Divining Intervention

Some quackery is obvious – there are posters, flashy ad campaigns, the works. Sometimes, though, it floats under the radar, waiting for someone to stumble upon it accidentally.

Today, I was trying to find some information on public water supply in Dublin. As you might expect, I turned to the official websites of the various councils and boards involved to try to find accurate information. One such website is the usually extremely useful Citizens Information site. This site is an Irish eGovernment initiative, and is maintained by the Citizens Information Board – in other words, it’s properly official. It’s the responsibility of the board to provide accurate and up-to-date information on all manner of public and social services available in Ireland (among other things).

As I tried to find the information I was looking for, I spotted some odd information under the Private Water Supplies section. I’ve quoted the section here:

If you are not part of a water supply scheme (capital or group), you will have to consider boring your own well and drawing out groundwater to supply your needs. One way of finding a suitable spot for a well to hire a water diviner to find out if there is groundwater beneath your land. However, even if a water diviner can tell you where to dig, he or she will not be able to tell you how deep you will have to drill or how much water you are likely to get. You can get this information from the Geological Survey of Ireland and it is usually free of charge.

Yes, that’s right. If you’d like to have your own connection to the groundwater, and want to know where you should put your well, the Citizens Information Board are happy to direct you to hire a water diviner. Water divination, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the process by which someone walks up and down with a y shaped stick, or “dowsing rod”, and when it points downwards, tells you that there is water present. If you think that this sounds ridiculous, and like it has absolutely no basis in modern science, you would be absolutely right. To date, water divining has not been shown to be any more effective than random chance. Indeed, prestigious scientific journal Nature puts dowsing in the category of “effects which until recently were claimed to be paranormal but which can now be explained from within orthodox science”, with dowsing effects being a result of the observer-expectancy effect and probability (i.e. random chance).

Worse still, a perfectly accurate and completely free resource, in the form of the Geographical Society of Ireland’s groundwater web map, is shunted to the bottom, and inexplicably recommended as something you might check after consulting a water diviner, but only to see how deep you might have to drill.

Honestly, I occasionally despair for the future of this country sometimes…