KIDS' CROP CIRCLE ATTEMPT YIELDS
For years those of us documenting and/or studying the crop circle phenomenon have been reporting the failure of cameras and other electronic equipment in and around crop circles. Based on W.C. Levengood's published hypothesis that microwave radiation was the causative agency behind some of the plant/soil changes consistently observed in crop circle plants, microwaves have also been suspected as contributing to these reported equipment failures.
In 2002 an unsuccessful (and as it turns out, an insincere) crop circle experiment was carried out by three M.I.T. undergraduates, who accepted a TV challenge to reproduce three specific plant and soil abnormalities consistently observed in crop circle plants and soils worldwide -- abnormalities also presented in three peer-reviewed scientific papers. Although the undergraduates and their two graduate-student "advisors" were unable to reproduce any of the criteria specifically required (elongated apical plant stem nodes, expulsion cavities in the plant stems, and 10-50 micron-diameter magnetized iron spherules deposited linearly in the crop circle soils) they and the TV production crew did--quite accidentally--produce evidence that exposure to microwave radiation does cause electronic equipment failure.
Since the students were aware of the Levengood hypothesis that microwaves might explain the heating effects documented in the plants and might also be involved in creating the magnetic iron spheres found in crop circle soils, they set about designing both a microwave generator to aim at the plants and a "particle shooter" (see Wilmington News Journal photograph, above)--sort of a reverse vacuum cleaner hooked up to a microwave generator and a propane tank connected to a metal ring, through which tiny iron particles could be propelled through a ring of fire. [The hope, apparently, was that this gizmo would melt the iron filings, thus producing the 10-50 micron diameter iron spheres as the molten iron flew through the air and down to the ground.]
In the actual TV show, aired first on the Discovery Channel on October 10, 2002, a clip is included showing the group testing their "home-made" (MIT-lab made) equipment on a paved area near some of the farm's out-buildings. Suddenly, there is an equipment malfunction. Not quite as exciting as a wardrobe malfunction, perhaps, but one of the two most interesting moments in the show. The microwave generator sprang a leak and the TV camera, which was shooting from directly behind the generator, immediately cut out. Voila! On-camera evidence that microwaves dispersing in the immediate vicinity of electronic equipment cause malfunction.
There was one other curious -- even scary -- event.
Included in the show later on is a clip showing the TV crew in a small airplane, circling the now-completed crop circle in the field below. As has also been very occasionally reported by authentic crop circle investigators (in particular Busty Taylor, a UK pilot who has been locating and photographing English crop formations for many years) the plane engine suddenly cuts out altogether for a few seconds at no more than 1000 ft. in the air, putting the pilot and TV crew in real danger.
As in the other known instances of plane engines failing over crop circles, this plane's engines quickly recovered with no harm done. Probably just equipment malfunction, once again.
John Tindall of Termite Art Productions, working in this instance on a film for the Discovery Channel, not only had a friend of the family attending M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Cambridge, MA--he had an idea for a TV show the Discovery Channel wanted to air to coincide with the release of the Mel Gibson film, "Signs." Banking on the worldwide reputation of MIT as a professional institution to diffuse any serious doubt regarding the ethics of MIT-related personnel, he proceeded to offer payment to 3 undergraduates in the aeronautics and astronautical engineering departments (Dominic Rizzo, Lisa Messeri and Devjit Chakravarti, all juniors) to participate in a crop circle "experiment." Also recruited were two graduate students (Zoz Brooks and Mark Feldmeier) from MIT's prominent Media Lab, who were--it turns out--assigned the task of evaluating the undergrads' results.
Tindall then contacted Nancy Talbott, president of the BLT Research Team, Inc. (also based in Cambridge, whose members were authors of the only crop circle research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals), requesting that she provide three clear physical changes regularly documented in crop circle plants and/or soils by BLT scientists over the years. Tindall clearly stated that his idea was to challenge MIT undergraduates with replicating the three criteria presented by Ms. Talbott, which were understood by him to be indicators--in BLT's professional opinion--of the real (not the human copycat) phenomenon. Mr. Tindall then clearly indicated that evaluation of the success or failure of the students' efforts would be the province of BLT. No mention was made to Ms. Talbott of the apparently already-made decision to involve two MIT grad-students as judges.
Talbott, also aware of the reputation generally enjoyed by MIT and MIT-related ventures, entered into the project with total expectation of an honest, straight-forward attempt by three MIT students who would make a serious effort to replicate the criteria presented to them. She expected that the students might not take the crop circle phenomenon itself seriously, but that their personal standards of excellence, their native intelligence, and their expected respect for peer-reviewed scientific research would guarantee a genuine approach to the challenge.
