'Find water and I’ll give you a million'

The incoming CEO of the CSIRO has been offered $1 million by sceptic James Randi if he can prove dowsing works.

Dr James Marshall and James Randi

Dr James Marshall and James Randi

The offer to take the James Randi Educational Foundation challenge comes after the new head of Australia’s national science agency, Dr James Marshall, made some controversial comments on ABC rural radio last month.

"I've seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy," he said.

"This is a little bit out there."

Proponents of dowsing – or water diving – believe they can find underground water by using a pendulum, rods or a stick.

"Is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find water?" Dr Marshall questioned.

"I've always wondered whether there's something in the electromagnetic field."

Dr Marshall begins his post in January and has copped scorn on social media with many people questioning whether the organisation would be funding research into dowsing's authenticity.

James Randi, who is coming to Australia in December, has spent the last five decades investigating the paranormal, pseudoscience and general unscientific claims.

He told Yahoo7 he's happy to offer a $1 million prize to the government-funded body and taxpayer dollars shouldn't be spent on something proven numerous times to not work.

"I'll save the Australian Government a lot of money," he said.

"I'll give $1 million."

Randi, who starred in a 1980 documentary on dowsing with Australian entrepreneur and patron of the Australian Skeptics Dick Smith, said he's tested it numerous times around the world and has never witnessed success.

"I believe that a lot of them thought they really could but it turned out that they couldn't," he said.

"They can't do it under test conditions.

"Test conditions aren't difficult, you simply do what you say you can do under the circumstances that you say you can operate, it's that simple."

Dick Smith told Yahoo7 it's simply "human delusion."

"There is no way a scientist could accept the myth of dowsing," he said.

"I think he must have been pulling the ABC's leg."

In 2001, the Australian Skeptics offered $100,000 to 52 water diviners who could demonstrate paranormal ability.

The results were worse than what would have been expected by chance alone.

CSIRO spokesman Huw Morgan said Dr Marshall was trying to illustrate the importance of water in Australia and how technology could help to source it.

"[He] is a trained physicist so is acutely aware of the need and importance of scientific rigour," he said.

"I also think that it unfair to infer anything from these general comments about the focus and priority of CSIRO’s research effort."

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