Update on the Iraqi magic wand story

By Phil Plait | November 18, 2009 4:00 pm

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Iraqi military employing useless dowsing magic wands to search for explosives at checkpoints, and how this has deadly results. This was based on an article in the New York Times, and the word has now spread far and wide.

Skeptic, physician, and journalist Ben Goldacre wrote about it in The Guardian, and Graeme Wood did so as well for The Atlantic. It was huge on tech and skeptic sites too, like Slashdot, MetaFilter, Gizmodo, and Bruce Hood’s Supersense blog.

It made a brief appearance on TV, too, in this segment on the Rachel Maddow Show:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

And she mentioned friend of the JREF Hal Bidlack by name!

I have heard some rumors — as yet unsubstantiated but encouraging — that members of the U.S. government have taken an interest in this story, too.

What this all shows is that we need to stand up to nonsense and call it out, letting others know when they believe in garbage… especially when it will lead to people getting killed. If enough of us do it, then maybe, just maybe, we can get something done about it.

Remember:

It’s true for reality, too.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Debunking, Politics

Comments (52)

  1. squirrelelite

    I think I like Rachel Maddow. I think I remember another clip of hers (you may have posted it) where she really stuck to someone. I’ll have to track her down on the web since i don’t have cable or satellite.

    BTW. I got out to watch the Leonids the other night about 3:30 AM MST. I may have been early but I saw one streak from the east (probably from Leo) and a couple of streaks from the west (!?).

    At least it was a good night for stargazing, absolutely clear and cold, but I bundled up and didn’t do too bad staying for about 45 minutes. I got a nice view of Sirius and Orion, the Pleiades and Ursa Minor and Major, but I couldn’t look to the east much because of the light in the park next to my house.

    No luck with the photos though.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Slightly off-topic, but is there anyway you could convince her to talk at the next TAM? I know that a lot of people complained that there weren’t enough female speakers and she seems like she would be a good fit.

  3. Sili

    I have heard some rumors — as yet unsubstantiated but encouraging — that members of the U.S. government have taken an interest in this story, too.

    Duuuhhhhhh.

    They want them for the TSA!

    And they’re gonna question Obama about why he’s been withholding such fabulous tech from the US citizens.

  4. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE

    From the Guardian article (emphasis mine):

    The ADE651 uses “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction” and can detect these things from a kilometre away, through walls, under the ground, under water or even from an aeroplane three miles overhead.

    ATSC’s device is handheld. You simply take a piece of plastic-coated cardboard for your chosen target, which has been through “the proprietary process of electrostatic matching of the ionic charge and structure of the substance”, pop it into a holder connected to a wand and start detecting.

    That claim sounds like the pseudoscience jabberwocky that a certain “Electric Universe” proponent (mentioning no names ;-) ) would say!

  5. 1. squirrelelite Says:

    I think I like Rachel Maddow. I think I remember another clip of hers (you may have posted it) where she really stuck to someone. I’ll have to track her down on the web since i don’t have cable or satellite.

    Here’s the link (pending moderation, oh, PHIL!): cut and paste
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/

    I watch both Rachel and Keith Olbermann online rather than DVR’ing their shows, because there are sometimes subjects I don’t particularly care about, so I can ‘pick and choose’ which segments I can watch. KO generally has his “Worst” and “Best” Person segments and Oddball, but Rachel has A Moment of Geek (and you can go back and watch previous shows.. she had a couple of segments in MoG about ‘bombing the Moon’). The Baby Turtles MoG was really cute.

    J/P=?

    J/PPS… was just over on SyFyWyre and saw a NASA PSA with Dwayne Johnson (AKA “The Rock”) promoting NASA… here’s the URL
    http://scifiwire.com/2009/11/guess-which-muscular-acti.php

  6. So glad I am not an Iraqi soldier.

  7. Voltaire-o'-2009

    So glad I’m not Iraqi.

    Or in Iraq.

    Or have anything whatsoever to do with that dreadful, wretched place.

    My sympathy goes out to those not so lucky & especially our heroic troops risking their lives and limbs for the Western values we believe in – like freedom for all & separation of Church & state.