A meeting was arranged between the 3 undergrads and Talbott at one of the MIT lecture halls, so that the plant/soil criteria could be precisely explained to the students. Although both Rizzo and Messeri did seem a bit flipant regarding the project, all three of the kids seemed to pay close attention as they were shown actual physical examples of the elongated apical plant stem nodes and the expulsion cavities. Photomicrographs were shown of the 10-50 micron diameter magnetic iron spheres. The theory that heat was involved in all three effects was explained in detail.
One of the students then asked about the importance of the "design" element in crop circles, wanting to know whether the scientific research had examined this parameter -- Ms. Talbott was exceedingly clear in pointing out that overall design was in no way associated with the 3 criteria presented, which constituted the challenge, that the overall "design" of a crop circle was not relevant to the experiment. All of this interchange between the students and Ms. Talbott was videotaped, but, as one can see in the show which aired this significant point (and several other critical details) was consigned to the cutting-room floor.
When Ms. Talbott left the MIT lecture hall that afternoon she left with the understanding that:
1. The TV producer would clearly present to the audience the 3 criteria outlined by Ms. Talbott as constituting the challenge to the MIT undergraduates;
2. The undergrads would be taken to a wheat-field somewhere here in the States by the TV producer, where they would attempt to make a crop circle under conditions which mimicked those in the Alton Barnes area of Wiltshire in mid-summer (i.e., where only about 4 hours of total darkness exist each night during the summer months and where crop circle enthusiasts from all over the world are out in the fields at night, watching for any sign of human activity);
3. The MIT undergrads would seriously attempt to reproduce the 3 plant/soil abnormalities outlined in the lecture hall, under the constraints above (4 hours of total darkness, no visual displays which would signify their presence);
4. That plant samples and controls from the students' crop formation would be provided to Ms. Talbott, as well as soil samples, for evaluation;
5. That Ms. Talbott's evaluation of the success or failure of the students' efforts would be included in the final TV show.
As anyone who has seen the Discovery Channel production "Crop Circles: Mystery in the Fields" (first aired on Oct. 10, 2002) already knows, none of these 5 expectations (upon which Ms. Talbott's involvement was based) was met.
1. The 3 criteria outlined by Ms. Talbott were changed by the TV producer, with apical node elongation removed altogether as one of the criteria and with "design" of the crop circle inserted instead;
no clear, close-up photos of apical node elongation or expulsion cavities in plant stem nodes was shown; and, instead of even one enlarged photomicrographs of iron spheres adhereing to one another (due to being magnetized), a few video shots of a dish of what looked like ordinary rough-edged iron filings were briefly shown on-screen;
2. The TV announcer states that the students spent only 4 hours out in Jason Boeckmann's Careytown, Ohio wheat field. But Ms. Talbott was told by an observer who was present at the Ohio farm-field during the students' exercise that the students spent "3-4 hours during the night of June 20th" out in the field, and then "worked for several more hours the following day." In a "real" crop circle situation in England daytime work would almost certainly have been spotted.
But the most amusing aspect of the entire show was the apparent notion that the brilliant plume of fire produced by the students' "particle shooter" (in their attempt to produce the tiny magnetized iron spheres in the soil) would have gone unnoticed in the darkness of the Wiltshire countryside. [Not to mention the extreme likelihood of subsequent fire which, in the M.I.T. exercise, had necessitated the presence of fire-trucks (off-camera of course) at the Ohio farm.] The fact that the M.I.T. exercise included this wonderfully dramatic TV moment -- as if it could possibly represent the manner in which all crop circles are created -- is, at the very least, absurd.
I cannot believe that these M.I.T. students actually accept such an idea, in spite of what they say on-camera. It appears to me that they--at such a young age--have already lost their intellectual independence, pliantly yielding to conventional wisdom.
3. Apparently because of the students' failure to reproduce the plant abnormalities listed as criteria, "design" of the crop circle was substituted instead, as being significant--it was this criterion which the TV announcer (and the 2 graduate-student "judges") presented as representing the overall "success" of the project--in spite of the fact that producer John Tindall and the 3 kids had all clearly heard (and the video team had taped) Ms. Talbott's crystal-clear statements to the contrary;
4. No plant samples or controls, and no soils, were ever provided to Ms. Talbott for evaluation;
5. No evaluation by Ms. Talbott was permitted and she was not allowed to contact the two graduate students utilized by the TV producer as "judges," once she had learned of their involvement. She was also denied any further contact with the three undergrads with whom she had met earlier in the summer.
