Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dawkins Uses Dowsing to Demonstrate Scientific Testing

Dawkins exposes a practice here called dowsing. Dowsing uses a rod (not a metal detector) or stick of sorts to find precious metals or water. Sound silly? Don't say that to the people charging for it. The importance of this video is less about how silly dowsing looks. Rather, the importance is how Dawkins highlights logical fallacies that we are all susceptible to and how scientific methodology may rectify that faulty thinking.

Here are a couple big ones:

  • Having either the participant or the tester know a correct response can signal subtle cues. Classic example: Clever Hans (above) was thought to be able to do simple arithmetic by taping his hoof. His owner didn't even know he was signaling his horse. Solution: use a double blind method where neither the participant nor the experimenter knows what the correct answer is.

  • Confirmation biases are when we tend to remember events that confirm our belief and dismiss events that disconfirm. Imagine those who think they have ESP because they can predict a friend calling. They may dismiss all the times they didn't think of their friend and their friend called anyway. They also dismiss when they thought of their friend and their friend didn't call. Solution: Use statistics to determine whether the outcome would have likely occurred by chance. Retest to avoid false positives (Type I error).

But no one falls for these things . . . right?

The military in Iraq and Afghanistan have mud on their faces after this one. Thailand government beat them to the punch in halting use of the "high tech" dowsing rod.

Perhaps the reason the US didn't fall prey is because they learned from their mistake from Quadro Corp. Quadro Corp. sold a substantially similar looking device to police, schools, and airports in multiple states in the US in the 90's. The cost to tax payers: $400 to $8,000 per unit. This is embarrassing.

But this is not quite as embarrassing as when the US government gave millions of dollars to the CIA from the 1970's to 1995 to research "remote viewing" to psychically survey enemies from afar. This was code named Project Stargate.

1 comment:

  1. My parents in law in montana hired someone to locate an underground stream after drilling for it twice and missing. That person used a willow. (He didn't believe it either but the cost was thousands each time- he got a good laugh but couldn't dispute the results) Perhaps it's magnetic, I don't know but sometimes folk methods are found to have merit after we've laughed at them for decades. For instance, the Israelis are using leeches to save fingers that were blown almost to hamburger, and in India they had a cure for leprosy, but the english doctors laughed it off like they were fools.


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