    Using dowsing wands to detect bombs? You may as well use dream catchers to prevent Post Trauamatic Stress. The stupid it … kills. :-(

  8. Brian Too

    There is another way of looking at this you know. It’s definitely “out there”, but try this on.

    The useless devices aren’t there so much for the personnel using them. They are there for the potential bombers. All you gotta do is to convince the terrorists that you have some kind of magic bomb finding device and some of them will go away (admittedly they might just try something else). It’s a sort of security placebo device.

    After all, the bombers don’t generally strike us as real sophisticated, right? I mean some of them certainly are. But the ones carrying the devices?

    Of course there are big holes in this argument, notably that there are effective sniffing devices/systems/animals already available. And it sounds like the manufacturer is blatantly misrepresenting the device. And the bombers are motivated so they’ll just try another angle. And… well, there’s just lots of holes. And since these are argument holes, I’ll dub them A-holes for short!
    ;-)

  9. Voltaire-o'-2009

    @ 8 Brain too: “The useless devices aren’t there so much for the personnel using them. They are there for the potential bombers. All you gotta do is to convince the terrorists that you have some kind of magic bomb finding device and some of them will go away (admittedly they might just try something else). It’s a sort of security placebo device.”

    Well that’s one way to look at it.

    Certainly the terrorists are stupid and guillible as well as cowardly and demented.

    SF writer Arthur C. Clarke noted: “A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I think our “magic” here should be our advanced technology that y’know actually *works* not superstitious tripe that doesn’t.

    There is one idea I’ve had that would use the Islamists stupid cultish superstitions against them. It would also turn their hostage taking tactic against them in a poetic justice twist.

    I think we should target Mecca & Medina their most sacred sites with H-bombs and hold these key idols hostage against them just as they have held so many innocent people hostage against us Westerners. We should tell the Jihadists that unless they stop fighting, turn over bin Laden for justice for 9-11 and start behaving rationally with not one more terrorist atrocity, Mecca and Medina become seas of molten glass. And we should mean it.

    The threat to burn out the heart of Islam once and for all and destroy their chance to go through the whole Haj ritual is the one threat that might actually make them pause and cease and desist their campaign to wipe us all out and turn the whole world into an islamofascist Kalifate.

    To get their attention and let them know we’re really serious before or just after issuing this threat we should nuke (or use daisy cutters) on Tehran, the Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Gaza.

    But sadly we’re far too nice a culture & far too self-destructively “politically correct” to ever use this sort of tactic unfortunately.

    At least not until a major US city gets nuked first by these whackjobs. :-(

  10. Cairnos

    @9 Voltaire-o’-2009

    I think that the slight flaw with this plan is that we currently have a relatively small number of complete nutjobs in amongst a really large number of basically sane followers of Islam. Nuke mecca and those categories swap places.

    Plus, you can guarantee that once such a threat was made all of our aryan supremacist nutjobs (they don’t have a monopoly on this remember) will start looking around for some disguises, practising a few islamic phrases and working out the best way to provoke the retaliatory strike.

    And last, who is going to call up the Chinese and Russians and say ‘Hi we’re about to lob a few ICBMs with fusion warheads about. Don’t worry, none of them are aimed at you, trust us’

  11. taiki

    I love TRMS. Rachel Maddow had a Just Enough segment with Kent Jones(Vigilance!) where they tore into the 2012 thing. it was beautiful.

  12. Hi Phil

    Please watch this video, if well in spanish I think you’ll find interesting:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRqGyqZtc8g

    Yes, it’s a mexican soldier showing the GT200 to the press. So sad…

  13. Robert

    I believe that I saw in a related story somewhere that some US police agencys bought these devices as well.

  14. semi

    Rachel’s comment that “none of the [bomb detectors] performed better than flipping a coin” is incorrect. Flipping a coin gives you a 50% chance of success; the dowsing rods have a much lower success rate. What she should have said is that they perform no better than chance or random screening.

  15. James B

    Now come on #9, lets not get silly. That kind of policy would be more damaging than the mumbo-jumbo wand could ever be. Still learning lessons from Versailles 90 years on.

