Colin Andrews has finally delivered what he claims is the ultimate evidence to support his “80% man-made” views of crop circles, packaged as a CD-ROM audio-visual presentation. Is this, then, the long-awaited disclosure? Hardly, discovers ANDY THOMAS…
One year ago this summer, veteran researcher Colin Andrews shook up the croppie world by announcing, with great bravado and media stirring, that he believed “80%” of all crop formations were man-made and that the remaining 20% were largely caused by natural magnetic fields.
The general reception to this from many circle enthusiasts was cool, to say the least. Colin’s presentation at the Andover CCCS conference in August 2000, which appeared to be the official launching of this viewpoint, was met with intense questioning and not a little cynicism from many members of the audience. Looking very uncomfortable at times, Colin stumbled over some of the answers he managed to give, but gave promises that the evidence to back up his claim would be made available very soon. Responding in anger to my review in SC journal, critical of his pronouncements and the widespread media splash made without any data to back them up, Colin reiterated in personal e-mails to me that the necessary evidence would quickly be presented and that my scepticism towards him would be proved wrong.
It is pertinent and important at this point to recap on parts of my former article (originally published in SC journal, issue 92, Sep-Oct 2000 as ‘Crossed Lines’), which read as follows:
“Colin’s theory is an interesting one which demands detailed analysis. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has not been forthcoming. A year ago we wrote about the risk of “the temptation to proclaim tentative and mundane results as something astonishing...” in the aftermath of his Rockefeller funding (SC 85). Sure enough, the ideas behind the new magnetic theory are very vague. No paper has been produced for perusal, though one is promised – but this isn’t good enough. Media blitzes shouldn’t be initiated until there is something to show for it. Through e-mails and suchlike, Colin has since leaked out a little more detail here and there, but nothing which supports the solidity with which the case has been presented. The bombastic press and TV coverage of Colin’s announcement was patently hollow gong-banging with no substance, full of misrepresentations of Colin’s credentials, status and background. Though much of this was almost certainly due to standard media sloppiness, Colin was not overtly quick to correct the impression that he was an eminent scientist/Dr/Professor.
The announcement seems to have backfired on a number of levels, with even the ‘Daily Mail’ running a whole page piece by Colin Wilson rebutting Colin’s claims, and supporting instead the ET theory (!), and the hitherto Andrews-supportive ‘UFO Magazine’ (UK) and Whitley Streiber’s US radio show laying into him with surprising vigour.
The ‘Daily Express’ actually sums up the dilemma of Colin’s new theory very well: “This idea will leave him between two stools. It will not impress the rationalists, who consider that since we know that humans can make crop circles, there is no need to look for explanations on the fringes of science. Nor will it please the true believers for whom these are phenomena not of science but of the spirit.” The piece goes on to spoil itself by praising the likes of ‘artists’ Team Satan for being responsible for the whole thing, but this comment is incisive.
The problem rests in two areas. Simplifying things, the new theory is based on the observation that ‘genuine’ crop circles have their natural magnetic fields shifted by several degrees; therefore magnetism must be responsible. But with no detail on how the ‘science’ was conducted, exactly what equipment was used to detect this shift, what controls were observed to test the machinery’s veracity and how this rather simplistic deduction was reached, there’s a strong smell of fudge in the air which will impress no true scientist. Does magnetism behave in such a way as to pull down crops? The theory makes little or no nods to any previous scientific experiments carried out in circles, ignoring many important observations made previously, not least the work of Dr Levengood, which was only faintly and critically alluded to at Colin’s Andover presentation at the CCCS conference in August.
Worse, the assertion that 80% of formations are man-made seems backed up by nothing more than casual observation/analysis of aerial photographs, and the rumour and innuendo which has fuelled hoax theorists since cerealogical time began. We already know from Colin himself (SC 88) that his main ‘detective’ refused at the last minute to divulge his alleged findings about hoaxing activity, and all other similar investigations appear to have revolved simply around people hanging about in Wiltshire fields looking at formations from 1999 and 2000. Data from other counties doesn’t seem to have played a part, surely skewing the results. Hints of Colin’s ‘inside contacts’ with information about circle hoaxing seem to refer to nobody more than debunker John Macnish and his contacts, whose (flawed) ‘findings’ were made freely available to all in his book and video in the mid 90’s. No less than Team Satan themselves have denied that “seven” formations were filmed in the human making by TV crews this summer, as announced at Andover, for instance. It appears, in fact, to have been just three, and even if it were seven, does that prove 80% of formations are man-made?
