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UK Government bans export of "explosives dowser"
January 26, 2010 7:20 AM   Subscribe

The UK Government has banned the export of the ADE651 to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Police have also arrested Jim McCormick, a former police officer and owner of the company that produces the ADE651, for fraud related to the case. The devices, described as working on a similar principle to dowsing, were sold to the Iraqi government for £45000 a piece.

Previously.
posted by jonesor (54 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Very glad to see this. Saw the story on BBC a couple of days ago, and was appalled.
posted by Zinger at 7:22 AM on January 26, 2010


Idea: train chihuahuas as sniffer dogs and put them in little handheld boxes
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:26 AM on January 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


I would be interested in finding out more about this principle that dowsing uses.
posted by DU at 7:27 AM on January 26, 2010


Dowsing is a great way to get in touch with intuitions that you are not consciously able to recognize. But you don't need to spend £45000 to make it work.
posted by idiopath at 7:30 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


James Randi, skeptic hero, responds to McCormick's arrest. [On a work computer so I can't see the page properly but I think this is it].
posted by Mechashiva at 7:34 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So how many years does he get for each person who died because people were relying on his devices?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:41 AM on January 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


The manufacturer's site, as linked in the previous post, is no longer working—the nameservers are refusing lookups. Interesting.

Okay, so I understand that people are emotional creatures who gravitate toward anything that provides an illusion of security in chaotic circumstances.

But the ADE651 is (very obviously) a swindle. And it's hard for me to comprehend just how many people had to be idiots and/or assholes for things to get to this point.

Someone had to conceive of the thing. Then a whole team of people designed, manufactured, and marketed it. (I almost included testing in that process, but, well, maybe not.) Someone managed and funded the whole thing. All of these people are assholes.

Then, those in charge of equipping the Iraqi police and army had to be dumb enough to believe that an unpowered plastic doohickey with an antenna on it—not even an air intake or something, but a fucking antenna—can magically detect everything from explosives to ivory. And to believe it enough to spend £45000 apiece on them. And, presumably, the heads of individual police departments—or perhaps individual police—make the ultimate decision to actually use the things.

All of these people are idiots.

The ADE651 exists solely because humankind produced a long enough chain of assholes, and a long enough chain of idiots, and connected the two chains together.

Shit, I need some coffee.
posted by ixohoxi at 7:57 AM on January 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


I really hope James Randi is grooming a protégé (or protégée!) to take over his crusade after he passes. The world needs more polite pitbulls like him.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:05 AM on January 26, 2010


"I would be interested in finding out more about this principle that dowsing uses."

"The corpuscles ... that rise from the Minerals, entering the rod, determine it to bow down, in order to render it parallel to the vertical lines which the effluvia describe in their rise. In effect the Mineral particles seem to be emitted from the earth; now the Virgula [rod], being of a light porous wood, gives an easy passage to these particles, which are also very fine and subtle; the effluvia then driven forwards by those that follow them, and pressed at the same time by the atmosphere incumbent on them, are forced to enter the little interstices between the fibres of the wood, and by that effort they oblige it to incline, or dip down perpendicularly, to become parallel with the little columns which those vapours form in their rise."

Hey! My bullshit-detecting spoon just flew across the room and smacked me in the head.
posted by chronkite at 8:09 AM on January 26, 2010


Thinking about this I got an awesome idea for a source code bug finding tool.

It will be released with a variety of platform apropriate names: gdowsingrod, kdowse, dwsrd-cli, visual-objective-dowse, edowserod and irod

It will lead you through your source code, and based on keyboard / mouse jitter, will detect probable areas of code to check for problems.

It will cost £45000 per seat.
posted by idiopath at 8:15 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


But the ADE651 is (very obviously) a swindle. And it's hard for me to comprehend just how many people had to be idiots and/or assholes for things to get to this point.

All the people who pointed out that the ADE651 didn't work, couldn't possibly work, were rude mean jerks who just want to ruin everyone's fun, you see. And since the highest value is never saying that someone is an uneducated fucking idiot who's going to get people killed, a lot of people just looked the other way. And people fucking died.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:21 AM on January 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


This ruined my day.
posted by georg_cantor at 8:28 AM on January 26, 2010


According to Al Jazeera, the export ban is limited to Iraq and Afghanistan based on the danger it could cause to British troops operating there.

ixohoxi: those in charge of equipping the Iraqi police and army had to be dumb enough

Yep. Assistant Deputy Minister General Tareq al-Asl:
"The reason the director of the company was arrested was not because the device doesn't work, but because he refused to divulge the secret of how it works to the British authorities, and the Americans before them. I have tested it in practice and it works effectively and 100% reliably."
posted by jonesor at 8:33 AM on January 26, 2010


It took literally months for this to happen though. Randi must have first published something about this about late October or early November. I wrote to my MP about it on November 4th anyway, and got nothing back. It wasn't until Newsnight got involved it seems that someone actually sat up and took notice of what people were trying to tell them.

