Experts are VERY alarmed
A rebuttal by Arpad Vass, Ph.D.
Most people, if they watch the news these days, have heard of Fake News. This is where the entire report or article has been fabricated. There is also something out there called deceptive journalism where the basic premise may be true, but the statements have been altered or omitted to such an extent that the meaning has been changed to deceive the audience. A wonderful example of this occurred in history when a United States Senator was asked about his family and he told the story of how his grandfather died years ago when the platform he was standing on collapsed. On the face of it, this ‘story’ seems plausible and invokes sympathy – maybe even to the point of someone voting for this person. However, later it was revealed that the deceased did in fact die when the platform gave way underneath him, but the ‘platform’ was a trap door that was triggered as he was hanged for being a horse thief. The motivation for this deceptive writing technique is not always clear-cut – it could be monetary gain, furthering an agenda, increasing readership, favors, or a multitude of other reasons.
The reason I am writing this article is that I consider myself the victim of this type of journalism in a newsletter article recently written by Rene Ebersole, with ‘fact checkers’, Emma Rindlisbacher and Sophie Murguia, as part of the Marshall Project (https://www.themarshallproject.org/2022/03/17/witching-dowsing-buried-bodies-police).
After this newsletter came out, I received numerous emails and phone calls from associates indicating how egregious the article was especially in regard to ‘junk science’ being used as a tag word and since readers were not provided a way to comment to the editor regarding this article, I was prompted to write this commentary and correct some of the ‘incomplete and misleading statements.
When approached about this article, I understood it to be about my latest invention: the Quantum Oscillator (QO), which uses resonance frequencies to locate comparative objects in the environment. This can be live or deceased individuals, various objects – virtually anything. I discuss this among many other topics when I teach Forensic Anthropology. Do I also discuss and demonstrate dowsing? – well, yes I do. The QO was actually invented to overcome some of the negative aspects of dowsing (e.g., environmental factors) that would interfere with the detection of bone. Can dowsing locate bone? The answer is yes and I know why. I explain this to the students and let them try it for themselves. They can make up their own minds after they learn the proper way to use the antennae, the correct materials of which to make them, and the pros and cons of this technology – yes, you read correctly: TECHNOLOGY. City workers, for instance, still use this technology to find underground water pipes – also omitted from the article. Locating human remains, whether in clandestine graves or scatter fields which can be many years old, is the most difficult task I have yet faced in my scientific career. One of the main reasons it is so difficult is because you don’t always have a starting point. The search area could be the size of a football stadium or an area the size of SW Virginia, and you almost never find a complete skeleton due to animal scavenging, acts by the perpetrator, or just the passage of time.
Perpetrators rarely just lay their victims out in the open where they can be easily found - they take steps to hide them which includes burial, dismemberment, etc. Every search is unique and poses its own challenges. That is why I use EVERY tool in the toolbox to help locate these missing individuals – and yes, dowsing and the QO are part of the toolbox along with ground-penetrating radar, infrared technology, drones, canines, horses, magnetometers, soil resistivity, soil biomarker analysis, changes in the vegetation and soil, chemical tests like Schiffs reagent, helicopters, consultation with other experts, etc., something on which Rene conveniently didn’t elaborate after many hours of interviews and email exchanges. Have I had failures in trying to precisely pinpoint deceased individuals or objects? Of course, I have and it is not always clear why – you can miss a clandestine grave, surface scatter, or submerged object by as little as a few feet and it will never be discovered. Possible reasons include environmental interferences, signal bounce, frequency overlap, or some other parameter, but I learn something from every unsuccessful recovery and use that knowledge to improve the QO instrument so that one day we will find everyone who has gone missing.
So let me begin to examine the newsletter article and inform the readership of that which has been omitted which would have provided a clearer picture of the facts of what clearly was, in my opinion, and in the opinion of colleagues who read it, a one-sided article slanted to attack me.
The use of dowsing technology as explained to students is based on scientific principles which we learn about in science classes in secondary and college settings. It involves physics, chemistry, and engineering. To claim it is the ‘pseudoscience of witching’ is completely misleading and indicates to me that the unnamed experts Rene interviewed have never looked into the science behind the technology. The 2021 dowsing ‘study’ was, in my opinion, ‘useless’ because in order to properly dowse, you must be instructed in proper techniques and theory, use the right materials, and be informed of possible of interferences, which did not apply in that study. Remember that dowsing technology in a forensic setting is used only to locate skeletal remains, is used in conjunction with other tools in the toolbox, and is almost always used only when all other techniques have failed. I wonder what question Rene really asked Mr. Shrewberry when his reply was that if wrong, it can create “…life-altering impacts…” This brings me to the case in Georgia where an NFA graduate used dowsing to locate the human remains of the missing person they were looking for which might not have ever been found without using this technology. Using the antennae to find the victim’s remains did not convict the guilty party but was used only to find the remains. It is interesting that Rene failed to mention how significant this tool has been, that the technology did in fact work, and that OTHER students have ALSO found human remains with this technology, but rather included a quote about junk science and continually calls this witching. What does the discovery of confirmed human remains have anything at all to do with wrongful convictions? She goes on later in the article and discusses the thoughts of unnamed scientists who claim that ideomotor effects are the reason dowsing works, but unfortunately fails to mention that ideomotor effects only apply if you know something is there or want it to be there not if you are looking for something in an unknown location and actually find it.
