The Liverpool Daily Post uncritically reports the claims of a United Utilities worker to be able to find water by dowsing. Sigh.
HE ADMITS he has no idea how it works – but the ancient art of water divining is being used by a utility company engineer to locate and fix burst water pipes.
Steve Robinson, a technician for United Utilities, often dumps his high-tech radio wave detection devices for two old welding rods in the back of his van.
And such is the laser-like accuracy of his methods he’s often called upon by other colleagues trying to locate burst pipes buried deep underground.
Uh-huh. Dowsing has “laser-like accuracy”? Really? I could have sworn that the evidence was, at best, patchy. (Genuinely “laser-like” accuracy shouldn’t be difficult to demonstrate, surely?) For example, the JREF board has a list of challengers for Randi’s million dollars. AP Gaylard has previously summarised the dowsing challengers:
Success in preliminary testing Nil
Failure in preliminary testing 1
Failed to agree protocol 4
Failed to make proper submission 1
Have not pursued application 3
Referred to German associate 3
A customer wrote to United Utilities to complain about them wasting time and resources on dowsing. They responded by claiming that dowsing was “proven”. He wrote back to point out the lack of evidence for dowsing, and is yet to receive a reply.
The Liverpool Daily Post, meanwhile, go on to refer to a “German scientific study from the late 1980s, in which 500 dowsers were tested for their “skill”, concluded some dowsers showed an “extraordinarily high” success rate which could not be explained just through chance”, but fail to note the objections of JT Enright – who claimed that “these results are merely consistent with statistical fluctuations and do not demonstrate any real ability”, and also noted that the US Dept of the Interior conducted a survey of 500 publications and claimed that further tests would be a misuse of public funds as they had found “an absolute lack of positive results”.
George P Hansen published an article in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (Vol. 51, No. 792, October 1982, pp. 343-367) that included these remarks:
Of the tests reviewed, only three stand out as well conducted-the map dowsing tests of Cadoret, Osis, and Foulkes. Of these, only one produced significant results, and that barely significant. It is unknown how many other well conducted studies have been unsuccessful. Overall, the parapsychological investigations into dowsing remain inconclusive […] In spite of the large number of investigations made into dowsing, its status remains unclear. This is largely a result of sloppy experimental procedures and or report writing.
The evidence does not seem to support the claims of the Liverpool Daily Post or United Utilities. The article looks like an example of (a) free publicity for the company involved and (b) a nice, easy story being dropped into the lap of an eager journalist needing something to fill a gap in the next edition.
More – links etc
TricksterBook – hosting Hansen’s review of dowsing research.
JT Enright (first page of PDF).