It has been a disgracefully slow response.
posted by edd at 8:38 AM on January 26, 2010


In other news, if you drink a 1/100 dilution of liquefied IED components, it makes you immune to roadside bombs. Also if you've already been hit, it will regrow your severed limbs.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:40 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


The corpuscles ... that rise from the Minerals, entering the rod, determine it to bow down, in order to render it parallel to the vertical lines which the effluvia describe in their rise.

Ha! I am safe from being detected by dowsing. My effluvia do not rise in vertical lines. They go in more of a diagonal slantwise way.
posted by Babblesort at 8:42 AM on January 26, 2010


$85,000,000?!?!?! I am clearly in the wrong business.
posted by localroger at 8:52 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fraud charge? He should be an accessory to murder.
posted by dhartung at 8:53 AM on January 26, 2010


Also if you've already been hit, it will regrow your severed limbs

Surely if you want to regrow a limb, you should apply a paste containing a 10^40 dilution of human limb extract. Be careful not to apply directly to forehead.

Also, all you people in this thread who just had to come here to say that the ADE651 is all snake oil and quackery and bullshit: you can all just kiss my ass. Got that? Kiss my fucking ass.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:58 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find it disheartening that this action will actually probably be a net negative in these countries, as the UK will be seen as "denying" the use of this wondrous device to needy Iraq and Afghanistan officials. That may help explain the laggard reaction, actually. Maybe they were hoping the countries in question would catch on all by themselves and save the West more (unbelievably pointless) bad PR.
posted by Scattercat at 9:13 AM on January 26, 2010


My mind is boggling. They are literally using dowsing rods as a prime defense against bombs in Iraq.

Despite the controversy, the device is still being used at checkpoints across Iraq. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has defended the continued use of the ADE-651. The head of the ministry's counter-explosives unit, General Jihad al-Jabiri, told the BBC that his organisation had "conducted several tests on them, and found them successful.[...]" A senior ministry official, Assistant Deputy Minister General Tareq al-Asl, told Asharq Al-Awsat: "[...]I have tested it in practice and it works effectively and 100% reliably."

I'm having trouble believing these people are this stupid. What I suspect is that at $60,000 each there is a huge kickback for any government official willing to put them into use. So these assholes are getting rich as the Iraqis are blown up. And of course the US is putting billions of dollars (not to mention soldiers lives) into protecting these guys, right?
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:18 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I'm having trouble believing these people are this stupid."
Suffering from the same cognitive biases that affect everyone, not being aware of the ideomotor effect and not knowing how to properly conduct a trial of such devices is not the same as stupidity.
Calling the victims of this (or other products that don't work but might appear to work to some) 'stupid' is neither productive or correct.
posted by edd at 9:22 AM on January 26, 2010


"Calling the victims of this 'stupid' is neither productive or correct."

Seriously? People who believe dowsing rods work aren't stupid? Seriously?

And even if I buy that, which I don't, these aren't primitive villagers cut off from the modern world. These are government officials with computers, a staff, cellphones, etc. The idea that they think an unpowered metal rod either a) works, or b) is worth $60,000 is just too implausible.

And yes, I think calling people who trust dowsing rods stupid *is* productive.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:32 AM on January 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Kickbacks. Bigass kickbacks.
posted by aramaic at 9:34 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Calling the victims of this (or other products that don't work but might appear to work to some) 'stupid' is neither productive or correct."

Oh, edd, how I disagree.

This is the precise kind of thing the word "stupid" is BEST at describing!

The people buying and using these things without any knowledge of how, why, or if they work are stupid in the deepest sense of the word, especially since a)dowsing is total nonsense; b)$60,000? HA HA HA; and c) you're trusting your life and the lives of those around you to a functionless black box with a hinged antennae.

If that's not stupid, blow me up right now!
posted by chronkite at 9:39 AM on January 26, 2010


chronkite: "dowsing is total nonsense"

On the contrary, the ideomotor effect definitely exists, and has actual pragmatic uses. Any situation where someone has to make complex or intuitive judgements can potentially be aided by this effect.

That said I would never trust it with a life or death decision, and the usual explanations given by dowsers for why dowsing works are complete bullshit.
posted by idiopath at 9:50 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the Wikipedia link:

Iraqi civilians have complained that the device seems to have "an unerring attraction to shampoo and soapsuds". According to Iraqi police officer Jasim Hussein, "The vast majority of the people we stop, it's because of their perfume". A fellow officer, Hasan Ouda, commented that "Most people now understand it's what gets them searched, so they don't use as much."
posted by KokuRyu at 9:56 AM on January 26, 2010


Well they're certainly thinking badly, or in cases not thinking at all. I just don't think that in most cases they're incapable of thinking properly if taught, which is what stupid would seem to imply to me.

As for:
" The idea that they think an unpowered metal rod either a) works, or b) is worth $60,000 is just too implausible. "
It was never the case that this was sold as an unpowered metal rod. It was sold as something powered by the person holding it. If external power sources make something dodgy, then solar powered calculators are dodgy. If being powered by the person makes something dodgy, then self-winding wrist watches are dodgy.
This was also sold as an electronic device - it had (essentially fake) electronic cards to insert into the device and it was suggested that it had some kind of circuitry inside. People generally don't have an understanding of how electronics do work, so it's understandable why people might accept it at face value (although maybe not forgiveable).
The guy making the things even said he wanted to add blinkenlights because it didn't look hi-tec enough.

Now I agree that the idea that an unpowered metal rod works is implausible, and that it is worth $60,000, but this is not what people thought they were buying. They thought it was hi-tech equipment, actually capable of detecting bombs.

People were seriously misled about what they were buying. They didn't think they were spending $60,000 on a metal rod with a handle.
posted by edd at 9:56 AM on January 26, 2010


The what effect?

Are you telling me that the guard standing there with this empty black box ALREADY KNOWS that there are explosives, weapons, etc on the truck, and just needs the $60,000 device to CHANNEL HIS PSYCHIC POWERS?

Dowsing IS total nonsense, and if you think it's not I'll happily laugh at you while you walk around my yard with a forked stick.
posted by chronkite at 10:06 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


It strikes me just how carefully the "Independent" has had to choose its words to report on this. One can feel that the articles went not just though the normal scrutiny of an editor, but also thorugh that of a whole team of libel lawyers. The scare quotes on "bogus" are particularly revealing: that word has already brought other people into trouble.

Thank you, Judge Eady. You've made it almost impossible to expose con artists for what they are. You must be so proud of yourself.
posted by Skeptic at 10:08 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Flying to Pakistan? Better not.
posted by Skeptic at 10:12 AM on January 26, 2010


chronkite: "Are you telling me that the guard standing there with this empty black box ALREADY KNOWS that there are explosives, weapons, etc on the truck, and just needs the $60,000 device to CHANNEL HIS PSYCHIC POWERS?"

Are you having reading comprehension problems? Psychic powers are bullshit. The ideomotor effect is useful for intuition. It is not trustworthy for life or death situations, as I plainly stated.
posted by idiopath at 10:16 AM on January 26, 2010


The devices, described as working on a similar principle to dowsing, were sold to the Iraqi government for £45000 a piece.

It's probably the least expensive fraud they've been sold.

But the dowers have the advantage of being completely useless, harmless, and worthless.

I say sell them the dowsers - and ban the sale of everything else - and everyone will be better off.
posted by three blind mice at 10:24 AM on January 26, 2010


The Iraqi official says: "The reason the director of the company was arrested was not because the device doesn't work, but because he refused to divulge the secret of how it works to the British authorities, and the Americans before them."

Well, I'll tell you how this works. You build a piece of junk that costs 5 cent a pop to produce and is worth even less. You try to sell it to Iraq for $ 25,000. They don't buy. You put the price up to $65,000 and promise the difference to the Iraqi official who makes the procurement decision. Iraq buys the junk. People blow up, and you exchange offshore banking tips with those corrupt Iraqi officials.

No wonder he doesn't want to share that "secret".
posted by Skeptic at 10:31 AM on January 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


But the dowers have the advantage of being completely useless, harmless, and worthless.

Did you miss the part where they're using them to find bombs that, if not found, will blow up and kill people?

