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Dowsing does work!

Leo Hickman of the Guardian is apparently angry (as Bishop Hill mentions here) that the Spectator published an article by sea level expert Nils-Axel Mörner, an article I recycled the concluding paragraphs of as a(n) SQotD here on Thursday, and Leo Hickman isn’t the only one. The general mood in the CAGW camp is: get Mörner!

To this end a commenter (“schoolswot” – today 11:10am) at Delingpole said this of Mörner:

This is the guy that claims that dowsing works but doesn’t actually want to prove it?

To which commenter “rastech” (circa 1pm) replied:

Dowsing does work, and you can prove it yourself (everybody can do it, some are just better at it than others).

The guy that taught me how to do it (yeah I was surprised I could do it), was a water well driller. He told me exactly where the springs were that he was going to drill, where two springs crossed, their depth (18ft and 24ft), how much water an hour they would produce to start with (it improves the more you pump), PLUS, where there was an even better spring to drill, if those two didn’t work out (it would have been twice as expensive to drill it, as it was almost 50ft deep) too reliable, as they were both in sandstone (but ideal for drinking water as it is beautifully filtered – you should taste the tea!).

He was spot on (you know when you hit a spring as the colour of the rock changes as you go through it – I watched every stage from start to finish on many wells with him, as all my neighbours had boreholes drilled by him and I helped him with them, as he got me practicing the dowsing on them).

Let me guess, from a position of complete ignorance and inexperience in the subject, you are an ‘expert’, right?

Well don’t feel bad about it, I felt exactly the same until I felt that damned divining rod dive for the deck with me holding it.

PS. What convinced me to try him, wasn’t a money back guarantee. I didn’t have to pay him AT ALL until he had delivered a good water supply. He got years of work in the area from that borehole, and he never let anybody down.

So, it’s now officially official. Dowsing, like cold weather, is now right wing.

All this in a comment thread attached to a Delingpole piece about Jeremy Clarkson, and about how all the shouting about Jeremy Clarkson is really about diverting attention from the fact that the recent public sector strike, some time last week, was a failure. Although, Guido reckons Clarkson is now laughing all the way to the bank. They haven’t so much diverted attention from the failure of their strike as given a ton of free publicity to someone who said, admittedly in his characteristically OTT manner, that the strikers were idiots.

Please try to keep your comments on topic. The topics being: Leo Hickman, the Guardian, Nils-Axel Mörner, dowsing, whether tea really does taste better if made with water filtered through sandstone, James Delingpole, the BBC, public sector strikes, Jeremy Clarkson, whether it’s okay for Jeremy Clarkson to joke about people being taken out and shot without really meaning it, Guido Fawkes, how to get tabloid publicity by the ton, paper money collapse … well, I didn’t mention paper money collapse until now, but I thought I ought to.

24 comments to Dowsing does work!

  • “Dowsing does work, and you can prove it yourself…”

    (My first reaction) – Oh for god’s sake.

    (My second reaction) – If that was intended as a subtle dig at the warmists, it’ll fly right over the heads.

  • Am I alone in being amused by the idea of a Danish “sea-level expert”? Shades of old King Cnut!

  • Laird

    Was it just accidental that you omitted Land Value Tax from your list?

  • No mention of the Euro crisis. You must be a Merkel stooge!

  • This is a good way to start an open discussion, I suppose.

    Even I find Jeremy Clarkson annoying at times — his reflexive anti-Americanism grates. But he annoys all the right people even more, so I like having him around. I might even buy his Christmas DVD after his latest outburst.

  • john


    Last year I had some re-grading done right next to one of those signs that says “call before you dig” so I called. The guy from the electric Co-op and the guy from the phone company had little detectors they hooked to the lines then listened for electronically, then they painted the ground where they heard/saw the beep.

    The water guys were different. They came out with a little chromed rod on a swivel –a kind of shiny dowsing rod. I kid you not. I asked the guy why not use a metal detector or some similar thing and he said that the pipes along this road were among the first plastic ones laid in this area and they hadn’t yet adopted the practice of burying a wire with the pipe, so there was nothing to detect.

    I watched while he walked back and forth a few times and the little rod did its swiveling thing then he painted his lines and drove away.

    To me the most interesting thing is that over a year later all the paint is gone. I’m not sure exactly where the electric and phone lines are, but I can still see where that water line is buried. I can’t tell you how I can see it, but I can, no dowsing rods involved. I think it’s a pattern matching thing with many variables. The grass is a very slightly different color, there is the slightest depression in the ground, there is a little more or less clover in the grass, something of that kind.

    So, here’s what I think dowsing really is: There are a fairly large number of subtle clues to where the water is, none of which by itself is an indicator, but with practice the subconscious learns to run a kind of preponderance test or Bayesian algorithm and returns a “feel” for “wateryness”. The dowsing rod just gives the conscious mind and the hands something to do.

    Or I could be wrong… How this might or might not apply to climate change is outside the scope of this comment.

  • Sam Duncan

    Mm-hm. What did I say after your QOTD?

    It doesn’t matter that Mörner was head of paleogeophysics and geodynamics at Stockholm University, president of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution, leader of the Maldives sea level project, and chairman of the INTAS project on geomagnetism and climate; he thinks dowsing works, so his opinion is worthless.

    Can anyone say “ad hominem”?

  • Midwesterner

    Posted by john at December 3, 2011 07:41 PM, I agree. A family member had a stroke that completely destroyed declarative memory (total anterograde amnesia) but left procedural memory intact. I’ve made it a point to learn everything about how procedural and declarative memory work to influence our actions and this article presents a very clear mechanism available for it to be as you suggest. Water dowsing could very well work the same way that chicken sexing and plane spotting does. If that is the case, then the wands are just a way for procedural knowledge to ‘declare’.

  • veryretired

    I got dowsed once and it took 2 rounds of antibiotics to get rid of it.

    Rim shot!

  • I think there’s an argument to be made that dowsing is a triumph for empiricism. Nicholas Taleb, in The Black Swan, makes a similar case for acupuncture: “…it may not “make sense” that acupuncture works, but if pushing a needle in someone’s toe systematically produces relief from pain (in properly conducted empirical tests), then it could be that there are functions too complicated for us to understand, so let’s go with it for now while keeping our minds open.” (The idea of “keeping our minds open” does seem somewhat foreign, in the context of climate change and those who are very sure that the “science is settled”.)

  • llamas

    ” . . . he thinks dowsing works, so his opinion is worthless.”

    Not quite. Better stated as ‘he thinks dowsing works, and since this is an absolutely preposterous opnion for anyone with any pretensions to scientific authority to hold, his opinions on any other scientific matters should be taken with a very large grain of salt.’

    It would be like my doctor (who has an impressive display of real qualifications on the wall) teling me that she believes in the witchdoctoring of her native Ethiopia – it would make me seriously doubt her abilities as a real doctor.

    Anyone who asserts that they think that dowsing ‘works’ is merely demonstrating that they are easily deluded, either by themselves or by others.

    James Randi’s foundation has (some vast sum of money) on offer for a successful demonstration of dowsing under measurable conditions. Many have tried, no-one can ever do it successfully.

    Because it doesn’t work.



  • Dishman

    My grandfather was an engineer. After he retired, he studied dowsing, and described it in the same terms as john.

  • Dishman


    In its minimal, dowsing is the belief that the human subconscious can be trained to outperform random chance at groundwater hydrology. For that statement to be false, we would have to be dumber than even I have imagined.

    The effectiveness of any particular training method is beyond my knowledge, and I do not intend to address it.

    That said, years of study and practice with hydrology (as in the case or Mörner) seems a plausible means for training the subconscious to evaluate groundwater. The belief that such training has been effective remains in question, but I would not discount someone just for believing that it had been.

    Everyone has silly beliefs. At some point, I’ll share what I consider to be the silly belief held by the Warmists.

  • Hmm

    20+ years ago I was sitting watching TV, while downing a few home brews, with some friends, while we were discussing how to find out where an electric cable had been buried under a garden. The program on TV at the time was about dowsing. So, surprise, surprise, the idea formed in our minds that we might possibly locate the lost cable by dowsing :p

    So after we had had enough drink to insure probability of success – we knocked together a couple of makeshift dowsing kits and set of walking up and down the garden to find the cable. In no time at all we had a succession of “hits” that formed a ‘fairly’ straight line up the garden (which looked really promising). So we got out a spade and a few trowels and started digging gently into the soil. After about an hour I have to say we were fairly astonished by the result. In no particular order we found: 1 manhole cover, 2 sewage pipes running in completely random directions, one underground wall(?) and a telephone line!!

    But no electric cable (It eventually turned out that it had been previously removed ). Out of all our “Dowsing hits” only one of the marks failed to turn up anything when we dug underneath it. I often wondered what sort of result we would have had if we had randomly placed stones in the garden and then dug at the random holes.

    One thing we all agreed on though: Dowsing is definitely way more fun if you’re drunk 🙂

  • Rob

    Back in the 1960s, my father was building himself a factory and applied to the water company for a supply. He was told that, because the existing supply had reached it’s capacity, they would have to bring a new main from the main road down to his site at a cost of £10,000, a lot of money in those days. He contacted a drilling company who sent out a surveyor who arrived, equipped with his Hazel twigs and set to work. After 30 minutes, he announced that ample water would be found at a depth of 60′. His company agreed to drill the bore hole and would forgo their fees if no water was found. They drilled to a depth of 60′ and water flooded up the bore hole. We used that well for all of our water supplies for over 40 years, being charged a paltry £20 per annum for abstraction rights.

  • Tom

    Dowsing – after 30 odd years in field geophysics I can tell you that drillers absolutely love dowsers – lots more holes …

    IIRC there is a big cash prize somewhere for a successful dowsing practitioner. I seem to recall James Randi did a dowsing challenge…?

    Hickman is just another pesky Guardian tool and oxygen thief.

  • Dyson Spheres. You missed Dyson Spheres. You didn’t mention O’Neill habitats either.

    Shame on you.

  • And Dyson spheres are unstable too. They would drift into their sun.

  • I dunno whether or not dowsing works, but during a drought 20 something years ago in West Wales, a load of farmers hired some bloke to locate water and drill some wells and he was absolutely bang on. He didn’t even use sticks or wire, just wandered across the field with his wife trailing a few metres behind him.

  • Even if dowsing did not work, the question is really whether it has any bearing on their work.

    Of course we should not for one moment doubt the credibility a scientist who in their spare time said that he had formulated a plan to save the world at very little cost that relied upon all of the following:-
    1. That all governments will sign up to a vague agreement, and implement it.
    2. That when a government promises to do something that may cause hardship with the benefits only apparent to future generations, it always implements it to the letter. It can then be relied upon to accurately measure its own success or failure, without cooking the .
    3. All governments are bound by the promises of their predecessors, for a century or more. They never lose interest, or water down the proposals when the public loses interest.
    4. Large scale government projects with vague objectives will always be a success. Just put the plan in place and wait to see.
    5. It is possible to accurately predict where the future losers of Global warming will be, so compensation can be dished out. The potential governments will never overstate their case. Furthermore that the recipient governments will accurately and efficiently disperse this money, with no regard for personal or party-political advantage.

    Not unless the said scientist (or group of scientists) actually put all their weight behind implementing such a scheme, and denigrated anyone who dared to be even a tad sceptical about the feasibility. Then anyone who has studied economic theory, economic history, political history, public policy-making, or accountancy, could reasonably ask whether such naivety and dogmatic belief also covered their scientific work as well.

  • Reading some of the other comments, it seems that to overcome scepticism, the dowsers are paid purely on results.
    Should we pay climate scientists who are predicting 2 to 6 degrees of warming this century on the same basis? Of course they would have to collect any fee in person.

  • Ed Snack

    One of the issues with dowsing for water not in pipes, is that underground water rarely travels in “streams” but almost always (as I understand it) in permeable strata. Thus the talk of “streams” above is mostly gobbledegook.

    However skilled practitioners should know where the water is locally (that is, in what layers it flows), and then use local information to decide how far down it is, and where it might best be tapped. This process could be entirely sub-conscious, or not.

  • Alan Little

    Our local paediatrician believes in homeopathy. Since she seems to be competent in other respects, I try not to let it worry me too much.

  • Rob H

    I used to be a full on skeptic on Dowsing until a drainage engineer put a pair of bent wires in my hand after I had been pulling his leg about it. It is one of those things that sends a shiver down your spine, particularly as I was determined that the wires would not cross. While I now have to accept the ridicule from my friends that I metered out on the engineer I do think it is one of those things that you shouldn’t knock until you have tried it.