Map-dowsing competition in UK


Via The Guardian‘s science department (yeah, figure THAT out!), evidently there are some segments of the dowsing community that are skeptical of some other segments of the dowsing community — those that evidently believe they can dowse using a pendulum and a printout from Google Maps.

However, even believers in the muddy wellies type of dowsing often have grave doubts about map dowsers, who claim to be able to locate such features just by holding a pendulum over a Google Earth satellite view taken from miles above a site. The debate has rumbled on through many archaeology forums, with believers and sceptics equally passionately engaged.

A website dedicated to prehistoric archaeology called the Megalithic Portal is now launching a competition to try and resolve the question, with would-be psychics and scoffers invited to join a hunt for archaeological remains from the comfort of their own armchairs.

Andy Burnham, founder of the website, says dowsing has consistently sparked “more discussion and discord” than any other subject on the site. “We always end up with the same stalemate. Dowsers claim they can find anything and non-dowsers doubt that because there is no documented proof.”

I hate this sort of test. If you crowdsource this large of a dataset with the opportunity to make some money, all you have to do is guess correctly, and with enough guesses in the pot someone’s probably going to win. It won’t mean these people actually found something except by pure chance. Not that that’ll stop the inevitable self-satisfied crowing. Le sigh.

Comments

  1. MPG says

    The broadness of the search criteria – “archaeological remains” – sounds alarm bells here. Being a relatively small island with a long history, the UK is absolutely bristling with historical sites and artefacts of one kind or another. My grandfather told me about how as a young man he was helping dig an inspection pit at the car plant he worked and discovered human skeletons, probably the remains of monks from a medieval monastery that used to be on the site. When a new building was being constructed at my own place of work, they unearthed WWII medals, cap badges and belt buckles aplenty (the best of which which we had framed and hung on the wall of the completed building). And it is actually possible to spot the buried remains of buildings from aerial photographs, no woo necessary, simply by spotting differences in the crops or grass growing on the site (see here, for example). Will they be doing the dowsing blind to avoid being influenced by visual cues?

  2. says

    I basically deal with skeptisim I map dowsed olso and foungas wells an dstock ponds on maps I know map dowsing works and have been accurate at times >I also sometimes am prone to error .How do I remove error or avoid it TEd Olbrecht

  3. says

    I’m a cartographer, and from a cartographic perspective, map dowsing is ridiculous. One of the essential aspects of cartography is that maps must be simplified, or generalized when they are created. Convoluted curves in roads, contour lines, and waterways are smoothed out, roads are emphasized or de-emphasized. Since you can’t place all the available information about an area on a map, the cartographer has to make informed choices as to what to include and what to exclude. Does this affect map dowsing? Will the dowsing rod pick up non-existent items that have been mistakenly included on the map? Will the dowsing rod show water in a creek that the cartographer decided to exclude?

    The whole idea of map dowsing stems from the misconception that there is some sort of sympathetic magical relationship between the map and the area it represents. There is a relationship between the map and the ground (it’s in the perception of the viewer), but you can no more expect there to be a sympathetic relationship between the map and the ground than you can expect mountain ranges to suddenly appear when you crumple up the map.

  4. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    However, even believers in the muddy wellies type of dowsing often have grave doubts about map dowsers

    So the practitioners of one type of woo find another, related type of woo to be questionable. We see that sort of thing between religious sects all the time.

  5. roger says

    The prizes are archaeological calendars for 2012, so Burnham himself doesn’t take it seriously. It’s just a harmless{?} game to encourage interestin and support for achaeology.As the comments below the article show, there isn’t much likelihoood of denting the faith of believers anyway. Truth and evidence are irrelevant there.

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