OH WHAT'S THE HARM IN A LITTLE WOO WOO BULLSHIT?
posted by Legomancer at 10:33 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


These devices worked perfectly as long as they were highly visible and the bombers believed in them.
posted by jamjam at 10:34 AM on January 26, 2010


These devices worked perfectly as long as they were highly visible and the bombers believed in them.
posted by jamjam at 10:34 AM on January 26 [+] [!]


Yeah, I'm sure that those ready to blow themselves up in Iraq or Afghanistan have a great faith in the procurement decisions of their government officials.

On the positive side, maybe Bin Laden has burst a gut laughing at this in his cave.
posted by Skeptic at 10:40 AM on January 26, 2010


idiopath, I am having YOU comprehension problems.

Let me try to get your point straight here.

The ideomotor effect is useful, except where it's not? Psychic powers are bullshit, except when it comes to dowsing?

Perhaps I could buy a device to help me determine when and where this "ideomotor" effect will be useful. It could be powered by ghost farts and human gullibility!

Of course, I'll need a ghost fart detection device....hmmm.
posted by chronkite at 10:48 AM on January 26, 2010


Also, let me get my head round this: it took a BBC exposé to get the British authorities to do anything about this?

We are veritably not impressed.
posted by Skeptic at 10:52 AM on January 26, 2010


chronkite: "The ideomotor effect is useful, except where it's not? Psychic powers are bullshit, except when it comes to dowsing? "

The ideomotor effect is not caused by psychic powers. It is a 100% materialist explanation for what is happening when people claim that paranormal events transpire. The people selling these devices are charlatans. You don't need to spend any money for the ideomotor effect to work.

Is anything else still unclear?

Perhaps you did not look at the article I linked to describing the ideomotor effect? Because the article makes it pretty clear that what I was talking about had nothing to do with the supernatural.

from the article:

Scientific tests by the English scientist Michael Faraday, the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, and the American psychologists William James and Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious "energies," are actually due to ideomotor action. Furthermore, these tests demonstrate that "honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations" (Hyman 1999).[1] They also show that suggestions that can guide behavior can be given by subtle clues (Hyman 1977).

My only disagreement with you was where you said that dowsing did not do anything. It does something. Something that is not worth risking your life over. Something that is in no way psychic powers or supernatural. Something that should not cost you more than $1. But it does something that is in some cases useful.
posted by idiopath at 11:08 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hadn't heard of the ideomotor effect. From wikipedia:

Scientific tests by the English scientist Michael Faraday, the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, and the American psychologists William James and Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious "energies," are actually due to ideomotor action. Furthermore, these tests demonstrate that "honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations" (Hyman 1999).[1] They also show that suggestions that can guide behavior can be given by subtle clues (Hyman 1977).

The way I read that, it's basically saying "People who think they are psychic really aren't. The brain is just aware of a lot of things at an unconscious level, and in some scenarios people can make physical movements based on this knowledge without realizing it."

So I'm reading the ideomotor effect as an alternative scientific explanation for the woo woo stuff. I don't think it's meant to be woo woo.

I'm guessing that in the "tests" of this device, there was some way to guess bomb locations using common sense and intuition. Same with dowsing (lay of the land, etc.). I still remember James Randi's test where he had water running through pipes all under a flat square of land and expert dowsers tried to find the pipes. The diagram showing the pipe locations and the paths the dowsers took is really funny. They just randomly wandered around with no relation to where the water was. Of course they had some excuse about bad energy or displeased spirits or something. Sigh.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:09 AM on January 26, 2010


Oops, idiopath beat me to it. What he said.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:18 AM on January 26, 2010


it does something that is in some cases useful.

OK, WHAT does it do? You can't just say it does something without also saying (and demonstrating) WHAT it does.

Your argument seems to suppose that the diviner/checkpoint guard/spoonbender KNOWS WHERE THE WATER IS, and just needs the instrument of divination to channel it?

Where does this knowledge come from?

the body sometimes reacts reflexively to ideas alone without the person consciously deciding to take action.

Where did these ideas come from?
posted by chronkite at 11:37 AM on January 26, 2010


chronkite: afraid you got the wrong end of the dowsing stick with idiopath's statement (and hope that his clarifying remarks help you see that).

The argument seems to be that people who have to make complex, hard to rationalise, decisions think they to do better when they have a otherwise unremarkable stick in their hand (whether that be where to dig for water, or which of these 100 chaps most seem to warrant a search for a bomb). Maybe by 'switching off', or having confidence, their 'intuitive' (read 'I don't like the look of this fella') processing improves.

