Weather Vol. 44. No. 1 pp. 2-10 January 1989 G. T. Meaden
This article by former Oxford physicist Terrance Meaden and was the culmination of a series of six earlier pieces written over the preceding eight years and published in the Journal of Meteorology (copies of the Journal of Meteorology containing these works have not been discovered at the time of writing this review). After nearly a decade of research into crop circles Meaden explains his theories of a natural cause for crop circles that involved a special type of vertical airflow which he described as an intense descending whirlwind. Meaden’s work contributes significantly to the field because, from the outset, he carefully inspected crop circles, and the area surrounding crop circles, for any sign of human involvement in their formation. He also inspected the plants for signs of physical damage that would indicate a human/mechanical construction method and noted that in the hundreds of cases where he was the first known person to visit the crop circle there was no evidence to suggest any other person had been there prior to him.
Whilst Meaden later amended his initial theory that crop circles were formed by a special type of whirlwind his observations of the physical characteristics of crops circles and the collection of eyewitness accounts continues to support the idea that some form of “wind” is involved in the overall process of crop circle formation.
Meaden’s work is also significant because it was the first extensive scientific survey of crop circles and leaves an extensive body of empirical data.
Britain's Crop Circles: Reaping by Whirlwind?
Alun Anderson Science New Series, Vol. 253, No. 5023 (Aug. 30, 1991), pp. 961-962
This article reviews the work Terrance Meaden who by 1991 theorised that crop circles were the result of some type of unusual meteorological event such as ball lightning, air vortexes or vertical whirlwinds. By the time that this article was written Meaden had spent more than a decade accumulating crop circle data, which included him personally inspecting and documenting more than 1,000 crop circles to help develop theoretical models. Anderson compares Meaden’s work with the ideas of others working in related areas of physics and meteorology. This article is particularly interesting in that it comes immediately after the media coverage of Bower and Chorley’s claims (July 1991).
Probably as a result of the hoax claims Meaden amended his original theory to include the possibility that the extremely complex crop circles were made by human hoaxers and that the simpler designs were probably the result of ionised plasma balls (ball lightning) in conjunction with some other undocumented meteorological effect. Anderson explains several of Meaden’s theories and also cites the work of Yoshihiko Ohtsuki, professor of physics at Waseda University, Tokyo, who had succeeded in making ionized plasma balls and “miniature crop circles … by dropping plasma fireballs onto a horizontal plate covered with aluminum powder.” Anderson mentions the hoax issue without going into it in great detail.
This article examines the work of astronomer Gerald S. Hawkins, whose calculations helped prove Stonehenge’s function as an early astronomical observatory. Hawkins examined the dimensions and designs of a large number of crop circles over a period of ten years and discovered the existence of complex geometric relationships within and between crop circles. As with most articles published in the early 1990’s Peterson refers to the hoax claims of Chorley and Bower while also reporting the elaborate “mathematical sophistication” that Hawkins had discovered was incorporated within the crop circles’ geometry. Peterson draws no definite conclusions about crop circle origins but wonders that two elderly landscape artists (Bower and Chorley) would have the skills or knowledge necessary to incorporate such complex geometry into crop circles and then that they should not mention that they had done so in any of the many media interviews they conducted concerning crop circles.
Thirteen letters in response to Peterson’s Hawkins Article
Author(s): David Vanderschel, Ben Thompson, James R. Guadagno, Donald Duncan, Richard Siluk, Harold Ensle, John C. Kasher, Alexei Panshin, Cory Panshin, William E. Lerner, George Wingfield, Bo Thott, Roger Dorr
This batch of letters appeared in the issue of Science News that immediately followed Peterson’s article on Gerald Hawkins’ work. It is included here as it is indicative of general attitudes within academic circles regarding the crop circle debate. Of the thirteen published letters nine expressed varying degrees of ridicule for Hawkins’ work while the remaining four letters supported his work. One of these four, by John Kasher, Professor of Physics at the University of Nebraska, concludes “ … we should remain objective and not allow our- selves to be limited by our personal biases.”
This short piece in Science News revisits Gerald Hawkins’ work four years after the original, 1992, article. It reports on further developments in Hawkins’ research and the discovery that many crop circles “… displayed exact numerical relationships, all of them involving diatonic ratios, the simple whole-number ratios that determine a scale of musical notes” and that … "These designs demonstrate the remarkable mathematical ability of their creators.” The article deals with the hoax issue by simply stating: “How these crop circles were created in the dead of night at the height of the summer growing season remains a puzzle, though hoaxers have claimed responsibility for some of them.” This issue of logistics, raised by Science News, is one ignored by all supporters of the human hoax origin position.
Crop Circles and Euclidean Geometry
International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, Vol. 25:3, 1994 pp. 343-346 by Tara A. Riese & Yong-Zhuo Chen.
This article relates to Hawkins’ discovery of complex geometry being contained within crop circles. It is of particular interest because, despite the large number of letters ridiculing Hawkins’ findings that appeared in Science News this paper appears to be the only example of anyone testing Hawkins’ claims mathematically. The authors, lecturers at the University of Pittsburgh, tested Hawkins’ work in their geometry class and found that all of Hawkins’ results proved to be correct. This work is of particular interest because it highlights a re-occurring issue in crop circle research, that there is a tendency to ridicule the results of research without the critic actually testing those results in a scientific manner. Whereas when the work is tested without bias the results appear to favour the “non-hoax” position.
The Most "Mind Boggling" Crop Circle
British Heritage; Nov 2008; Vol. 29; 5; p. 8; by Anonymous
Whilst this piece is not from a peer reviewed journal it is from a respected journal. And although it does not actually take a position on the origin of crop circles it is inserted directly after the work of Hawkins and that of Riese & Yong-Zhuo Chen because this crop circle’s complex mathematical and geometric properties were discovered and explained by a respected astrophysicist, Associate Professor Mike Reed.
