Saturday, November 7, 2009

Scariest dowsing story ever

I was at a party this week talking to a carpenter. He told me about working at a job site where they were going to be digging near some underground electric cables and hired a surveyor to mark on the ground where the cables were so they didn't contact them while digging and risk a horrible, screaming death.

After marking the length of the cable on the ground with flags, the surveyor volunteered a little piece of advice in case there's ever a rush and they don't have time to have an exert find the electric cables.

I knew exactly where this story was going, but I kept listening with eyes wide and mouth agape.

The surveyor bent a few pieces of wire into L-shaped rods and held them loosely over the underground cable. Sure enough, they started off as parallel, but the rods crossed when held over the cable.

The surveyor actually recommended dowsing for dangerous underground electric lines. Really.

I still can't believe this.

I'm used to dowsing being one of the easy skeptical topics, and we normally associate it with silly water-seekers who make people put their well in the wrong place. There's also the hucksters who sell fake drug-detecting devices to schools and police patrols.

But then there are the dowsers who endanger live with these "tragic wands." - the ones who sell scam devices that promise to find
wounded soldiers or earthquake victims trapped in rubble.

I think underground electric cables may be a new low, as this will actually move people into harms way, instead of failing to detect people harmed by something else. A Google search confirmed that electric line and electric cable detection is in the resume of dowers, along with sewer and gas pipes.

When the stakes are this high, misinformation takes on the mantle of evil.


  1. Okay, but maybe it really does work...

  2. Jennifer, I recommend clicking the link I contained in the word "dowsing" in paragraph five. It explains how dowsing is a simple application of the ideomotor effect.

    A fun, short video from Richard Dawkins also knocks it out of the park.

  3. Okay, read the dowsing article, and am listening to the video. But your article is about some guy dowsing for electical cable, which I don't recall being discussed in the dowsing article. Maybe the vid? Anyhoo, what if there is actually something scientifically valid about using wires for finding electical cables? I mean, I don't understand electricity that well, so I can't assume that something like this is patently impossible with knowing more.

  4. If there is, it would need to be isolated from the very powerful ideomotor effect.

    What's going on is the exact same procedure as any other dowsing procedure. The example used was someone with his eyes wide open holding the rods over something he had already detected.

    We should wait until some new effect actually occurs before we try to explain it.