Monday, November 17, 2008

Crop Circles: Mysteries in the Fields

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 2002

This show starts with the debunked video of two balls of lights forming crop circles. (A video made by a special effects firm -- though later in the show, they do note this film is a hoax -- and then use it again to illustrate a beliver's story.) The show then states that some circles have been hoaxed, but what about the rest? Can they really all be hoaxed? This show takes MIT students and tries to fake its own crop circle. An expert states that the first incident was in the 1700s, but the circles have been building in numbers and complexity beginning in the last 25 years (since 1978). In the summer of 1991, Doug Browley and Dave Chorley (sp?) claimed to have made the circles for the last 15 years. Some, though, didn't believe their story (though Doug & Dave did inspire copycats). The show asked 3 MIT students to replicate 3 effects -- explusion cavities (blown nodes), magnetite particles (on the circle perimeter), and balanced geometry in the circle itself. The show claims that most crop circles are made (or appear) at night, and many have strange balls of light (unexplained -- though the pictures of ones they showed looked like badly photographed birds to me) associated with them. They say "natural" crop circles can take hours to form, or just a few seconds. (Though they offer no proof to either of these statements.) On scientist/believer suggests that many circle formations would take too long to form for people to make them during one night. (Though he fails to take into consideration the possible number of hoaxers working -- as some of these circles look like mathematical/artistic projects to me.) There are also anecdotal reports of people being healed by circles. Some people believe the circles are natural phenomena. Others believe that they're being made by human, pagan artists who are "anarchists."

The MIT students will attempt to duplicate what the BLT research group (which cliams to be the only publisher of peer-reviewed crop circle information) considers the signs of "real" crop circles. (I.E. non-manmade ones.) The students bring mashing boards (per Doug and Dave) as well as various gadgets to replicate the magnetite "contamination" (a "meteorite cannon"), a microwave generation "gun," and other effects. Interestingly, the microwave projector screws up the video equipment, sucking all the power out of the cameras' batteries. After checking their equipment, the students head out into an Ohio field in the middle of the night to begin their circle making. It takes them a while to get well coordinated, and they've only alotted themselves 4 hours to make the formation. Using their microwave gun and their meteor cannon after makign the circle, they soon start running out of time. (Though it seems to me that scattering magnetite while making the circle would have been easier than doing it afterward.) In the end, they use an explosion to scatter the magnetite. The next day, a different set of students check the circle to see how "real" it may be. (They also experience a power outage while flyinhg in their helicopter -- another supposed crop circle effect.) The investigating graduate students give a B+ to A- range grade. The size of the circle is excellent, but there weren't quite as many of the blown nodes, magnetite, and radiation effects as they'd hoped. This was the students' first effort, though. The narrator wonders who would go to all this trouble for a hoax. (Well, a group of MIT students obviously did.)

This show was originally broadcast around the time of the movie Signs. It is filled with unsubstatiated, anecdotal stories about crop circles, more myth than fact. But it also has the highly interesting MIT experiment. Are anomolies found in the area proof that crop circles are real? I'm no scientist, but it seems to me that when one goes looking for anomolies, one is likely to find them. (Very few spots on earth are compltely "normal.") Science is about forming hypotheses and then testing them to create theories, and refining knowlege until one discovers how things work -- by duplicating effects. I'm not seeing a lot of that here. ("There will be magnetite in a crop cricle," is certainly an hypothesis, but I'm not sure what good the prediction does.) Personally, it's hard for me to look at pictures of crop circles without seeing them as what I believe they are -- artwork. And that's what the students conclude, too. One even suggests going out and making your own; it's fun.

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