Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Is That a Dowsing Stick in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Pleased to See Me?

The February/March 2006 issue of hoofbeats maintains the fine standards of that journal with a most magnificent double-page spread: on one side is a full page colour advertisement for Photonic Therapy (something EoR will be looking at shortly in a separate post), while on the other side is an informative and factual article promoting "An introduction to CRANIOSACRAL work with HORSES" (Eor hopes readers aren't being bored by all this horse-woo, but EoR, being a small stuffed donkey, tends to spend a lot of time with the other equines and he hears some amazing things around the stables).

Today, however, EoR wants to focus on another article: "Water Divining" by Fiona Adams (herbalist, bowenist, iridologist, fabulist).
Divining is the ancient art of finding 'hidden things' such as water or energy fields. Illustrations of divining have been found on cave walls at Tassile in North Africa dating back over 8000 years.

"My ancient magic is older than your ancient magic". In the words of the immortal Molesworth, "Yah boo sux".

EoR went looking for this 'evidence' (presumably, Ms Adams actually meant Tassili) but the only sites that referenced these prehistorical dowsing images were dowsing sites. Funny that. Looking a little further, many of these images are available online (at non-dowsing sites) such as here (where they are revealed not be dowsers, but Great Martian Gods), here (those couldn't be head-dresses, they must be aerials for early portable televisions), here and here. Call EoR stupid, but they look more like people carrying bows and arrows, not a pack of dowsing woo-woo merchants.

EoR also found one site claiming that evidence of dowsing includes
Cave drawings were found in Spain dating back to the cro-magnum era

Also known as the Dirty-Harry era. But to return to Ms Adams...
The British Army used diviners on the Falkland Islands to remove unexploded mines.

EoR bets that was a job nobody wanted.

Sgt Grope-Things: Private Parts, you 'orrible little man, take these twigs and find me some mines.
Private Parts:: Y-yes sir... Sir! Sir! I think there's one just over-

Try as he might, EoR couldn't find any proof of this outrageous claim. Not at the official site for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (the sappers) - no trace of dowsing. Nor at the official site for the UK army - no trace of dowsing. Not in the UK Hansard. Not at the Mine Action Information Center. Not at the United Nations University. But maybe the dowsers are talking about the sort of dowsing shown in a photo on this page. Why is this information being suppressed? Why are the dowsers the only ones privy to these secrets? Why are the Illuminati not silencing them?

The origin of this myth seems to be a statement made by dowser Patrick Aesteii
Patrick describes himself as a "physical and mental medium, a channel and an intuitive healer who specializes in gem therapies." Yet in addition to this, he follows the ways of Merlin by working with the earth’s energies, as a professional dowser.

The information is also repeated here. EoR finds it telling that both these sites also make reference to the "cro-magnum" era and are quite clearly copies of either one another or a third source.

But to return to Ms Adams.
Divining is a bit of an art, and some find it easier to do than others. This is due to the Corpus Callosum nerves between the left and right brain - the quicker the brain can switch from left to right the easier it is to divine.

This is the problem with all these wacky alternista theories. They require no work, just some fantasizing and a bit of scientific jargon. Make the most outrageous statements (the more outrageous the better) to provide an air of scientific evidence and respectibility to your magic. These statements take but a moment to make, and then they are propagated ad infinitum via the internet and the alternative journals and the woo societies so that their very multiplicity becomes an implied verification of them.

EoR went searching for any references to independent scientific verification of this Quick Switching Brain Effect. He found David Yarrow who, after mentioning some 1980s research into the left and right brain boldy claims
Dowsing opens a window between our Intuitive and Rational Mind. Like the corpus callosum, dowsing is a bridge betwixt our two minds to allow dialog between them. In dowsing, Rational Mind asks a question and Intuitive Mind answers by a movement of the rod. The art of dowsing is to ask clear questions which have unambiguous answers. Vague, imprecise questions will yield equally garbled replies.