Reed discovered that the design of the crop circle incorporated a pictorial puzzle, or representation, which contained the numeric value to pi to ten decimal points.
What makes this article interesting is that whilst it was reported in the British Heritage journal and a number of newspapers and although it incorporated a complex, never before seen, pictorial depiction of pi, it has been ignored by all academic journals and even the author of the British Heritage piece chose to remain anonymous, such has become the stigma associated with crop circle research.
Crop Circle Research
This website is set up to further serious academic study on crop circles, particuarly the history of cop circles; the primary purpose of this site is to only publish material which meets the strictest evidential and academic guidelines.
That is not to devalue anything presented by other websites but simply that information posted here will be structured so that sources can referenced in such a way that they would pass the most rigorous academic publication criteria. This will reduce the quantity of what is posted here but will make that which is reported of the highest verifiable quality. The first page opens with a review of the existing literature. If any visitors to this site know of any other material published in peer reviewed journals or reputable academic publications please email me by pressing button
Crop Circles: A Critical Literature Review
By Greg Jefferys
A complete survey of the academic literature concerning crop circles.
Crop circles appear every year all around the world, in their hundreds, while over 10,000 crop circles have been documented in recent history. The origin of crop circles is the subject of debate and, for many people, crop circles remain a profound mystery having no agreed scientific explanation. Crop circles are also genuine historic artefacts that can be documented to have been occurring for more than 300 years. Despite the relative antiquity of crop circles their frequency and complexity appears to have increased significantly over the last thirty years. This sudden increase in complexity is one of the factors that has led to the heated, often irrational, debate as to whether crop circles are a phenomenon of human or non-human origin.
Whilst there have been literally thousands of articles, books, magazines, newsletters, photographs and websites published concerned with the subject of crop circles, their origins and causes, there has been almost no serious academic study of the subject. Despite the obvious public interest in the subject, at the time of writing this review, it would appear that there have been not more than a dozen articles concerning crop circles that have been published in peer reviewed journals and another dozen or so “news” type articles published in recognised academic publications such as Nature or Science News.
There are probably several contributing reasons for the scarcity of scholarly literature on crop circles, the most obvious of these being the highly publicised claims by Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, in 1991, that they had created all of England’s crop circles and had perpetuated a massive hoax on the world in the name of “art”. The other obvious deterrent to scholars investigating the phenomena is the general association of crop circles with an array of pseudo-sciences such as UFOs, the New Age movement and other movements that routinely ascribe supernatural origins to many unexplained phenomena.
Prior to 1991, and the Bower and Chorley hoax claims, the debate surrounding crop circles focused primarily on whether they were caused by UFOs, were a supernatural phenomenon or were the product of unexplained natural events such as an effect of meteorological origins. It was only after Bower and Chorley’s claims that the hoax concept entered the crop circle debate as a significant factor. Bower and Chorley’s claims, and subsequent, similar, claims by Rod Dickinson, another artist, also introduced the concept of “crop circles as hoax art” and effectively divided the study of crop circles into three reasonably distinct periods.
Period 1. Pre-1980 when crop circles received little public or media attention.
Period 2. 1980 to 1991 when crop circles received increasing public attention and were widely considered to be ‘genuine’ mysteries but became associated with ‘pseudo-sciences’ such as the study of UFOs. (The end of the 1980’s also saw the first publication of a book dedicated to the subject of crop circles, Circular Evidence, by Colin Andrews.)
Period 3.Post 1991 when the opinion on crop circles became sharply divided between those who argued that crop circles were of human origin and were hoaxes and those who maintained that Bower and Chorley’s claim to have made all crop circles was actually the hoax and argued that the majority of crop circles remained an unexplained phenomenon.
This review will take the position that the available evidence suggests that many crop circles are not man made hoaxes but are unexplained events that can be proven to have taken place throughout at least the last 300 years of history. It will argue that the claims of those people who say that they are responsible for the creation of all crop circles are actually fraudulent and that these claims have been made for personal, professional and/or financial advantage. The review will examine all published literature from peer reviewed journals and other academic sources. It will also present a brief overview of the many books and other publications on the subject of crop circles from non-academic sources, some of which have been extensively and well researched. The review will also demonstrate that the literature which supports the hoax position is fundamentally flawed because of the lack of evidence to support the hoax position other than by accepting, unconditionally, the claims of self-confessed hoaxers and frauds.
Whilst the amount of academic literature concerned with crop circles is small it can be roughly divided into three types:
1.Works that describe crop circles as a man made hoax.
2.Works that demonstrate that most crop circles are unlikely to be man made (not hoaxes) either by directly arguing that position or by virtue of the fact that the phenomenon described in the work falls well outside the chronological framework that would allow the hoax hypothesis.
3.Works that call for an unbiased and scientific study of crop circles.
It is worth noting that of the first group, works describing, or arguing, crop circles are a man made hoax none use any scientific examination of crop circles, or the plants within crop circles, or any other evidence to support their claims other than the claims of self-confessed hoaxers. Nor do they (with the exception of the paper by Grassi et al) refer to or attempt to deconstruct, or find flaws in, any of the published reports of such scientific examinations using a scientific methodology. There are no published works from the discipline of History despite the fact that the phenomena have a clear and extensive historic presence, as will be shown in this work.
Before reviewing the modern literature, inserted below is the 1678 description and drawing of a crop circle from a woodcut held by the British Library, this helps to put the crop circle phenomena in a historic context. Whilst the archaic style of the text, and the writer ascribing its cause to the Devil, the text and diagram combine to be strongly, though not absolutely conclusively, suggestive of a crop circle. This text is particularly interesting because it is used by crop circle “believers” as the earliest recorded example of a crop circle and it is also used by crop circle sceptics as an example of the shoddy research methodology of crop circle researchers.
