Daily Archives: April 12th, 2010

Crop Circle Menagerie

Jacques Vallee, a Fortean investigator/computer scientist par excellence, has guest blogged on Boing-Boing and has posted about crop circles. Vallee has written mainly about the UFO phenomenon over the past thirty years, but crop circles is a worthy subject, no matter if most folks think it’s just two guys with a rope and a stick.

Greg Taylor of the Daily Grail puts his own spin on the subject today:

Over the past fortnight, legendary paranormal researcher Jacques Vallee has posted two guest-blogs on (the insanely popular website) Boing Boing, on the topic of crop circles. In the first, “In Search of Alien Glyphs“, he details his own alternative theory for their construction (first set out in “Crop Circles: ‘Signs from Above’ or Human Artifacts?“:

In Sept. 1991, I published in a New Age magazine my own hypothesis about the Crop Circles phenomenon. Crop CircleI speculated they involved a military aerial device (not a space-based instrument) for generating such designs using focused microwave beams, such as a “maser.” At the time nobody wanted to hear that the beautiful pictures in English corn fields might be crafted by a technical team inside some lab, bouncing signals from a hovering platform and using individual corn stalks as simple pixels to calibrate a lethal device. So my paper was met with dead silence.

Vallee then related his own theory to recent news regarding military use of microwaves. The comments from the Boing Boing crowd were as would be expected – a few supportive of the theory, or at least of Vallee’s outside-the-box thinking – but mostly along the lines of…

Just for giggles, why not try some *gasp* actual science?

Look at the stalks. Have they been blasted with microwaves, or just bent by a guy with a two-by-four on a rope?

This fails even as a troll. Stupid conspiracy theories shouldn’t have easily testable disproof.

Nevertheless, Vallee followed up his post with a second last week, titled “Alien Glyphs, Human Myths, Blogging Bliss“. He began by addressing the many comments to his previous post, by saying his blog entry “could be considered, among other things, as a social science test of the role of belief systems in the manipulation of memes and factual data,” going on to “explain why the hypothesis is not a joke but a logical result from observation and from the process of asking the right questions.”

On the first point, I fully agree with Jacques. For every crazy gullible believer out there, there’s also some armchair expert who thinks any ‘skeptically-oriented’ explanation that they hear solves the case – without reading any further. In the crop circle case, it’s largely the ‘Doug and Dave’ headline, though if the ‘skeptic’ has read a bit more deeply, it would be the claims of groups like the Circlemakers and some of their public demonstrations. Belief systems are of all kinds, and aren’t just restricted to crazy woos.

On the second point, I can only claim partial agreement. As all readers would know, I am *heavily* in favour of people putting forward alternative, out-of-the-box explanations of mysterious phenomena (as long as they are recognized as such). And Jacques has been clear on multiple occasions that it is just that. So I say good on him for doing so.

However, for me, parsimony suggests that crop circles are, quite simply, made by human artists with relatively simple equipment. Jacques lists three points which might support his theory. Firstly, that their growing complexity suggests “a classic, step-by-step program of technology development.” In my opinion, the same could be applied to the ‘technology development’ of artists (e.g. as personal computers became more ubiquitous, more complex circle design was facilitated). His second point was that the “blown” nodes in the crop stalks showed that “something was coupling energy into the plants in the form of heat.” This is certainly one of the key points in favour of something odd happening in crop circles – however, considerable doubts have been thrown on the science behind this (see for example, “Balls of Light: The Questionable Science of Crop Circles“, which concludes that node changes are “as one should expect when whatever kind of mechanical force flattens the plants”). I do though have to admit ignorance as to the quality of the data and conclusions of CNES researcher Jean-Jacques Velasco, which Vallee cites in his Boing Boing blog – so this may indeed be something of note. Lastly, Jacques notes that the crop circles “are close to ancient megalithic sites, which excites the curiosity of New Age tourists from America, but they are even closer to the most highly classified military electronics labs in Britain.” Again, both are highly attractive sites to ‘underground’ artists, so this could just as easily be in support of the man-made hoaxing theory.

To be frank ( no, I’m not Frank ), I haven’t given much thought to the crop circle phenomenon for perhaps three years. Maybe that’s because unconsciously I think it’s just two guys with a stick and rope.

That might be in some cases, but not all. Perhaps it’s time to investigate these sites with scientific scrutiny and check them for anomalous physical evidence?

It could prove interesting.

Going Around in (Crop) Circles