- Dowsing is a method claimed to be able to find stuff underground. You walk around with a stick until it points downwards.
- Skeptics think that dowsers are merely observing surface conditions in order to locate groundwater. Dowsing success is inconsistent (though a few dowsers are successful consistently), and also that dowsers only look in areas expected to have water.
- Dowsing proponents say that dowsing studies aren’t designed well. Most dowsers are self-proclaimed, and bad – these people are the ones studied. But, some dowsers may be sensitive to variations in the earth’s magnetic field. These are the ones to study: they may even be better than scientists using scientific tools.
- A recent study supported dowsing proponents. Dowsers and geologists/hydrologists faced off in unfamiliar, arid terrain, and there were no surface clues indicating water. The dowsers were consistently and significantly better at predicting water. This suggests dowsers can find water underground.
Note: The information below is not strictly relevant to the passage analysis, but I think it is important.
Dowsing isn’t real. The LSAT writes its passages from real sources, and generally makes them factually accurate. But this article is totally false.
Its source is “The Society for Scientific Exploration” – you can find it at the end of the preptest. I looked over the article, and the discussion on wikipedia.
For the desert experiments described above, I could find no commentary, and we mostly have to take the author’s (Hans Dieter Betz) claims on faith. We have no independent confirmation that the dowsers actually achieved success, and no one ever replicated these results.
But fortunately, there are two other fairly conclusive pieces of evidence:
- James Randi, noted magician and skeptic, has a standing offer of $10,000 for any dowser who can demonstrate success. No one has claimed it. In 1991 Randi did an experiment with 30 dowsers, none of whom came close to identifying water flowing in pipes underground.
- The biggest study done by Betz involved dowsers trying to find water in a barn. This is the same author of the geological study described in this article. In this case, his methods were documented much more precisely, and so they could be analyzed by an outside researcher. The researcher concluded that the dowsers performed no better than chance, and could have improved their detection rating simply by moving in a straight line.
Despite much investigation over the years, no convincing evidence has emerged that dowsing is real. The only studies purporting to show it are by paranormal societies, who are dedicated to proving such fantasies as ghosts, psi, telepathy, telekineses, and other things which sound fun but have failed every single attempt at being proven under controlled conditions.
Dowsing is also false, and LSAC should be ashamed for implying that it is true.
I should also note that on lines 23-25, the passage has skeptics saying that some dowsers are consistently successful. I know of no skeptic who would say that about dowsers!
Ok, now to analyze this fraudulent passage. Honestly, there isn’t much subtlety to the overall structure. You can best understand it simply by understanding each paragraph. You should read the paragraph summaries I made and make sure they’re all clear. If any aren’t, reread that section of the passage in combination with my summary.
The only important structural element is on line 47: “The last two claims were corroborated….”
Those claims were made by dowsing proponents. So, the author is saying that the study in paragraph 4 supports the dowsing proponents in paragraph 3. Specifically, these two claims:
- Dowsers can detect changes in Earth’s magnetic field.
- Some dowsers can detect water better than scientists.
I had a look over the questions. They support my view that the overall structure of the passages isn’t important.
- Questions 15-17 only ask about the skeptics. This paragraph is its own thing, there is no back and forth dialogue between skeptics and proponents.
- Question 18 tests the link between paragraphs 3 and 4 that I mentioned, about support for two claims.
- Question 19 asks about a specific fact from paragraph 1, which is unconnected to the rest of the passage.
- Question 20 is about a fact from paragraph 4.
Most RC passages require you to know the main idea of a passage and use it periodically when interpreting questions. But this passage was much more about knowing specific facts or analyzing specific sections of the passage. There was little overall theme, and no point-counterpoint between skeptics and proponents.
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