Science Fiction Project - Free Culture
Analog - All editorials - John Wood Campbell
* * Back * *


For the past dozen years. Analog has been persistently - and as loudly as possible - calling attention to the fact that dowsing works.
For the last hundred or more years, science has loudly ridiculed the very idea of any such superstitious nonsense - such impossible balderdash... without making adequate pragmatic investigations.
True - they have repeatedly made investigations under conditions they considered "right and proper controlled laboratory conditions." But they would not study the phenomenon in its native habitat, under the conditions wherein the phenomenon exists. You can prove fish can't really live, too, by examining them under "right and proper laboratory conditions," in good, clear air, with none of that tricky, concealing water around them that's really just being used to hide the rods and wires that make that hoax possible.
And photography's a hoax, too; as soon as you demand that the "photographer" carry out his process under decent illumination, so his sleight-of-hand tricks can't be concealed from view, the whole fraud collapses.
Dowsing depends on a subjective phenomenon - purpose, motivation - which Science, by its own definitions, specifically excludes. The "purely objective" approach, which is the ideal and the basis of the Scientific Investigation, just happens to be one hundred percent denial of the fundamental process involved in dowsing. It's like trying to make a scientifically objective analysis of the nature of Love - and I do not mean sex. Sex is the poor, shallow, almost meaningless remnant an "objective scientist" can record if he studies love.
There are. have been, and always will be phenomena in the real world that can no more be studied adequately by the "purely objective scientific method" than a magnetic field can be analyzed by chemical methods.
This is not to say that objective methods are of no value - any more than I am saying chemical analytical methods are valueless.
What I am saying is that any defined technique must have limitations implicit in that definition. Since the essence of scientific methodology is precision of definition and of measurement; it inherently is a limited technique.
A microscope is a magnificent tool - but you'll never see an electrostatic field with it. A lathe is one of the most powerful and versatile tools Man ever invented - but you can't build a log cabin with it.
The objective scientific method is one of the most powerful tools Mankind has yet invented - but there are problems for which it is as intrinsically unsuited as a Saturn V for the problem of daily commutation to the local city.
When the problem of dowsing comes up - the scientific objectivity technique simply isn't applicable. And will you who are professional scientists please recognize that that is not a denial of the value of science or scientific technique - it's a denial of its applicability in this area.
Scientists have long been aware that the scientific objective method simply will not work in defining "beauty," "pleasure," "art," as well as the non-endocrine-gland aspects of emotion - which are, of course, all the real meaning of emotions.
In dowsing we're simply dealing with one additional field that requires a different type of analytical approach.
For years, I have given talks in many places, to many groups, about the reality of dowsing for locating pipes and such underground. For years I have heard from the audiences that they know of that use of the rods. For instance, I gave a talk in Amherst, Massachusetts, and learned from several people that the town water department crews use the rods to find their pipes - tracing them across the campuses of the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College. Since such work is quite public, it's been well known to the people of both schools.
Neither group made any investigation whatever of the pragmatic use of an officially rejected technique on their own grounds.
That's standard, though; Yale didn't investigate their use by the New Haven water department; Princeton didn't look into their use by the Princeton public utilities. I don't happen to have data on how many other major schools and universities closed their eyes to the routine use of an effective engineering tool.
Because utility field crews were using the rods for one and only one reason; they worked. Those men had absolutely nothing to prove, no theory to establish or to maintain. They simply had a job that had to be done, and was darned difficult without the rods, but easy with them. So they used that-which-worked.

In the last twelve months, a major breakthrough has occurred. Again, a group of men with a dirty, dangerous job that's got to be done found an engineering tool that worked and started using it.
The dowsing rods are now being used by the U. S. Marines - officially being used by the Marines - for locating Viet Cong tunnels, weapons caches, hidey-holes and even those wicked bamboo-stake booby traps Charlie loves so well.
No known objective-science device was capable of detecting the bamboo-and-poison booby traps, the VC tunnels, nor all their hidey-holes and arms caches.
A trained Marine dowser with a pair of rods can, and repeatedly has demonstrated - under combat conditions, where it counts in terms of lives and crippling injuries, not under "objective laboratory control" - that it worked.
A Marine going into a VC area has remarkably little respect for "objective scientific evidence," and a hell of a lot of respect for anything that works. The scientific devices that they'd been given - gadgets that worked fine under objectively controlled laboratory conditions - flubbed totally under combat conditions. The electrostatic field sensing system that detected the anomalous dielectric constant when it passed over a tunnel worked fine in their test plot at home - but not in a VC village, where uncountable Coca Cola bottle caps had been ground into the soil for decades.
An electrical gadget supposed to detect VC rifle barrels in ambushes did indeed react to the rifles. But it also detected wet tree branches. In Vietnamese jungle country this is not helpful.
And a pair of coat hangers - or pieces of 1/8" brazing rod a couple feet long - could be bent into a detecting instrument that worked. It was not only infinitely cheaper, but so accessible that official disapproval couldn't keep them out of the Marines' hands. Not the most authoritative and official scientists at the great research establishments in the United States could keep the Marine going into a combat area from flanging up a pair of rods and using them.
So they were flanged up. and they were used, and they did work.
Now a good military commander may be mentally rigid in some respects - he's apt to be quite rigid and simply say "Nuts!" when called on to surrender for instance - but he is not a good commander if he doesn't adopt and encourage a technique of combat that works.
The use of dowsing rods for locating VC tunnels, booby traps, et cetera, was reported. (One of the TV news programs carried shots of the rods in use in Vietnam early in 1967.) The tactical research and training groups of the U. S. Marines back in the United Stales started investigation of the newly demonstrated tactical method, at the Quantico training base. You saw one result of that work in Brass Tacks for March 1967, the letter from Colonel Harlan Trent asking for any available information on dowsing.
Hanson Baldwin's October 13, 1967 report of the use of the rods at Camp Pendleton, California, in the New York Times was a later result. The rods are now openly and officially a tactical method of the U. S. Marines. (And obviously the Marines aren't keeping the technique secret from the Army.)
The Marines and the Army are using it for the same old, simply stated reason that is, and forever must be the ultimate reason for any tactical technique; it works.
A military force must have techniques that work: explanations are an interesting luxury that men not faced with combat conditions can argue about - so long as the military force has enough workable techniques to protect the arguers!

