Lewis Rees

Date of demonstration:
March 17, 2012
Lead Investigator:
Spencer Marks
Spencer Marks
Courtesy Brian Hart and Mark Johnson

Source of Contact

On January 23rd, 2012, the Independent Investigations Group in Los Angeles received a Challenge application through our automated system from a gentleman named Lewis Rees from Phoenix, Arizona. Mr. Rees was Facebook friends with one of our members, Anna Bishop, and had been directed to us by her because they had had conversations about his abilities as a water dowser. He had been trained as a dowser seven years before, at the age of 64. Mr. Rees categorized dowsing not as a psychic ability but rather an unknown “natural” ability. 

Dave Richards of the IIG Steering Committee answered Mr. Rees on the same day, and a series of three or four e-mails were then sent between them. Negotiations for a protocol stalled, and the negotiations were then turned over to Spencer Marks, also of the Steering Committee.

Claim and Negotiations

During the early e-mails, Mr. Rees mentioned that he would only use one hand to hold the dowsing rod, and not two, as is the more common practice. Mr. Rees mentioned that it didn’t matter which hand the rod was held in. He claimed when water was detected, the rod would turn inward, toward his body, regardless of where the water was in relation to him. This action matched the motion of most practitioners of dowsing, even though some use two rods which tend to move inward to the body and cross each other.

After two or three e-mails were exchanged with Mr. Rees, it was clear that Mr. Rees was trying to make the protocol much more difficult than it needed to be, with him suggesting that Spencer look for “disturbed ground” near a building that might have a water pipe buried within. Spencer Marks asked Mr. Rees specifically if he could find any hidden water, and Rees assured him that he could, as little as one cup.

In the next e-mail, Spencer asked him if he would be comfortable looking for a gallon of water beneath a cardboard box, as this seemed a bit easier to set up than a cup of water beneath four feet of dirt. Mr. Rees agreed that this would be a simple test of his abilities.

After that, the protocol negotiations went quickly and smoothly, and it was agreed that the IIG would hide a gallon of water beneath one of 15 standard file storage boxes in the Center for Inquiry (CFI) parking lot, the headquarters of the main branch of the IIG. Mr. Rees would have to determine which box the water was hidden inside. IIG volunteers would mark off a distance of at least ten feet in our parking lot between the boxes, and Rees would have three trials in which he would have to find the water with 100% accuracy. This would allow the odds against random chance to be 3,375:1, (15^3) which are approximately the odds (5,000: 1) we require of any preliminary demonstration. If Mr. Rees could find the water under these conditions, he would be eligible to move on to the actual test, which requires beating a minimum 1,000,000:1. This would have been accomplished by running the same test with six trials instead of three.

Mr. Rees would be allowed to pre-dowse the entire parking lot, without boxes, with the empty boxes, and with the gallon of water in a controlled, known spot. After he had satisfied himself that the parking lot offered no background interference with ground water, and that he would be able to detect the water in the gallon jug we had provided, he would move on to the actual demonstration.

The date was set to match the next general meeting of the IIG – Los Angeles, which was scheduled for March 17th, 2012. 

Lewis Rees and Jim Underdown
Lewis Rees and Jim Underdown

As usual, in our behind-the-scenes discussions about setting up the test for Mr. Rees, we discussed ways to thwart possible cheating. We noted that Mr. Rees could position a confederate somewhere near our parking lot at the Center For Inquiry who could watch to see which box the water was hidden beneath and secretly signal Mr. Rees. To combat this possibility, we decided to put milk jugs beneath all the boxes, filling 14 additional jugs with kiln-dried sand along with the one jug of water. This way, any onlooker would see jugs being placed under all the locations, and (hopefully) not be able to determine which was the water jug. To insure a double-blind test, the location of the water jug would be determined at the time of the demonstration by an IIG volunteer picking a number (one through 15) from a hat, then placing the water beneath the box with the corresponding number. Once the first team placed all the water and sand jugs in the parking lot in the under the designated spots, that team would leave the area and signal a second team to  escort Mr. Rees from inside the building where he was sequestered to the parking lot to begin the demonstration. At no time would he be allowed to touch any of the boxes.