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Crop circles:

Bad science - BLT's lab report No 3

Foreword: the following article is by Paul Fuller [pf1], from his magazine The Crop Watcher, #23, autumn 1994.

A first part related to "Lab Report #18" by the BLT, it is here.

The "BLT", i.e. primarily the US laboratory technician William Levengood, then produced "Lab Reports" supposed to demonstrate "differences" between "true" and "hoaxed" crop circles. Because these texts were called "Lab Reports", the "extraterrestrial/paranormal" crop circles buffs believed or, want to make believe, that they are the scientific papers published in the scientific press, but they are not.

Many of these "lab reports", like this one, were refuted since ages, but the proponents of "alien" or "paranormal" crop circles do not know that, or won't let you know.

The BLT report #3

In July 1994 an even bigger controversy broke with the publication of what has been called the H-Glaze Report. The author, John A. Burke, begins by claiming that he and Levengood have made an "extraordinary discovery" following their analysis of some reddish-brown glazed chalk found by Peter Sorensen [ps1] in two formations that lay close to the 1993 Cherhill pictogram.

Sorensen would have preferred to examine these circles immediately but - unfortunately - Busty Taylor [bt1] had to return home that evening for an appointment. Sorensen returned to the site two days later, accompanied by a neighbour. According to an amicable farmer the circles had arrived a week or so earlier and that originally parts of the circles had been covered by "a dark grey mist" which had been largely washed away by heavy rain. When Sorensen arrived both formations had been harvested. The first formation was shaped like a tear-drop (in fact like a "Nautilus" [pf1]) and exhibited multiple swirls and complex layering effects. Sorensen noted that the dust was concentrated inside the swirls and resembled soot. As he videoed the formation Sorensen largely dismissed the possibility of a prank because the dust appeared "almost accidental". However, as he looked more closely Sorensen discovered a "reddish-brown, dull glaze" on lumps of chalk and pebbles. A smaller concentration of dust and coated chalk was discovered in the second formation, a circle with an arc, which lay close by.

Levengood's Analysis

According to the H-Glaze Report, Levengood subjected the glaze to a spectroscopic analysis. He discovered that the particles were composed of iron and oxygen (FE). According to Levengood's reasoning this didn't make any sense, because had these originated from the soil there should have been traces of calcium and silicon as well, but strangely there was none. Microscopic study revealed that the glaze was composed of "thousands of partially-fused tiny spheres" which contained both magnetite (Fe+2 Fe2+3 O4) and hematite (Fe2 O3). As the particles were magnetized, the "glaze" acquired an "H" - the chemical symbol for magnetism. Finding no evidence of a "terrestrial system" that could account for such unusual particles Levengood and Burke mounted an "extensive" literature search to discover if such material had been discovered before. Astonishingly they concluded that the only way particles containing both iron and oxygen could have appeared in a crop formation was if it had been deposited during a meteor shower! In their preliminary report Levengood and Burke go into great detail about how the surface of a meteorite would become molten as it enters the earth's atmosphere. During this state the outer surface of the meteorite is blown off and solidifies into tiny spheres that oxidise (rust) and fall to earth. Somewhat conveniently this process is said to take days or even weeks.

Levengood and Burke hypothesize that this dust was released during an unusually intense Perseid meteor shower, which apparently peaked nearly two weeks earlier. During their microscopic examination of the particles they noticed "mud-crack" patterns and bubbles where the molten meteoritic droplets had partially refused. Attempting to explain why the molten droplets had failed to burn the wheat Levengood and Burke propose that the moisture inside the stems evaporated and produced water droplets on the stems, thus insulating them from the effect of the heat.

This "Leidenfrost effect" insulated the stems from burning. Levengood and Burke were so excited by their discovery that they quickly circulated the H-Glaze Report to numerous sources, urging cereologists to "make magnets a standard part of their field equipment" to locate more meteoric dust. Furthermore, the authors claim that "This incident provides rare, direct evidence for a theoretical model of crop formation - the plasma vortex - that had previously been indicated only in an indirect way." They go on to cite confirmation of their results by stating that the affected wheat stems exhibited "dramatic differences" to control samples in terms of the alpha test and measured growth rates. In their conclusions Levengood and Burke grandly claim to represent "the scientific community of the world" and they challenge hoaxers to explain how they managed to "scavenge the atmosphere for meteoric dust, re-heat it and lay it down just right with no contamination". They predict that crop formations will appear more frequently following meteor showers than at any other time.

The Sting?

