A year ago, Randi finished off a succesful attack on a device that was a swindle at best, and a killer at worst. That device, "Sniffex," was a divining rod purported by its marketers to detect explosives. (Not to be confused with SniffEx, a scientific – and functioning – sensor.)
Sadly, another troll has taken residence under the bridge.Visit NPR and take a look at the picture there. Yes, that's a soldier holding a divining rod. It's looking for bombs, and it's going to get people killed.
NPR did a good job on this article, taking the right tone, and calling it like it is. But I wish it had been longer than three minutes.
Here's a choice quote:
Police officer Husam Muhammad says using the device properly is more of an art than a science, and he demonstrates how to walk with a steady rocking march, holding the sniffer out ahead of him.
"If we are tense, the device doesn't work correctly. I start slow, and relax my body, and I try to clear my mind," he says.
Yes, you'd better practice those relaxation techniques, because you're waving a hunk of plastic with an antenna stuck on it at what could possibly be a car bomb.
He's claiming that this device which has "saved lives" is an art form rather than a science and he's right – there's no science at all here. But there IS a patent. And that means... well, it means someone filled out a lot of paperwork. That's about it.
I understand that people without a science background might see the device and think "Ooh, they're using it... it must work" and that that would supposedly be a deterrent. (I suspect lie detectors are used so often for the same reason.) But we're talking about bombs here, in a war zone. Bombmakers are sophisticated enough to know that dowsing isn't real. Can we stop playing pretend now? Please?
Randi decided to make his point very clear about this matter, and posted this message in the articles comment section:
Police officer Husam Muhammad, the head of Baghdad's bomb squad,Gen. Jihad al-Jaberi, Iraq's deputy minister of the interior Adnan al-Asadi, or ANY MEMBER of the Iraqi armed forces - can win the Foundation's million-dollar prize (see http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html) if they can demonstrate that this device works to find ANYTHING. We are the group who alerted the U.S. military and the U.S. Navy to the "Sniffex" scam and put Sniffex out of business. The prize is legit, the device being used, is not. ANYONE can apply for and win the prize, if they can show that it works. It's a fake, a fraud, and a deception. If you think not, apply...
If you agree, you might want to recommend that post to the readers of the NPR article. You might also want to let people know that superstition persists in the world today, it still has teeth, and it still draws blood.