Date: Thu Sep 16 1993 09:32:02 Subj: Hoaxing How-To 1/4 UFO - Squaring up the corn circles

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Date: Thu Sep 16 1993 09:32:02 From: Sheppard Gordon Subj: Hoaxing How-To 1/4 UFO ------------------------------- Squaring up the corn circles Are they sent from space or are they made by earthlings? Matt Ridley enters the great crop circle debate 07/18/92 THE DAILY TELEGRAPH London I HAD NEARLY finished the 'Q' when I slipped, put my foot on the garden roller and fell clattering back into the corn. The noise echoed across the field, to be followed by my sister's stifled laughter. The dark shadow of an invigilator twitched as he noted the disturbing sound in his pad. As chance would have it, I had fallen just where the tail of the Q was to be. Getting back on my feet, I tidied the edges of the corn and squared off the end: a perfect Q. Just an everyday tale of a crop-circle maker. But this was no everyday crop circle. This was The Daily Telegraph's crack team entry for the great crop-circle competition of 1992, our chance to win #3,000 from the German magazine PM, the Guardian and the paranormal Koestler Foundation. We were one of 10 teams chasing this prize in a soggy wheat field in Buckinghamshire. As organisers gathered in a small tent in a muddy field near West Wycombe, which Edward Dashwood had lent for the occasion, the rain lashed down outside; the talk was all of genuine "formations" that had appeared this summer. Had everybody been to see the giant snail? Some of the Avebury pictograms were different from usual this year. The Earl of Haddington's prediction that an eagle would appear this year had come true. I asked Lord Haddington what he thought was causing the circles. "There is a pattern," he replied, "and I think I know what they are going to do next. It's all building up to something gigantic in the year 2000." "Armageddon?" I asked. "I do hope not." Just then an explosion rent the sky and a huge fiery wheel began spinning and flashing in the dark. It was a nearby steam funfair with a Ferris wheel and fireworks. It was 10pm. The time had come to begin. We had five hours of darkness in which to do our work. We strode off confidently into the field. There were four of us, all beginners at this game. Berkeley Cole, my brother-in-law, works in films and was dressed in an ankle-length trench coat. He carried two bamboo poles, and a rope and roll of baler twine. Mary James, my sister and an antiquarian book dealer, was wearing a hat with the legend "Discover Oklahoma's Natural Resources". She carried a metal spike. Johnny James, her husband and a surveyor, bore two wooden planks. I brought up the rear wearing camouflage trousers so the leprechauns would not spot me, with The Daily Telegraph's shiny green plastic garden roller, designed for filling with water and rolling the lawn (we had not filled it with water lest it be too heavy). A young tawny owl was squeaking like a rusty gate in the nearby wood. The rain had stopped and a sliver of moon was visible just above the gold ball of St Lawrence's Church. I recalled that in the 18th century Sir Francis Dashwood - ancestor of the farmer in whose field we stood - had called meetings of his Hellfire Club there, and in caves in this very hill. Had they conjured restless spirits from the underworld who might even yet be abroad in these troubled pastures? My reverie was interrupted as I barked my shin against something hard in the corn. I leant down and felt it. A bar stool. Brilliant. I wished I had thought of that. One of our rival teams had decided to enter the crop leaving no traces by using bar stools as stepping stones. It was an act of consummate genius. I knew one hoaxer, Fred Day of Didcot, who used to get into the corn on stilts, but that took practice and I always found that you could leave remarkably little trace if you simply stepped very carefully, placing your feet between and parallel to the rows of corn. We reached our designated patch, No 5. We had spent the evening in the local pub drawing up our own design, incorporating symbols and letters that we hoped would get the world guessing about which planet we came from. Mary went first with our only invention, a steel post sharpened at one end with a ring near the top, to which a rope could be attached, and a bar across the middle for pushing it into the ground with the feet. It was actually fairly impractical, but because it looked like a cross between Neptune's trident and a Jesuit crucifix, we thought it would suit the occasion. She thrust the spike into the ground, attached some ordinary baler-twine and played it out until she reached the first knot. Then, with the string taut, she walked in a tight circle, leaving a neat ring of flattened corn in her wake. Meanwhile, I had begun spiralling out from the spike with the garden roller. The wheat made a satisfying squelch as it went down. Soon I had reached Mary's ring and we had a neat disc of spirally flattened corn. Johnny began to tidy the edges with a plank. Mary played out the string until she reached the second knot and began to mark out the outer ring. I followed with the roller, which was not proving very neat because its protruding axle left a ragged edge. Our rivals, once more, had a better idea: sections of plastic drainpipe, attached to broomsticks. Then Berkeley and I made the ellipse around the outer ring. In