Scottish Water distance themselves from dowsing after Humanist Society contact

Scottish Water have distanced themselves from the practice of water dowsing after media reports suggested the publicly owned firm’s engineers were using the technique in maintenance.

In a twitter exchange with award winning science writer and oxford academic Sally Le Page, Scottish Water seemed to suggest that their engineers carried out the debunked and ineffective method of dowsing.

To say that some Scottish Water bill payers were not impressed with this response is an understatement…


Concerned about the use of a pseudo-science and previously proven not to work techniques be utilised by a public firm, Humanist Society Scotland wrote to Scottish Water to clarify their statement and if they support the use of dowsing. In a letter to the utility provider’s Chief Executive the society wrote:

We are significantly concerned by media coverage regarding the use of dowsing by Scottish Water. You will no doubt be aware that dowsing has long been proven to have no factual or scientific basis and no better than pure chance in identifying underground water or assets.

The Scottish public will be extremely concerned that your engineers are using this practice with the support of the firm, as you made clear in a statement by your spokesperson to the media. In addition, can you confirm if Scottish Water have paid any external consultants to use dowsing or similar techniques in the past five years and how much has been spent on this?

The idea that Scottish Water engineers could be making mistakes in identifying leaks or assets or are at the very least wasting time with such a method, and therefore passing the costs of this time or mistakes on to customers is baffling.

We would ask that Scottish Water make changes to their engineering practices without delay to ensure that only proven techniques are used to look after Scotland’s water infrastructure. We would also ask that you release a statement to the public and media making clear that you will not use such debunked magic methods in the future to restore trust in Scotland’s national water company.

In response to our letter Brian Lironi, Scottish Water Director of Corporate Affairs distanced the firm from the use of ‘magic’:

To be clear, Scottish Water does not support or encourage the use of dowsing and we provide our employees with equipment and training to ensure they use methods for finding underground assets and leaks which are scientifically tried and tested. These include ground microphones, correlators, and metal detectors. As a public body committed to the highest standards of honesty and transparency we could not definitively state that none of our employees still use dowsing however it is not supported or encouraged. It is unfortunate how this was interpreted by the media.

On your specific point about external consultants, we have not engaged any external consultants to carry out dowsing or advise us on dowsing.

The statement we issued to the media made Scottish Water’s position on dowsing clear and we have had subsequent discussions with media outlets where appropriate.

Scottish Water clearly have concerns about how the matter was reported in the media, as has Humanist Society Scotland.

BBC Radio Scotland, invited a dowser on live radio to explain “how it works”

On Thursday 23rd November (at 1.20.45), BBC Radio Scotland‘s key news and current affairs program NewsDrive covered the story by inviting a former president of The British Society of Dowsers to explain to listeners of the show the benefits of dowsing.

Despite the method having been previously debunked as nonsense, no alternative guest was invited to give a scientific view neither did the shows host challenge the statement that dowsing is “fringe science that rational minds are uncomfortable with” or that it is only limited in what it can do by “the users imagination” and the unsubstantiated claim that it achieves a “90% success rate“.

Of course this is completely debunked by the fact that dowsing has in fact been scientifically tested in experimentation numerous times and dismissed as no better than pure luck.

No doubt in coming weeks on Newsdrive listeners will be treated to live tarot readings and astrology forecasts.


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