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Water companies use dowsing to find leaks

Today's Daily Mirror reports that an engineer working for the Severn Trent water company used dowsing to search for a leak at a property. The property owners' daughter, who is studying for a Ph.D in evolutionary biology at Oxford University, contacted the water company; they confirmed that some of their engineers practise dowsing and they have no objection. She then wrote to other water companies and found that nine of them used dowsing.

Dowsing is generally regarded as pseudo-science. Wikipedia lists a number of scientific studies of the practice that have been conducted since the early twentieth century; they have almost uniformly found the results were no better than chance.

A number of homeopaths use dowsing, usually with a pendulum, to choose their medicines. In the 1980s, when I was a physician at The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (now The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine), I contacted a dowsers' society to ask if their members were willing to take part in a trial to see if they could distinguish real homeopathic medicines from placebos. They agreed to do this and I started to set up the trial, but unfortunately they then backed out.

New anatomical term in Holby City

In yesterday's Holby City Harry, a junior doctor in training, told a patient that he had a fracture of his "tibula". You can see why Harry is currently experiencing some difficulty in completing his CT2 trainee year satisfactorily.

Medical error in 'Endeavour'

In ITV-1's 'Endeavour', the youthful Morse, still a detective constable at this early stage of his career, found a girl who had died with digoxin in her stomach. "Is that dangerous?" he asked a GP who was involved in the case peripherally (the partner of another doctor who was murdered).

"It certainly is. The clue is in the name of the plant it comes from, deadly nightshade," the GP replied.

But deadly nightshade doesn't give us digitalis or digoxin, it gives us belladonna. Digitalis, from which digoxin is derived, comes from the leaf of the foxglove. I thought that perhaps this wasn't really a medical howler and we were being given an artfully planted clue; the GP was going to turn out to be an imposter. But no, it wasn't the doctor who was ignorant, it was his creator.

A real comic gem on BBC Radio 4

If you haven't already heard it, I urge you to listen to the dinosaurs' hymn to Captain Dinosaur at the end of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programe (Thursday 18 October). It's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. Only five days left to hear it - there doesn't seem to be a podcast available, otherwise I'd certain keep it.

End of the world on my birthday?

An American preacher, Harold Camping of Oakland, California, is predicting the Second Coming and the 'rapture' for tomorrow, 21 May. As this is my birthday I suppose you could say this will be an unexpected birthday present for me, except that, as a non-believer, I don't think I shall be among the two per cent of the population who qualifies for immediate translation to heaven. Oh well ...

Exorcising a ghost at the Royal Hospital in Derby

The Today programme had an item about a ghost at the new Royal Hospital in Derby. A hooded figure is stalking the corridors and terrifying people. "Experts" (sic) say it is the ghost of a Roman soldier, disturbed because the hospital was built on the site of a Roman road.

The programme interviewed Dom Anthony Sutch, formerly a headmaster of my old school, Downside. He agreed that it was quite likely to be the case that a ghost of a Roman soldier would be patrolling the hospital but thought it probably wouldn't be malevolent, so prayers to reassure it that it was safe to move on would be more appropriate than exorcism. However, he does believe in possession of people by evil demons and in the power of evil. We need to distinguish between spirits (i.e. ghosts) and demons, he thinks.

Subsequently Today had a phone call from the chaplain at the hospital; she refused, in the time-honoured phrase, to confirm or deny the truth of the story.

It occurs to me that if dead Roman soldiers object to disturbing Roman roads they should be popping up all over the place, since many of our modern roads and motorways are built over Roman roads.

Heard on the radio

Yesterday I heard a radio reporter talking about the shortage of dentists in Britain. "Things are beginning to improve but there are still teething problems," she said.

The floods are our fault for neglecting the Bible

According to today's Daily Telegraph, several Church of England bishop are saying that the floods currently affecting northern England are a judgement of God. Laws that have undermined marriage and recognized gay unions have provoked God to send the rains.

Flooding is a sign of God's anger at Western civilizations' neglect of Biblical teaching, it appears.

You might have thought that this way of thinking had gone out of fashion since the Black Death was blamed on the sins of the populace, but seemingly it is still alive and well in the C of E.

And then we complain of Muslim fundamentalism!

Astrologers advise the minister

The science page in today's Daily Telegraph carries an article by Roger Highfield on alien life. Highfield informs us that "Seven leading British astrologers" were advising the Science minister on this question. If that is where the government is going for advice, no wonder they are also seriously contemplating allowing the teaching of intelligent design in British state schools.

MOD funds research on remote viewing

The Ministry of Defence funded a secret study in 2002 to see if psychic powers could be useful for defence. This information was released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The MOD started by trying to recruit professional "psychics", but when these refused to participate they resorted to amateur volunteers. The research cost £18,000. Apparently 28% of these people did have some success but in general the experiment was adjudged a failure and it was abandoned.

Source: The Remote Viewer

Absurdities and anachronisms on TV

The new ITV series Primeval, about dinosaurs coming through a time warp in the Forest of Dean, had its fair share of absurdities but the one I particularly liked occurred when the Professor went through the time warp himself in quest of his wife, who had disappeared eight years previously.

He and his paratroop companion soon came across a half-buried skeleton.

"Is it your wife?" the paratrooper asked.

The professor ran his fingers quickly along the tips of the vertebral spines, which was pretty much all of the bones that could be seen.

"No, it's a man," he replied.

Given that it is impossible to sex a skeleton from an inspection of the vertebrae I thought his confidence was rather misplaced.

Even the usually impeccable Foyle's War let us down in the plausibility department. No one in that period would have said "it was down to Grace"; they would have said "it was thanks to Grace".