At most just over a week. However, if what your guy does actually works why not take the tests and see if it works? I’ll give you a hint, it won’t.

        • Christopher Michael

          Then you’re not very good at it. And i’d say you haven’t seen a real master deviner at work either.

      • Peter_Rowney

        The $100,000 is real and if he can prove what you say he will be eligible to win it.

        http://www.skeptics.com.au/features/prize/

        • weezmgk

          It’s $110,000 now from the Aus Skeptics… and $1million is on offer from JREF.

          http://web.randi.org/the-million-dollar-challenge.html

          Beats finding a little water, doesn’t it?

        • Christopher Michael

          I can only see if he knows about it. Or is interested.

          • If he’s not interested you should really be asking the hard questions of him. $1,110,000 and a new branch of science to explore should be very compelling reasons.

          • Peter_Rowney

            Of course he knows about it. He will find any excuse not to take part.

      • Mum of two

        Lies.

        • Christopher Michael

          No I know him personally and have been out with him many times. Put your money where your mouth is and call him or better yet go see him at work.

          • Andrew

            Well, I have waited a year for this magical friend of yours to collect his $1,110,000 now…..Where is he? BTW Keep this to yourself, but I have a bridge for sale in London…

  • Peter_Rowney

    I would like to nominate newly appointed head of the CSIRO, Dr Larry Marshall
    for the Australian Skeptic’s prestigious Bent Spoon Award for the perpetrator of
    the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle.

    It was recently reported that Dr Marshall is promoting the “technology” of divining or
    dowsing for water, as a solution to Australia’s drought problems. He claims that
    he’s “seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy” but has “no idea
    how they do it,” and that “the CSIRO can ‘push the envelope’ with such projects
    and contribute to improving agricultural productivity”.

    Perhaps Dr Marshall is unaware of the Australian Skeptic’s prize of $100,000
    for anyone who can successfully locate underground water by divining or dowsing
    with a consistent success rate above that of random chance. With recent funding
    cuts the CSIRO could certainly do with the extra money.

    The fact that a diviner can sometimes find water is no more impressive than a
    fisherman sometimes catching fish or a punter sometimes backing a winner. In
    Australia there have been several conclusive blind trials done on dowsing and
    divining, clearly showing that even sincere practitioners suffer from
    confirmation bias, an effect that the head of any science organisation should be
    familiar with.

    I feel that Dr Marshall is an ideal candidate for the Bent Spoon Award. As
    the head of the CSIRO and a spokesman for science in Australia he is responsible
    for representing science as an evidence based discipline and not one based on
    anecdotes and confirmation bias.
    Peter Rowney
    Lemon Tree Passage

  • Bill Raymond

    This is embarrassing.

    I incidentally just read a article where of sixty countries studied, Australia ranked dead last in terms of green policies, behind such luminaries as Qatar and Kenya.

    I saw James Randi’s youtube clip where he had a water dowser attempt to divine which cup of eight had water under it. Think he got it on only his fourth guess. Give that man his one million dollars!

  • Lilgirlblue

    …here is my favourite quote on dowsing that I found on a how-to site (important to stay abreast of the latest scientific developments).

    “Dowsing is partly physical, partly mental, partly something else – it’s a multi-level tool.

    The instrument moves because your hands move; your hands move because a nerve drives a muscle; and the nervous impulse is triggered by the response of some reflex to some stimulus. That much can be proved but the reflexes involved can be either the simple type like the knee and blink reflexes, or else the very unsimple mental reflexes (conditioned reflexes and the like); and it’s almost impossible to state, with any degree of certainty, which reflex is operating at any one time.”

    http://tomgraves.org/oa_uc17

    I can state with a high degree of certainty that my holy-crap-we’re-all-going-to-die reflex is operating when I read articles like this.