So finally, I can update you on dowsing rod bomb-detector story just in time for the BBC Newsnight broadcast tonight where the truth about the “ADE651” is revealed. I have been silent on this since I last blogged on these devices because I have been assisting the BBC Newsnight team in their report.
Here is a shorter version but without yours truly.
The first time I heard about the ADE651 was when someone twittered a link to a New York Time piece about a bomb detector that appeared to be nothing more than a dowsing rod. Two journalists had gone over to Iraq to investigate a story about a British company that had been selling a device to the security forces to screen for bombs and weapons for between £16,000 -£30,000 apiece. According to the product information, the ADE651 could detect concealed explosives, narcotics, weapons, human bodies, illegal ivory and even truffles whether they were underground, underwater and even at a distance of 3 miles from a plane. The key to the system was “programmed substance detection cards” which each carried the “frequency” of the substance they’re supposed to detect. This was achieved by a technology based on “nuclear quadruple resonance.”
Clearly this was pseudo-scientific babble. To my eyes, the ADE651 was a sophisticated looking dowsing rod, and yet the company ATSC Ltd that made them had already sold £50million worth of these devices to the Iraqis and had just secured another major contract.
When I looked into the story more, I discovered that a number of parties including the James Randi Educational Foundation had already investigated the claims of ATSC about their device and dismissed it as a scam. Randi even extended his famous $1million test for a device that defies scientific explanation. There was also a possé of bloggers most notably Techowiz, Dubious Dick of the UK Skeptic’s Forum and Bad Astronomer on the case.
To the naive, dowsing seems plausible when one considers how easily objects appear to move at a distance by invisible force fields as commonly observed with magnets. However the truth is that dowsing rods move not because of invisible energies or force fields but because the diviner is controlling the rod by either deliberate or unconscious, yet imperceptible movements of the body and hands. This is called the “ideomotor effect” and was demonstrated over 150 years ago by Michael Faraday when he developed instruments to detect minute body movements. This is why dowsing rods and pendulums have to be held to work. The ideomotor effect also explains the apparent spiritual control of Ouija boards and tilting tables that were popular during the fashionable era of the 19th century spiritualism fad.
However, unlike Ouija boards, dowsing has managed to survive into the 21st century but it is no longer a harmless parlour game. In Baghdad last year, over 250 people including children were killed in two massive attacks from suicide car bombs that had passed through security check-points equipped with the ADE651.This was no longer a trivial matter of woo and flaky beliefs. The Iraqi’s had been sold a false sense of security and by relying on these devices lives have been lost and would continue to be lost.
What made the issue all the more appalling to me was the company selling these devices, ATSC Ltd, was based in Somerset close to where I live. I felt a responsibility to do something about it. I went ahead and wrote a blog about the ADE651.I urged readers to contact David Laws MP, Liberal Democrat for Yeovil where the company operates. I posted harrowing pictures from Baghdad and challenged the inventor of the ADE651 and director of ATSC, Mr. Jim McCormick to justify his activities.
To my utter surprise, Jim McCormick responded to my blog and invited me to a demonstration at his offices. How could I refuse? After the initial public correspondence on my blog, we entered into discussion by email as Jim was fed up of the harassment that he had experienced. I decided to play along and act as a genuinely interested party as I really wanted to get to the bottom of this. I even suggested that there was a possible scientific explanation. So I called his secretary. She called my secretary. My secretary called her and we played this game over the month of December.
At the beginning of December the Newsnight team contacted me after discovering that I was planning to visit ATSC. Would I be willing to bring them along for the demonstration? Would I be prepared for filming or recording? Of course, I agreed but I was increasingly coming to the conclusion that Jim McCormick would neither allow any filming nor was he likely to meet with me.
By the end of December, the weather was getting bad so I emailed Jim saying that I expected that the snow had been the problem for arranging a visit but that I was still very eager.
Jim wrote back,
Yes, like most people, our office has suffered due to the adverse weather. Unfortunately, I have to take another trip overseas and will not be back in the UK until the then of January. I know you want to get some information but due to some legal and logistical issues, would you be prepared to enter into an NDA (non-disclosure) agreement?, as this information (and any results from it) would be for your eyes only and not for general public broadcast.
Very Best Regards,
I figured he was never going to agree to my visit and even then I would be forced to sign a gagging order.
But it wasn’t only me asking questions.
In December, just days after the latest bombing, the head of Iraqi security who had been responsible for equipping his personnel with the ADE651, Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri and Jim McCormick were called to account in a room packed with journalists. They claimed that the ADE651 worked and that all it needed was properly trained personnel. To prove their point, a security officer holding an ADE651 walked past two grenades visibly placed on a table and the rod duly swung in the direction of the deadly devices. The Newsnight team managed to get their hands on that footage and I was asked to evaluate the demonstration. To my eyes it was a clear example of either downright fakery or the involuntary ideomotor effect. Either way, I was not convinced.
So what will you discover when you tune in tonight? Well, Newsnight managed to get their hands on a forerunner of the ADE651, the GT200 and will show what they found inside the box. They also managed to get their hands on the “programmed substance detection cards” chip inside the black box (I helped with this) and get it analysed by experts. Even I was surprised by what they found.
Hopefully tonight’s broadcast will raise the profile of the issue to warrant an intervention. I never received a response from David Laws MP. But many questions still remain. How did ATSC Ltd manage to get away with selling dowsing rods to detect bombs? How did they get an export license? Why were the Iraqi security forces so gullible? Why is the head of Iraqi security so convinced that the ADE651 works?
If Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri and Jim McCormick are really that naïve, then this demonstrates that some supernatural beliefs are potentially harmful and that scientists need to take an active role in challenging claims and activities that put lives at risk.
I recently wrote a response for “The Edge” on the question, “How has the internet changed the way you think?” In it I talked about the power of the internet to bring about change. To my fellow bloggers out there, I hope we have made a difference.
Meanwhile Mr. Jim McCormick has been arrested for fraud. Guess, I won’t get my demonstration.
(PS I’ll be demonstrating my own version of the ADE651 in tonight’s programme)
AND HERE IS THE BEST NEWS!!!! GOVERNMENT BANS SALE OF THESE DEVICES
I am going to take a little break now.
UN-BLOODY-BELIEVABLE: How audacious is Jim????
The New York Times contacted Jim on Saturday after his arrest but he is unrepentant and claims that ATSC is still “fully operational.”
They should throw the book at this rogue.