Episode 86: Dowsing For Dummies

Aaron headlines the show and dowses for the point. Patrons fund the best way to not find a body.

Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that makes do with what it can find.

I’m your host this week, Aaron, and with me is Steve!

I’m Steve, and I’m what you have to deal with this week since Shea is still unwell and well, I’m available. Also, I was reminded today why I don’t get beer drunk anymore.

This Week’s Beer

This week’s beer is… whatever we’ve got on hand cause it’s another remote record!

Round Table

You might have noticed this is a remote record again, and that the yeti is, as is his cryptid way, missing. Aaaaand that’s because the rona got him. Not to worry, he does seem to be doing as well as one can with a breakthrough case. If all goes well, he’ll be back in a few weeks.

We have a correct of sorts from friend-of-the-show Kevin who says that “the Toronto Maple Leafs are the arch-enemy of the Montreal Canadians” so that’s something, apparently, they’re called the Montreal Canadians… makes me wonder how the rest of Canada feels about that but ok. Concluding with, what I assume to be the battle-cry of the correct team, “Go Habs Go!”


HL1: Science Says It’s Not The Science.

Our first headline comes from Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, whose reporting on secular issues has provided this, and several other secular podcasts, headlines for years. Make sure you visit his new blog on OnlySky — as it, only sky up above. Music! — where he writes about religious issues, well, issues with religion, now with 1000% fewer sewer ads. Because Pathos has long been a dumpster fire of terrible.

Anyway, despite the fervent argumentation of American Evangelicals, it’s not exposure to science that leads kids away from religion. I’d go so far as to say it’s all the bigotry and rape, but according to Sociology of Religion by Professor John H. Evans of the University of California, San Diego, it’s exactly what we always thought it was: teaching kids how to ask good questions and encouraging them to ask those questions of people who don’t want to answer them — like priests.

From his paper… long quote:

The traditional literature on the secularizing effect of the natural sciences assumes that any religious belief is incompatible with science, and therefore all science will be secularizing for all religious students… I find no effect of the distinction between science and non-science disciplines for religious students in general or conservative Protestants in particular. On the other hand, pure fields lead to more secularization than do applied fields, particularly for white conservative Protestants. This suggests that when science, social science or the humanities secularizes, it is the result of inquiry itself, not the content of that inquiry. This new way of looking at the impact of science explains the typical outlier in such studies — engineering — a field that has many of the trappings of physics, but with a much more religious constituency.

So basically, it’s not that becoming scientifically literate necessarily pushes religion out of your life — though if you’re honest about the scientific process it should — rather it’s teaching kids how to ask questions, evaluate the information they get back in an intellectually honest way, and support their conclusions with vetted information.

Basically, once you’ve taught people how to think, it’s a lot harder to sell them on the idea of letting your cabal of tax-free zealots do their thinking for them.

  • https://onlysky.media/hemant-mehta/study-science-classes-arent-the-main-reason-many-college-students-ditch-faith/
  • https://academic.oup.com/socrel/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/socrel/srab005/6258789?redirectedFrom=fulltext

HL2: Maybe it is the Wifi…

The number of satellites around Earth has been skyrocketing lately (hehe) to the tune of, as of this writing, a little over 5000. In 2019, it was about 2200. The jump is due in large part to Space X’s Starlink — or global mesh internet service. Anyone who’s ever tried to set up a wifi extender (which, btw, they’re bullshit, don’t buy wifi repeaters) knows how much of a pain it can be getting good wifi to cover your area… now image the area you’re attempting to cover is Earth. Like, all of it. Yeah, you’re gonna need thousands of satellites, luckily, Elon is up for footing the bill.

The downside to all of this — ok, one downside anyway — is that with so many more satellites in orbit, ground-based astronomy has become rather difficult.

As most telescopes that peer into the void are set to capture as much light as possible — think Uber-long exposure — they will capture the lights and reflected light from satellites as they pass over. Because of the exposure time, these show up as streaks of light in basically the same way you wind up with a super long dog as he wanders through your panorama…

So, IAU, the International Astronomical Union, announced the establishment of a new center to fight the problem. The group, whose name reminds you that Space X is good at marketing and scientists aren’t, is called The IAU Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference, or IAUCftPotDaQSfSCI, also or ICPDQSSCI for short.

“I think it’s really important, because it’s projected that there are going to be 100,000 new satellites by the end of the decade,”

Flinders University space archeologist Alice Gorman told ScienceAlert.

“The IAU center is critical because it will be able to coordinate information and international responses, and it will provide a strong single voice for the astronomy community.”

Needless to say that 100,000 more satellites will cause some serious light noise, never mind inching us that much closer to a Kessler Syndrome space wall forever isolating us from the stars.