    That said, I sympathise that you want to vent frustration, and its hard to do that when fighting an enemy you can’t see, an enemy unrestrained by global media.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the US government gets involved. Surely any comment they make about the wands will have repercussions for domestic policy, regarding quackery at home? It will also raise the amusing issue of “its alright to believe in this invisible hocum, but that invisible hocum is just preposterous!” but its not like that’s a new one.

  16. @Voltaire-o’-2009
    Nuking Mecca would just be grist for the mill for the nutjobs. Remember they commit suicide to “advance” their cause. They’re not above sacrificing innocents either. So nuking Mecca would be cathartic but counter productive in the long run.

  17. PeteC

    @Voltaire-o’-2009

    Don’t assume that the enemy is vastly less capable, intelligent or motivated than you are. If Washington DC was nuked, would the American people fold in terror at the destruction of their capitol? If the Vatican was nuked, would all the Catholics wordwide collapse, certain that Christianity was foolish?

    I suspect the answer is in fact the opposite. If Washington, or New York, or LA, or even Houston was vaporised, there would be a groundswell of anger that would motivate the US into phenomenal retaliation. In much the same way, if you want the entire Islamic world, including that supposed strong ally Saudi Arabia (possibly the most fundamentalist muslim nation of all) who sells you a huge chunk of the oil you burn (and, incidentally, who you’re threatening to nuke) to rise from “grumble grumble don’t really like those Yanks” to abject fury, then go ahead.

    The problem of course is that you might never be able to finish that war without multi-generational massive occupancy and re-education of the entire middle east and parts of the far east such as Indonesia. And you’ll be conscripting every US adult male, and a fair chunk of the females, for a decade or two tour for all that time in order to do it. Alternatively, you’d be forced into outright genocide. Since you’re suggesting the murder of literally millions of people who have never done you any harm – sorry, most of the population of Tehran are just regular people going about their lives – just to “let them know we’re really serious”, perhaps genocide would be your preferred option.

    Finally, you’d lose pretty much all support. I know it sometimes doesn’t seem like you get much anyway, but you get a lot of passive support (even those nations that think that invading Iraq was a dumb idea still generally would prefer that you win, now you’re there). Unfortunately, the willingness to use nukes to take hostages would push every other nation into arming rapidly. Who knows when its their turn to be threatened? Nobody would ever trust you again without their own nukes to keep you honest.

  18. Ohhhhh… we have another insanely idiotic contender (Voltaire-o’-2009) for “most stupid post of 2009″ award. For comparison, another entry here was someone few weeks ago insisting that flying to Mars is wayyy easier than flying to Moon.

  19. StevoR

    @ 9. Voltaire-o’-2009 :

    To get their attention and let them know we’re really serious before or just after issuing this threat we should nuke (or use daisy cutters) on Tehran, the Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Gaza.

    Consider this :

    Population of Tehran = 7 million people. (16th largest city in the world.)

    Population of Afghanistan = 28,150,000 people

    & of Pakistan = 180,800,000 (Sixth most populous country in the world.)

    & population of Gaza = 1.5 million (extremely densely populated with civilians & Hamas members living inextricably close.)

    Source : Wikipedia, 2009 accessed today and all up to date.

    Do you really want to kill this many people & wipe out this much of the world? Do you?

    Remember at least 95 % of all the people living in these places do so simply by accident of birth and are ordinary people who have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism. Over half are innocent women and children.

    Would you really be happy about such a massive death toll or don’t Muslims count as human for you?

    Of course that would just be for starters as your thuggish “plan” continues :

    I think we should target Mecca & Medina their most sacred sites with H-bombs and hold these key idols hostage against them just as they have held so many innocent people hostage against us Westerners. We should tell the Jihadists that unless they stop fighting, turn over bin Laden for justice for 9-11 and start behaving rationally with not one more terrorist atrocity, Mecca and Medina become seas of molten glass. And we should mean it.

    Population of Mecca = 1.7 million

    Population of Medina = 1,300,000 people

    Hey why not go the whole hog and exterminate the entire Muslim population on the planet? I mean after doing the first part of your plan you’d really just have to for the surviving Muslim world’s thirst for revenge and well-justified fury would be unquenchable.

    So that’s a grand total of :

    1.57 billion people RIP murdered by “Voltaire-O’-2009″..

