(Pseudo-)Science Blog

Web log for PH 170: Philosophy of Science and Pseudoscience – – – – – – – – – – – Professor Peter Bokulich



Dowsing for Water, Gold, and Bombs

By Peter Bokulich

Dowsing is an ancient practice that used chiefly to try to find water, but people also use it to search for metals and various other objects.

It’s easy to find YouTube demonstrations of dowsing. Here‘s one such lesson:

Here‘s someone who dowses for gold, for another example, and here is the page of a professional dowser (with links to news stories demonstrating his abilities).

Looks pretty impressive, no?

Does it actually work?

To find out, many scientists and skeptics have set up blinded trials to see if dowsers can find water (or metal) more frequently than they would if they were merely guessing by chance. Here is an example of such a study (note that it is double blind):

Keep in mind that if someone could reliably detect water or gold by dowsing, they could get a million dollars from the Randi Challenge. But the prize money remains unclaimed. (Here‘s an example of someone trying to dowse for metal on Randi’s old TV show.)

One might think this is harmless enough when it’s just some old folks wandering around with coat hangers looking for gold.

But it’s much less amusing when one learns that a company in England is selling devices that are essentially elaborate dowsing rods and claiming that they can detect bombs. These dowsing rods cost up to $60,000. And, of course, there is no scientific evidence that they actually work.

And it’s even more troubling that the Iraqi government has spent over $85 million buying these devices, and that they’re being used at checkpoints to check for bombs. (New York Times story)

Almost a hundred million dollars to dowse for bombs. When the stakes are life and death. And no dowser has ever been able to pass a properly blinded test to show that dowsing works.

One Response so far

Dowsing is incredible. I got to witness it first-hand once, and it was mind blowing. I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s something going on.

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