the pub beforehand we had carefully calculated that, if one person walked clockwise round the ring holding one end of a rope while the other walked anti-clockwise holding the other end, the path of the second person would describe an ellipse {see diagram on page II}. To our surprise, it worked. Now we had a perfect giant eye, with eyelids, iris and pupil. Next came the letters. In between the lids and the iris, we carefully spelled out the letters F C Q V, which we thought would get everybody guessing. It didn't: even though the Guardian published a huge photograph of our device rather than the winning entry, it was from an angle where you could not see the letters. Read on to find out what they mean. We then went to another part of the field and Johnny made a separate small circle, just to prove that the "tight security" imposed by the organisers was loose. The whole performance had taken us about two hours, which demolished one argument of the mystical fraternity straight away. They nearly always claim that making crop circles takes so long that nobody could possibly have made them all. What exactly they mean by "all" varies. Early in 1991 they were claiming that more than 800 had appeared in 12 years. By the end of the summer the figure had mysteriously increased to 2,000 and by 1992 to 2,000 a year. I have not seen any evidence for even the first of these figures. This year there have been some actual counts. Between 40 and 80 have appeared, depending on whom you believe. That is less than an hour's work for each of 10 teams of hoaxers, given that most crop circles are simple discs which take 10 minutes or so to make. In the morning we came back to admire our handiwork. The circles and the ellipse looked great, but the letters were a bit disappointing: the C was too big and you could see where I jumped clumsily from the F to the C. But we knew we were not going to win. Unlike the other teams we were not trying to recreate the elaborate pattern we had been asked to make by the organisers. We thought it was too difficult. The winners, a team of engineers from the Westland company led by Adrian Dexter, proved us wrong. They had left no trace of how they got into the middle of the corn, their edges were neat, their lines straight and their corn laid as if by machine. It makes you trust their helicopters. If, as I had suspected, the whole competition was a set-up to show how incompetent hoaxers of crop circles were, it had backfired. I first thought it might be a set-up when I saw the list of judges. The chairman and his team were all card-carrying believers that they were in the presence of an extra-terrestrial or psychic phenomenon. But they must have been stung by the events of 1991, a year that saw a number of hoaxers, including the original pair who started it all, owning up to having made circles that the "experts" had first judged to be genuine. The reaction of some of these experts was, to put it mildly, shabby. Instead of thanking the hoaxers for starting the industry that made them famous, they heaped abuse and ridicule on them, using their ready access to the press. TERENCE MEADEN, who had done a superb job for years persuading journalists that his "vortex of ball lightning" explanation was "scientific", was so furious at being trapped into calling a circle genuine on live television, when it had been made the night before in front of the cameras, that he appeared to sicken of the whole business and retired to write books about the meaning of Stonehenge. I rang Doug Bower, the true founder of crop circles, to ask if he had entered the competition. "Not after the way they treated us last year," he replied. "We came forward and explained how we had made about 20 of these things a year. And all the experts did was to lobby the newspapers to say we were liars and fools." So I rang Chris Nash at the "Wessex Skeptics", who fooled Meaden last year, to see if they were in the competition. "No. It's all back to front," he said. "There's no point in testing whether people can make crop circles. We know they can. The only test worth doing is a test of the so-called experts, to see whether they can tell a hoax from a genuine one. It's a test they've failed every time so far." So was it a set-up by the believers to humiliate the hoaxers? The Guardian reporter was plainly a believer. "At most, 20 or 30 per cent of them are hoaxes," he assured me earnestly in the crop at midnight. "So you rule out categorically that they are all hoaxes?" I asked. "Oh no, I rule out nothing. I have an open mind." Rupert Sheldrake, organiser of the competition, had one too. "I believe crop circles are a spontaneous phenomenon. I find it very hard to believe they are all man-made. The competition may prove that it is easy to tell the fakes from the real crop circles." So you rule out the idea that there are no real ones? "Oh no, I have an open mind." The wonderful thing about crop circles is how everybody behaves true to type. The believers are either be-kaftanned earth mothers or gently dishevelled and rather upper-class fogies with names like Montague, Wingfield, Michell and Martineau. The sceptics are sensible northerners with monosyllabic surnames. Ken Brown is a particularly interesting sceptic, because he started as a believer. Living in Wiltshire he took an interest in crop circles because he thought they might herald the second coming of Christ. But