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Also known as water divining, the more general term is dowsing. Practitioners claim to be able to detect minerals and even specific objects.

I first became interested in dowsing in my teens, when the BBC Television "Tomorrow's World" programme had a piece on the subject at Christmas 1977.

There were reports of dowsing being used in mining and oil surveying, and I recall seeing (supposedly) old woodcut prints of miners using forked sticks.

Does anyone know of scientific research into dowsing?

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    It's true that if you dig down far enough where a dowsing session indicates you should dig you will hit wet soil, it's also true that there's this thing called the water table... – GordonM Jan 9 '17 at 15:15
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Here are some links in german language: http://www.geophys.uni-stuttgart.de/erdstrahlen/erds2.htm

Her is my summary for the text for each internal link:

  • Gassmann: No earth radiation was measured scientifically, but radiations which were measured geophysical could not be found by the dowsers. If you put enough dowsers on a meadow, they find water or radiation everywhere, just everybody at a different location.
  • Wagner: How dowsers failed
  • Hartmann-Gitter: (Hartmann-Matrix?) Why did no dowser before 1951, where Hartmann reportet it, find it? Today, every dowser finds a crosspoint of Hartmann-Matrix, Curry-Matrix and underground watercourse under your bed, if you suffer from headaches.
  • A book on Radiesthesia and Drowsers
  • Prokop und Wimmer: Critique of 2 publications which look scientific in the first moment
  • Wünschelruten-Report: Discussion of a study without clear outcome
  • Bericht von Dr. Hartmann: Citings of Dr. Hartmann (see so called Matrix) which speak for themselves
  • Wahnidee: (link is gone)
  • Freiherrn v. Pohl: Citings, The man who invented the term 'earth radiation' and patented an anti-radiation device, which was able to protect a whole city. No drowser today believes it's true, but all believe in his radiations. :)

Here is a brief german discussion of a study which claimed to have proven some earth-radiation: http://www.scienceblogs.de/kritisch-gedacht/2009/04/ezu-studie.php

Here is a english source, not why Dowsing doesn't work, but why dowsers believe it does: http://www.sram.org/0302/ideomotor.html

  • Could you expand on the "Hartmann matrix"? What is it exactly? – nico Feb 19 '12 at 16:56
  • You might understand that I can't translate the whole text text here . It claims there is a matrix of radiations, of about 0.2m to 2.5m, polarized in North-South and East-West direction, but it is nothing, which has been measured scientifically. Here are more references in German language too, since Hartmann was native German. Here is a short wikipedia text about Hartmann from the Wikipedia/en. – user unknown Feb 19 '12 at 19:02
  • "The rifts causing earth rays are not located in the ground but in the head" (title from the very first link) I like that one. – Baarn Feb 20 '12 at 2:13
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    @userunknown Your last link does not work – Slaviks Nov 29 '15 at 17:10
  • @Slaviks: Yes, I think it worked 4 years ago, since I don't see an obvoius error (missing or extra characters at end or beginning). I guess with the waybackmachine, you could be lucky. – user unknown Nov 29 '15 at 17:47
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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.

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