Colin believes simple circles and the occasional more complex formations like quintuplets can be accounted for by the magnetic theory, but this is severely challenged by the simple observation that there are far, far fewer simple circles and quintuplets appearing today. The vast majority of formations are complex patterns. If the theory is sound, where are the dozens of single circles and simple rings? Where are all the quintuplets? Where did the real phenomenon go in the last 10 years? The truth is, many believe it developed into something else, into something Colin’s belief envelope can no longer accept.
This theory should never have been announced with such a big splash until a paper had been produced and perused by the crop circle community for constructive comments. Colin speaks of ‘peer review’ taking place when the theory is finally aired properly. But who will peer review it? Who are his peers? Croppies or scientists, when not many of either have so far seemed impressed and Colin seems to distrust so many other researchers? Who will he deign to send the details to? (He speaks of ‘Nature’ magazine publishing his results - very unlikely, given its disdain for anything beyond the hardest science.)
This new theory has been developed in a seemingly intentional vacuum, which makes nor requires reference to work by any other cerealogists, perhaps as a form of protection. It is something individual to Colin, something all of his own, and with scant details available, something hard for outsiders to challenge, but which looks impressive to the general public.
The sadness is that the new theory seems secondary to Colin’s apparent main purpose – to prove that most crop formations are man-made. This thrust is what has preoccupied most of his media coverage, interviews and statements. If it isn’t intentional, Colin should be far more careful about the way he puts himself across. Little has been said of the theory, but much said about the levels of hoaxing. On the BBC news, we were presented with the surreal sight of a farmer (Tim Carson) defending the reality of the phenomenon, while the crop circle researcher debunked it, as both stood within the basket weave formation at Adam’s Grave (dutifully pronounced man-made by Colin). Colin made an interesting Freudian slip on this broadcast. In it he clearly stated that he thought only “5%” of formations were genuine. He later told me this was a verbal mistake, and that he meant 20%. That’s some mistake. That such an error could issue from his lips without immediate correction suggests he was not too uncomfortable for such a view to be broadcast to millions.
Most offensively, Colin speaks of his need to reveal the high level of hoaxing to help burst the bubble of the “industry” of books, T-shirts and videos, etc, which has flourished around something he now considers largely fraudulent. His crucial part in initiating this ‘industry’ in the first place is not mentioned, of course. And his assumption that the people involved in this industry (no prizes for guessing who some of them might be, eh?) don’t really believe in what they tout is insulting and demeaning. Can he really believe so much dedication and hard work can be fuelled by the hope of dubious financial benefits alone? This has more to say about the projection of Colin’s own disillusionment than anything else. It smacks of a scorched earth policy, of trying to break the once-favourite toy so no-one else can play with it.
Colin says that, in time, his theory will be seen as a very good move for crop circle research, restoring credibility to an apparently tarnished interest group. He considers that the acceptance of 20% of formations being genuine is brave and generous. In this, compared to the views of many, not least those swayed by the efforts of various hoax claimants, he’s possibly right. Perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies, that someone who has publicly removed himself beyond the normal bunch of wacky ‘believers’ he himself helped inspire, is willing to stand up and be counted to say that even that small amount may have validity. The acid test is this: will Colin announce, using his new detection methods and putting his reputation on the line, which formations are 100%, no-doubt-whatsoever, GENUINE? Until confident demonstrations and serious evidence of proper scientific work with facts, figures, controls and graphs is presented, the rapturous reception he perhaps feels he deserves will remain unforthcoming.” [END]
So, that was last year. The evidence had been promised by the end of 2000. It didn’t come. However, Colin was due to appear at the International UFO Congress at Laughlin, Nevada, USA in March 2001, and word went around that the long-promised ‘evidence’ would be presented there.
However, after being announced as a speaker, Colin suddenly withdrew from the conference a few weeks before the event, citing the recent criticism of his theories as one of the reasons he felt he would rather not appear (reiterated in an open letter from Colin distributed at the conference itself). Understandably disappointed, the organisers persuaded Colin to create a CD-ROM ‘Power Point’ audio-visual presentation to be shown instead. And so ‘The Assessment’, as it is titled, was born, the long-awaited disclosure of evidence which would justify all Colin’s announcements the previous summer.
