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No. 102: Nov-Dec 1995

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Unconventional water detection

In SF#97, we inserted a short notice about some apparently promising dowsing research being conducted by a group in Germany. A lengthy, comprehensive report of this research has been published in two issues of the Journal of Scientific Exploration. We now quote from that part of the abstract dealing with field experiments in several countries.

"This report presents new insights into an unconventional option of locating water reserves which relies on water dowsing. The effectiveness of the method is still highly disputed. Now, however, extensive field studies -- in line with provable and reliable historic account -- have shown that a few carefully selected dowsers are certainly able to detect faults, fissures and fractures with relative alacrity and surprising accuracy in areas with, say, crystalline or limestone bedrock. A series of Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusam menarbeit (GTZ) projects involving this technique were carried out in dry zones with unexpectedly high rates of success. In particular, it was possible to locate a large number of relatively small underground aquifers in thinly populated areas and to drill wells at the sites where water is needed; the yields were low but sufficient for hand-pump operation throughout the year. Finding or locating a sufficient number of relatively small fracture zones using conventional techniques would have required a far greater work input."

A second part of the study involved controlled experiments in which dowsers tried to detect concealed targets such as pipes.

(Betz, HansDieter; "Unconventional Water Detection: Field Test of the Dowsing Technique in Dry Zones," Journal of Scientific Exploration, 9:1 and 9;159, 1995. Journal address: ERL 306, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305)

As one might expect (and should want), dowsing skeptics reacted swiftly to the German work. As for the field studies mentioned in the above quotation, R. Hyman, a University of Oregon psychologist and noted skeptic of things paranormal, stated that dowsing field tests are difficult to evaluate without good records on what proportion of local, nondivined wells produce good water. Apparently, wherever such records are available, as in Australia, the diviners do no better than the nondiviners. The controlled experiments conducted by the GTZ have been criticized for their design. For example, blindfolded dowsers being escorted over pipes might well have received cues, perhaps involuntarily, from their escorts. (ESP experiments have frequently suffered from this sort of defect.)

(Raloff, Janet; "Dowsing Expectations," Science News, 148:90, 1995.)

From Science Frontiers #102 Nov-Dec 1995. 1995-2000 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
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  • "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