I am offering 

the $502,000 

prize to any of

the dowers who

... can perform 


with their 

dowsing device.




Skeptics' Confidence Dowsed
 By James Randi 

This article appeared in the March 1996 issue of BASIS, the newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics. James Randi lives and writes in Florida.

The January issue of the Smithsonian magazine ran a major article that is extremely shocking, bearing in mind the reputation of this periodical. It's hard for me to imagine who on the staff of Smithsonian made the decision to run the piece. It's a highly positive article on dowsing, a seven-page paean to the wonders that are accomplished with pendulums and forked sticks - such as choosing medications, vitamins and foods, finding water, deciding upon which "Personal" ad to answer, and even assessing videotapes for entertainment value!

     There is, of course, the obligatory token skeptical content in the article, amounting in this case to 1.5 inches of type, in an article that runs 78 inches, with nine illustrations extolling the truth of this mythology! That's less than two percent of the entire piece! And that small portion is only mildly critical. There are no tests of the validity of the claim, only demonstrations and stories of wonders.

     The author of this trash writes, "The relationship between dowsing and established science has always been distant, mutually suspicious." Nonsense! There is NO RELATIONSHIP! Science is logic, rationality, careful investigation, and experimentation that works; dowsing is wishful thinking, superstition, and mythology that doesn't work. Was there any mention in this Smithsonian magazine article of the numerous carefully-controlled tests of dowsing that have been done, tests that showed it was totally without merit? No, in the pages of this prestigious science magazine, only anecdotal experiences are given, and blatantly unproven "theories" and "facts" from wide-eyed dummies who don't know logic from lingerie.

     This article will be touted and distributed by the American Society of Dowers (who adamantly refuse to allow their claims to be tested, and have vigorously avoided trying to win my prize!) and no retraction will ever serve to neutralize this irresponsible attack on rationality. When New Scientist magazine, in the UK, ran a very positive three-page piece on dowsing back in December of 1979, reporting experiments that gave 100% positive results, it began with the statement, "Dowsing works; that much is certain." Then, when a skeptic (Denys Parsons) repeated the experiments with the author of the article, this time double-blind, the results were 121 correct, 129 wrong, with an expectation of 50%. Parsons' article lay about the editor's desk for two years, and then the summarized results (but never the article itself) appeared on a back page, and occupied less than that one page. The dowers have been citing the former article for years now; the refutation is never mentioned.

     I urge my readers to do something about this travesty. Write the editors of Smithsonian and express your dismay. The address is: The Editor of Smithsonian, 900 Jefferson Drive, Washington, DC 20560. You might mention that I am offering the $502,000 prize to any of the dowers who are mentioned in this article, who can perform successfully with their dowsing device. I can predict quite safely that there will be no takers. Why? A good question and I believe you know the answer.

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 2001 Oregonians for Rationality