Monday, January 25, 2010

Detecting Bogus Detectors

Over the weekend, British authorities arrested Jim McCormick for fraud -- the kind of fraud that put lives at risk.

McCormick sold bomb-detecting equipment to security forces in Iraq, to the tune of $85 million. The problem is that his devices were useless. They were in essence nothing more than divining rods, the pseudo-science quackery that people have fallen for throughout history when a con man told them they could be used to find water, oil, missing persons, etc. For a fee, of course.

James Randi has written extensively on dowsers and debunked them, particularly those who tried to use dowsing to win his Million Dollar Challenge. The James Randi Educational Foundation has tested McCormick's bomb detectors and found them to be unmechanized tools that did absolutely nothing. Nothing except fool the Iraqi Minister of Defense, who insists that the detectors are useful.

I talked this all over with Randi today on WHAS/Louisville, and pointed out that this is not just a matter of wasted time and money, but also a risk to the soldiers and civilians in Iraq who have to deal with the very real threat of stuff blowing up every day. If they rely on equipment that doesn't find explosives, as advertised, their limbs and lives are on the line. Unfortunately, the Pentagon won't listen to Randi, or the National Academy of Science, or other organizations that can show the complete ineffectiveness of these dowsers/detectors. They'd rather rely on the defense minister, who has yet to offer any evidence that these devices work.

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