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'Signs' Brings Bonanza

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    Source: The Boston Globe http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/213/living/Circular_logic+.shtml Signs Brings Bonanza Of Books, Documentaries And TV Shows In Its
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2002
      Source: The Boston Globe


      'Signs' Brings Bonanza Of Books, Documentaries And TV Shows In Its Wake

      Good link on the page!



      Circular logic

      Crop formations may be shrouded in mystery, but the media are
      betting they'll make sense at the cash register

      By Vanessa E. Jones, Globe Staff, 8/1/2002


      They call themselves cereologists, a term that makes them sound
      as if they're researching Cap'n Crunch or Froot Loops. But the
      people in this group study crop circles, those dazzling
      geometric designs that have been carved into barley, wheat, and
      oat fields throughout England, Germany, Japan, and the United

      The summertime phenomenon has been around since the 1970s. And
      ever since then, people have wondered whether the circles were
      the work of aliens, natural phenomena, or pranksters armed with
      planks and an astute design sense. The circles will reach their
      largest audience ever on Friday with the release of M. Night
      Shyamalan's film "Signs." The movie stars Mel Gibson as a former
      minister who discovers a formation in his Pennsylvania

      "Signs" is merely the first drop in a cereological storm. The
      people behind a bonanza of books, films, and television shows on
      the subject hope to ride the popularity of the movie to profits.

      Two documentaries have already been made: William Gazecki's
      "Crop Circles: Quest for Truth," scheduled for an Aug. 23
      release, and Marcus Thompson's "A Place to Stay," which is
      seeking a distributor. Recently published books include Werner
      Anderhub and Hans Peter Roth's "Crop Circles: Exploring the
      Designs & Mysteries" and Eltjo H. Haselhoff's "The Deepening
      Complexity of Crop Circles: Scientific Research and Urban

      Barbara Walters has considered the subject worthy of "20/20"
      treatment. Cable channels from Discovery to History to Learning
      plan to air specials.

      The vortex of publicity is dragging into the mainstream the
      eccentric "croppies" and the circle makers (yes, they're human)
      who toy with them. It's all a little funny, considering that the
      crop circles in "Signs" are the jumping-off point for a film
      that's really a rumination on faith and aliens.

      "Shhhh. Don't mention that," jokes Rob Pulleyn, publisher of
      Lark Books in Asheville, N.C., which ordered a 30,000-copy first
      printing of Anderhub and Roth's paperback coffee-table book
      "Crop Circles," a dramatic increase from the usual first
      printing of 5,000.

      Anyway, does it matter when "Signs" brings attention to a cast
      of cereologists and hoaxers who are colorful enough to inspire a
      movie? There are believers such as Nancy Talbott, president of
      BLT Research Team Inc., an organization run out of her Cambridge
      home that consists of "seven or eight consulting scientists and
      several hundred field workers around the world," she says. "Our
      main purpose is to carry out real scientific research, not this
      pseudo stuff," she adds disdainfully. It sounds convincing until
      she reveals that before studying crops she promoted country-
      music festivals.

      Like Talbott, Colin Andrews, an electrical engineer from England
      who now lives in Branford, Conn., once thought the circles were
      a natural phenomenon. But today, the man Disney tapped to
      provide information for its "Signs" Web site doesn't mention the
      A-word. After all, who wants to get pegged as a UFO nut?
      Instead, he vaguely says, "I don't think we're looking at
      anything quite in the area of Mother Nature. ... The evidence
      I'm having to go with is that ... whatever is making the crop
      circles knows precisely what it's doing."

      Hogwash, says Joe Nickell, 57, a senior research fellow at the
      Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the
      Paranormal in Amherst, N.Y., who has been investigating
      unexplained phenomena for 30 years. He easily earns his debunker
      tag, calling the croppies "cultlike," "pseudoscientists," and
      "mystery mongers." In case you don't get his point, he adds,
      "Some of these people are not credible."

      But hoaxers such as John Lundberg can't exist without them.
      Lundberg's brash, London-based three-man collective,
      Circlemakers, calls what it does conceptual art. He and his crew
      see their work as a collaborative piece involving the
      cereologists, the media, the public, and themselves.

      "The most interesting part of our work isn't particularly the
      pattern making," the 33- year-old says earnestly from his London
      home. "It's all the myths and folklores and stories that build
      up around the work."

      That mythology compelled Pulleyn to choose "Crop Circles" as the
      single "wacko" book he publishes annually, he says. "There seem
      to be real questions: How do these things happen overnight? Who
      did them? I almost don't want an answer," he says, chuckling. "I
      also don't want it to be extraterrestrials."

      Talbott discovered the subject while browsing in the
      international section at Harvard Square's Out of Town News about
      10 years ago. She emerged from the store with a magazine filled
      with photos of circles. A cereologist was born.

