This post is by Jesse Galef
If you ever wanted a find situation desperately in need of more skepticism (and who hasn’t?), look no further: The Iraqi army is spending $16,500 to $60,000 per dowsing rod and trying to use them to detect explosives. This foolishness is not only a vast waste of money for what is essentially a wobbly stick of metal, but it puts people’s lives in danger. Um… Iraq, you know the whole “security” thing? You’re doing it wrong. The rods are normally being used in place of physical inspections of vehicles and show no signs of working: (via PZ Myers)
The Iraqis, however, believe passionately in them. “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of theMinistry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives.
Dale Murray, head of the National Explosive Engineering Sciences Security Center at Sandia Labs, which does testing for the Department of Defense, said the center had “tested several devices in this category, and none have ever performed better than random chance.”
The Justice Department has warned against buying a variety of products that claim to detect explosives at a distance with a portable device. Normal remote explosives detection machinery, often employed in airports, weighs tons and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. The ADE 651’s clients are mostly in developing countries; no major country’s military or police force is a customer, according to the manufacturer.
Whew, General Jabiri just cares about whether the wands work! I’m sure that as soon as things are explained, he’ll see the light of reason, righ–
Oh dear. Why bother with a sensible, naturalistic explanation when we can use unsubstantiated supernatural mumbo-jumbo? Oh, that’s right: because there are people counting on these devices to keep explosives off the street. I suppose bombings would go down if people believed the wands to work… but I wouldn’t want to pin my hopes on only having gullible enemies.
“I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them,” General Jabiri said. “I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world.”
He attributed the decrease in bombings in Baghdad since 2007 to the use of the wands at checkpoints. American military officials credit the surge in American forces, as well as the Awakening movement, in which Iraqi insurgents turned against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, for the decrease.
How can he possibly defend the use of unscientific nonsense?
Proponents of the wand often argue that errors stem from the human operator, who they say must be rested, with a steady pulse and body temperature, before using the device.
Then the operator must walk in place a few moments to “charge” the device, since it has no battery or other power source, and walk with the wand at right angles to the body. If there are explosives or drugs to the operator’s left, the wand is supposed to swivel to the operator’s left and point at them.
If, as often happens, no explosives or weapons are found, the police may blame a false positive on other things found in the car, like perfume, air fresheners or gold fillings in the driver’s teeth.