Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dangerous Dousing Deceit

I just found out via SomethingAwful about something that just completely blows my mind. I am flabbergasted. Some jackass sold thousands of glorified dousing rods to the Iraqi government for $85,000,000, claiming that they detect explosives. The Iraqis made no effort to verify that the equipment did what it was supposed to. They spent $85 million on devices they relied on to protect their citizens (and some of our soldiers) without any evidence that they worked, and people have been potentially avoidably blown up since. This level of irresponsibility and stupidity astounds me. The guy also sold junk to Thailand, Pakistan and Lebanon; not countries that come to mind when thinking about scientific cultures.

The BBC article continues with information that highlights our ubiquitous cultural need for an environment of skepticism and accurate evaluation of information:

Major General Jehad al-Jabiri said, "Whether it's magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs," while expressing his belief that his opinions are more correct than those of the company that evaluated the bogus devices. Obviously he does not care if the devices detect bombs anywhere near as much as he cares about his pride.

Read this quote: "They don't work properly," Umm Muhammad, a retired schoolteacher said. "Sometimes when I drive through checkpoints, the device moves simply because I have medications in my handbag. Sometimes it doesn't - even when I have the same handbag." Someone responsible for educating children can't tell the difference between correlation and causation. There's an applicable legal (Latin) term also: post hoc ergo propter hoc. "After something, therefore because of it" presented as illogical and not good evidence. This teacher thought the device sometimes responded to medicine. A rational person would not make such a statement. We see quite a dearth of reason all around.

Our own FBI had to be told in 1995 to stop using bogus devices, and reminded in 1999. At least it seems that they get some independent verification of devices now.

No one has gotten James Randi's money yet! There's been $1 million on the table for decades waiting for anyone to demonstrate real dousing, ESP, or whatever else.

Demand evidence! Don't just believe marketers! Don't blow money on dietary supplements and Airborn and fortune tellers and security measures that don't improve security.

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