Sunday, 7 October 2007

Dowsing - benign and malignant

Felix at The Growlery just mentioned travelling to Frome to a Melanie Safka concert: "It's likely that most reading this have never heard of either", Felix says. I have heard of Frome:partly because some of my family were from nearby, but more lately via the story of the Frome Tunnels: check out Frome's Mystery Tunnels. The map of a tunnel network underlying the town looks impressive - until you read in detail and find that much of it has been filled in by dowsing. Nevertheless, there's plenty of evidence of at least some tunnels, and the dowsing angle has kick-started the Frome Tunnel Project. This involves "geologists, cavers, surveyors and historians" who are in a position to bring a spot of reality to the study. Dowsing, in this case, is a harmless eccentricity that has helped highlight an interesting bit of subterranea.

Contrast the situation of Danie Krugel, a retired policeman who has become involved in the Madelaine McCann case, claiming to have a revolutonary location method. Bad Science and many others have blogged about this - see The Observer and their special magic quantum DNA box (with secret energy source). The particular issue is that newspapers have virtually uniformally described Krugel's device uncritically as "forensic" in nature. It isn't; it's just a high-tech variant on map dowsing, despite the pseudoscience about quantum mechanics and a secret power source.
      Let's apply a spot of logic. A technology that could identify the location of anyone in the world from a strand of hair (and, if we're to believe this account, locate diamonds, oil, pathogens, etc) would be of vast utility to any world superpower with an interest in surveillance - and aren't they all? - or even any moderately rich unscrupulous organisation. It would be rapidly appropriated if anyone believed it worked. The fact that Krugel is still at large making such claims is strong evidence that no-one at any high level believes it. It's disappointing, then, that the newspapers don't have the gonads to call bullshit on it, and that the police don't treat this as timewasting intrusion on a sensitive case.

Addendum South African Skeptics - see The Locator Locates! - note an interesting connection, the association of Krugel with Leon Rossouw, a private inestigator who specialises in tracking cellphones. I wonder if, in the purported demos described in the link above (Secret science tested), the testees took their cellphones with them when they went to hide the test objects?

Addendum, Oct 11th: I'm pleased to see that at least one UK newspaper is not buying it. See the Glasgow Herald: A hairy hypothesis that doesn’t seem to wash, by James Morgan. Krugel is now citing Nicolas Gisin, discoverer of quantum entanglement. The Herald gets a couple of physicists to debunk that: quantum entanglement falls apart for large aggregations of matter.

No comments: