by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Suppose you were walking in the woods, and suddenly, you stumbled on a root, and fell flat on your face. And while you were lying on your belly, trying to regain your breath and your dignity, you noticed that right in front of your eyes was a twenty-dollar bill that someone had dropped.
You might decide that your bad luck in tripping over a tree root had been cancelled out by the good luck of now being twenty dollars richer. You might, on the other hand, attribute it to complete chance and the chaotic nature of the universe, where sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and the whole thing appears to be a big zero-sum game.
What I can almost guarantee you wouldn’t do is decide that the money had exerted a magical gravitational attraction toward your face, and had caused you to fall.
I bring this up because of a maddening article in the Kent and Sussex Courier that tells of a fortuitous archaeological discovery in the town of Tunbridge Wells. Some “scientists,” we are told, were poking around Calverley Grounds, a local park, and found a mass burial site (probably a “plague pit” from the bubonic plague epidemic of 1660), and also the site of a skirmish between the Normans and the Saxons.
Cool stuff. But I haven’t told you yet how they found it.
Yes, dowsing, that time-honored tradition of holding metal rods or tree branches in your hands, and imagining that aquifers (or mineral deposits or burial sites or damn near anything) could somehow pull on them and alert you to their presence. How on earth could that work, you might ask? Well, an article by Stephen Wagner gives us the following definitive answer:
The quick answer is that no one really knows – not even experienced dowsers. Some theorize there is a psychic connection established between the dowser and the sought object. All things, living and inanimate, the theory suggests, possess an energy force. The dowser, by concentrating on the hidden object, is somehow able to tune in to the energy force or “vibration” of the object which, in turn, forces the dowsing rod or stick to move. The dowsing tool may act as a kind of amplifier or antenna for tuning into the energy.
Righty-o. An “energy force.” That, strangely, is completely undetectable except to a dude holding a tree branch.
The ADE 651 is a fake bomb detector produced by ATSC (UK), which claimed that the device could effectively and accurately, from long range, detect the presence and location of various types of explosives, drugs, ivory, and other substances. The device has been sold to 20 countries in the Middle East and Far East, including Iraq and Afghanistan, for as much as $60,000 per unit. The Iraqi government is said to have spent £52 million ($85 million) on the devices.
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In October 2008, James Randi offered a reward of one million dollars to anyone who could prove that the ADE 651 was effective. Randi issued a statement calling the ADE 651 “a useless quack device which cannot perform any other function than separating naive persons from their money. It’s a fake, a scam, a swindle, and a blatant fraud. Prove me wrong and take the million dollars.”
Randi gives us an update on the trial of James McCormick, the now-convicted con man who scammed governments all over the world into buying his “ADE 651”, a supposed bomb detection device that is nothing more than a dowsing rod.
- Fake bomb detector maker made millions from trick (cnn.com)
- Skepticism Saves (theperpetualskeptic.wordpress.com)
- Fake bomb detector salesman who made millions jailed for ten years (thetimes.co.uk)
- Maker of fake bomb detector gets 10 years in prison (infollect.wordpress.com)
- UK conman found Guilty of selling fake bomb detectors to Iraq for $40 million (skeptical-science.com)
- Iraq’s Al Maliki continues to insist bogus device detects IEDs (worldtribune.com)
- Jim McCormick: Businessman sold golf ball finders as bomb detectors in £50m global scam (mirror.co.uk)
James Randi, a.k.a. The Amazing Randi, magician and author of numerous works skeptical of paranormal, supernatural, and pseudoscientific claims has for about ten years offered “a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power.” His rules were little more than what any reasonable scientist would require. If you are a mental spoon bender, you couldn’t use your own spoons. If you claimed to see auras, you’d have to do so under controlled conditions. If you claimed to be able to do remote viewing, you wouldn’t be given credit for coming close in some vague way. If you were going to demonstrate dowsing powers, you would have to be prepared to be tested under controlled conditions. If you were going to do psychic surgery or experience the stigmata, you would have to do so with cameras watching your every move.
Here is a video clip of Randi exposing Geller and Popoff from NOVA’s “Secrets of the Psychics”: