Many people and websites claim that one can find water with wood sticks (typically Hazel stick shaped in 'Y'). those who seek for water with wood sticks are called "sourcier" in french. As I fail to translate this term I will just use the french term. The french wikipedia entry for sourcier claims

L'efficacité des sourciers n'a jamais pu être démontrée scientifiquement, des expériences réalisées dans des conditions rigoureuses [..] ont montré que les sourciers ne faisaient pas mieux qu'un choix au hasard.

, which translates

The efficiency of "sourcier" has never been scientifically demonstrated. Rigorous experiments [..] have shown that "sourcier" don't do any better than random choices.

The article offer 3 references but none of them are peer-reviewed.

What are the evidences for or against the ability of sourciers to find water?


Simply put, no. Dowsing (or Souciering) is no more effective than just guessing. Those who have shown better success are using other methods (like cheating) to pad their results.

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (as well as many other organizations) have done numerous tests. Their conclusion is reproduced below. I would encourage you to read the entire page though as it goes over their experimental set up and does a very careful analysis of the results.

The Munich dowsing experiments represent the most extensive test ever conducted of the hypothesis that a genuine mysterious ability permits dowsers to detect hidden water sources. The research was conducted in a sympathetic atmosphere, on a highly selected group of candidates, with careful control of many relevant variables. The researchers themselves concluded that the outcome unquestionably demonstrated successful dowsing abilities, but a thoughtful re-examination of the data indicates that such an interpretation can only be regarded as the result of wishful thinking. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a set of experimental results that would represent a more persuasive disproof of the ability of dowsers to do what they claim. The experiments thus can and should be considered a decisive failure by the dowsers.

It seems very unlikely that any future careful experimental study of dowsing will produce results more favorable for the practitioners than the Munich experiments. An atmosphere more sympathetic to the dowsers, with so many concessions to their whims, seems hard to imagine. In view of the outcome of those experiments, it is very unlikely that any sponsor would ever provide funds for an even larger-scale study, such that very weak skills (which might conceivably have vanished into the statistical noise here) could be uncovered. (It is noteworthy that the U.S. Geological Survey concluded much earlier [Ellis 1917] that further testing of dowsing ” . . .would be a misuse of public funds.”) It seems appropriate, then, to reiterate here the general conclusion originally drawn from these analyses (Enright 1995):

(These) . . . experiments are not only the most extensive and careful scientific study of the dowsing problem ever attempted, but — if reason prevails — they probably also represent the last major study of this sort that will ever be undertaken. (Enright 1995, 369).

Because of the vigor, however, with which Professor Betz and colleagues defended their positive conclusions (Betz et al. 1996), and in view of the discouraging history of other claims about the occult, one may have residual doubts, as do I, about whether reason will prevail in this arena (Enright 1996).

Smithsonian Magazine has this to say about dowsing regarding attempting to pass the preliminary test for the James Randi Educational Foundation Million Dollar Prize (emphasis mine):

Science can turn you into a full-time skeptic (as my friends discover at some of the oddest times), but that’s not a bad thing. I’m sure that Smithsonian’s favorite skeptic, James Randi, has had plenty of cocktail conversations in which people try to convince him that they found the magic cure to all his ills, or some other form of woo. But then, he solicits this sort of thing—the James Randi Educational Foundation offers $1 million “to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.”

As the foundation notes: “To date, no one has passed the preliminary tests.

Students at the University of Alberta have used the same experimental set up, and found:

Based upon the evidence gathered in an experiment described in Skeptic (Vol.14 No.4 2009) by James Randi, a dowser was able to accurately identify the location of the gold in two (2) out of twenty (20) trials.

Which I will note is no better than random chance.

You can find the same experiments and the same results repeated again, and again, and again, and again. It is quite conclusive to say that dowsing doesn't work.

Now, you may find claims and tests that do show a result. You will find that in general these can be attributed to poor experimental procedure, sloppy interpretation of data, or simply outright cheating/lying.

  • 2
    "Those who have shown better success . . " There is also the ideomotor effect, where prior knowledge creates subconcious hand movements despite the user sincerely believing he is keeping his hand perfectly still. This can make dowsers truly believe the process works, because the rods always twitch when they should . . .For a darker side to this, see, for instance, this horrible scam
    – peterG
    Jan 8 '17 at 20:24
  • @Larian: Do you want to merge this answer over to the other question?
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 9 '17 at 0:16
  • @oddthinking yeah, I forgot about that one... Jan 9 '17 at 2:03
  • I just copied my answer there as that question didn't have an accepted answer. Jan 9 '17 at 2:05

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