Water Dowsing

Water Dowsing

Water dowsing (also known as water witching) is a pseudo-scientific practice (meaning it is a practice that incorrectly claims to be scientific without adhering to the rigorous processes and procedures of the scientific method) of using some kind of simple instrument (often some kind of L-shaped or Y-shaped stick or rod) to locate underground water resources.  This practice is a kind of divining, where the practitioner invokes an unseen force, through the medium of the dowsing rod, to locate the water.  Water dowsing is often employed prior to digging a well or cistern.

Unseen forces do exist in the natural world and can be measured and used by scientists to locate materials.  For instance, Earth’s magnetic field is an unseen force generated by movement of heat in convection cells within the planet’s iron and nickel core.  Scientists use instruments called magnetometers to measure aspects of Earth’s magnetic field to, for instance, locate buried ore deposits.  However, scientific studies of dowsing have demonstrated that, while some dowsers are able to locate water, the success rate of dowsing is no better than chance.  That is, the dowser’s likelihood of locating water is the same whether the person is dowsing or just pointing at a random spot in the yard and saying there’s water there.

In this exercise you are going to learn more about dowsing as a pseudo-scientific practice and use your knowledge of Earth science to critically evaluate the practice.  To begin, let’s learn about dowsing from someone who practices the craft and believes in its efficacy.  Watch the following Youtube video:

Water Dowsing

Now, let’s learn what Earth scientists say about water dowsing and the science of water (known as hydrogeology).  Read this pamphlet on dowsing published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS):

USGS Pamphlet on Dowsing


This is a short essay assignment.  All short essays submitted for this course should be written in complete sentences and full paragraphs, each with a coherent beginning, middle, and end.  A rule of thumb for short essay lengths is 2-3 full sentences per question.

For this assignment you are to write a 3 to 4 paragraph short essay comparing and contrasting the methods of science with the methods of water dowsers.  How do these practices differ?  How do the beliefs and practices of water dowsers contrast with the scientific process?  What makes water dowsing pseudo-science rather than actual science, and what evidence do we have that water dowsing is an unreliable and non-scientific method of understanding Earth’s natural features and processes?


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