    Congratulations, you’re willing to be a worse genocide than Mao, Hitler & Stalin combined.

    Still I’m sure that’d make the rest of the world roll over & worship at Amerika’s feet. :roll:
    …. Not!

    Your plan, (re)Volty, would unite the whole world against your nation, murder over a billion people and usher in World War III. :-( (Understatement!)

    I think we’d better pass on listening to any more advice from you.

    PS. You’re not really Dick Cheney posting online by another name are you? :roll:

  20. StevoR

    @ 18. MaDeR

    For comparison, another entry here was someone few weeks ago insisting that flying to Mars is wayyy easier than flying to Moon.

    Where? Sounds positively sane in comparison. ;-)

  21. James B

    Why spend time taking it seriously? Wasted effort. Get back on topic, those magic wands are still there and much more annoying :p

  22. GregB

    Looks like the ATSC website is down for maintenance.

    http://www.atscltd.co.uk/

    Just a coincidence?

  23. Nomen Publicus

    If only we could persuade terrorists that a bit of paper with the word BOMB printed on it was a good as a real bomb or that a tiny, tiny amount of explosive was more powerful than huge bomb.

    The trouble is, terrorists expect their bombs to have actual measurable results.

    Sigh.

  24. Ken

    > a tiny, tiny amount of explosive was more powerful than huge bomb.

    Homeopathic terrorism!

  25. ntsc

    @9

    And if I recall Jerusalem is the third holy city of Islam.

  26. sophia8

    Ignoring the troll – a group of posters on both the JREF forum and the UK Skeptics forum have been digging up info on the people behind this scam. The UK’s Ministry of Truth blog has also been posting about it.
    More than enough information been put online now to nail somebody.

    And kudos to Col Bidlack as well. I’ve followed him for years on the JREF forums and he’s a man of integrity and loyalty.

  27. Michael

    We are very sure these devices are worthless as real detectors, but the idea that they may be some sort of superstitious placebos is interesting. Is a device, otherwise nonfunctional, worthy of consideration because of an irrational superstitious fear of it? These play on the ignorance of the perpetrators, scaring them into avoiding attacks…or maybe not.

    The suicide bomber remains the radical Islamists weapon of mass destruction. It is not only effective as an explosive weapon, it’s very effective as a terror weapon. The constant fear of suicide bombers is very wearying to security forces.

    If there could be some freedom and enlightenment in the lives of folks who live in the radicalized countries, we wouldn’t need the threat of nuclear annihilation. That seems like a pipe dream, as a glance at our own nation shows ignorance and superstition are still winning out over reason and evidence.

  28. Voltaire-o'-2009

    Okay, no I guess I wouldn’t really nuke Tehran etc .. My plan wasn’t entirely serious there & I was having a bit of a bad day. On reflection, I got carried away, tired and emotional. Sorry.

    That said, perhaps the disloyal anti-Western left here may want to try and remember who started this war and how it began? 3,000 dead Americans and the twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon being hit by hostage filled jet airliners ring any bells?

    Islam started this war. Islam motivated and drove Osama bin Laden and Mohammad Atta and inspired 9-11. The terrorists attacks on the West & Israel are committed by Islamists for Islam in name of their Allah delusion. That’s just incontravertable fact.

    You can say what you like about about “Not all muslims support terrorism” but truth is far too many do. Not all Muslims are terrorists but most terrorists are, in stark fact, Muslim.

    Islam is NOT a religion of peace. From its earliest beginnings it was spread by the sword and by forced conversions, all headed by a delusional old nutcase who thought it was okay to marry a girl of nine or so. Muhammad began his “preaching” with theiving murdering plundering raids on other Arabs caravans. Jesus never did that nor did Buddha. Not that I believe in them either but some religions are worse than others – and there’s clear evidence here that Islam is one of the worst.

    Islam is the only major religion that teaches that its “martyrdom” to blow yourself up on a bus containing innocent people or fly jetliners into buildings in a sneak attack. Islam alone says that homicide-suicide bombers get rewarded with endless virgins in heaven and worships the sick brain-washed suckers that commit such atrocities.

    Islam alone of the major religions says its great and sanctioned by Allah to behead adulterous women and western journalists and execute gay men. Or, at least, says that in practice now.