(The exact text from the original woodcut)
OR, STRANGE NEWS OUT OF HARTFORD-SHIRE
Being a True Relation of a Farmer, who Bargaining with a Poor Mower, about the Cutting down Three Half Acres of Oats: upon the Mower's asking too much, the Farmer swore That the Devil should Mow it rather than He. And so it fell out, that very Night, the Crop of Oat shew'd as if it had been all of a Flame: but next Morning appear'd so neatly mow'd by the Devil or some Infernal Spirit, that no Mortal Man was able to do the like. Also; How the said Oats ly now in the Field, and the Owner has not Power to fetch them away.
Licensed, August 22, 1678
The provenance of the Mowing Devil in 100% solid, the original can be found in the British Library, referance: The Mowing-Devil: or, strange news out of Hartfordshire, London 1678.
British Library Identifier: System number 001667544 General Reference Collection 8631.bb.27
Copies and variations of the original appeared in several reprints in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These are also listed with the original in a British Library calalog search using the search term "Mowing Devil"
Articles and News Items in Peer Reviewed or Academic Journals
Nature Vol. 22, pp. 290–291; 29th July 1880 by J. R. Capron,
Spectroscopist J. Rand Capron’s article in Nature was the first scientific description of a crop circle published in a scientific journal. Whilst there is earlier work that might be considered to be referring to crop circles it is not described with sufficient clarity to be included here.
In this work Rand was describing what he considered to the effects of whirlwinds on a field of standing wheat in the south of Surry. He had included a sketch of the circles with the article sent to Nature, unfortunately the sketch was not published. The description is an accurate description by a trained observer, written immediately after the inspection of the circles and, unlike the Mowing Devil, there can be no reasonable doubt that what Capron described was that phenomena that later became known as crop circles.
… we found a field of standing wheat considerably knocked about, not as an entirety, but in patches forming, as viewed from a distance, circular spots.
Examined more closely, these all presented much the same character, viz., a few standing stalks as a centre, some prostrate stalks with their heads arranged pretty evenly in a direction forming a circle round the centre, and outside these a circular wall of stalks which had not suffered.
‘That Wiltshire Crater’
New Scientist 8th August 1963 by Patrick Moore
Patrick Moore (later Sir Patrick) was a famous British astronomer. In 1963 he wrote a detailed letter to the New Scientist regarding a mysterious crater, of possible meteoric origin, that had appeared in a field in Wiltshire and which had attracted significant public and media attention. In describing his inspection of the crater Moore incidentally mentions several unusual circles of flattened wheat in fields adjoining the potato field in which the crater had appeared. At this time the term “crop circle” had not been coined and there was no real public interest in crop circles as such; however there can be little doubt that Moore was describing crop circles:
In the adjoining wheat fields were other features, taking the form of circular or elliptical areas in which the wheat had been flattened. I saw these myself, they had not been much visited, and were certainly peculiar. One, very well defined, was an oval fifteen yards long and four and three quarters broad. There was evidence of spiral flattening, and in one case there was a circular area in the centre in which the wheat had not been flattened.
This work is of particular significance for several reasons; firstly because the author was a trained scientist; secondly because the description of the circles was secondary to another unusual and well documented event; thirdly because the description conforms in its details to the 1880 description by Capron in Nature and, like the event described by Capron, it was a description of a cluster of several crop circles.
"That crater" being inspected, isn't it wonderful that it's so easy to pick the scientists in their white lab coats!
Unfortunately this is the only image I've been able to locate of "that crater" however I hope to find a better one soon as there were obviously plenty taken. Of interest is the field of wheat seen adjoining the potatoe field, as mentioned by Sir Patrick
This appears to be the first publication, in a peer reviewed journal, of a scientific investigation of the physical anomalies some observers had noted occurring in plants that were directly affected by the formation of a crop circle; that is to say, the plants growing within the perimeter of the circle. Biophysicist William Levengood and his team investigated plants from within the perimeter of crop circles and compared them with control plants taken at various distances outside of the same crop circle but within the same crop and field.
He tested plants from inside and outside of numerous crop circles over the 1990 – 92 growing seasons gathered from four different countries. Levengood’s examinations revealed significant structural and cellular alterations to plants from within crop circles that did not occur in control plants from the same crop but outside of the circles. These differences occurred at both the macroscopic level and the microscopic level and included “… abnormal nodal swelling, gross malformations during embryogenesis, and charred epidermal tissue… as well as significant changes in seed germination and development… and differences were observed in cell wall pit structures.” Levengood even went so far as to examine plant tissue under a scanning electron microscope and detected anomalous blistering in the pericarp of crop circle grain heads.
Levengood applied stringent controls to his testing, which included trying to duplicate the effects he had noted in the plants taken from inside crop circles by creating man made crop circles using methods such as the hoaxers used (planks and strings). He monitored plants inside and outside of the man made circles and examined them regularly over several weeks for physical anomalies. None of the anomalies that had been noted in the “genuine” crop circle plants were found in a statistically significant number. As some of the anomalies that occurred to plants taken from within crop circle plants were indicative of transient high temperatures Levengood conducted further experimentation and discovered that some of the effects he noted in the crop circle plants could be mimicked by exposing plants to short, high energy bursts of electro-magnetic radiation such as micro-waves.
Levengood ended his report with conclusion that the plant abnormalities that occur consistently within “genuine” crop circles could not be duplicated using any of the construction techniques used by the crop circle hoaxers. He further concluded that the plant anomalies in crop circles are indicative of the involvement of several energy sources and that “The affected plants have components which suggest the involvement of rapid air movement, ionization, electric fields and transient high temperatures combined with an oxidizing atmosphere. One naturally occurring and organized force incorporating each of these features is, as previously mentioned, an ion plasma vortex…”
Semi-Molten Meteoric Iron Associated with a Crop Formation
W.C. Levengood & J. Burke Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 191-199, 1995
The article concerns the discovery of magnetic anomalies within a limited zone within two aligned crop circles, which in turn led to the discovery of an iron “glaze” of meteoric origin that manifest as a fine coating on the plants and ground within four secondary “swirls” of wheat within the two larger crop circles that formed in Cherhill, Wiltshire, England, in August 1993 at the same time as the Perseid meteor shower.