And if that weren’t bad enough, a Starlink constellation would also be loud.

While no one can hear you rev the engine of your space-car, radio telescopes can kinda hear wifi.

When you think about massive radio telescope arrays you probably envision something like that “cool satellite action stuff” clip from action sci-fi movies where there are rows of dishes that all kind of move together… yeah, welp, places like that, like the Square Kilometer Array, listens for a wide range of radio frequencies… including those that Starlink is crop dusting all over orbit.

According to what Swinburne University astronomer Alan Duffy told ScienceAlert back in 2019 when the first Starlink satellites were launched:

“A full constellation of Starlink satellites will likely mean the end of Earth-based microwave-radio telescopes able to scan the heavens for faint radio objects,”

And that was then.

Now, there are others like OneWeb, which I didn’t know about until writing this story, and of course, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, which I guess just launched its first satellites. Because of course, Amazon wants to enclose the world in a blanket of its own Orwellian horror.

For their part, scientists so far seem to still think that they can co-exist with corporate space interests.

“It’s not a question of satellites versus astronomy, but rather how to mediate the different needs and interests and values that coalesce in outer space, including those that are less powerful,”

Jessica West, a senior researcher on space security at Project Ploughshares, told Gizmodo.

Here’s to hoping the more powerful develop a sense of altruism before capitalism completely consumes space-based innovation.

  • https://www.sciencealert.com/the-international-astronomical-union-launches-new-center-to-fight-back-against-starlink-and-other-mega-constellations?fbclid=IwAR1–_m4AgB5c7xbLUehZerlV_YAcv99hw-CqavuyJLX6K_uNuL_qJAqQe4

HL3: From The Dept. of Duuhhhhhh

Finally, what could be the shortest headline we’ve ever featured: homophobes are stupid.

Researchers from the University of Queensland, Australia looked a the link between intelligence and attitudes like racism and homophobia.

11,564 Australians were asked, among other things, “Homosexual couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples do.” Respondents were asked to indicate on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) their views.

The results found that, basically, the stupider you are the more likely you are to be a homophobe.

“There are well-known correlations between low cognitive ability and support of prejudicial or non-egalitarian attitudes,”

the authors write in the study.

“This paper adds to existing knowledge by providing the first analyses of the associations between cognitive ability and attitudes towards LGBT issues. Individuals with low cognitive ability are less likely to support equal rights for same-sex couples.”

This follows a 2012 study published in Sage that found essentially the same thing in the UK, oh, and about a million American studies…

So yeah, bigots are dumb-dumbs. I’d say “who knew” but literally everyone who isn’t them knows this.

  • https://www.iflscience.com/brain/researchers-find-link-between-low-intelligence-and-homophobia/?fbclid=IwAR2PJxPq1LLbsjPxEa16OjSXNDHbMDVPHItwmjc64plwnnxWs6VObJV_8Mc


This week’s story comes from, essentially, Cognitive Dissonance — another great podcast that you’re probably listening to and, if you’re so inclined, can find Big Gay Jim and I on a few past episodes. See https://www.InterestingIfTrue.com for deets.


They ran a story of a stupid stupiding like a champ and I was compelled to follow up. So I’m calling this story, Dowsing for the Dead.

Also, they call it that so… I dunno.

To lay the groundwork I’m going to talk about Dowsing, or as it’s more commonly known, pretending. Then in the patron segment, we’re going to talk about these guys trying to “help” police by dowsing for bodies and all the “science” behind it — because having that conversation in the main story would just be one, long, uninterrupted, beep-track.

So, dowsing is the 16th-century practice of using a wishbone-shaped stick to intuit where something, often underground water, is because if wearing pigeons cures plague why wouldn’t partially splitting a stick lead you to gold?

Essentially, it’s an Ouija board — but without all the accidental fun of a nonsense board game.

Sir William F. Barrett wrote in his 1911 book Psychical Research that:

…in a recent admirable Life of St. Teresa of Spain, the following incident is narrated: Teresa in 1568 was offered the site for a convent to which there was only one objection, there was no water supply; happily, a Friar Antonio came up with a twig in his hand, stopped at a certain spot and appeared to be making the sign of the cross; but Teresa says, “Really I cannot be sure if it were the sign he made, at any rate he made some movement with the twig and then he said, ’ Dig just here ’; they dug, and lo ! a plentiful fount of water gushed forth, excellent for ‘drinking, copious for washing, and it never ran dry.’ ” As the writer of this Life remarks : “ Teresa, not having heard of dowsing, has no explanation for this event,” and regarded it as a miracle. This, I believe, is the first historical reference to dowsing for water.