Not sure myself how much of it is down to this and to other factors (confirmation bias, kick-backs etc.) but haven't seen anyone in this thread try to say dowaging is woo woo.
posted by Gratishades at 11:38 AM on January 26, 2010


"I'm having trouble believing these people are this stupid."

Well, that guy is responsible for the decision to buy these things. What do you expect him to say, "We're so dumb we paid £40k for a stick" ?
posted by atrazine at 11:38 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


People generally don't have an understanding of how electronics do work, so it's understandable why people might accept it at face value (although maybe not forgiveable).

People generally, sure, but the people in charge of deciding which pieces of high tech gear to buy? Neither understandable nor forgivable.
posted by juv3nal at 12:00 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time many people thought you could tell the future by analyzing dreams.

This is no longer a mainstream opinion, but it is still true that there are things about oneself that one can effectively come to by talking about dreams that are otherwise hard to access.

Once upon a time many people thought that you could tell the future or communicate with the dead by looking at tea leaves.

This is no longer a mainstream opinion, but it is a mainstream psychiatric practice to get insight into someone's psychic makeup by having them give their impressions of ink blots.

The various props that superstition uses, while not having the use that superstition ascribes to them, are still useful without superstition.

I never said that dowsers can find water any more reliably than a dart thrown at a map, but if they can, I presume that would be because of information they may have on an unconscious level, that they may not "know" on a conscious level. Not to say it is unknowable. Just that they can access it easier based on that seemingly independent motions of a stick.

Automatic writing works on the same principle as dowsing, and is an excellent creative tool. Because of the weirdness of how memory works, a dowsing rod in your hand can sometimes lead you to your keys even if you don't consciously remember where you put them - this is a relatively simple and rationally explainable use for dowsing.
posted by idiopath at 12:01 PM on January 26, 2010


I would be interested in finding out more about this principle that dowsing uses.
As dowsing is a natural ability - anyone prepared to give it a try can do it - dowsers are very much down-to-earth people from all walks of life. What we have in common is the recognition that dowsing has been used for centuries for many purposes and, even today, can be profitable in the most unlikely technical based industries and occupations.

...

For example, surveyors and builders need and use dowsing to locate underground pipes and cables etc., where maps are unreliable or non-existent, before digging foundations and the like.

Until privatization of the water industry in the UK, dowsing rods were normal equipment in Water Board vans, especially as there were few reliable maps of our water and drainage systems.
And that's just a few examples. Here are more, with suggested uses for dowsing including Feng Shui.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:03 PM on January 26, 2010


Also: dowsing, previously.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:03 PM on January 26, 2010


Y...E...S.......T...H...E...R...E.....I...S....C...4......I...N.....T...H...I...S......C...A...R.........
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 12:21 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


idiopath, I think I get your gist, now..we're more or less in agreement here.

filthy light thief, I turn to you and say there's ONE MILLION dollars waiting for you or whoever else can demonstrate to James Randi actual proof of dowsing working, at all, ever.

No more links to random web sites with random enthusiasts of random metaphysical nonsense please, just link to the article reporting on your big million dollar payday.
posted by chronkite at 12:54 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real
posted by Smedleyman at 1:52 PM on January 26, 2010



“Perhaps I could buy a device to help me determine when and where this "ideomotor" effect will be useful.”

There is an actual sort of ideomotor effect. It’s pretty much what you have to drill out of yourself to efficiently do a certain kind of action. It’s why new fighters look like they’re telegraphing everything. You’ve got little leading effects in your muscles before an action or in sympathy with an action or expected action. Also why Michael Jordan could make someone trip over themselves when trying to guard him. Get good enough at it and you can ‘move between the moments’ – which, y’know is b.s. in terms of jargon (but does sound cool) but is reflective of the reality. If you throw 10,000 punches, you condition your brain and muscles to react more smoothly in that motion than someone who is just starting. And too, if you watch Mike Tyson throw a combo his hands are supernaturally (yeah hyperbole) fast (his final left hook into Trevor Berbick was a thing of beauty). But he did start throwing off cues when he stopped training with D’Amato.

…I digress. Anyway, it exists. But (to 2nd idiopath) it’s just unconscious telegraphing behavior (and confirmation bias).
posted by Smedleyman at 2:18 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't any law prohibiting the sale of this thing also ban the sale of other pseudo scientific products like homeopathic remedies etc?
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 2:40 PM on January 26, 2010


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