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No. 52: Jul-Aug 1987

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Dowsing Skeptics Converted

A while back, New Scientist ran an article on the "dowsing sense." Two letters prompted by the article were from scientifically trained people who originally were very skeptical about dowsing.

The first letter from P.L. Younger, a university hydrogeologist, first mentioned that most dowsers are convinced that they are hunting underground streams of water. In actuality, he says, most underground water flow is intergranular and laminar. There are no underground streams to find! Then, he continued:

"Having said all this, while conducting hydrogeological fieldwork in Colorado, I was involved in 'dowsing' the exact location of buried metal pipes using two L-shaped metal rods, which were balanced on the fingers (not clutched at all). Surface and subsurface pipes gave clear deflection of the rods. I was led to conclude that the rods operated as a crude magnetometer."

B.W. Skelcher originally did not believe that any variation in the magnetic field or any other natural force would cause a hand-held stick to move. But:

"One day, on the undeveloped plot of land adjacent to my abode, I spied a 'nutter' pacing to and fro with hazel in hand. When the fellow assured me that he was seriously checking the site for hidden water mains, power cables, and so on, I expressed my grave doubts. At this he handed me the twigs and after a brief instruction goaded me to try. After a few paces I was astonished to feel the two bent twigs move in my hands. I am not skeptical any more, I know it works."

(Younger, Paul L., and Skelcher, B.W.; "Dowsing-Sense," New Scientist, p. 62, April 9, 1987.)

Comment. Such testimonial evidence, abundant though it is, will not be accepted by the scientific community. In stead they point to their controlled experiments, which are strongly negative. Why do so many individuals experience psi phenomena casually, but when controls are applied, the effects are most elusive? Most people, at one time or another, have had a profoundly shocking psychic experience. Are these events real, and, if so, why don't they manifest themselves in the labs?

From Science Frontiers #52, JUL-AUG 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987