Well, if all the claims made by Levengood and Burke were really supportable we would have a major breakthrough which would make one giant conceptual leap in our understanding of the crop circle phenomenon. However, as we have come to expect in this business, the circlemakers were not about to let Levengood and Burke get away with such an astonishing claim without some kind of fightback - oh no!

On July 25th 1994 Robert Irving wrote to John Burke. Irving's letter stated:

"It is not our primary interest to contradict your findings ... It is instead our intention to use your report as textual source material for an upcoming exhibition to be held on behalf of The Agency Gallery, in London. The piece in question (entitled 'Fe3') will comprise a museum style glass cabinet with text displayed on the glass. Inside the cabinet, beyond the text, will be a standard Oxford University chemistry laboratory bottle containing fine-grade iron filings. This bottle was originally addressed, labelled, and postmarked to correspond with the crop formation which constitutes the subject of your report ... and will be displayed in it's original state. Remaining samples of the 'grey dust' will also be shown. All text will be fully credited to you, citing the tests and conclusions of Dr W.C. Levengood. The context of the piece can be loosely summarised by the following theoretical equation: If science is incongruous to mysticism, and the mystical is represented through art, should 'bogus' science be elevated to an art form ? Certainly the gallery concerned seems to think so, and our fingers feeling the pulse of a growing trend towards millenialist awareness would seem to confirm this."

We have reproduced Irving's own photograph of the laboratory bottle on page 8. This bottle was exhibited at a London Art Gallery on the South Bank during September and the accompanying text is reproduced on page. BBC2's "The Late Show" took an interest in the iron fillings exhibit and they filmed an interview with Irving during September [for proof, ring Matthew Collings at the Beeb]. Meanwhile, a furious argument has developed between Levengood and Burke, on the one hand, and Irving and Montague Keen [mk1], on the other.

Irving has sent samples of the original batch of iron filings to Montague Keen and offered them to Levengood and Burke, who so far have failed to accept this offer. Irving's intention is to allow all three to compare these samples with the glaze discovered in the Cherhill formations. Keen has very sensibly suggested that these samples, and those found in the Cherhill formations, be subjected to an independent test by a reputable laboratory to establish whether or not they are one and the same thing.

Tellingly, at the time of writing, Burke and Levengood have yet to respond to this offer. Furthermore, both Burke and Levengood have failed to supply full answers to a series of detailed statistical questions I sent to them during late September (letters available as usual).

It is perhaps not surprising that these researchers have refused to be drawn into this affair any further considering their promotion of "dramatic differences" between Irving's iron filing-coated seeds and controls. Were they to do so, and if Irving's claims are true, then the fallacy of the much vaunted alpha tests would be exposed for all to see.

Conclusions

The H-Glaze Report is yet another amusing story in the long-running crop circle hoax, another testament to the failure of researchers to attain true objectivity in their work, and another telling lesson to the power of the anomaly myth. No one can doubt the sincerity of Levengood and Burke, and their dedication to their work deserves praise. But this work is fatally flawed for two primary reasons - the desperate desire to find an anomalous explanation on the part of Levengood and Burke, and their seeming naivety when it comes to understanding the true extent of the hoax evidence and the mass cover-up of that evidence by the believer groups these past few years. Oh well, all's fair in love and war!

In an article headlined "Comments on 'the H-glaze explained' posted on www.xstreamscience.org, in May, 2005, W.C. Levengood and John Burke added another very silly notion to their "H-glaze" "meteoric plasma making crop circles" beliefs:

"Other Similar Incidents: Our paper cites a strikingly similar find in Trans en Provence, France in 1981. There, a glowing ball of light left a residue on the ground remarkably similar to that of the H-glaze."

Burke and Levengood are so ignorant of the ufology literature that they managed to believe, or tried to make believe, that the quite famous Trans-en-Provence 1981 UFO report was a report of a "glowing ball of light", when actually, it was not: the reported UFO, if it was not just a tall story by the witness, was neither a light, nor glowing, nor a ball, but a solid, non-luminous, non-glowing, metallic craft with a neatly described structure, a totally "nuts-and-bolts" object!

Left: Witness sketch of the Trans-en-Provence UFO.

Just because they believe that meteors create "plasma vortexes" that glow and flatten crop to create crop circles, Levengood and Burke manage to distort just about anything in support of this nonsense theory.

And of course it is quite ironic that ufologists who claim that crop circles are created by nuts and bolts UFO cite Levengood and Burke as "expert crop circles scientists" as if they supported a UFO explanation to crop circles when actually they believe to have proven that crop circles are created by a totally natural phenomenon of meteoric plasma!

Footnotes:

(Not in the original text! - Provided by myself for my reader's information, if needed.)

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