Best of all, dowsing isn’t limited to not finding water. It also doesn’t help you find oil, precious metals, gems, bodies, spirits, and frustrated dogs waiting for you to play fetch.

Also known as Divining, as in interpreting nonsense, or Doodlebugging, in the states — though this seems to be oil specific — and water witching.

Continuing a long tradition of witches and sticks, pretty much all dowsing requires some kind of witching rod. Traditionally, these would be “Y” shaped and gripped by the top of the Y, one arm in each hand, with the bottom of the “Y” now forming fate’s arrow… or a pointy ideomotor effect, up to you. The idea is that you wave it around and through the magic of vibrations or whatever, it leads you to the desired object.

The dowsing world, like all goodest sciences, embraced change! There are also “L” shaped dowsing rods. The idea is you hold one usually-but-not-always bent, usually metal but sometimes plastic or glass, rod in each hand and wave them around. When the rods find something they’ll cross over each other because… next paragraph!

Apparently, it’s not uncommon to make L-dowsing rods out of coat hangers when one needs to find buried utility lines or… you know… bodies because magnetic bones are easier to find than grave farts.

Still, advancements wouldn’t stop there. No, soon the incredible power of random stick movement would be captured by the wizards of industry and reborn as precision tools like the impressive-sounding ADE 651 bomb finding swingy-stick.

ADE 652 Bomb Finding Magic StickADE 652 Bomb Finding Magic Stick

Look at your phones and you’ll see the refined, pressure molded, plasticness-futurism of it.

Created by Advanced Tactical Security & Communications Ltd (ATSC) the device was claimed to be able to detect bombs, guns, ammo, and more (like ivory for some reason). Selling for a mere $60k USD/ea., they cost like… a fiver, to make. The US military bought a bunch to use in the Middle East and when they didn’t prevent deadly bombings in Iraq — because why would they? — inventor James McCormick got 10 years for fraud in 2013.

Before I move on, I’ve got to talk about this freaking thing…

The device was said to run using the wielder’s static electricity. So turning the device on required walking around in a circle whilst dragging one’s feet to build up power. The static electricity then moved through the molded plastic and rubber handgrip, both famously efficient conductors, through a Programed Substance Detection Card, which tells the 561 what specific frequency to detect, before causing the device’s antenna to point toward the desired object.

The cards were “programmed” by spending a week in a jar that also contained a small amount of the target substance such that the card would absorb the substance’s “vapors.”

I could detect a bomb up to a 1 kilometer away, or if in an aircraft at altitude, up to 5 kilometers below, because vertical distances are… easier?

They said it could detect elephants from 30 miles away.


It was in the promotional video they showed to the military, who then bought them and were surprised when people died.

It was originally created to help courses find and collect golf balls and when it failed to ball-up, they claimed it could find drugs and gunpowder thanks to the new “carbo-crystalized” cards. This also means their business model previously involved paying someone minimum wage to put a bit of paper in a jar with a golf ball all day.

Steve, you’re right, except it’s stupider than that. The cards were taught the “molecular frequency” of the target by photocopying a Polaroid of the target, cutting the photocopy up into little squares, and putting laminating it. … here’s your card…

They were used by the US military, British police, and famously by the Iraqi police and army.

Major-General Jihad al-Jabiri of the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives has defended the device:

Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is detecting bombs. I don’t care what they say. I know more about bombs than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world.

They bought hundreds.

So, dowsing. Using a stick to find a thing because of molecular, quantum, vibrational, magnetic, frequency. At best, as good as random chance at helping you dig a well. At worst, it’s a bomb false-negative machine.

Famously, magician and Skeptic James Randi offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove the device worked in October of 2008 saying the ADE 651 was

a useless quack device which cannot perform any other function than separating naive persons from their money. It’s a fake, a scam, a swindle, and a blatant fraud. Prove me wrong and take the million dollars.”

A series of international investigative reports tested the devices, cards, and collected studies about them. All of them found the devices to be absurdly ineffective.

Similar devices like the GT200, the Quadro Tracker, and the admittedly amusingly named Sniffex device lead to a number of fraud laws, inventor and CEO jail time, and tragically, dead people.

Dowsing, in general, has been subjected to no shortage of studies. The Smithsonian Institution’s John Walter Gregory concluded them to be no better than a good guess.

A 1948 New Zealand study tested 75 dowsers and concluded that “not one showed the slightest accuracy.”

In 1978 physicists failed to detect the unusual electromagnetic fields dowsers claimed to emit.

Studies in 19- 71, 79, 88, 90, 91, and 20- 06, 12 which managed to do like, blinding, sampling, and actual testing all called BS on dowsing.

