Answering the question of whether something is fact or fiction is very hard. The reason being, there are people who believe and then there are those that feel if mainstream science cannot prove it, it must be false. Speaking of dowsing is no different.
I was raised in the mountains of eastern Tennessee where many superstitions were born over the years. There are many superstitions that I call false that my grandmother swears by. I am sure you have heard of many of them so I'll get on to the dowsing.
When I was a young boy all those years ago many of the people around eastern Tennessee were very poor people. They had to rely on their knowledge and abilities more than on science. One of these people was a dowser. I had a chance to know him rather well since he was a close family friend.
I saw him one day walking around the lawn and close pasture fields of his house with a funny looking stick in his hand. I ran over and asked him what he was doing and he ignored me and walked away. I thought I had done something to make him angry.
I went to his wife to inquire about what hew was doing and to find out how I may have offended him. She proceeded to explain to me that he was looking for a spot for them to make a well. Naturally I was very inquisitive and asked if he would show me how to do it. She proceeded to tell me how he couldn't just tell anyone. It had to be a certain person he told. He could only tell another man and it had to be one of his children or grandchildren. I don't remember which. I do remember that he did find water when he dug his well. I also remember several other wells he "witched". This was the common term in our area for finding waster.
When I was a little older, I was working for a man that could take two wires and hold them in his hand and find the direction of flow for an underground stream or water pipe. I was never as captivated with this method as with the witching of water. This seemed to easy to fake to me. Still, I cannot prove this man wrong.
To these people and to others there is no doubt that "dowsing" or "witching" is a fact. I cannot be 100% sure but I have no reason to doubt what I saw. I do know that not everyone has this ability. It has to be some sort of witchcraft if it is that secretive.
Scientists have done several studies on the process of dowsing with no results proving it is a fact, but not completely disproving either. One of these tests had the dowsers in an upstairs section of a two story barn. Water was run through a pipe on the ground floor and they were asked to pinpoint the location of the water pipe. These tests were completed over a two year period for a total of 843 tests. Of the 43 dowsers competing in this test 37 never found it at 6 averaged better than chance at finding it. Proved or disproved? I haven't a clue.
I can only say that science cannot prove or disprove that of which there is no background. Maybe it must be outdoors as to not interfere with the earth's electromagnetic field. There are several factors one cannot take haphazardly when trying to prove or disprove superstitious acts or findings such as these.