The “glaze” was formed from an ultra-fine coating, or film, of semi-molten hematite (Fe203) and magnetite (Fe304) contacting the wheat and soil within the confines of the two crop circles which were of 15 metres diameter and spaced 60 metres apart. The diameter of the secondary “swirls” was a half a metre whilst the thickness of the coating on the plants and soil in these zones was between 200 and 400 micrometers. No “glaze” was found on plants or soil outside of these secondary swirls. These “secondary swirls” are an often noted and common feature in crop circles.
The article initially deals with the characteristics of the “glaze” and how it had reacted with the plant tissue and soil. These descriptions include the use of a scanning electron microscope to capture images of the “glaze” and the plant tissue and the effects of heat transference from the molten iron droplets to the plant tissue was noted. The description also includes the results of energy dispersive spectroscopy scans, which show the relationship between the film of iron, the soil and the sub-strata. Also discovered were germination abnormalities in the seeds taken from the wheat within the crop circles; these abnormalities conformed to the types detected in earlier work examining plants within crop circles.
The authors then explain the physics of meteor tails and the dispersal of the molten materials from meteors as they burn up in the atmosphere; they then give examples of an iron film with identical elemental components being found on the soil after a meteor shower in France in 1981.
After describing the both the iron film, its dispersal and its effects the authors present their hypothesis for what caused such a previously unknown event. Levengood et al believe that the evidence was consistent with a magnetized sub-vortex within an ionized plasma ball. Their hypothesis has subsequently been at least partially supported by the experiments with free air vortexes initiated by Varaksin and others in 2009 and the previously mentioned work on ionized plasma balls by Yoshihiko Ohtsuki .
Dispersion of Energies In Worldwide Crop Formations
W. C. Levengood and N.P. Talbott: Physiologia Plantarium Vol. 105 pp. 615-624. 1999
This work by Levengood et al follows and expands the original 1994 work with further tests and more exacting experimentation to confirm the earlier results using samples of plants from within and outside of “genuine” crop circles and also from deliberately man made circles. Of all the plant anomalies that were found to occur within crop circles Levengood et al decided that the length abnormalities in the pulvini (the growth node joints or knuckles along the stalk of the plant) were the most suitable for empirical measurement.
After nearly a decade of gathering and testing data for this paper, Levengood presents a more detailed hypothesis for one of the main causative agents in crop circle formation, ionized plasma vortexes. To support this hypothesis he particularly refers to constants discovered in the increasing length of the pulvini the closer the plant was to the centre of the crop circle. Levengood believed that he had discovered a relationship between the change in the length of the growth node and the plants’ distance from the source of energy (at the centre of the circle) and that this could be expressed as a mathematic formula:
Where NL is the node length, b a proportionality constant, a the absorption
co-efficient of the air, c the concentration of absorbing molecules, Io the radiation
source intensity and I the radiation intensity at distance d from the source.
As such Levengood et al maintained that the effect noted on the growth nodes of the plants conformed to the Beer-Lambert principle for the atmospheric absorption of electromagnetic radiation although this model was later challenged by Haselshoff. Whilst Levengood’s work is convincing in its apparent scientific thoroughness it was later challenged by a group of affiliated Italian Skeptics whose comments are dealt with below.
It is fair to say that the work by Levengood et al has attracted more criticism than most of the other work on crop circles because the work was peer reviewed and published in a highly reputable scientific journal. This has placed the Levengood papers in a seperate category to most other work on crop circles and has also produced that ugly phenomenon known as "professional jealousy" in the crop circle "industry"; most notable in the responses of Collin Andrews to the BLT papers. Many crop circle experts, such as Andrews, like to claim that their research is scientific however, apart from Levengood et al, none have passed their work through the peer review process, which is the internationally accepted.measure of valid scientific research.
‘Opinions and comments on Levengood WC, Talbott NP (1999) Dispersion of energies in worldwide crop formations.’
Physiologia Plantarum Vol. 111 pp. 123–125. 2001 by E. H. Haselhoff
This work by physicist Eltjo Haselhoff reviews the data and hypotheses of the 1999 Levengood and Talbott paper and suggests improvements to the mathematical modelling. Haselhoff argues that his suggested improvements to the model are indicative of a single point energy source rather than a sub-vortex. He calls this energy source a BOL (ball of light) and argues that not only does the BOL model produce mathematical results that conform more closely to the Beer Lambert principle but also compliments the descriptions of various eye-witness accounts of crop circles forming. Haselhoff’s mathematical modelling is well expressed with diagrams and examples. Haselhoff does not claim to have discovered a foolproof way to distinguishing between man-made and “genuine” crop circles but believes that his modelling adds to the work of Levengood et al in demonstrating that “… the position-dependent pulvinus length, and in particular the apparent organised character of the data analysed, is interesting and stimulates further study.” Haselhoff later published a book which went into greater detail than his paper and also included a broader view of the issues surrounding serious crop circle research.
