Dowsing claimed as successful method in finding pipe leak

Of all the special skills tested by skeptics, dowsing is the most common claim. And it has NEVER passed a controlled test. Why is that? The most obvious answer is that rods in your hands do not really indicate water. Yet, it remains pretty much impossible to convince dowsers that there is nothing special or mysterious about their art and that it does not work. Check out this story to see why.

Water divining finds club leak.

A leak at a village social club in the Midlands baffled all the hi-tech gadgetry of a giant water company.

But the problem was eventually sorted out by an ancient mystical art which dates back thousands of years.

While workmates scratched their heads, one Severn Trent Water engineer produced a set of water-divining rods and quickly found the right spot.

Engineers with high-tech equipment tried four times to try to locate the source of the leak failed.

The story lacks detail and context. All we get is “AMAZING! The dowser was right! Better than high-tech equipment”. We don’t know how if the dowser had access to additional information or if he also tried other spots. We do not get the whole story, and usually the devil is in the details.

It’s not the best idea to buy into gee whiz news stories like this without thinking about them a bit. Why would we NEED high-tech equipment if they didn’t work as well as dowsers? The equipment is better, more precise, and works reliably to give us good data. Dowsers, not so much. Actually, anyone with a little bit of knowledge of the problem can probably make a good guess about how to fix it. A leaking pipe or area of high flow groundwater does create clues on the surface if you know what to look for.

The piece ends with an announcement that “Dowsing works”. Not exactly. It appears to work but when tested it repeatedly fails. So, dowsers sometimes hit the mark but they often DO NOT. It’s not the magical “art” of the rods that is getting results. I believe you’ll find it’s more complicated than that.

dowsing (a.k.a. water witching) – The Skeptic’s Dictionary –

Dowsing: The Pseudoscience of Water Witching.

The Skeptic’s Field Guide: An anecdote about dowsers being double-blind to their special pleading.

The Dowsing Delusion Is Still With Us.

  12 comments for “Dowsing claimed as successful method in finding pipe leak

  1. Tom
    July 30, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    The engineer just happened to have a set of water divining rods in his van!!!??
    This gentleman perhaps had a good idea where the leak was and seems to have set the whole thing up as a publicity stunt (or as a sign to the divination believers that all is not yet lost)) although his bosses may not like the publicity they will get.
    The engineer clearly needs more training and self-discipline.

  2. Peter Robinson
    July 30, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    I have written as follows to the Birmingham Mail. Feel free to add your own thoughts to the Editor

    Dear Mr Brookes,

    I am writing to complain about the following highly irresponsible story:

    Dowsing has never been credibly proven to work. The German study referred to in the story has been comprehensively debunked, as your reporter would have discovered if he had done his research properly.

    Peddling woo is not a worthy journalistic endeavour.

    While you may think that the story is fairly harmless, since it only involved finding a water leak, you should be aware that dowsing was the claimed principle behind the fake explosives detectors fraud (see ADE651 and GT200 cases). Please note that the President of the British Society of Dowsers, who are quoted in your piece, was called as a defence witness in the trial of Gary Bolton, the convicted fraudster behind the GT200. Hence they are not a credible source.

    As a member of Birmingham Skeptic In The Pub, I hope that you will agree to publish a rebuttal piece, since I am sure you do not want to mislead your readers.

    I look forward to your response.

    Yours sincerely,
    Peter Robinson

    I will also be writing to Severn Trent Water.

  3. Bill T.
    July 30, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    Once the leak was found, apparently another of the observers was also able to find it: “I even had a go with the rods myself – and it worked for me, too!” (Barry Phillips, secretary of Wootton Wawen Social Club ). Amazing, I tell ya!

    How close was the leak to the spot pinpointed? What were the odds of being within that distance, just by digging at random? Lots of interesting questions that _Could have_ been asked, but weren’t. But, that sort of question doesn’t serve as click-bait, does it?

  4. Bonnie
    July 30, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    I was told by a local well driller that dousing “works,” at least in our area, because no matter where you drill you will find water.

  5. Dubious f
    July 30, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    Finding water and finding leaks are 2 things: leaks in underground pipes are triangulated via sound waves to high sensitive sonars placed at logical points to pin point, minus a percentage, the break. Finding water is easier; there is more or less a 50/50 chance of finding liquid, it’s how deep you have to go. I guess my golf balls are dowsers, they always hook in that stuff…

  6. YetAnoutherBrian
    July 30, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    Dowsing Totally Works!

    I have used dowsing to successfully find mains power cables running under the concrete floor of a production facility. We were testing 900MHz data radios and were getting interference. One of the techs suggested that the building main (120V 60Hz) was running directly under the test benches and that was causing high test failures. He suggested dowsing to find where the underground main power lines ran. Since we were looking for an RF field I said we needed to make the rods out of the center conductor from an old RF test cable. After all, the copper core is a great Radio Frequency Conductor. The rods did not respond to him so I did the dowsing while he used tape to mark the places where the rods crossed. After about 15 minutes we had a fairly clear layout where the power lines ran.

    Then I said, let’s check the building print to see where the lines actually run. So we went back to my cube and grabbed the BLUEPRINT that I had left SITTING ON MY KEYBOARD that showed exactly where the power lines ran under the floor. He was amazed that the line ran almost exactly where we had marked the line, turns and all. Then I said I could also find gold. I rubbed my wedding ring on the rods to “Calibrate” them and then we found a couple of spots that indicated we could dig for gold. I repeated this with cooking oil to find crude oil deposits and then a chicken bone to find skeletal remains. When I mentioned we could fart on the rods and see if we could find natural gas deposits, he figured out I was pulling his leg. Then he asked how I was able to find the power lines. A couple seconds later he said “Oh, you had the prints open on your desk.”

    My supervisor was watching the whole time, grabbed me later and called me an ass. I agreed but pointed out that the tech is also unlikely to ever trust a dowser again. So yes, dowsing totally works if you know where to look before hand.

  7. John
    July 30, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    I was director of IT at a college in Iowa. The department was moving to a newly constructed building that needed addional water from a 10 inch city main. Someone from the city water department came to campus, pulled out two bent coat hangers that pivoted in two pieces of copper tubing and proceded to dowse for the main.

    He walked back and forth spray painting on the ground the path of the water main as I followed behind explaining over and over that there was a newly bored single mode fiber backbone all across campus. He told me this didn’t matter and he was 100% correct everytime. He called in the backhoe and proceeded to dig right through a 900 pair telephone cable. The people on that side of town were not amused nor impressed with his ability. To add insult to injury, the city refused to pay for the repairs since it was on our campus.

  8. One Eyed Jack
    July 31, 2014 at 2:30 AM

    FWIW, divining rods are frequently ad hoc contraptions. A couple of twigs, bent copper wires, or straightened coat hangers are good enough. There are fancy “professional” divining rods, but most are cheap scraps tossed into service.

  9. One Eyed Jack
    July 31, 2014 at 2:33 AM


    This fact escapes so many. Hit the water table, and you get water, period.

  10. One Eyed Jack
    July 31, 2014 at 2:40 AM

    You weren’t an ass at all. You gave him a valuable lesson. Sometimes stupid needs a slap in the face to make a point. Simply saying “dowsing is BS” would have never stuck with him like this will.

    And it’s damned funny. Shades of sending the new guy around a production plant trying to find the board stretcher.

  11. Dubious f
    July 31, 2014 at 4:55 AM

    Or a bucket of steam

  12. Bill T.
    July 31, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    Maybe you were hitting a little close to home with your supervisor. Speculative, but plausible?

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