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Maybe you remember when you were young and your grandfather led you around in the summer grass with a crooked looking stick in his hand. The stick seemed to twist and even 'move' and he declared it would help you find water. Not that you really needed the water, after all...the sink was just inside. But wasn't it fun to look? Does water dousing, as it's called, actually work?

Dousing, sometimes called doodle bugging, divining or water witching, is a practice that attempts to locate hidden water wells, buried metals, gemstones, or other objects as well as currents of earth radiation without the use of scientific apparatus. A Y- or L-shaped twig or rod is sometimes used during dowsing, although some dowsers use other equipment or no equipment at all.

Although divining has been around in various forms for millennia, the well-known forked stick method appears to have been devised in the mining districts of Germany (you can supposedly find minerals with a dowsing rod, too) in the late 15th or early 16th century. It was first formally described in an essay in 1556, and since then has been spread around the world by European colonists. In the past 400 years, more than a thousand essays, books, and pamphlets have been published on the subject. Needless to say, dowsing is entirely a fraud, although often an unconscious one. Innumerable experiments, beginning in 1641--that's right, 1641--have demonstrated that:

  • The presence of water has no discernible effect on a rod held above it, whether the rod is made of wood, metal, or anything else.
  • The success rate for diviners is about the same as that for people who use the hit-and-miss method when looking for water.
  • Geologists trained to recognize telltale surface clues (certain kinds of rocks and plants, various topographical features) will invariably far outdo dowsers in predicting where water will be found, and at what depth.

Nevertheless, belief in dowsing has persisted, partly because most people secretly want to believe in magic, partly because water is fairly easy to find in most parts of the inhabitable world, and partly because the plunging-stick phenomenon seems so convincing to untutored observers. It's worth noting that in many parts of the eastern U.S. it is virtually impossible to dig a hole and not find water. Granted it's tougher in the west, but I lived in Tucson for a spell and they had gotten well-digging down to such a science that the success rate approached 100 percent. Even over complex hydrological formations, the success rate by the hit-and-miss method is often as high as 75 percent.

Although some people swear by it. It has no more scientific validity than magnetic conditioning of water to prevent scaling, which is considered to be a water treatment scam. So remember next time someone has a water dousing claim that water dousers have a high success rate since ground water can be found almost anywhere if you have the capacity to dig deep enough.

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