Did you read any of the recent news reports about a utility company employee in the United Kingdom who uses dowsing (also called witching, divining, or doodlebugging) to find underground water pipes?
Is it ridiculous to believe in the effectiveness of dowsing? Although scientists are typically skeptical about dowsing, the renowned physicist, Albert Einstein, expressed belief that it worked, based on an unknown scientific principle, as stated on many websites, including the one linked to here.
Some News Reports
In February and March 2009 numerous news reports in various publications have reported on Steve Robinson's use of dowsing for utility work. Yes, in the 21st century at least a few utility company employees use dowsing as one of their techniques for finding underground water pipes. Here's a link to a Telegraph article from February 23, 2009 about Steve Robinson and the technique he uses. And, here's a link to an August 16, 2006 article from Willamette Week Online about a utility worker in the United States who uses dowsing.
Dowsing is often used to find suitable locations to drill wells. One example of this is covered in a February 5, 2009 article in the North Wales Chronicle linked to here. An October 9, 2008 New York Times article linked to here discusses the use of a water witch during California's ongoing drought. Of course dowsers can only find water where it exists. They do not create it. A third example of using dowsing to locate where to drill wells is in a June 18, 2000 article from the Los Angeles Times linked to here. One more example is a February 10, 1985 New York Times article linked to here.
Scientific Studies, Techniques, and Apparent Past United States Military Usage
The article in Wikipedia linked to here summarizes the general practice of dowsing, including its history, and discusses some of the scientific studies on it. Dowsers apparently succeed much more often in the real world (when there is a need to find water or another object) than in laboratory tests or staged experiments where items like pipes or containers of water are deliberately placed to test dowsers. James Randi has tested several and claims they have all failed his tests, as discussed here, and more recently here, among numerous other places. There have been several studies and tests of dowsing by others as well -- generally they do not yield positive results, for whatever reasons. Here is a link to a paper about one test. You can search online for articles about several other tests and scientific studies of dowsers, and in most the dowsers seem to fail.
But, there seems to be evidence that in many cases when there is a real need to find water, that they succeed. And, while some dowsers work for pay, others claim their ability is a gift of God and won't accept money for dowsing.
People can dowse for various things, but water is perhaps the one most frequently sought. Some dowsers use a map and pendulum, without going to a particular area. But, usually the practice of water-dowsing (also called water-divining or water witching) involves a person walking across the ground, taking a forked stick or a metal rod (in some cases two metal wires), and holding it in his hands walking across the ground. The stick or rod apparently moves involuntarily when water is below the surface. People use this to locate water for drilling wells, locating pipe lines, etc.
In 1959 dowser Verne Cameron claimed the ability to locate United States submarines via dowsing – and he apparently succeeded when the U.S. Navy took him up on his offer. He used a map and a pendulum, and even located several Russian submarines, as discussed in a January 10, 2005 article from the BBC's website linked to here, and an article on another website linked to here, among others. Those two websites and some others also state that the United States trained its army to use dowsing to find land mines, etc., during the Vietnam War. In an article in its November 1998 issue linked to here,
Popular Mechanics reported on successful dowsing for water in countries where random drilling would not have been expected to be successful.
Organizations, Comments, and Conclusions
There are various organizations associated with the practice of dowsing, including The American Society of Dowsers whose website is linked to here.
This author has never done any dowsing himself, nor has he seen it done. But, personally, I believe there is evidence that dowsing works for at least some people sometimes, through some scientific principle that is as of yet unknown.
Scientists often dismiss things that seem to violate known scientific principles when they can't confirm them through scientific tests. But, many people seem to have success dowsing. Do you think it works? If so, do you have any ideas about the scientific principle(s) behind it?
Please participate in the poll and comment on your own views and/or experiences with water dowsing.
NOTE: All the links in this article were accessed on March 20, 2009, Eastern Daylight Saving Time.