From legitimate studies to fantasy speculations in one paragraph!

EoR also found this article, where the author appears not to have noticed the logical inconsistency inherent in
[My grandmother] counselled: "only believe half of what you see and a quarter of what you hear". Good advice from the 1930s that is even more relevant today. Luckily through dowsing we have an unique opportunity to quantify and qualify information

Interestingly, this site appears to have an earlier version of the urban myth about military bomb dowsers:
in the case of work done by the US military in the Vietnam War, the need to find underground Viet Cong tunnels and booby traps.

EoR presumes they were using metal detectors, but that's presumably close enough to 'real' dowsing for the dowsers not to mind. This page also leads EoR closer to that scientific proof he so craves:
Interestingly, the American Society of Dowsers have performed brain monitoring tests which show that all identified types of brain waves are involved in dowsing to some degree, a most unusual phenomenon and I am sure we will learn more about the "dowsing brain-state" in the near future.

Oh, "brain monitoring tests" by dowsers. Presumably conducted by pendulums and twitching twigs. And nothing about magic woo particles bridging the rational/irrational brain divide in a mystic epiphany. Sigh.

Even the BBC gets in on the act where, as well as including old books on folklore under "Science Weighs In", they also state
Even the British Army's Royal Electrician and Mechanical Engineer regiment (or sappers) used to train their regiment on how to dowse for water. The US Army went one step further than this and trained soldiers in Vietnam to dowse for unexploded bombs and landmines. It is not known how many lives - both military and civilian - this simple technique has saved in its use in clearing minefields.

No. It's not known.

The Canadian Society of Dowsers provided much helpful information (but, alas, no scientific evidence) such as
Several people who have polarity problems crave lamb. Eating lamb helps to rebalance them. [...] Eva Angyal has been monitoring the level of the energy we raised last month (using Raymon Grace's technique). She said that it has remained steady however lately there have been holes in it. She has been repairing them. Thank you, Eva! [...] Dowse when you are studying for exams. Arthur Clark said he would review his notes and stop at certain subjects and study those subjects. Those subjects would then be on the exam. [...] Margaret mentioned to us that there is a controversy among homeopaths whether or not paper remedies work. The Classical homeopaths say that paper remedies are nonsense. To give you an idea of what Paper Remedies are, there is a homeopath who works on an Indian Reservation. She finds out what they need, writes the remedy down on a piece of paper, they put it in their pocket and it works. [...] If we think our dowsing is wrong --- we just may not have asked the right one, or, we are interpreting its answer incorrectly.

Ah yes, the old "my woo didn't fail, it lied/deceived me/was blocked by your negative thoughts/has a cold/had a dodgy line/is on vacation" excuse. Won't wash. Sorry. EoR also finds highly amusing any homeopaths claiming magic remedies are "nonsense". Pot. Kettle. Black.

The hoofbeats article concludes
There have been many scientific attempts to explain how divining works and, despite the fact anecdotal reports suggest it does, there is little scientific evidence to substantiate the claims.

Perhaps Ms Adams is referring to the Australian Skeptics 1980 test (dowsing failed) or the many tests detailed at the Skeptic's Dictionary (dowsing failed - repeatedly)? Dowsing has been debunked so many times EoR is getting sick of loonies wandering about in paddocks with bits of wire and crystals detecting Naughty Energies.

Addendum: 245 photos of the Tassili rock paintings can be found at Visipix. You decide whether any of them show dowsing, or (as EoR prefers) scenes of hunting and gathering.


  1. I'm tempted to recite some lines said by Quagmire of "Family Guy." I won't. But at least his form of dowsing seems plausible, unlike this tripe.

  2. James Randi says that the most common proposed ability of those attempting to take the million dollars is dowsing.

  3. Don't be silly. Of course through the years it has been very successfuk in finding one particular combination. Large amounts of precious metals (or the paper or electronic equivalent) and high levels of gullibility. It has also been quite good at extracting the former while leaving the latter untouched.


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