Those with a good memory for quirky media stories about things that have no direct bearing on their own lives might recall this article or this one from last year. These stories covered the use of proven fraudulent explosive detectors at Iraqi checkpoints by police and security personnel. Ben Goldacre also covered the story a year earlier on his blog Bad Science.
Why am I bringing this old stuff up now? Well for one the repercussions of this debacle are ongoing, and two these devices or others like them are still in use – sometimes no number of weight challenged females displaying their melodic oratory prowess will sound the death knell for frauds and scams. Plus somebody asked me to.
That’s right, ask me to write about something and I’ll say how high; or something like that.
Actually I thought that this was a subject worth bringing up again as not only are lives put in danger around the world by these devices and the fraudsters who sell them but the principles by which they “work” are also promoted here in NZ for more benign purposes. It’s dowsing dressed up for the technology age. Unfortunately the camouflage seems to distract people from the fact that it’s all bunk. I also consider it a sort of “gateway woo” that could in severe cases lead to Crystal Therapy and possibly even, Reiki. Stay in school kids.
Back to the subject at hand. The devices I’m referring to all appear to be based on the same basic design: a handle and a free moving antenna. That’s about it folks. This set up allows the scammer, uh, I mean legitimate business man, to take advantage to two phenomena; the ideomotor effect and our ability to be fooled by the ideomotor effect.
An example of one of these gadgets is the Alpha 6*:
No relation to this Alpha 6, who is way cooler:
Anyway, as you can see the “detector” can be held and the antenna may swing back and forth. In this manner it can be influenced by slight movements by the handler and appear to give a clear signal. Trouble is, independent tests keep showing they’re worthless.
Now a movement has been initiated to put pressure on responsible governments to crack down on the continuing frauds that cost lives. Sign up if you feel strongly about the lives lost due to the trade of these useless detectors. For more information regarding the background of many of these devices go here.
* For more pics go Here, some of them are hilarious.
I have also been asked to give credit to the following for their input on this issue over the years: James Randi, Dr. Keith Conover, Andres Tonini, Bruce Hood, Techowiz, Lumpy Low, Techhead, BBC Newsnight and to many others who have devoted time and effort to this campaign since 1995. As well as all those that have suffered from this fraud, whether through loss of life, limbs, liberty or because the money could have been spent so much more effectively.
- UK promoted failed bomb detectors (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Bogus Dowsing Rod ‘Bomb Detector’ (milkandcookies.com)
- Iraqi General Turns Down JREF Challenge, Gets Arrested for Bomb Detector Scam (randi.org)
- Man bailed in bomb detectors probe (mirror.co.uk)
Filed under: Hoaxes, Psychological, Questionable Techniques, Sciblogs, skepticism Tagged: Alpha 6, Ben Goldacre, bomb detectors, Dowsing, Fraud, Ideomotor effect, Iraq, James Randi, pseudoscience, Reiki, woo