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Skeptics Award Bent Spoon to New CSIRO Chief

The Australian Skeptics has awarded its Bent Spoon for 2014 to the incoming chief executive of the CSIRO, Dr Larry Marshall, for being the “perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle” after publicly endorsing water divining.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen farmers find water – and as a scientist I can’t explain how they do this – but there’s a number of tricks when people dowse for water, and I can tell you, I’ve seen people do this with close to 80% accuracy,” Marshall said in an interview on ABC radio. “I’ve always wondered whether there is something in the electromagnetic field, or gravitational anomaly, whether there’s something that would enable you to more efficiently detect water.”

CSIRO defended Marshall on Twitter: “Don’t worry. Larry’s interested in helping farmers access water but he wasn’t saying divining is the answer.”

Marshall later told ScienceInsider that he would be seeking further advice from his more “level-headed” CSIRO staff, and that while dowsing is a “little out there” it’s the agency’s job to “push the envelope”.

Eran Segev, President of Australian Skeptics Inc, said that it “was not so much that Marshall has a science background and was endorsing an unscientific process … but that he was soon to be in the top position of CSIRO which was our greatest concern”. He added that “it should be clear that the Bent Spoon was going to Marshall as an individual, and not to the CSIRO”.

The Skeptic of the Year Award went to Peter Tierney, who has campaigned against the anti-vaccination movement, particularly the Australian Vaccination Network and the Chiropractic Board of Australia, the latter for failing to hold accountable members who take an anti-vaccination stand.