    I have no hesitation in saying such Islamic values enrage and disgust me and that yes, Islam & its followers *are* a clear and present danger to us & should be viewed and treated accordingly. I cannot understand how people esp. on the “tolerant” left can be so sympathetic to such bigoted warped, inhumane, rubbish as makes up Islam, esp. the terrorist Jihadist variety of it. (Which I’ll also note doesn’t get nearly condemned enough by the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims who are more keen to whinge about minor and petty “injustices” against them like racial profiling & extra unease by non-Muslim neighbours sparked by their violent co-religionists actions rather than tackle their own extremists.)

    Never forget too that while the Western sides here (incl. Israel) always tries to minimise the number of innocent civilians victims in this war, the terrorists are deliberately trying to kill as many innocent civilans as possible – even those of their own faith & nationalities.

    No, I wouldn’t nuke em or advocate mass murder, not really.

    But I sure won’t shed any tears if anything bad does happen to them when we finish this war that they started. Our western American values (eg. freedom, tolerance, respect for others incl,. women, homosexuals etc ..) really are superior to theirs and I’m not ashamed to say so either.

    Honestly, I do wish Islam (But *NOT* its people) would disappear from the planet making the world a better place thereby. Because this ugly, brutal, insane Allah delusion is one of the worst of all religions as its victims will tell you anyday. Just read the news & there’s more than enough proof of this from Pakistan homicide bombings to Afghanistan corruption and tribal war. From Hamas in Gaza to our corrupt hypocritical and untrustworthy Saudi “allies”. To Fort Hood and 9-11 here to the London subway, Moscow theatre and Bali bombings. Islam is bad news & bad thinking – that’s pure fact & public record.

    And if StevoR and his fellow travellers don’t like what I have to say about this then I just hope there’s some truth to reincarnation (yeah I know there’s not) and they are born in their next lives as lesbian left-handed pig-farming jews in a Muslim sharia law nation. :-P

  29. Quiet Desperation

    really large number of basically sane followers of Islam

    If you include following any religion, especially one as life-permeating as Islam, on the list of “sane” activities.

    If Washington DC was nuked, would the American people fold in terror at the destruction of their capitol?

    Nah, we’d armor up and go scavving for ammo and Nuka-Cola Quantums in the ruins. :-)

    That’s actually a nice example of the difference between the cultures:

    Draw a cartoon of Mohammed = death threats and violence

    Depict D.C. as a bombed out ruin = massive hit video game

    Well, if you ignore the Fallout 1 & 2 fanboyen.

    I think we should target Mecca

    Couldn’t we just hire George Clooney to steal it? Brick by brick. We could call it Operation Ocean’s 72.

  30. Islam alone of the major religions says its great and sanctioned by Allah to behead adulterous women and western journalists and execute gay men. Or, at least, says that in practice now.

    Yeah, of course the Judeo-Christian traditions have absolutely no history of stoning women to death, or using witches as kindling, or putting to death those abominable homos.

    Dare I say it? Hatred, bigotry, and ignorance don’t need any particular creed. Human beings are pretty good at coming up with any old excuse.

    And for the record, Voltman, there were no Iraqis involved in the attacks of September 11. They didn’t “start” anything. But I guess that’s just dirty ol’ lefty talk, huh?

  31. Voltaire, like you said, 3000 people died in the WTC and Pentagon attacks. ~40,000 Americans die every year because they can’t get adequate health care. Maybe your genocidal hatred is a bit: a) misplaced, and b) an overreaction. You’re in the same group of people who think spending a trillion dollars in response to that attack is A-OK, but spending half that to help provide healthcare to everyone is somehow over the line. You’re not in good company with this idea.

    Anyway, all religions are stupid and dangerous. The hatred that causes people to crash planes into buildings is the same kind of hatred that makes Christians think gay marriage will be the end of the world. It’s simply a matter of degree. Eliminating Islam isn’t going to get rid of the idiocy and the insanity.

  32. Ken

    @Voltaire,

    Iraq did not attack New York and Washington. A group based in Afghanistan did.