Papers calling for further research
‘Photographing Crop Circles’
D. Wilson; Aerial Archaeology Research Group News Vol. 4 (March 1992)
David Wilson was curator of Aerial Photography at Cambridge University and specialized in the use of aerial photography in archaeology. In this article he examines crop circles as historic artifacts which are mysterious in as much is there is no satisfactory explanation for their existence. He deals with the obvious flaws contained within the hoax explanation and then with the problems faced by Meaden in his attempts to explain crop circles as meteorological events. Next he considers that the complex geometry in the crop circles is indicative that there is intelligence and advanced technologies involved in the formation of crop circles. He discusses the resistance to such an idea within academia with the example of the time when a complex crop circle, which “… incorporated the essential elements of the fractal pattern known as the Mandelbrot Set.” appeared in a grain field near Cambridge University. He relates that academics from the University, including Professor Stephen Hawkins, immediately declared it a hoax, without ever inspecting it or examining it on the ground. Wilson states that a site inspection would have shown that the crop within the circle displayed features that were incompatible with the hoax hypothesis. He then proposes that whilst the most likely explanation for crop circles is they are deliberately constructed by an intelligent agent, which is most likely human, using technology that is not presently in the public domain the question still must be asked is: “Whose intelligence?” and “Whose technology?” Wilson suggests that while the most likely explanation is that a human agency possessing unknown technology is responsible he leaves open the possibility of a non-human agency. Wilson concludes by calling for an unbiased and scientific investigation into the phenomena and challenges other academics to keep an open mind on the subject.
‘Crop Circles and the Archaeologist’
by David Wilson Archaeology of Ireland Vol. 6, No. 3, Autumn, 1992 pp.22-24
In this work Wilson continues the argument begun in the AARG News that all the causes for crop circles are not known and that they can not all be explained by the hoax proposition. He confirms again that they do not have their cause in sub-soil imprints from archaeological ruins or normal anomalous effects wrought on vegetation by extreme weather or soil conditions, which archaeologists using aerial imagery normally rely upon to locate artifacts in the landscape. He continues to argue that, as none of the current accepted explanations for the origins of crops circles are satisfactory, there is a great need for an unbiased and comprehensive scientific investigation into the phenomena.
‘The Crop Circle Evolves’
NATURE Vol. 465/10 June 2010 by Richard Taylor
This article by Richard Taylor professor of physics, psychology and art in the Department of Physics at the University of Oregon initially appears to follow the Bower-Chorley hoax line and argue that crop circles are art. Taylor appears to support the idea that there is an international “crop circle” art movement and that crop circles are exclusively the work of a secretive group of artists (alluded to by Roberts) whose designs have become increasingly complex and “often integrate Euclidean (geometric) shapes with fractal icons such as Koch curves and Mandelbrot sets.”
Despite appearing to take the above position Taylor’s article also acknowledges that crop circles have been documented as occurring since the 17th century and that the first scientific commentary on them occurred in 1880 (J. R. Capron, Nature 22, 290–291; 1880). Taylor does not attempt to reconcile the existence of pre-20th century crop circles with Bower and Chorley’s claim that they had created all English crop circles. Rather Taylor seems content to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the various explanations for the crop circle phenomena contain many unanswered questions and that the “artists” would need to possess advanced microwave technology to make crop circles that possessed the characteristics that scientific research had shown to exist in “genuine” crop circles. When questioned on the apparent inconsistencies contained within his article Taylor indicated that the purpose of the piece was to be provocative and to bring the issue of crop circles in front of a wider scientific audience.
Physics World August 2011 pp. 2-7 by R. Taylor
This article is a continuation of the theme Taylor began in his earlier piece in Nature 2010 and is the first article, in over three decades of controversy concerning the origin of crop circles, to question the reason for “… scientists’ reluctance to engage with a “fringe” topic.”
Taylor has obviously read widely on the subject and refers to much of the literature contained within this review. He makes the statistical statement that there have been over 10,000 documented crop circle formations and that these appear “… at the rate of one event worldwide every summer evening.”
Taylor then goes on to give a competent chronological narrative of the history of crop circles and crop circle research and discusses the hoax claims which led to the “… heated aliens-versus-humans debate, with ‘UFOlogists’ looking to outer space for the circles’ artistic creators, while ‘cereologists’ concentrated on hunting for terrestrial hoaxers.”
Taylor also competently summarises and explains both Levengood’s and Haselhoff’s papers and the questions that they raise in terms of plant growth anomalies. Whilst Taylor again appears to support the idea that crop circles are the product of a secret human art movement using advanced technology he also admits that there are aspects of the crop circle research results that are suggestive of the possibility that there may be other, unknown, agencies involved.
Supporting the Hoax Claims
‘Puck in the Laboratory: The Construction and Deconstruction of Hoax-like Deception in Science’
Jim Schnabel Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 459-492P
Schnabel’s interest appears to be in deception and the methodology of scientific hoaxing as a means of “deconstruction” of knowledge and he suggests that a hoaxer is most likely to be successful when his or her claims “are orthodox with respect to the target audience”. Schnabel defines the word hoax, using the Concise Oxford Dictionary, as a "humorous or mischievous deception” although neither characteristic seems to feature in any of the hoax examples he cites.
Schnabel selects five examples of what he considers to be successful scientific hoaxes; these are:
1 “N-rays” which emerged from experiments carried out by the famous French physicist Rene Blondlot in 1902-3. The existence of the N-rays and the quality of Blondlot’s experiments were challenged by a series of “hoax like” deceptions perpetuated on Blondlot by American physicist Prof. R.W. Wood. These deceptions ultimately discredited Blondlot’s N-ray research. However a number of Wood’s peers subsequently questioned Wood’s motives and the ethics of his activities, which involved the deliberate deception of a peer.
2. The “Pseudo-patient” hoax was perpetuated by David Rosenhan, a professor of psychology and law at Stanford University, and initiated as an "experiment" in the 1970’s. Rosenhan, and seven other people he had trained, presented themselves to various psychiatric hospitals and pretended to hear voices in their heads. Whilst Rosenhan’s pseudo-patients were able to convince mental health professionals that they were suffering from schizophrenia Schnabel states that the deception and the experiment was generally considered of little long term value.
