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George Hanson - Society for Psychical Research Vol. 51, No. 792, October 1982 – 08 Dowsing: Sociological investigations



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Originally published in the Journal of  the Society for Psychical Research Vol. 51, No. 792, October 1982, pp. 343-367. DOWSING: A REVIEW OF EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH  by GEORGE P. HANSEN* 


   Ray Hyman and Evon Z. Vogt conducted several studies to determine why water witching was such a widespread and persistent practice. A portion of their work at Harvard University was supported by the Hodgson fund. Their findings were presented in their book Water Witching U.S.A. (reviewed by Levinson, 1959; Parsons, 1960; and Woodruff, 1959) and in a number of journal articles (e.g. Hyman and Cohen, 1957; Hyman and Vogt, 1958, 1968; Vogt, 1952; and Vogt and Golde, 1958). They assumed that dowsing is not effective in locating underground water, and cited several studies supporting this idea, but ignored studies indicating the efficacy of dowsing. 

   For the major survey, 500 county agricultural extension agents were questioned about their belief in the effectiveness of dowsing, the number of dowsers they knew, and the educational level, age, religion, ethnic background, etc. of the dowsers. The authors concluded that there were approximately 25,000 dowsers in the United States; that dowsers could not be distinguished from their community on the bases of religion, ethnic group, level of education, or occupation; and that the dowsers were reported to be honest people who made little or no money from practising dowsing. 

   The highest percentage of dowsers occurred, as expected, in areas with severe groundwater problems. The investigators claim that dowsing is a ritual pattern reducing anxiety about the uncertainty of locating a well. 

   Barrett and Vogt (1969) report a study of urban dowsers and found some definite differences from their rural counterparts. The study was conducted by surveying and interviewing members of the American Society of Dowsers. The urban dowsers had a higher educational level and most lived in cities of over 50,000 people. They had a strong belief in ESP and thought it related to dowsing, while the rural dowsers usually could give no explanation as to why dowsing worked. 

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