Several friends of mine are getting terribly excited about a new crop circle formation in England (shown above) that apparently couldn’t possibly have been produced by human hoaxers. You can read the details and eye witness reports online. Part One gives the meat of the claims regarding this new circle while Part Two focuses on the rather hysterical claims of “black helicopters” seen over the circles a few days later. I’m going to focus on the part one commentary, as this is the only section that contains any actual evidence (and I’m being generous) about the formation of these circles.
This New Circle
From the above link, this is what we know happened:
Several crop circle enthusiasts went to Knap Hill in England to do a “night watch” – ie look out for crop circles being formed.
They had a number of cameras, including some they claim were “light sensitive” (aren’t all cameras “light sensitive”?), and one they claim was infra-red.
No record is given of what time they got there, but the following picture was taken with the “light sensitive” camera at 1:35 am.
Nothing can be seen in this “light sensitive” picture. Nothing. And by that I mean there is no way to tell if there is a circle there already or not, or if people are there or not. (Note: this picture is not a joke. It is the actual picture published on the website I linked, that supposedly proves there was no circle in the field at 1:35am. Seriously.)
There is no record of anything that might have taken place in the field before this 1:35am totally black photo.
There is no record of anything photographed with the infra-red camera, at any time.
At 3:08 am (approximately 90 minutes after the completely black photo), there is a big flash – presumably lightning.
There is no evidence at all that the lightning flash had anything to do with producing the circle.
shortly some time after 3:20am the above photo was taken, showing an outline of the circle formation in the field. There is no similar photo taken earlier without the circle formation – just the totally black picture. Consequently we have no idea when this circle was produced, other than that (presumably) it was produced since sunset the previous day. Consequently we have no accurate idea of how long it took – and we certainly can’t conclude it was produced in under 90 minutes.
That’s it. That is the “incredible” information I was sent. Pretty underwhelming.
I want to highlight two other nonsensical claims made for this circle. The first is this:
[The crop stems] were just gently bent and people who have been doing crop circle research over the years, they have found this is how it usually is in genuine formations – that the stems are not broken.
They are referring to the pseudoscientific work of W.C Levengood (he’s the “L” in the crop circle research group BLT), who claims that only the stalks in “genuine” circles (ie those not produced by human hoaxers) show “abnormalities” not present in those produced by humans. How does he know which stalks come from “genuine” circles? Because they are the ones with the abnormalities only found in genuine circles. How does he know the abnormalities are only found in genuine circles? Because only genuine circles have the anomalies. How does he know….. er, you get the picture. Classic circular reasoning. (Make your own jokes.) For more, read Joe Nickell on problems with Levengood's Crop-Circle Plant Research.
The second nonsensical claim is this:
The East Field is not a totally flat pancake field. It actually curves up and down. When you look at the formation from up above from an aerial photo, you see that the circles are absolutely 100% correct circles. To make circles look 100% from the air in a field that has up and down hills, you cannot create 100% perfect circles on the ground. You have to create ovals. And that’s the case here. All the circles that are lying on a hill more than flat surface, they are ovals. To construct 100% correct oval in total darkness – everything you do is extremely difficult because you can’t see anything.
Really? From an aerial photo, “you see that the circles are absolutely 100% correct circles”? Really? Well I took the “aerial photo” from the website and cropped one of the bigger circles to a rectangular shape and got this:
Note: it’s rectangular. I’m pretty sure an “absolutely 100% correct circle” would be cropped by a perfect square, not a rectangle. Take a ruler and measure the sides of the rectangle above if you don’t believe me – it contains nowhere near a perfect circle. Of course the believers might state that this picture isn’t directly above the circle and so wouldn’t show a perfect circle, but that’s not really my fault is it? If they’re claiming it’s a perfect circle from the air it’s really up to them to show an aerial photo that demonstrates a perfect circle. In reality, the field (as you can see from the early morning picture above) is close enough to flat that I doubt it makes any difference.
Crop circle believers the world over are all making the same logical mistake when they claim circles were not produced by humans. The logical fallacy can be demonstrated by this quote:
Under those dark conditions, I would consider that impossible and everyone I have spoken to among the researchers down here and also civil engineers who are used to land surveys – they say that to do that under those conditions and also within that limited time frame (90 minutes), they regard it as absolutely impossible for humans to do.
Here is the anatomy of their argument. The believers don’t know how this circle was made in the time, and so they draw the conclusion it couldn’t possibly have been made by humans. The flaw in this way of thinking is this – you can’t draw any conclusion from a lack of knowledge. All we know is that these believers can’t figure out how it was done. But we can’t conclude from that that no one could have figured it out and done it. It’s the old Argument From Ignorance fallacy - the same fallacy employed by Intelligent Design proponents who claim something is too “irreducibly complex” to have evolved. But just because they can’t figure out how it evolved doesn’t mean it didn’t evolve. I’m sure some people do “regard it as absolutely impossible for humans” to have made this circle, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible for humans to have made it.
Here’s the thing: if you want to show that something other than humans produced these circles, you have to actually show some evidence that something other than humans actually produced these circles. It’s a pretty simple concept. Of course, for the believers to be able to do this they have to (1) have some idea (or hypothesis) of what produced them and how, and (2) find a way to falsify this hypothesis – test it in such a way that if their hypothesis is false it would fail the test. That’s how real science is done. Until they do that they’re just humans who aren’t smart enough to figure out what a different group of humans have actually done. And that’s true whether this circle was really made in 90 minutes, or not.
I’ve about done with this subject, but I wanted to quote the opinions of one of the credulous people interviewed in the report, to give you an idea of the mindset of these people and the beliefs that continue to fuel this crop circle nonsense:
I think there are other intelligences in this universe visiting and monitoring us. And I have a very strong feeling that our governments know a lot more about this than they will tell us. So, I think it is either something projected on the ground from an alien source. Or it is projected on the ground from an inter-dimensional source that we are not able to perceive with our senses. But definitely, this source has decided to present itself in a way that is so beautiful and that is not hostile that creates the most thrilling feelings within us and invite us to explore the unknown and invite us to start discussions about realities, consciousness … and it is an invitation to start growing as people again because we have for so long been stuck in our materialistic world view and it’s probably time to take the next step in the evolution of humankind. That’s my opinion.
This is what he’s saying. There are super intelligent aliens telling us we need to “grow” in unspecified ways and for unspecified reasons. Also, we need to abandon our “materialistic world view” (for no logical reason I can ascertain) and “evolve” to some unspecified higher level (although this is not how evolution works). Everything is being covered up by the government. And all this is being revealed in a way that only these crop circle believers (and the government, presumably) can understand. I hope that isn’t what is happening, because if it is, these aliens aren’t nearly as smart as people think.
CSI Special Report by Joe Nickel
Crop Circle Confession in Scientific American
Levengood's Crop-Circle Plant Research by Joe Nickel
CircleMakers – the website of some of England’s actual crop circle makers – and they’re not aliens (as far as I know).
Note: photographs shown above are by Winston Keech and Lucy Pringle.