3. Project Alpha was the name of a hoax perpetuated from 1979 to 1982 by stage magician James Randi against the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research to expose what Randi considered were problems with the methodology being used to test subjects. Randi used two stage magicians he had trained to fake paranormal abilities to present as genuine psychics to the researchers at the McDonnell Laboratory. Initially these “pseudo-psychics” gained the attention of researchers however ultimately the hoax did not succeed as the researchers increased scrutiny on the subjects and detected the tricks being employed. As with Wood and the N-ray hoax Randi’s ethics and motives were questioned, particularly as Randi used the hoax to gain national and international media attention, which benefited him both professionally and financially.
4. "Confirmational Response Bias" This was an experiment employing a hoax/deception made in 1987 by William Epstein a social work researcher at a Hong Kong university. The experiment was intended to demonstrate biases in those who refereed articles in journals concerned with social work. Like other hoaxers Epstein’s ethics were brought into question and, like other hoaxes, Schnabel admits that the hoax itself appears have contributed nothing of significance to the related field of study.
5. Crop Circles. This focuses primarily on two hoaxes perpetrated in 1991. The first of these were the claims by Chorley and Bower that they were responsible “for starting the phenomena” and had been making crop circles since the 1970’s as a hoax against UFO enthusiasts. The second was a hoax perpetuated in the same year, though after Chorley and Bower’s highly publicized claims, by the Wessex Skeptics, “a group of British university- based scientists and technicians who professed scepticism about most para- normal phenomena and who declared the crop circles researchers to be uniformly unscientific”.
Chorley and Bower made some circles in crops using wooden planks and rope in front of television and newspaper cameras to convince the media that they were the creators of crops circles. The Wessex Sceptics deliberately set out to deceive physicist Terrance Meaden, whose work focused on attempting to discover atmospheric causes for crops circles. The Wessex Sceptics were engaged by a British television production company, Juniper Productions, to make several fake crop circles in wheat fields, whilst the farmer, on whose land the circles were made, was induced to lie to Meadan and tell him that he believed the circles were genuine.
Whilst Chorley and Bower claimed that they made all crop circles, the Wessex Sceptics claimed that their ability to deceive Meaden proved that all crop circle research was flawed and that all crop circles were of human origin. Schnabel acknowledges that the crop circle hoaxes are in a different category to the other four hoaxes “because the phenomena had not yet received funded academic attention”. Conversely, although Chorley and Bower received enormous personal publicity and about £3,000 in payments from media organizations for their circle making efforts and Juniper Productions obviously had a commercial agenda that would have resulted in financial gains for them; Schnabel does not question the motives of these hoaxers nor does he mention any of the well known factors, such as magnetic, mechanical and plant anomalies within crop circles, which might challenge the hoax theory.
Of particular interest is Schnabel’s selection of which hoaxes to use as examples. A superficial examination of these shows two things. One is that Schnabel chose obvious and documented hoaxes along a chronological line, with the N-ray hoax being in 1903; Pseudo-patients in the early 1970’s, Project Alpha in the early 1980’s; Confirmational Bias in the late 1980’s leading neatly to Crop Circles in 1991, a hoax which is neither proven nor documented. So it seems that the first four hoaxes have been chosen to create a platform for the fifth, for the section concerned with the Crop Circle hoaxes has almost double the word count of any of the other example hoaxes and the Crop Circle hoax is the only example wherein Schnabel has personally interviewed many of the hoaxers and “hoaxees”.
An obvious flaw in this paper is that Schnabel fails to mention any of the published literature which contradicts the Chorley/Bower and Wessex Skeptic’s claims regarding the source of crop circles nor does he mention the fact that formations in crops, which any reasonable person would recognize as being crop circles, have been documented as occurring for several hundred years.
Whilst, in the first four hoaxes Schnabel touches on the issue of ethics and, to a small degree, what motivated the hoaxers, these issues are not raised in the case of the crop circle hoaxes. It is this area, of what motivated the hoaxers to orchestrate the hoaxes, that perhaps offered the greatest possibilities for interest and insight into what is really at the core of a “scientific hoax” but Schnabel essentially ignores this issue.
Over all, after documenting five “scientific hoaxes”, Schnabel’s work, like the hoaxes themselves, leaves the reader wondering at what the purpose of his paper was.
By John Roberts Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1 (1999), pp. 83-101
This article claims that all crop circles that have come into existence since the early 1990’s have been made by British artist Rod Dickinson in conjunction with web site designer John Lundburg and a secret team of collaborators who descend on grain fields in the south of England during the short summer nights and create crop circles using nothing more than “string, simple wooden planks and an outline of their design”. Roberts offers no evidential support for these claims and, in fact, ignores a large body of published work that might challenge Dickinson’s claims. For example Roberts credits Dickinson with the creation of a famous 200 metre long crop circle known as the Double Helix, which appeared in Alton Barnes in 1996 and which pattern contained 89 separate circles. He does not refer to the news piece published in Nature Vol. 382 July 1996 wherein the farmer who owned the land upon which the circles appeared stated that the formation appeared some time between midnight and 4 a.m. in the morning. This means that Dickinson had less than four hours to create this formation, which contained 89 separate circles arranged in an extremely precise manner, without leaving any trace of his group’s coming and going.
This amazing crop circle appeared in a field near Barbury Castle, an iron-age hill fort above Wroughton, Wiltshire, and has been described by astrophysicists as "mind-boggling".
Michael Reed, an astrophysicist, said: "The tenth digit has even been correctly rounded up. The little dot near the centre is the decimal point.
"The code is based on 10 angular segments with the radial jumps being the indicator of each segment.
"Starting at the centre and counting the number of one-tenth segments in each section contained by the change in radius clearly shows the values of the first 10 digits in the value of pi."
The formation, measuring 150ft in diameter, is a coded image representing the first 10 digits, 3.141592654, of pi.