Now this is a major breakthrough. True, field engineers in many places, in many lines of work, have been using the rods for a couple of decades; there's nothing notably new in this use of the rods.
What is notably new is that the technique is now officially recognized by the U. S. Marine Corps as a tactical technique of major value.
And that it is a technique of great potential is now soundly demonstrated - not "under controlled laboratory conditions" but under combat conditions, which is, for any military branch, a damn sight more important. And any totally inexplicable force, power, phenomenon, that can do this one thing with such brilliant success, and with such simple means, must have as-yet-unguessed other potentials that obviously must be explored.
If the rods can find VC booby traps in jungle trails, hidden tunnels and arms caches, pipes under paved streets - all of which they do with routine and reliable success - the Navy must inevitably start investigating how they work on locating submarines buried under a few hundred feet of water.
If devices as fantastically simple and cheap as a pair of bent rods can do what multi-kilobuck electronic sophistication couldn't do - can't some more highly developed equipment even further increase their abilities? If the simple rods can detect the slyly hidden booby traps of bamboo stakes and poison - can't some research in the matter find improved techniques that can find Charlie hidden in ambush?
For centuries, people have maintained that dowsing worked; the tactical use of the rods demonstrates that the "folklore, superstition" wasn't baseless - there's something solid enough to yield a tactical technique that works.
But dowsers over the centuries have also maintained that some individuals, unusually talented, could do map-dowsing - i. e., they could work from a map, or an aerial photograph of an area. and. hundreds or thousands of miles away, locate water sources on the mapped or pictured property.
Do you think that the possibility of using some such method for locating Viet Cong ambushes, or North Vietnamese infiltration bases, isn't worth some research...?
For the first time in human history, there now exists a situation in which the disciplined thinking techniques, and precision-observing techniques of modern science will be applied in a positive sense to the problem of a subjective phenomenon. "Positive," in that the research men will be commanded, ordered, and damn well required to stop using their talents to prove it isn't so, because their theories hold it impossible, and find out why it is so, because it works. Those scientists who are personally psychologically so oriented that they simply can't accept that notion will be simply brushed aside, and men who can and will see what's happening on their own campuses, and will sincerely try to understand this new order of phenomenon will be installed.
For the first time, a military arm has definite motivation to have this problem attacked, and attacked with intent to solve, not to dissolve.
Over the years, again and again. I've seen the work of first-rate, scientifically trained minds, happily devoted to proving to the hilt that ball lightning can't exist, and all reports are nonsense. That rocket ships can't possibly leave Earth. That atomic energy couldn't possibly be released within the next two hundred and fifty years. That the positions of the sun and planets couldn't possibly have any effect whatever on Earth's climate, that all astrology was absolute and total nonsense.
These scientific minds have been brilliant, logical, highly trained, and have had vast knowledge and data to work with. They have used their abilities and their talents with enthusiasm, dedication, and vim to prove the absolute impossibility of that which they could not understand, and didn't care to see anyone else try to understand. They have spoken with authority, and massive experience...
And they have, thereby, thrown massive roadblocks in the path of any man who did seek to find answers in those Forbidden Unknowns. To attempt experiments in the area was, in itself, sufficient to have a younger man drummed out of the ranks - to blight his career in science permanently.
Well... the U. S. Marines have long had a reputation for courage and determination.
That courage is not just physical; it's now evident that Marines also have guts enough to blast their way through the solid opposition of Entrenched Scientific Authority.
So - it's now time to exploit that breakthrough; the lines have been penetrated, and we have a new beachhead.
Dowsing works - and we are, at last, going to get some honest disciplined research in that area of the Forbidden Unknown.

March 1968