    IMHO, had our leaders kept their eye on that ball we would be in a very very different situation now. Did you notice that so far more American lives were lost during our occupation of Iraq than A.Q. took in the 2001 attacks? Afghanistan was where our attention should have stayed focused; I’m fully convinced would have been caught or killed by now (but then who would Pres. Cheney have had to scare people into accepting the “Patriot” Act and think waterboarding is a good idea?).

    Saddam was a world-class jerk, brutal to his own people, somewhat threatening to his neighbors (esp. Israel) but really not a threat to the US (evidently he met with Bin Laden at some point but they really didn’t get along – B.L. was way too religous-fundamentalist for Saddam). Now, however, the country is out of control and is a happy breeding ground for the very people W claimed to be trying to go after. Thanks a lot.

  33. Quiet Desperation

    Yeah, of course the Judeo-Christian traditions have absolutely no history of stoning women to death, or using witches as kindling, or putting to death those abominable homos.

    Not that I disagree, but how is this an answer to a religion that is doing this *right* *now*? I’m not sure if it’s a starwman or a non sequitur or both.

    If I bring up the state of human rights for some groups under Islam, someone invariably says “Christians did the same thing long ago!”

    Yeah… and? So it’s OK for someone else to do it now? Other than bringing up something that most people already know, what’s the precise point here?

    Declaring “humans in general can be crappy for any reason” isn’t exactly a major newsflash. Go look at the XBox/PS3 message board wars. ;-) Or when the XBoxians and PS3-folken team up against the Wii-ites. Oh, my, it’s ugly!

  34. @ Quiet Desperation:

    My comment is strictly in response to Voltaire’s idiotic statement that (quote) Islam alone of the major religions says its great and sanctioned by Allah to behead adulterous women and western journalists and execute gay men. (unquote)

    I agree, it is all too easy to bring up past discretions involving religions that have largely (but not entirely) moved on to higher moral grounds, but it was the blunt statement of erroneous fact I wanted to counter. As others have corrected, the majority of Muslims do not believe they are sanctioned to murder people.

    As for newsflashes, well, none was intended. Isn’t it obvious we’re all a bunch of nits?

  35. FriendlyPrimate

    @8 Brian Too:
    I think you might be onto something here. I could conceivably believe that the wands cause troublemakers to act uncomfortable, which could be subconsciously detected by the wand holders, causing them to subconsciously manipulate the wands themselves. In that way, they may “work”. And that might be difficult to scientifically test, because it would only work against truly scared/guilty people, which would be a difficult test group to put together.

  36. DB

    I have seen that picture before and it makes absolutely no sense.
    Perhaps someone can explain it.

  37. Gary Ansorge

    29. Voltaire-o’-2009 Says:

    “Islam is NOT a religion of peace. From its earliest beginnings it was spread by the sword and by forced conversions, all headed by a delusional old nutcase who thought it was okay to marry a girl of nine or so. Muhammad began his “preaching” with theiving murdering plundering raids on other Arabs caravans. Jesus never did that nor did Buddha. Not that I believe in them either but some religions are worse than others – and there’s clear evidence here that Islam is one of the worst.”

    Ooookay now. You’ve just pushed my button.
    First: Islam IS just as peaceful as Judaism/Christianity and for pretty much the same reasons. It is another derivative of Judaism, meaning it derives its authenticity from Judaism.

    Second:The old saw about “conversion at the point of a sword” is just pure hokum. What the Muslim warrior did, was if, while in the Midst of battle, a defeated opponent yelled “Allah is God and Mohammed is his Prophet” the Muslim warrior was REQUIRED by his religion to assume the defeated individual was, in reality, a Muslim and in Islam, a good Muslim is not allowed to kill a fellow Muslim, even thought there was a good chance the defeated was just fooling. What was then done to that person was to follow them around and make sure they practiced Islam.
    It wasn’t “conversion”. It was merely erring on the side of religious mandate.

    I expect if you mentioned this to most native Americans they’d laugh all the way to the local christian church.

    Gary 7

  38. Quiet Desperation

    Isn’t it obvious we’re all a bunch of nits?

    Yes, it is obvious *you* are all a bunch of nits. ;-)

    I’m just bored today waiting on coworkers to get their acts together. I just want to go home and play Dragon Age. I’ll shout “For Allah! Souls devoured for mighty Allah!” every time I kill a darkspawn tonight.

