Divining an opportunity for Methven

Few events have so captured the local imagination as the search for a thermal bore near Methven. Word of the search spread after a drilling rig appeared in a paddock. Nothing unusual in rigs — they dot Mid-Canterbury in the eternal quest for reliable sources of irrigation water. This rig, though, was not after cold water, but hot.

Those involved believe that if a hot bore is struck, it will do Methven no end of good. The town is already a key player in Mid-Canterbury’s tourism industry. Not too much imagination is needed to contemplate the uses, if found, for thermal water. It would undoubtedly lead to spas and exponential growth.

There are, of course, a few sceptics, but Peter Donald is not one of them. He is a water diviner with many years of experience. Now he has turned his attention to the thermal water he and others are pretty sure is there.

Denis Dutton, spokesman for New Zealand Skeptics, has this take on divining: “Most water diviners are utterly sincere, and they usually have a good strike rate because there is so much water scattered about.” But he said he would like to see a New Zealand diviner who could show with certainty where there was no water.

Everyone in Mid-Canterbury has an opinion on the likelihood of finding underground hot water. But successful or otherwise, no one will be able to say Peter Donald did not give it his best shot.
Originally published in the Press, June 19

Divine result pleases Australian Skeptics

A $110,000 prize offered by Australian Skeptics Incorporated is safe after testing a world record number of water diviners at Mitta Mitta on Sunday. A total of 52 diviners, or dowsers, used an array of forked sticks, fencing wire, copper wire and bare hands to test their ability to divine water in surface containers on a green of the Mitta Mitta golf course.

Twenty two-litre bottles were filled with either tap water or sand, wrapped in brown paper, numbered and positioned in a large circle. Diviners were able to calibrate their equipment before the start and had only to identify the contents of each bottle without time restrictions. Sigrid Condon, a Mt Beauty mother with no divining experience, up-staged the line-up of professionals with the highest score of 14 out of 20 correct.

Bob Nixon, chief inspector of the Skeptics, said all scores fell into an expected pattern of random results – “The scores skewed towards failure: there were more bad scores below 10”, said Mr Nixon.

“We weren’t surprised. It was exactly what we predicted would happen.”

Midway through the test, a hostile group of diviners demanded Mr Nixon reposition the bottles, claiming interference from underground streams.

“We asked them to draw a map of the area and seven marked out streams, but there was absolutely no correlation between them”, Mr Nixon said.

The test was almost thrown into disarray when a dog, belonging to a Skeptics member, left his watery mark on one of the packages, calling a temporary halt to competition.

Mr Nixon said the event represented a new world record for the most diviners tested at the same place in one day, and the result added to the body of evidence accumulated over the past 20 years that divining is nothing more than random guessing.

Berrigan dairy farmer and diviner Shane Spunner was skeptical of the Skeptics’ ability to stage a fair test. “The test should have been made fairer by finding an area with no underground water”, he said.

From The Weekly Times, Victoria, Southern NSW, 14 March 2001.

The Good Oil on Divining

James Randi has demonstrated that a water diviner has a 94% chance of success in finding water for the simple reason that 94% of the land surface has fresh water immediately below its surface. The diviner is likely to fail miserably when he/she is asked to find a dry spot. The notion that water flows in rivers underground is only true for some exceptional places, usually associated with limestone deposits. Normally, water is trapped in microscopic pores and only moves a few centimetres to a few hundred meters per year. Similar misconceptions and statistics are seen in oil divining.

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I am sure Jim Ring is correct when he says we are on the winning side of the creationist battle [Forum, Summer 1997], but there is no room for complacency. As he says, the castrated form of biology taught in American schools has resulted in a minority of Americans believing organic evolution has occurred.

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