The NY Times on the Iraqi dowsing rods

February 1, 2010 • 8:36 pm

by Greg Mayer

The totally bogus dowsing rods sold to Iraqi security forces by an unscrupulous (and now arrested) British manufacturer (noted at WEIT here, here, and recently here) were the subject of an editorial, “Shock, Awe and Abracadabra“, in today’s New York Times. Money quote:

The junk science should have been obvious: the slender wand is topped by what looks like a radio antenna on a swivel that the manufacturer guaranteed to point to weapons or bombs hidden up to a half-mile away, underwater or in planes three miles high. “We are working on a new model that has flashing lights,” the manufacturer told The Times of London last year, when first challenged about ADE 651.

Any satisfaction that United States forces avoided this particular sting should be tempered by the fact that American blood and treasure have underpinned the Iraq government across the war’s many expensive follies.

The reason I post occasionally here on these high-profile pseudoscience cases is that being alert to the tactics and activities of pseudoscientists of all stripes is useful, even if particular schools of pseudoscience are an area of focus. I teach a popular general education course at my university entitled “Science and Pseudoscience”, in which we discuss things such as Velikovskianism, UFOs, alien abductions, astrology, palm reading, and many, many other things; and of course, creationism. There is an old saying that a language is a dialect with an army. Creationism is pseudoscience with a powerful political lobby.

Update (Feb. 5): Here’s Randi’s take on the recent developments.

13 thoughts on “The NY Times on the Iraqi dowsing rods

  1. Do you read “The Demon Haunted World” as one of the texts for that class out of curiosity? Sagan spends a great deal of time exposing many of the topics you listed in it.

    1. I did use it for a few years. Sagan wrote well and passionately, and the book does discuss many of these issues. I now use Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things, Susan Clancy’s Abducted, and a short textbook by Ted Schick and Lewis Vaughn entitled How to Think About Weird Things.

      1. “I now use Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things…

        What do you tell your students about this bit on page 83:
        from an evolutionary viewpoint, 25 percent of a child’s genes come from each parent, about 6 percent from each grandparent, 1.5 percent from each great-grandparent, and so on.

        From the context, this is clearly not a weird thing Shermer is holding up for examination, but his own statement of what he believes to be a fact.

      2. To ivy privy-
        That’s not what it says in my copy (published 2002). It may be an error corrected in editions/printings later than your copy. What you quote sounds a bit like the biometricians’ law of ancestral heredity. Shermer’s an historian of biology, perhaps he had this law in his head as he wrote.
        Update The error is in the first hard cover printing (1997), but not in the paperback (2001 or earlier).

  2. He should said he was working on quantum flashing lights.

    Perhaps as welcome is that a UK panel found one of the prominent pushers of the “autism-vaccination link” to have acted unethically:

    Among the charges was that Wakefield had not disclosed commercial conflicts of interests. “Your non-disclosure was contrary to your duties,” Kumar read.

    However, the object of his remarks was not present. Wakefield, 53, was boycotting the proceedings, just as he once urged parents to boycott MMR.

    “You caused this child to undergo a programme of investigations for research purposes without having ethics committee approval,” Kumar continued, glancing to where Wakefield should have been sitting.

    The panel’s findings were astounding, both in their number and substance. More than 30 charges were found proven against Wakefield. For him alone they ran across 52 pages. Embracing four counts of dishonesty — including money, research and public statements — they painted a picture of a man not to be trusted.

    And then there’s the DI…

    Glen Davidson

    1. “He should said he was working on quantum flashing lights.”

      The irony is that LEDs are inherently quantum mechanical in nature. He would actually have been right, had he said that.

      1. Actually you need quantum theory to reproduce any spectrum, whether near black body (incandescent), plasma excitations (fluorescent) or solid state excitations (LED).

        Planck, classical physicist but of black body spectra fame, famously rotated before laying in his grave.

        (But obviously only succeeding in OAM quantum modes. :-o)

  3. There have been charlatans and hucksters using pseudoscience to sell bogus products in the US for over 200 years. Few of them believe their own nonsense and are in it only for the money. These are the types (like that UK firm) who should be prosecuted and sentenced harshly, but anyone dispersing false and harmful information like the anti-vaxers should be gone after.

  4. The problem is not confined to Iraq.
    GT200 BOMB DETECTOR: Thai army fail to prove via scientific test
    The military yesterday maintained its support for the so-called GT200 bomb detectors by conducting a demonstration in front of reporters instead of putting it through scientific tests as demanded by academics… During the demonstration, the GT200 was able to detect a bomb hidden 700 meters away. However, this demonstration could not be considered a scientific test. All bomb detectors must undergo the double-blind test, something that has not been done on the GT200 so far.

  5. this is the in-sanest post i have read in a long time. Obviously it is a scam the not-so-quacks buy from the not -so-quacks and the not so-quacks launder the money….please

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