Dowsing, Divining, and Debunking Down Under

By Phil Plait | June 1, 2006 10:10 pm

My good friend Richard Saunders (truly a super man) hails from Sydney, Australia. He is co-partner of Mystery Investigators, and among his many talents (including fantastic origami) he is a videographer and editor.

He has been furiously putting lots of wonderful skeptical videos online at Google Video. You can watch James Randi take on water dowsers (people who claim they can sense water underground), or you can see footage from the 2004 National Australian Skeptics meeting in Sydney, where a panel discussed creationism– I was on that panel, and had a lot of fun. Some of the sound is hard to hear, but luckily I don’t speak with that weird Ozzie accent, so you can understand me.

There are several other videos posted too, so you can laze away your Friday (or weekend) checking out how those upside-down koala-smacking galahs and drongos fare under the withering stare of the Australian Skeptics.


Comments (20)

  1. Dude

    Thank you BA! This is exactly the sort of thing that
    I was looking for on Google Video! I hope he uploads a
    whole lot more!

  2. On a trip to Salisbury in England to visit Stonehenge and surrounding areas, we had a great time at Avebury, the world’s largest stone circle. One of the hucksters was renting out dowsing rods, in this case metal rods with a 90 degree bend near the end that inserted into a plastic sleeve to allow them to rotate. In theory, this would allow people to discover the ley lines that converged there, whose utility I had previously thought was limited to being harnessed by fighting clerics and some wizards in D&D and other role playing games.

    Needless to say, I got some great photographs of people discovering, unbeknownst to them but not to me, that in the presence of gravity and friction objects acquire a minimum potential energy state, and thus dowsing rods sense the inclination of the ground at your feet and point inevitably downhill. Newton would have been so proud.

    Avebury, it should be said, is a gorgeous town, whose sheep are remarkably well mannered in the presence of people exhibiting approximately equal levels of groupthink.

  3. I was at Stonehenge about a month back and I was thrilled of how sober their audio tour was. The supernatural aspects that some people accredit to the creation and abilities of Stonehenge was played down to a footnote that could almost be seen as ridicule.
    Great stuff, too bad that it’s located at the fork of two busy roads, and the tourists… GO AWAY, I’m sightseeing here….

  4. Geoff

    He’s a great guy and thanks Phil for mentioning him. WE need more people like him. I have to admit, I found his crop circle debunking a little disappointing however. I think it’s important to know what the other side thinks passes for science. The site that woman mentioned was so full of logical fallacies it made my head spin.

  5. Karl

    I like knowing that you care about the Australian accent.

  6. gazza666

    Bloody cheek. It’s your Yankee accent that is the weird one, Phil. :)

  7. Kaptain K

    Is it just English, or are other languages so fractionalized, accent-wise, that two people whu speak the same “language” can barely understand each other?

  8. Kaptain K

    Dang!!! I need to proofread before posting. That whould have read:

    Is it just English, or are other languages so factionalized, accent-wise, that two people who speak the same “language” can barely understand each other?

  9. Kaptain K

    I give up!

    Dang!!! I need to proofread before posting. That should have read:

    Is it just English, or are other languages so factionalized, accent-wise, that two people who speak the same “language” can barely understand each other?

    I tried to bold two words and half my post wound up bolded! Sheesh.

  10. Roy Batty

    Kaptain K, just what are you trying to say, I don’t understand 😉 😀

  11. icemith

    Yeah, g’day Phil, howya goin’ ? D’jahavagoodweekend?

    Ok, enough of that nonsense, I may say it sometimes, but I don’t usually encourage it. Then again our broadening of the vowels is our particular preference. And all of the English speaking dialects have their own variations that endear them to others, though I guess not all.

    Glad to see Karl commenting– I’m also guessing it is the Karl we in Sydney at least, know and regard so well. (The Doctor is in??)

    I’ll download the movies tomorrow as I have to get to bed now, and I still have two (2) Superman trailers in the dock, (minimised!), the desktop takes a little while to think about doing anything at the moment. It is a bit painful. The grandson hasn’t seen them running in their widescreen glory yet, nor the last weekend’s movie from his Annual Air cadets’ street march and parade, all 30 minutes of it also open in the dock. Gotta get more organised!

    Kapyain k, I know how frustrating it is without that preview button. I am quite sure I have corrected all the typos but one sneeks through somehow, nearly every time.

    Phil, any progress on that front……..Please?


  12. icemith

    Sorry Kaptain K, I knew there would be a typo somewhere. However I’m now using the little trick I’ve found useful for reading small print on the screen, and it works also when typing responses in this comments box. I’m running MAC OS X latest 10.4.6, don’t know about other platforms, but pressing Command (apple) key along with the plus key a couple of times enlarges the type to a more manageable size. (For PCers it may also work- try your equivalent keys, the Command equals Windows key anyhow. There may be another solution somewhere.

    Still want a Preview button before it actually gets sucked into the eather, as a final check, especially for the formatting etc.


  13. Christopher

    I see Google ads is quite convinced that your readers will be interested in purchasing dowsing rods, or the services of a qualified diviner. :-/

    Kaptain K – check out Chinese – it’s basically the same written language (ignoring simplification) but speakers of different regional dialects (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc) can find it very hard to even learn to understand the different dialects – as if they were different languages.

  14. Nigel Depledge

    Kaptain K, the basic answer to your question is yes.

    Not only are there different parts of the world where English is the first or official language (the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, various small islands and India, where I believe English is at least an official language), but there are different areas within the UK that have distinct local accents. To my knowledge, there are distinct accents in north-east England, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Merseyside, the west Midlands, the West Country, the Home Counties and London itself. That’s to say nothing of Wales, Ireland or Scotland, each of which has its own set of accents (I myself have noticed differences in the accent from Ayrshire, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen – and that is just within Scotland).

    Apparently, there is a greater diversity of accents within the UK than across the whole of the US (which has something like 20-50 times the area and 5 times the population).

    My understanding of how this came about relates to the cultural diversity that led to modern English itself. Different parts of what are now the UK had different extents of exposure to different languages and cultures – the Romans, the Angles, Jutes and Saxons, the Danes, the Norse, the Normans (French-spaking descendents of the Norse) and so on. This meant that the Middle English language that arose from the melting pot had different versions in different regions, to the extent that they were, in essence, different languages, albeit very closely-related ones. However, the official language of government was the form of English from the around capital, so the whole UK ended up having to adopt this language (retaining local words to greater or lesser extents – for example, a stream is still a beck in the north of England, and is still a burn in Scotland).

    While everyone had to be able to understand the official version of English (this was not the King’s English – that is a reference to the King James Bible), they mostly retained their original accents.

    So there you have it.

  15. Nigel Depledge

    HAving re-read your final post, KK, I think I misinterpreted it. I was trying to point out that English is a unique case.

  16. Kaptain K


    I was speaking of accents, not dialects. The diferent versions of Chinese are, at least, dialects if not different languages.

  17. Crikey! BA. Its not us Aussies that have weird accents its you Americans …!

    Actually, accents occur everywhere although some are harder to comprehend than others. Unfortunately alot of linguistic diversity is being lost as the imapct ofglobalisation (aka “Americanisation”) hammers everything towards astandrad veryAmerican-based template. American English is overpowering English English, American accents are increasingly invading other nations TV screens and other mass media, cultures are being increasingly americanised and, like many others, I think the world is the poorer for it.

    Not because I have anything against the US & American Culture (although it is sometimes joked that latter term is an oxymoron) but because the loss of diversity is I think damaging as ageneral principle and diminishes rather than enriches us all.

    Japanese has accents and also uses Chinese characters (kanji) often with two readings(pronounciations) ‘kun’ & ‘On’ (Japanese and Chinese) which one applying depending on a whole range of things. It also uses a lot of foreign loan words usually written in distinctive katakana script – and given a very Japanese twist and pronounciation .. If you think Australian is hard … well, try understanding some of that! 😉

  18. Or .. erm.. try understanding posts with a lot of typos and spacing, grammar & other errors in ’em written too quickly … example above.

    Sure wish I could edit these comments replies like other forum posts.

    Oh well , y’all get the gist och aye, to be sure, ce ne pas, inshallah?

  19. Hi all

    I’m putting up lots more videos. The best way to find them is to use this link:


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