The article continues on with some of my accomplishments – completely skipping all my research in determining the post-mortem interval of decedents, my other patents and publications in international peer-reviewed journals, the creation of the odor database of human remains, and all my other research, some of which has been used worldwide. Instead, she focused on the LABRADOR, citing that it “never launched commercially” – without explaining why it didn’t and why it was out of my control, and also incorrectly reporting that it was meant to be ‘better than a cadaver dog’ which was never the intent, but was designed instead to augment their amazing capabilities. I even gave a TED talk on this subject (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0Qd2nxMC2Y) which she did not reference. This was completely misleading as was the section on the Casey Anthony trial, which, by the way, had absolutely nothing to do with dowsing or the QO. In that case, I proved that the odor of human decomposition in the trunk of the car did not come from the trash found in the trunk. Surprisingly, the chemist she chose to interview was on the defense team and she provided no comments from the prosecutors. Whatever happened to fair and balanced reporting? The defense lawyer in closing arguments even stated that the body was in the trunk (no one carries a body along the street before dumping that body in a swamp as they might be seen - they drive the victim there).
As mentioned earlier, the QO does not operate on the same technology as dowsing – it uses resonance frequencies to locate things. Interestingly, Rene chose to talk about the patent, and while Ms. France is correct that getting a patent doesn’t mean that it works, Rene failed to mention that when we submitted it to the patent office, the lawyers asked us to come up to Washington, D.C. for a demonstration because they didn’t believe it worked as claimed. They were so impressed that they wanted to fast-track the patent through National Security channels. Rene’s discussion about Mike Hadsell from PRSAR was particularly disturbing. It is true that I made several QO devices and have given them to individuals across the country for independent field testing purposes to be used in conjunction with other technologies such as canines, etc. PRSAR is one of the organizations which has a unit and Mike has claimed a 60% proven success rate for the QO when looking specifically for something or someone. Rene claimed in the article that he ‘couldn’t back up his data’. The truth is that many of these cases he has worked on when using the QO have not been finalized in the court system and it would not be prudent to discuss these cases until they are adjudicated. Also, providing all that data to Rene would involve many days of tracking down investigators and family members and asking for their permission which was explained to her. Rene asked him to provide all this data and then turned around and published her article the next day. To make matters even more egregious, Mike did in fact earlier provide Rene and her fact-checkers with a closed case, case number, and contact information for the detective on the case. Mike claims that the victim would never have been found without the aid of the QO. He even invited Rene to visit him in Florida to show her how they utilize the QO (since she was going to have been in Florida anyway). Did she include this case in her article? Did she visit Mike in Florida? Of course not. That information really wouldn’t fit the narrative of the article. Claims that the article length was cut so she couldn’t put everything she wanted in the article really doesn’t work for me. She could have easily included this success story to make the article fair and balanced.
Regarding the O’Sullivan search, no technology is 100%. Rene was told this yet failed to print most of my comments when asked about this search and instead wrote that I provided the GPS coordinates where they would find David, not where the searchers should focus their search. When searching from a helicopter you can only give generalized coordinates that must be thoroughly searched. This was one of the most complicated and dangerous search areas I have ever seen with large predators and the possibility of only a few skeletal elements remaining. One searcher in that area is insufficient and I maintain that one person could not have properly done that alone. She even failed to mention that a trained human remains detection canine gave a positive alert in the wash coming off that cliff site confirming that human remains were in the area. While there is much, much, more to this particular story, all I will say is that none of the other individuals who were convinced that David was to be found in the ‘less difficult’ terrain were successful.
Regarding anthropology professors Bartelink and Gill-King, who claim that the QO is not scientifically valid (Rene never indicates that they have any expertise regarding radio frequencies, resonance frequencies, physics, electrical signatures, or antennae theory, etc.), how are they qualified to comment on dowsing or the QO? It is doubtful, in my opinion, that these anthropologists had even heard of piezoelectricity (or knew that bone has this property) until Rene talked to them and told them what I said. Have they ever called me to discuss my technology, gone out on a search with me, looked into how the QO works or talked to people who do? Of course not. I wonder how many older forensic clandestine graves they have located in their careers. I‘m not talking about excavating – anyone can dig a hole, but actually going out in the field and finding the correct spot to excavate. Rene, of course, did not print that they were completely unqualified to comment on my instrument and did not print my comments in response to theirs, nor did she bother to interview professionals in my field who do understand what I am trying to do.
Rene ends her article with me discussing false positives in the field. Because all bone is piezoelectric, animal bones will give you a false positive when looking for human remains. The students need to be aware of this if they plan to use this technology in the field. It is also no surprise that there was no mention at all that we spent almost an hour at the gravesite discussing the excavation, what to collect as evidence, how to preserve the evidence, what the results mean, examining the skeletal remains for trauma and developing a bio profile, etc., in addition to how to locate the grave in the first place using various technologies.
In conclusion, I want to say that deceptive journalism needs to stop. People who write these types of one-sided articles should be called out and prohibited from writing them in the future. I am a firm believer in free speech, but I do not think this should include deceptive journalism. In my opinion, organizations that fund, support, promote, and/or redistribute this type of journalism (e.g. Mother Jones, Newsweek, etc.) are equally culpable. Rene could easily have included one or more of the many success stories I have had over the years (live finds included), yet chose to focus almost exclusively on the negative. In the end, this hurts the families who want answers and to find their loved ones. If they believe the deceptive misinformation that Rene has written, then they potentially have one less search option available to assist them in locating their missing relative(s). No technology is 100%, but every day we are getting closer to that goal, and it is the out-of-the-box thinker who is going to get us there, not the close-minded.