Water dowsing - does it work?


Does water dowsing work?

When water dowsing (also known as water divining or water witching) has been subjected to various controlled testing over the past 100 years it has fared no better than chance. 

The natural explanation of "successful" water dowsing is that in many areas, including the UK, groundwater is so prevalent close to the surface that it would be unusual to drill a well and not find any water.  Although some water may be present the most important aspects in locating a source is the quantity and quality of the water. 

In their quest for water supplies during World War II the British military in the Middle East concluded that using water diviners was worthless.  Major-General Tickell (Director of Works for Middle East Forces) stated in a letter, dated 1942, to the Engineer-in-Chief, ‘Our experience has been, without one shadow of a doubt, that the water diviners’ assistance has been absolutely worthless. Not only in their percentage of successes below what would have been expected by mere chance, but their ability to distinguish between saline and non-saline water does not exist. They have been given a fair trial and we have come to the conclusion that they should be prohibited from even offering gratuitous advice.’ (Rose, E.P.F. and Mather, J.D., 2012. Military aspects of hydrogeology: an introduction and overview.  Volume 362 of Special publication - Geological Society of London) 

James Randi is an internationally renowned magician and escape artist although is best known as an investigator of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims, including dowsing.  After controlled testing of expert and professional dowsers in Australia in 1980 and in Germany in 1990, James Randi concluded that '...dowsing doesn't work but the law of averages does.' 

After controlled testing of professional and amateur dowsers in 2007, Professor Christopher French of the psychology department at the University of London concluded that, "...dowsing does not work when it is tested under properly controlled conditions...". (Stone, A. and French, C., 2013. Anomalistic Psychology - Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience. Palgrave, 2013) (French, C., 2013.  The unseen force that drives Ouija boards and fake bomb detectors. Published in The Guardian, 27 April 2013

The USA’s National Ground Water Association strongly opposes the use of water witches to locate groundwater on the grounds that controlled experimental evidence clearly indicates that the technique is totally without scientific merit.’ (NGWA, 2016. Water Witching. Position Paper, National Ground Water Association, U.S.A., 24/02/2016)

The US Geological Survey (USGS) states that ‘Case histories and demonstrations of dowsers may seem convincing, but when dowsing is exposed to scientific examination, it presents a very different picture.’ (Read what the USGS says about dowsing)


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"...the water diviners’ assistance has been absolutely worthless."



'...dowsing doesn't work but the law of averages does.'



"...dowsing does not work when it is tested under properly controlled conditions..."



'...experimental evidence clearly indicates that [dowsing] is totally without scientific merit.’