I would not have reported these tedious, discouraging facts had it not been for my subsequent experiences with various MIT officials and representatives. I had relied upon MIT's reputation as an honorable institution, whose members were imbued with genuine curiosity, intelligence, and dedication to scientific principles. Because of this apparently foolish bias I had expected that, since our research has been conducted in a manner consistent with mainstream scientific protocols and by credentialed scientists--and, further, since it was known that our results are published in peer-reviewed journals, we and our work would be treated with basic respect. Not necessarily the respect of the TV personnel (most of whom are not very well-educated), but of the MIT personnel involved. It never occurred to me that any MIT students or faculty, or administrative personnel, would deliberately participate in something that was ethically shoddy.
On October 8, 2002 the web-site MIT News ran an article, "Crop Circles: MIT's most ambitious hack?" No author's name was presented with the article, but this photo ran as an illustration:
The article (http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/2002/crops.html) immediately establishes the tenor of the piece in his title, "MIT's most famous hacks," going on to clearly imply that it is absurd for anyone to take the crop circles seriously (since "some people believe they are made by extraterrestrial visitors"), and also implying that this crop circle is the latest "hack" to be carried out by MIT students.
Then the article goes on to state that the crop circle produced by the undergraduates was "on a par with any of the documented cases" (although no criteria at all, other than the overall design, is even mentioned), concluding with a statement by one of the three kids who made the circle (Dominic Rizzo) that he finds it "hard to put any faith in tales of crop circle construction by aliens."
Why "aliens" were mentioned, I don't know. This concept had never been mentioned, so far as I am aware, by anyone during the whole project. But I am lying here. Of course I know why "aliens" were mentioned in the MIT News article, and so, probably, do you.
Because of this article and it's factual errors, and because those errors both misinform readers and support a disrespectful bias toward the BLT Research Team and it's crop circle work, I sent an email to the MIT News office on October 16th requesting "equal time." I asked them to print my email, which clearly pointed out the errors and mis-statements in the Octobert 8th MIT News piece. My email was entirely respectful, requesting only that the actual facts of the project and BLT's involvement in it be clarified for the readers of MIT News.
On October 25, 2002 I received an email from Kenneth D. Campbell, "publisher of MIT Tech Talk and director of the News Office." He informed me that the author of the October 8th MIT News article was one Darren Clarke, someone I had never met and was unable to contact subsequently. He then indicated that my "concern" was with The Discovery Channel alone, and not with the MIT students--although in the same email he makes two very revealing statements:
(a) He writes that "We contacted the students. They had read many papers which stated that crop circles, whether made by humans or unknown forces, could be distinguished by geometry alone. I understand that you disagree."
(b) And he adds, "Darren told me that both students (sic) teams felt that they had done good work" (emphasis added here).
From these statements alone it is reluctantly clear to me that the MIT students--at least the three undergraduates with whom I had met--were not only aware of, but were collusive in, deliberate misrepresentation of the project and it's results. I had briefly observed indicators of intellectual arrogance in two of the three undergraduates while outlining the criteria they were challenged to replicate. But I was certain that, as representatives of MIT (if for no other reason), they would conduct themselves ethically and with respect for the contract we had agreed upon between us.
On October 25th I again emailed Mr. Campbell, this time elucidating precisely each error in Daren Clarke's MIT News piece, pointing out that the article blatantly misrepresented both the BLT Research Team and the research results produced by our scientists--and again requested that my criticisms of the article be published in MIT News. Mr. Campbell did not reply, and neither of my emails was ever published in MIT News. I made multiple phone calls to various offices at MIT, both prior to and following my interaction with the News office director and including the MIT President's office, none of which resulted in anyone showing any regard whatsoever for the BLT Research Team's work or for myself, personally. Or--and this is much more significant-- to the readership of MIT News, among whom we expect to find some of the best-informed members of our society.
From this appalling situation two very clear facts have emerged, both informative:
1. MICROWAVES DO INTERFERE WITH ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT.
2. I'D THINK TWICE BEFORE SENDING MY KID TO MIT.
Another article discussing this situation, "Discovery Channel Documentary-The True Story," by Guro K. Parvanova and Nancy Talbott was published on June 20, 2003 by Swirled News (a now-defunct UK cropcircle news website).
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