Meder then goes on to describe how he joined the Dutch Centre for Crop Circle Studies and outlines what he considered the philosophical position of its members and a “rival” crop circle research group known as ION (he compares this “rivalry” with that existing between the Catholic and Protestant denominations). It seems at this point that Meder fancies himself as a kind of undercover researcher finding out the secrets of the “croppies” as he condescendingly and repeatedly calls them. He interacts with a number of “croppies” including Dr. E. Hasselhoff, a past chairman of the DCCCS.
Meder argues that crop circle research is actually a New Age religion and that crop circle researchers are actually “priests” and that the books they write are like the “Holy Scriptures”. He continues this argument with the idea that a kind of religious conversion process takes place where the unsuspecting person with a casual interest in crop circles is subtly indoctrinated into this “religion” by “sympathetic and charismatic” persons giving powerful narratives.
As well as making numerous comparisons between crop circle “belief” and religious belief Meder goes on to ridicule the methodology of one particular “croppie” a Mr. Robert Boerman, with whom, it seems, Meder spent considerable time whilst doing his “undercover” research. Why Meder chose Mr. Boerman rather than Dr. Haselhoff for his example of a “croppie” in not explained.
Meder ends with the conclusion that crop circles are part of a New Age religion that mixes “Old myths and traditional religion with theosophical and anthroposophical notions … and modern science, high-tech knowledge and science fiction.”
The popular literature on crop circles crosses many media including books, magazines, journals, newsletters, newspaper articles, television documentaries, a Hollywood feature film, websites, blogs, chat rooms and even downloadable crop circle music for MP3 players.
The genres of literature are reflective of the various groups that have, to varying degrees, claimed ownership of the crop circle phenomena. Genres can be loosely grouped thus:
This genre believes that crop circles are the work of aliens. Within this genre there are sub-genres such as those that believe the aliens are dangerous and part of a conspiracy involving secret organisations which might include the CIA, Freemason or the Illuminati. Loosely opposed to those that the aliens are benevolent and trying to save humanity or the Earth.
This genre may or may not include aliens and UFOs but will usually also include some kind of spiritual reference such as crop circles are messages from higher beings, God, or beings from another dimension trying to help humanity in some way.
There are a number of books and websites which primarily present lovely colour photographs of crop circles with a minimum of text or supposition (though what text there is generally has a mild New Age tendency).
Naming this genre is somewhat tricky, some might be tempted to call it pseudo or quasi-scientific because not all of the work contained in this genre has been produced by qualified scientists such as Terrance Meaden or Eltjo Haselhof (referred to in this work). Yet much of the literature that falls into this section has been produced by intelligent, well educated and reasonable people who have tried to apply an unbiased scientific methodology to their work; so to call their efforts “pseudo-science” would de-value the serious research and considerable effort expended. An example of this type of work is Terry Wilson’s book The Secret History of Crop Circles and the associated website http://oldcropcircles.weebly.com or Colin Andrews’ Circular Evidence.
A number of books and articles have been written debunking the field of crop circle research in its entirety. Some of these, which have appeared in academic journals, have been mentioned here so it is worth noting that the year before he published ‘Puck in the Laboratory’ Jim Schnabel wrote Round in Circles debunking crop circles and in 1995 wrote Dark White a book debunking the growing “industry” surrounding aliens, UFOs and crop circles. Most of the books in this genre are written by people who consciously identify with the ‘sceptic’ movement, and manage to make an income by writing and speaking from that position.
Whilst the origin of crop circles remains uncertain, that they exist and have an historic presence that stretches over at least 300 years is beyond reasonable doubt. That there is enormous public interest in crop circles is also without doubt.
Contrary to the claims of hoaxers it remains extremely unlikely, for obvious reasons, that these self confessed charlatans could be capable of the construction of all of the crop circles that appear all around the world every year. Whilst the origins of many crop circles remain a mystery perhaps the greater mystery is why this phenomenon has been excluded from thorough and rigorous scientific or scholarly investigation by those individuals and institutions whose primary function is the investigation of such things? In fact it has been the reluctance of those authorities to properly investigate this phenomena that has allowed the study of crop circles to be hijacked by hoaxers, frauds and fringe dwellers and it is time that a serious, unbiased study of crop circles was made to resolve the many contradictions, half truths and deliberate lies that now obscure the truth of the source and origin of these intriguing historic artefacts.
‘Now Crop Circles Weave a double Helix’ Nature Vol. 382 July 1996 p.3
www.lucypringle.co.uk/photos/1996 accessed 20th January 2012
The Brisbane Courier Mail, May 16 2003 page 8
The Economist ‘Japanese physicist Yoshi-Hiko Ohtsuki points to plasma balls as the cause of mysterious crop circles in Great Britain’ August 17 1991 p.4
The Mowing-Devil: or, strange news out of Hartfordshire, London 1678. British Library Identifier: System number 001667544 General Reference Collection 8631.bb.27
The Julia Set which formed about 5 .30 p.m. on a July afternoon in front of a number of eyewitnesses. As is clearly obvious from this photograph the field is visible from both the highway and also from Stonehenge. Stonehenge is on a small hill so it actually looks down on the field. Any reasonable person can see that there is no way that this crop circle could have been made a hoaxer without being seen. At this time of year (early July) the nights are very short and darkness lasts less than five hours.
Thanks to Lucy Pringle for making this amazing photo of the Stonehenge Julia Set available on her website!
This news piece, concerning the Alton Barnes "Double Helix" appeared in the journal NatureVolume 382 4th July 1996 page 3.
A mysterious double helix pattern 200 meters long appeared overnight in a field of wheat last week near the English village of Alton Barnes in Wiltshire. The pattern, which contains 89 circles was formed in under four hours, says Polly Carson, who owns the field. "There was nothing there at midnight," she says, "Next time we looked, at 4 a.m. it was daylight and there it was."
