Water Divining, CSIRO and Profanity in Melbourne

My Facebook news recently included a reference to the appointment of CSIRO’s next manager who replaces the incumbent Dr. Megan Clarke next year, one Dr. Larry Marshall but there is a slight problem – Dr. Marshall, according to the scientesists at the Melbourne Sceptics, appears to believe in water divining – 

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.

I made the mistake of mentioning I can water divine in a recent AIG News and the hostile reaction I got from some peers isn’t all that different to the criticism the Melbourne Sceptics lamented over Dr. Marshall’s appointment –

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.

The problem for our Melbourne Sceptics is that the science they are trying so hard to uphold and purge of charlatans isn’t science at all but a sort of technologically sophisticated religion, Scientism, whose findings are to be observed by the devout on pain of some or other punishment.

Science isn’t about determing how people are to conduct their affairs, or live but to explaining observed phenomena using extant knowledge, and when that knowledge isn’t capable of explaining the observation, having the openness of mind to admit ignorance.

The Melbourne Sceptics are simply displaying crass ignorance of the scientific method.

About Louis Hissink

Retired diamond exploration geologist. I spent my professional life looking for mineral deposits, found some, and also located a number of kimberlites in NSW and Western Australia. Exploration geology is the closest one can get to practicing the scientific method, mineral exploration always being concerned with finding anomalous geophysical or geochemical data, framing a model and explanation for the anomaly and then testing it with drilling or excavation. All scientific theories are ultimately false since they invariably involved explaining something with incomplete extant knowledge. Since no one is omniscient or knows everything, so too scientific theories which are solely limited to existing knowledge. Because the future always yields new data, scientific theories must change to be compatible with the new data. Thus a true scientist is never in love with any particular theory, always knowing that when the facts change, so too must he/she change their minds.
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One Response to Water Divining, CSIRO and Profanity in Melbourne

  1. skepticpete says:

    Nominee: Dr Larry Marshall
    Nominated by: Peter Rowney
    Date: 20/10/2014

    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.

    Like

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