Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dowsing for Argument

I stumbled across a Wired article about hoax gadgets which was mildly amusing -- until they included dowsing as #10 on their list. I think the author ran out of time or something, because it didn't even fit the rest of the article. But boy did it trigger a firestorm of comments! Since dowsing is so commonplace and has been used for thousands of years, there were dozens of people who posted their personal experiences with it. And then, immediately following were the defenders of Randi who proclaimed the belief in dowsing as a sign of idiocy. After that, the thread degenerated quite a bit.

I kept on reading, hoping that someone would say something useful, and eventually one person did -- pointing to an article in the November 1998 Popular Mechanics that talked about a scientific study on dowsing. I did a little bit of Googling and eventually found the actual article: "Unconventional Water Detection".

It was very long. It took hours to read, but it contained massive numbers of studies, representing thousands of wells dug. There were also some double-blind tests and some real, actual, informed speculation.

I have to come down on the side of belief. It undoubtedly works in the field. But the skeptics tests also demonstrate that their tests are obviously designed wrong.

If you have some time, it's a fascinating subject.

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