Oh, FFSMS. After countless tests showing them useless, articles about them being useless, challenges from Randi and others to prove they are not useless, and the company head arrested for suspicion of fraud because they’re useless, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki has ordered that the (useless) magic wand dowsing rod bomb-sniffers should still be utilized.
At least al-Maliki wanted them tested. Still. This angers me:
The survey, ordered by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, found the British device, known as ADE651, generally worked. However some of the gadgets, found to be ineffective, would be replaced.
A government spokesman later said only 50% of the devices worked.
"Replaced?" With what, fairy dust? Unicorn horns? And I’d love to know how those tests were done. I bet it would’ve been cheaper to send a dozen of the wands to Randi and let him take a look. And if they did work, not only would Iraq get the wands back, but Randi would include a check for a million bucks which they could use to buy more of the kits.
I have to say, it’s been a good year for skeptics, but we clearly have a long way to go. Thailand and Iraq are both relying on provably worthless junk to find bombs, and what will happen instead is that those bombs will find people. Hundreds of them, thousands. That’s what happens when we turn their backs on reality and instead rely on superstition and antiscience. It’s way too late in this world to do such a thing, and when people in power do it, a lot of lives will be lost.
Some people cannot learn.
Thai army chief General Anupong Paojinda is defending the use of what are essentially magic wands to detect bombs, even though the specific device they use has been tested repeatedly and failed to perform. This device is essentially the same as the ones used in Iraq and Afghanistan which have been proven worthless, and for which the head of the manufacturing company, Jim McCormick, has been arrested for suspicion of fraud.
Paojinda is convinced the dowsing rods work, even though it’s little more than an antenna glued to a plastic box. In the meantime, thousands of people are dying in bomb attacks in Thailand near the Malaysian border. Incredibly, the devices cost millions of dollars, when it would be far cheaper and far more effective to employ sniffing dogs at the checkpoints.
Antiscience kills. You might think that dowsing rods are a cute diversion or at worst a waste of money, but in fact believing in them is leading directly to the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people across the world.
Tip o’ the crystal pendulum to BABloggees Claude Works and Jimmy Reynolds.
I am very, very pleased to write about two wins for the military and skepticism today:
Story the first:
Remember the company that made millions by selling totally worthless bomb-sniffing magic wands to the military, detectors that were used at checkpoints in Iraq to search cars, and which failed to detect the terrorist bombs used to kill 155 people in October and 120 more in December last year?
Yeah, well, Jim McCormick, the head of the company that sold those useless dowsing rods, just got arrested for — oh, let me savor typing these words — "suspicion of fraud".
Wait, wait. That felt so good to write, let me do it again: Jim McCormick, who sold provably worthless dowsing rods to the military, has been arrested for suspicion of fraud.
Ahhhhh. That was just as good to type the second time.
In the courts, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But in this case, we have scientific evidence that the kits sold by the company are 100% garbage, and I hope this guy gets everything he deserves.
And is McCormick penitent? Of course not! With apparently no sense of Teh Stoopid, he said:
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.
Holy wow. Serously, dude? I mean, really? Here’s a clue, Mr. McCormick: it’s not that your dowsing rods lack doodads and flair and blinking lights. It’s that they don’t frakking work, and because the Iraqi military swallowed your story people have died.
I hope that’s clear now.
Story the second:
Our second news item is also quite satisfying, and also has a bit of the cluelessness from a company that sells things to the military. Trijicon, the company that inscribed references to Bible quotations on rifle scopes sold to the military, has announced that they will no longer inscribe them, and will provide kits to the military to remove the references in existing scopes.
Very cool. The military has rules forbidding proselytizing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rifle scopes were in clear violation of this. Of course, the company did this because of their concern over our troops and for the appearance of the military overseas, right? About that, the President of Trijicon, Stephen Bindon, said this:
Trijicon has proudly served the U.S. military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate.
As I read that, it translated in my head as, "We did this because we were suddenly getting tons of bad press, and had to do something about this PR disaster, so we can can make it look like we’re being all altruistic and everything." Here’s another free hint to the head of a company selling stuff to the military: don’t thump your own chest and say how cool you are when we all know better. Simply admit your mistake, and let people know you’re honestly sorry. Telling everyone what a great move this was on your part is maybe just a wee bit oily.
So I’m really thrilled that rational and critical thinking has had two victories today. The fight continues, because the forces of irrationality are always, always on the march. So, for those of us fighting for reality:
I am no fan of pseudoscience, as you may have guessed. Dowsing is a practice that falls squarely in that field. It’s the idea that you can detect an object — usually water, but sometimes gold, or people, or whatever — using a y-shaped branch, or copper tubes, or some other simple device. Dowsers never really have a good explanation of how their devices work, but they tend to claim 100% accuracy.
However, James Randi has tested dowsers many, many times as part of the JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge. Not to keep you in suspense, but the money still sits in the bank. In other words, time and again, the dowsers fail. When a real, double-blind, statistical test is given, dowsers fail. Every single time.
That’s all well and good, and you might think it’s just another silly idea that nonsense-believers adhere to despite evidence. If someone wants to waste their money on a dowser, well, caveat emptor.
But what if your life depended on it? What if thousands of lives depended on it?
Such is the case in Iraq, where the military there is using what is essentially dowsing techniques to try to detect bombs in cars at military checkpoints. Let’s be very clear here: they are using provably useless antiscientific nonsense to try to find terrorists who carry explosives. They may as well use tea leaves, or palm reading, or seances.
This story just got major press; a reporter in Iraq wrote about it in the New York Times. It’s impossible to overstress how bad this situation is. Iraqi Major General Jehad al-Jabiri, who is the head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives, is a whole-hearted believer in this crap. He is such a believer that the Iraqi military are abandoning proven methods such as sniffer dogs.
Instead, the Iraqi have purchased hundreds of these so-called bomb-detection wands from a company called ATSC in the UK. The cost? Millions of dollars. Millions. On technology that James Randi has come right out and called "a totally fraudulent product". Bob Carroll of the Skeptic’s Dictionary agrees with Randi.
The NYT article also has expert advice from several explosives and military authorities (including long-time friend of the JREF Air Force Lt. Col (retired) Hal Bidlack), all of whom conclude that this device does nothing. Given the product description on the company’s own web page, I agree as well. The description makes no scientific sense at all; it claims it can detect ions from a distance without ever coming in contact with them, and that includes through lead, concrete, and more.
In other words, it’s magic.
This, however, won’t stop al-Jabiri, who chalks up any successes to the detector, and any failures to the operator. In a situation like that there is little hope he can be convinced him he’s wrong, especially when he says things like "I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them. I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world."
Really? Then why, as the NYT article indicates, did that dowsing wand fail on October 25, when terrorists detonated two tons of explosives killing 155 people? Four thousand pounds of explosives apparently got right past the magic wands’ sniffer. But at least they’re fast! Again, from the article:
Checking cars with dogs, however, is a slow process, whereas the wands take only a few seconds per vehicle. “Can you imagine dogs at all 400 checkpoints in Baghdad?” General Jabiri said. “The city would be a zoo.”
I suspect a zoo would be better than a slaughterhouse.
It’s arrogance and blind faith like that which has and will get people killed. And the people we’re talking about in many cases are our fighting men and women, people who have to put their own trust in the leaders in Iraq. This is not a game, not some lark. It’s real. And in this case, antiscience kills.
[This post, with minor variations, has been cross-posted on the JREF Swift blog.]