      "I went to England right away," she explains in a deep voice.
      The country is crop- circle ground zero. Andrews estimates that
      95 percent of the world's circles appear within a 40-mile radius
      of Stonehenge. Could this be explained, as Nickell dryly
      suggests, by "a correlation between England and a lack of video
      arcades, bowling alleys, and other methods of amusement?"

      Talbott doesn't think so. She happily launches into long,
      scientific-sounding explanations of the circles. She talks about
      plasma vortexes, energy systems that she believes swoop down and
      stamp fields with distinctive patterns. She mentions "massive
      deposits of ... pure iron" that coat plants.

      Proudly and often, Talbott states that three of her studies have
      been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals: two in
      Physiologia Plantarum, a Danish journal of experimental plant
      biology, and one in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, a
      publication founded by a Stanford University professor that
      focuses on scientific research outside the mainstream. Like
      Andrews, she boasts that she's received funding from Laurence
      Rockefeller. She doesn't mention that Wired magazine recently
      described Rockefeller as a "UFOlogist."

      Nickell can just as convincingly give reasons that cereologists
      are deluding themselves. He tells his side slowly and carefully,
      as if he's explaining common sense to a 2-year-old. Isn't it
      convenient, he asks, that the number of crop-circle sightings
      increases in correlation to media coverage? As for the stamps of
      approval from scientific journals, the research would be more
      credible if it were tested against a circle that doesn't have
      the mark of human intervention, Nickell says. "Just going out
      and finding something when you don't have anything to compare it
      to is not proof of anything."

      Why not ask the Nancy Talbotts of the world, he suggests, how
      they explain the increasing size and complexity of recent
      circles? The question flusters Talbott. When prodded, she huffs
      that she can't explain research that has taken 10 years to
      compile. This is a 21/2-hour lecture, she complains. To
      understand it, she says, it's necessary to read BLT's
      information packet, which contains photographs and scientific
      papers. The package costs $35.

      When the same question is posed to Lundberg, he doesn't need
      money or 21/2 hours to answer it. He talks about the spiritual
      fathers of present-day circle makers, Brits Doug Bower and Dave
      Chorley, who in 1991 admitted to making the early circles. The
      men were disturbed when Terrence Meaden, an English
      meteorologist studying crop circles, started explaining them
      away with the plasma-vortex theory.

      "They didn't want people to think it was natural," Lundberg says
      of Bower and Chorley.

      So the teasing began. Crop circles grew from simple circular
      formations to rectangles, triangles - there's even one with an
      intricate basket-weave design. Their sizes expanded from several
      feet to 15 acres. These days, Lundberg says, the goal is to "do
      stuff so huge, so complex, that people would question that it's
      man-made. "

      And how is it done? His www.circlemakers.org Web site, which has
      been logging a quarter of a million hits daily, offers a how-to
      guide suggesting designs and equipment (surveyor's tape, planks,
      garden rollers, hangers). According to his recommended method,
      the center is formed via an awkward one-man dance that has the
      circle maker pivoting on one foot while the other foot flattens
      the surrounding stalks. Surveyor's tape is then attached to a
      stick stuck into the center of the newly formed central circle.
      The circle makers decide on a radius length and then, keeping
      the tape taut, walk around the stick, leaving a slight trail
      with their feet. Voila! A perfectly made circle. All that's left
      is to stomp the formation into shape.

      The hoaxers' activities caused Meaden to be "utterly disgraced
      and humiliated," Nickell says. As for Andrews, who worked with
      Meaden and coauthored the first book on the phenomenon in 1989,
      Nickell says, "He now has, to coin a phrase, egg on his face,
      shirt, jacket, trousers, spattered on his shoes."

      Today, Andrews concedes that 80 percent of the English circles
      are man-made. Why does he remain a believer? "We have patterns
      as large as three-quarters of a mile across," he says
      plaintively. "The more impressive the geometries, the more
      impossible they look to be performed in a short period of time
      by people."

      Spoken like a person who's never made a crop circle, says
      Lundberg. All it takes to make the huge ones, he maintains, is a
      team about 10 people strong. And, apparently, steel nerves.

      "It's actually really stressful to do it," Lundberg says. "The
      more people you have in the field, the more of a nightmare it is
      to coordinate."

      With "Signs" on the horizon, observers expect circle sightings
      to spike. A 25-foot design popped up in an Oregon field last
      month. "Every man and his dog will be going out to make one,"
      cackles Lundberg.

      But don't even think of grabbing a few drinks before hitting a
      field. "You have to be stone-cold sober if you're going to make
      them; otherwise you get wonky crop circles," says Lundberg.

      Like the one depicted in the book "Crop Circles" that extends in
      a long, jagged line? He laughs, saying, "Maybe those are the
      ones that are made by aliens."


      This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 8/1/2002.

      © Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

      © Copyright 2002 New York Times Company

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