Flexibility and Open-Mindedness of Scientists

by John Harvey

I refer to Dan Wilson’s letter in the June 1999 issue of the Newsletter in which he comments on the flexibility and open mindedness of scientists.

As both a retired scientist and a dedicated dowser I can keep a foot in each camp and can appreciate both the scientists’ view of dowsers and the dowser’s opinion of scientists. From this mid position I find that I cannot entirely agree with Dan Wilson’s view. In my opinion, and from past experience, flexibly minded scientists are the exception rather than the rule and it is noticeable that some scientists who take up dowsing transfer their inflexibility and rapidly develop a fanaticism for the new subject and lose much of their previous objectivity.

Some dowsers seem to think that it is the scientists’ short sightedness, which make them reject dowsing results. I think that the rejection is partly our fault. Much of science is structured around the repeatability of experiments and results. How often is our work repeatable? Take the case of terminology. All branches of science use the same or very similar vocabulary. In our field it is often difficult to decide whether we are talking about the same subject. As an example, one dowser may refer to ‘an energy line’, a second will call it ‘a ley line’, a third will refer to it as ‘an energy ley’ while a fourth may find it as ‘ a red or green or blue line’.

We are also very vague in our descriptions, a trait that infuriates the scientist. If a dowser says to a scientist “That standing stone is over the crossing of water lines” then the statement is likely to be ignored, as it is open to widely different individual interpretations.  What he would like to hear is “That stone stands over two streams of underground water, one at a depth of 25ft flowing at l2gpm and the other at 75ft flowing at 25gpm. The stone is sited vertically over the point where they cross.” This mass of information has required only four or five more dowsing questions but contains verifiable details and hence is more credible. 

A few years ago, while mulling over the incompatibility between dowsers and scientists, it occurred to me that perhaps psychologists, who practice an ‘experimental science of the mind’, might be flexible enough to give an unbiased opinion on the viability of dowsing. How wrong could I be? I wrote to the Psychology Departments of two universities, Cardiff and Edinburgh, asking for their opinions on dowsing and also included a question on crop circles. 

The reply from Cardiff was dismissive and is reproduced below. Note particularly the penultimate paragraph. The answer from Edinburgh was similar but phrased more diplomatically. On the subject of crop circles the writer felt that there was no mystery, as they knew all about them! 

There is a Biblical quotation which sums up the situation between dowsers and scientists, it says that, while trying to remove the mote from our brother’s eye, we forget the beam in our own. In other words we must put our own house in order before we criticise others. 

© 1999 J. Harvey & BSD EEG