  39. Gary Ansorge

    39. QD:

    Just remember to yell “Allah Ahkbar”. (God is great). It sounds so much more authentic that way.

    Gary 7

  40. FriendlyPrimate

    Uh…how did a discussion on what are essentially dowsing rods devolve into a debate on Islam? (I guess I could read the entire thread…but I’m lazy)

  41. Gary Ansorge

    Hey, I just found a new word from SciAm:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=rational-and-irrational-thought&sc=SA_20091118

    It’S DISRATIONALIA, rather like dyslexia, only it applies to rationality. We all know people who score well on IQ tests, yet still seem unable to rationally analyze the world around them. Seems they just don’t have the right intellectual/knowledge tools(Bill Maher, are you listening?).

    Oh, and this does seem to apply to this post.

    Gary 7

  42. @ FriendlyPrimate:

    You’re new around here, aren’t you? :)

  43. James B

    @ the posts about the mere “expectation” the wand works preventing attacks

    Yes its an interesting idea, but no it doesn’t make this $40k joke worthwhile. It depends on a very key principle: the would-be-attackers believe it can detect bombs.

    While that may work for a little while, as soon as the illusion is shattered they become useless, and in fact counter-productive as attackers learn that they can appear “checked” and “cleared” by a security checkpoint, while at the same time carrying explosives. So any effect it has as a deterrant will be strictly limited and diminish to zero over time, at the cost of $40k per wand, x wands per checkpoint, x checkpoints per square kilometre.

    I do like the fact that that effect may save a handful of lives, but taking the $100m the government has spent on these wands and instead spending it on actual bomb/weapon detection equipment would be factors of 100 times more useful.

    voltaire2009 seems so worried about the liberal left, but you’ve got nothing to worry about, you don’t have a liberal left in the States, only centre-right and far-right, so sleep well.

  44. There is an old story of cops putting a colander over the head of the suspect, asking him questions, and pulling the “answer” from a copy machine, and were sufficiently convincing that they got a breakdown and confession.

  45. Buzz Parsec

    @Kuhnigget,

    Yeah, all but the thing about the witches. We all know that witches, like ducks, are made of wood and are therefore flammable, and hence must be burned.

    Trying to apply logic and reasoning to insane premises just doesn’t work. Here we unite the notions underlying the magic bomb detectors, blowing up Mecca and radical Islamic fundamentalists into one big “Don’t go there if you want to retain your sanity” blob.

    On the other hand, stealing Mecca brick-by-brick has real possibilities. After all, the Brits stole the Elgin marbles and lots of Egyptian artifacts, and this seems to have prevented both Athena and Isis from making comebacks.

    Snake-oil peddler: What’s more, my special elixir is a very effective elephant repellent.

    Skeptic: But there aren’t any elephants around here.

    Snake-oil peddler: See! It works!

  46. 39. Quiet Desperation Says:

    I’m just bored today waiting on coworkers to get their acts together. I just want to go home and play Dragon Age. I’ll shout “For Allah! Souls devoured for mighty Allah!” every time I kill a darkspawn tonight.

    A friend/acquaintance of mine was headed home from Japan, and found a Flight Sim game at the airport. When he was playing and the announcement for his flight came up, he just headed the plane for the ground and said “Allah Akbar” and ended the game.

    He was in Naval Intelligence, BTW..
    :)

    J/P=?

  47. Quiet Desperation

    My way is more Michael Moorcockish.

    Wait… Moorcocky?

  48. Dear Phil,
    I have received an invitation to visit Jim McCormick, the man behind the devices. I think that this will be a wild goose chase but I guess I can’t pass on this opportunity.
    Bruce

  49. Andrew

    Update: the BBC reports that export of this device from the UK is to be banned – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8471187.stm – and The Times says he has been arrested for fraud – http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6997859.ece He is quoted as saying that “We have been dealing with doubters for ten years. One of the problems we have is that the machine does look a little primitive. We are working on a new model that has flashing lights.”(!)

    Per the suggestion made by Bob Park this week regarding the use of the polygraph to catch spies – http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN10/wn011510.html – perhaps they should try tossing a coin instead.

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