he examined a few circles and found all sorts of evidence that they were made by people trampling through the crop. When he took this evidence to fellow believers they appeared uninterested. Brown heard tales about a strange buzzing sound that could be heard when crop circles formed. One evening a crop circle believer and a medium confronted the sound, saying: "If you understand us, stop" (it did) and "Please will you make us a circle" (one appeared 500 yards away that night). Brown thought this intriguing and he grew even more intrigued when he learnt that a tape recording had been made elsewhere of the buzzing sound. He got hold of a copy and listened to it. It was the song of a grasshopper warbler, a small bird. Nor are the believers and the hoaxers the only people acting true to type. The Americans are now getting involved and they are doing exactly what a student of Americana would predict: they are putting their faith in technology. A solemn team of them called "Project Argus" invaded the winning entry at West Wycombe, barring entry with a sign declaring a scientific experiment in progress. Earnest young men bent over the flattened corn, collecting samples for spectroscopes, waving Geiger counters and generally promising miracles of empirical investigation. The aim is to compare the results with those from a "genuine crop circle". I have news for them. If they measure enough variables they will find a difference eventually. THE MEDIA, too, have behaved true to type. The truly astonishing story of crop circles is the way the press appears to have been brainwashed. With a few brave exceptions, it has wholly and uncritically swallowed everything the believers tell it. When Pat Delgado, a self-appointed crop circle authority, pronounced Bower's circle genuine for the newspaper Today, all the "quality" papers (except this one) reported not the hoaxers' story but its refutal by the "experts". "Crop circle hoaxers are fakes, say experts," read the Times's headline. According to the Independent, "Spinning vortices of wind - rather than the nocturnal habits of a couple of pranksters - are the cause of many of the crop circles seen in Britain, scientists said yesterday." This worship of the expert is absurd. There is no such thing as a crop circle scientist. The chief believers first appeal to people's love of mystery by saying the phenomenon lies outside conventional science and then promptly assuage the media's thirst for bogus expertise. They form committees, hold conferences, and parade their credentials. Credulous reporters continued to quote the experts even after these very experts had been duped into pronouncing as "genuine" circles that were known to be man-made. The "experts", in effect, have achieved a piece of nimble "burden tennis" - ie, they have put the burden of proof back in the hoaxers' court. Ah yes, they said, some may be hoaxes, but can you prove they are all hoaxes? This is like saying, some cars may be made in factories, but can you prove they are all made in factories? To which my answer is no, I cannot - but can you prove that any cars are not made in factories? The burden of proof is surely on the believers to produce evidence that one - just one - crop circle was produced by an agent other than man. It is at this point, usually, that a glint of triumph enters the believer's eye and he lays his trump card: motive. Why would people creep out at night and make these circles? Some do it for money: a few farmers have amply repaid the investment of damaged crop by charging sightseers #1 a time to visit a circle. Bower and Chorley did it for fun. The Wessex Skeptics did it to test the experts. The large and soon-to-be-revealed cell of hoaxers near Avebury may even include people who make circles to help recruit mystics into their cults. I first did it to prove it could be done (I have only made three in my life). YES, but would it not require a gigantic conspiracy of silence? No, because the media mostly ignore confessed hoaxers. And never forget the copy-cat effect. As Steve Donnelly wrote in The Skeptic magazine recently, the first person to put ground glass in a jar of baby food in a supermarket a few years ago was copied by a rash of emulators. Surely it is not implausible to suggest that people all over the country have seen the circles and gone out to copy them. It's neat to see your graffito writ so large. And never forget that "there's nowt so queer as folk". So what did our symbol mean? We considered writing the words morphic resonance on the field, since this is Rupert Sheldrake's pet theory (it holds that a sort of collective memory in the ether enables people to learn to ride bicycles or make crop circles more easily because other people have learnt the same skill before - nice idea, no evidence). But after practising with just the word "morphic" in a field in Northumberland, I realised it would be tedious in the extreme. Next we considered writing the Japanese for "aliens". but decided our calligraphy was not up to it. So we eventually settled on the all-seeing Cyclopean eye and Mary's suggestion of F C Q V, which stands for "Fay ce que voudras", a Rabelais quote in old French that the Hellfire Club chose for its motto: "Do what you want." I guess it was too obscure. --- Maximus/2 2.01wb * Origin: UFOria (Clifton, VA) 703-803-6420 (1:109/369)


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