Monday, January 25, 2010

Bombs in Baghdad

Does it seem to you that the Iraqi government isn't doing a very good job catching suicide bombers these days??  Does to me.  But it didn't make much sense until yesterday; now, it makes all too much sense.

Yesterday, James Randi (The Amazing Randi, a lifelong opponent of pseudoscience, snake oil sales, and general fakery) posted a link to this article on CrunchGear:

Magic wand bomb detector deemed fraudulent, inventor imprisoned

You can and should go read this yourself, but to summarize for the impatient:  the Iraqi government has spent $85 million (which we probably gave them) on so-called "bomb detectors" which are essentially - dowsing rods.  That's right.  You wave them at a car and they sense bombs.  Not.  The British government has just jailed the inventor on fraud charges (currently out on bail) and banned the export of this device.  The Iraqi government claims the jailing was because the inventor has refused to reveal to the U.S. and U.K. governments how the device works.  Unfortunately, the actual reason is because these governments understand exactly how the device does NOT work.  Sandia National Labs and the FBI flagged this device as a fraud in 1995.

Do the bombs in Baghdad make more sense now?

You can find more comments and links on the subject at the James Randi Educational Foundation.  Keep in mind that the JREF has a standing offer of $1 million to anyone who can prove that a device like this works in a controlled test.  No one has ever won it, certainly no one associated with this device.

Phil Plait from the Bad Astronomy blog posted another article on the subject at JREF in which he quotes an Iraqi general as saying he likes the devices because they're fast:  "Checking cars with dogs, however, is a slow process, whereas the wands take only a few seconds per vehicle."  But if they used dogs, they might actually find some bombs.

Why is the U.S. government giving Iraq all the money we're giving them if they're going to spend it on dowsing rods??


  1. NPR has been all over this story for a while, too. The Iraqi cultural prejudice against dogs has a lot to do with it, too. There are some prejudices that can be fatal.

  2. Funny, I usually listen to NPR pretty regularly, but I missed this there, got it on Facebook from Randi.

    I hadn't thought about the Iraqi (let's be honest: Arab) cultural prejudice against dogs. But you're right.

  3. The Iraqis should give dogs a chance.

    For most of my first 50 years, I hated dogs, avoided them. Distrusted them. They routinely bit me during my four year stint as a delivery boy for the Napa Register.

    But in my 60th year, I suddenly fell in love with dogs. I'm a cat owner, and I prefer cats in the house (they're clean and manageable, and don't need to be taken outdoors constantly), but dogs I now find perfectly delightful. The annual dog show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco is coming up this weekend, and I'll be there.

    Dogs were used at Abu Graib to terrorize the terrorists. Then there were those brown dunce hoods they put on them while they were electrifying them. Bad business all around.

    But I like dogs now. Such enthusiasm!

  4. Here is the story from...LAST SEPTEMBER 8th???? Wow, time sure flies.

    Oddly, I don't see the reference to dogs, which I thought I picked up from there.