Psychologist David Marks wrote in Nature in 1986 dowsing’s “effects which until recently were claimed to be paranormal but which can now be explained from within orthodox science.”

That explanation is the Ideomotor Effect. It is, basically, unconscious movement bias. As with Ouija, the 371 CE decision pendulum, the movements or outcomes of the action are influenced, unconsciously, by the user’s desire or anticipation of a result. It was first observed by William Benjamin Carpentier who, in 1852, was investigating dowsing. He suggested it was similar to excitmotor movement, breathing or blinding, and sensorimotor, or reflex, actions.

It’s since been well a documented phenomenon, but hey, don’t let that stop you from believing you’re playing chess with ghosts or a wellspring Sherlock…

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADE_651
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowsing
  • https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ideomotor_effect
  • https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Dowsing
  • https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2015/aug/20/bad-vibrations-whats-the-evidence-for-geopathic-stress
  • https://web.archive.org/web/20191225132406/https://archaeology.uiowa.edu/file/726/download?token=DqQdlDVi
  • https://www.vox.com/2016/10/29/13301590/how-ouija-boards-work-debunked-ideomotor-effect
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5858027/

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So… I alluded to it before the break but we have to talk about Knoxville, Tenn.’s, Art Bohanan. He’s a forensic investigator that WBIR News doesn’t say is “retired” or “run off in shame” so hopefully he’s not using his new invention, “The Human Remains Locator” to do any real work.

To demonstrate his device, he visited Knoxville’s oldest cemetery, where he was shocked to be able to find bodies.

His device is, as so many of these things are, a dowsing rod in a bit of extra packaging. Combined with, apparently, no one being willing to tell him he’s really wrong, has given Art an entirely unjustified belief that his tool works.

“There’s nothing over here between them, but when you move it back over here, it’s an instant response,” said Bohanan while combing through the cemetery.

His amazement clearly not thinking through the events. His dowsing tool is essentially a pendulum, and shocker of shockers, when you move it from one side of a grave to another, momentum keeps it moving… not the presence of nearby corpses.

Knowing that Dowsers like Dowsing he gave his Dowser and Dowser. With fishing line no less he’s tied an orb to the device that he says spins when a body is found. Naturally, it spins counter-clockwise if the body is male, clockwise if the body is female, and vibrates until it explodes if the body is a hermaphrodite. Ok, I made that last part up, but why not.

And, just in case you thought turning was as informative as orb could be, you’re wrong, the spinning orb, being on a bit of fishing line, will start to move outward as it spins eventually establishing something of an orbit around the center — Art claims this, the size of the orbit, is relative to the age of the body.

The effect is clearly visible in the video… and so is the wrist motion causing the turning.

It is at this point where this incredible credulous story injects the single sentence about, you know, reality, saying:

Critics dismiss dowsing and related practices as quackery that can mislead the public and build false hopes for families trying to find lost loved ones.

Which, yeah of course.

Arpad Vass, a scientist, and forensic anthropologist said. Bohanan is “using antenna to determine or find and locate that electric field that’s associated with bone.”

Consequently, I’m thinking of getting into forensic anthropology because apparently, it doesn’t require one to know anything at all about forensics or anthropology… or even reality.

Vass has, of course, built his own tool. Much like Art’s dowser, Vass’s “Quantum Oscillator” — scare quotes — “works” by placing a bit of someone’s DNA — a tooth or a lock of hair — inside a “frequency-blocking chamber” in the device. With the help of what the article unquestioningly calls the “technology” inside the device, it uses “frequency waves” to find the desired evidence.

What frequency? Who knows. The bone one.

Vass claims his device works over distances as great as 75 miles. Because when you’re making stuff, go big or go home.

“It’s not always a person, it could be a goldmine, dinosaur bone, whatever I am looking for at that moment,” he laughed.

To critics he offers:

“All the doubters out there, they can doubt all they want, I mean, go get a patent and see how hard that is.”

So… there. Patents for nonsense are hard to get, therefore it must work to be worth the trouble? Not sure what that was meant to convey, but it wasn’t evidence or reassurance.

“My instrument, Art [Bohanan]’s instrument, they’re all out there part of the toolbox. And nothing works 100% all the time and you need to have fall back and that’s what this is designed to do,” Vass concluded.

  • https://www.wbir.com/article/tech/forensic-investigators-develop-tools-they-say-can-find-bodies/51-d509bd82-f821-41c2-93c0-019c5e64fc8f


I’m Aaron and this week I learned that most of Product Development is LEDs and beeps, utility comes in rev 2.

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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.

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