Dowsing revisited

On the radio this morning they relayed a story that Frederick County, MD was faced with a water shortage. They hired geologists to determine the best places to dig wells, no luck. They finally hired dowsers who, equipped with dowsing rods made from cherry wood (I guess it was an important detail as they specifically mentioned it), located a spot where they drilled for water and were successful.

I can’t find any verification of this in any of the news sites I go to. My questions are:
-Did this really happen? “Oldies 100” isn’t typically my most trusted news source.
-How was it done- random luck? Wouldn’t they have the same odds as the failed geologists?


And before anyone says it- yes, I did read the Cecil column about dowsing. That’s why I have these questions.

Mojo, I found these two in the Washington Post:

The second, from today, includes this tidbit (snipped for copyright purposes):

"Well-drillers seeking water for the drought-parched Frederick County town of Myersville hit water yesterday, right where two men using dowsing rods said they would.

‘I guess it shows them old boys know what they’re doing,’ said Myersville Mayor Billy Eckstine, who earlier this month called in two local men known for their water-finding skills. . . .

Wells drilled earlier this summer at three places suggested by an engineering firm had been either dry holes or yielded a paltry three or four gallons per minute, Eckstine said.

Eckstine acknowledges that the dowsers’ hole, about 300-feet deep, yields only 13 gallons per minute. “That’s about the yield you’d want for maybe a single big house in the country,” scoffed Baltimore hydro-geologist Tucker Moorshead. Eckstine said: ‘It’s 13 gallons we didn’t have before.’"

Huh. I tried searching the WP site for the word “dowsing” and it returned nothing. Thanks. Still, it raises more questions than it answers.

Random luck. Plus the fact that if you drill down far enough just about anywhere, you’ll probably hit water.

Cecil covered this. But James Randi once set up a test of dowsing, burying pipes with water flowing through it. The dowsers never came close to the real location of the water.

RealityChuck writes, “The dowsers never came close to the real location of the water.”

“Never” might be a bit strong, but you’re right: they failed miserably. Their results were similar to random chance.

In one test of dowsing done in Australia, they asked the dowsers what success rate they predicted: they expected, on average, 92% accuracy when 1 test location in 10 contained water. Their actual results: 13.5% success in a bit over 100 trials, which anyone might get from random guessing. The curious thing is, they all agreed before hand that this was a fair test. Of course, afterwords, magically they weren’t fair any more for a variety of reasons (“radio interference”, “buried magnets”, which they had been allowed to “test for” before the trials started).

It is a non-stop source of amazement to me that people will believe in all sorts of preposterous things like this, or “homeopathy”, or whatever else, when there’s no evidence for them whatsoever.