The 200 meter long Alton Barnes "Double Helix"
Like other hoax advocates Roberts cites Bower and Chorley as the originators of crop circles and uses the date of 1978 for the appearance of the first crop circles in England. Roberts offers no explanation for the significant numbers of documented pre-1978 crop circles. Nor does he offer any explanation for the post-1991 crops circles which have appeared in other countries over extended periods when it was known that Bower, Chorley and Dickinson remained in England. Nor does Roberts consider the sheer magnitude of the claim that Dickinson and his secret team make several hundred complex crop circles around the world each year. For example in the month of July 2009 there were thirty two documented crop circle appearances in England (photo and GPS location). Most of these formations were around 20 to 30 meters in diameter. This number means that Dickinson and his team would have had to make more than one crop circle every night, in less than six hours, for the entire month of July without a single farmer, whose crop was being trampled, being aware of their activities. As the numbers of crop circles appearing in England each summer has been more or less consistent for the past 15 years (about 90 each year) it would mean that Dickinson has spent almost every summer night for the last 15 years making crops circles of increasing complexity and size without a single person witnessing his activities except where he specifically organized for some sort of documentation, for publicity purposes, to take place. Roberts does not mention a number of articles in peer reviewed scientific journals which challenge the Chorley, Bower and Dickinson’s claims nor does he acknowledge the extensively documented and numerous pre-1978 crop circles. Lastly Roberts does not mention that Dickinson and Lundburg have a business making “crop circles” for commercial promotions and advertising or that they sell books and T shirts from their “crop circle” website and that their claims might be motivated by thoughts of financial rather than artistic gain. Rather than deal with any such awkward but comparatively concrete issues Roberts tries to make Dickinson, and other supposed crop circle makers, creators of new folk art and place them “…within a particular post-Freudian tradition of engagement with the irrational and ideology.” Whatever that means?
"Balls of Light: The Questionable Science of Crop Circles"
Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 159-170, 2005 by Grassi, Cocheo, & Russo,
This article is a direct, negative attack on the quality of the science used by the crop circle related publications of Levengood et al and Haselhoff. It was written by three members of the Italian sceptics group the Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and was first submitted to Physiologia Plantarum, the journal which published Levengood’s and Haselhoff’s papers. It was not accepted by the editorial board of Physiologia Plantarum but was subsequently published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration. This paper is significant because it represents the only serious scientific challenge to the work done by Levengood and Haselhoff. The problem is that the work was written by members of a group whose specific stated purpose is to attempt to discredit anything associated with the “paranormal” so it must be assumed that the work was begun with a specific bias.
Grassi et al begin with a direct attack on Haselhoff claiming his methods were unscientific and his “… conclusions are unsubstantiated and do not prove the involvement of an electromagnetic radiation source in the creation event.” However it is within this attack that the weaknesses in the Grassi paper become apparent, for Haselhoff’s paper was never intended to prove the involvement of electromagnetic radiation in the creation of crop circles, Haselhoff was simply suggesting a correction to the physical model used by Levengood as well as presenting an alternative model, which Haselhoff considered made a better fit with the data. Grassi et al list numerous minor, almost trivial, improvements that they considered should have been made to the modelling. Haselhoff points out in his response; whilst such advanced modelling would be a good idea for future experiments it was not possible with the data currently available. Throughout their paper Grassi et al fail to distinguish between Haselhoff’s work and that of Levengood et al and misrepresent the statistical data and methodology employed in both Haselhoff’s and Levengood’s work, a direct result of the fact that they never attempted to discuss their concerns with the authors of the original papers prior to publication of this paper. The work concludes with the statement that there was nothing in Haselhoff’s work that would suggest there was any difference between plants inside and outside of crop circles, despite the fact that this was not the purpose of Haselhoff’s work but that of Levengood. This paper is presented with an obvious bias and, as a commentary on three other papers it shows a remarkably poor grasp of the data and methodology used in those papers.
‘Modern Exempla: Crop Circle Tales in the New Age Era’
Fabula; Vol. 48 March 2007; pp. 281-299 Theo Meder
Fabula is a French language journal concerned with folklore. The Latin word “exempla” is the plural of exemplum, which means “A brief story used to make a point in an argument or to illustrate a moral truth.” Theo Meder is a senior researcher at the Dutch Meertens Institute, an institution dedicated to the study of Dutch culture. Meder opens this article in a seeminly consolatory manner by stating that people who are interested in crop circles are not “stupid and not crazy” but “are quite normal, well educated people” then goes on to tell the reader that he is not going to go into the history of crop circles. He then immediately mentions the “Mowing Devil” and makes it clear that this pamphlet has nothing to do with crop circles and the real crop circle phenomena began “in the late 1970’s” even though by 2007, when he wrote this, there were numerous, well documented, references to pre-1970 crop circles. He then gives a brief overview of Bower and Chorley’s claims and informs the reader (incorrectly) that since the mid 1990’s the number of crop circles has been steadily decreasing until there were now (2007) only about 20 or 30 per annum world wide.
Meder then announces that, rather than deal with a large number of circles, he will focus on the deconstruction of one of the most famous, the so-called Julia Set which appeared in a field beside Stonehenge on the afternoon of the 7th of July 1996. The Julia Set was nearly 300 metres long and 170 meters across and is said to have formed in less than half an hour in broad daylight in front of a number of eyewitnesses. He describes the core story, that a pilot and passenger flew over Stonehenge at around 5 30 p.m. and saw no crop formation but when they flew back half an hour or so later the huge design was there. Meder then recites a number of variations of the story and claims that amidst the large number of variants the only constant is that no-one knows the name of the pilot and he relies on this (supposed) constant to demonstrate his thesis that the story of the Julia Set is a kind of modern legend or myth “… a tale of wonder that wants to prove a paranormal or spiritual point.” Like most academic writers whose writing appears determined to discredit crop circle research Meder continues to demonstrate his poor research efforts, for the pilot’s name, as well as his occupation and all details of his flight plan etc. are well known and well documented in numerous location, as are the names of several eyewitnesses.