I was lucky enough, and honoured, to be invited to speak at the UFO Congress myself, and was able to witness the final disclosure myself. Having sat politely through this presentation, projected on a large screen in front of several hundred people at Laughlin, it was immediately clear that an unstated reason Colin did not attend in person appeared to be precisely because he did not want to face the flak he would receive for making such a thinly thought out ‘assessment’ of the level of hoaxing. The majority of attenders at the Congress seemed bemused and puzzled by the astonishing looseness and questionable basis of his assessing techniques, as became clear from the audience questions at the discussion panel with various circle researchers (including myself) which directly followed the CD-ROM. Even previous admirers of Colin expressed severe reservations.
So what, then, is the evidence presented on the CD-ROM, now available to all as a limited edition through mail order? The poorly recorded soundtrack is unhelpful (on the copy we heard at Laughlin, at least, a radio even appeared to be on in the background at one point), but the ‘evidence’ – if one can call it that - is clear enough.
Nearly all of Colin’s ‘assessments’ seem to have been made by declaring certain characteristics of formations as being proof of human construction, and then simply going through aerial photographs making snap judgements as to their lack of genuineness, depending on whether or not these characteristics are present. For instance, ridge-marks in crop lays are branded ‘roller’ or ‘stomper board’ marks – however, no demonstration of such implements creating these marks is ever made. We are expected to accept this assertion as a given based on observation of ‘known’ man-made formations. This criteria of hoax-detection is a very suspect one which has been long argued over (it is contended that there are other forces which could create such impressions) – nothing in this CD-ROM settles any of the debates.
The vast majority of the so-called ‘evidence’ appears to rest on this flawed analysis of aerial photographs. Such a system can never be used as a substitute for on-the-ground research, yet the CD package asks the viewer to accept it as exactly that.
The rest of Colin’s ‘evidence’ appears to be nothing more than the rumour and innuendo we have come to expect, based on the second-hand testimony of known liars, troublemakers or gullible innocents. In truth, there is little evidence of any kind whatsoever.
The CD-ROM presentation ends with a montage of silhouette drawings of the vast majority of crop formations from 1999 and 2000, all presented as patterns Colin believes to have been man-made, asserted entirely without proof or corroboration. A fine example of the sloppiness employed is that at least one of the formations dismissed is a Sussex formation I know for a fact I was the only person ever to have surveyed – in it were qualities hard to simply dismiss as man-made without deeper investigation, yet here is a person who has never even visited the formation, nor carried out any research whatsoever into it, declaring it man-made. Has Colin visited each one of these listed formations? Almost certainly not. Has he spent time analysing scientific samples from each? One suspects not. There must be many other things which Colin cannot possibly have had the time or presence of mind to consider. So how can he pontificate as to their ‘validity’?
This manner of “assessing” is extremely loose research. It is, in truth, an unhelpful act of dangerous imprecision which does a discredit to crop circle investigation and to Colin’s own past, once admired and respected.
Published lists of ‘assessments’ are always divisive and destructive and do no-one in the circle community any good whatsoever. They simply cause unnecessary hurt, conflict and, ultimately, confusion. Older cerealogists may remember how one-time editor of ‘The Circular’ Barbara Davies once upset people with her simple ratings for ‘genuineness’ in her listings years ago – in the end she had to remove them, because she came to appreciate the hard truth that all assessments of genuineness are totally subjective.
Surely cerealogy has gone beyond loud pronouncements and pontifications on which formation is genuine and which is not? Until an absolutely guaranteed litmus test comes about – still elusive, though Levengood’s plant analysis work is the closest anyone has come to it – which can be carried out by anyone, any decision on the genuineness of a formation will be based on nothing but OPINION, unreliable photographic analysis and reliance on the word of distrustful hoax claimants or their rumour-spreading cronies whose words have been shown time and time again to be those of deceivers. Where we KNOW FOR A FACT that a formation is man-made, ie. there are reliable eye-witnesses to its creation, then it should be documented, of course. If it turns out – with incontrovertible evidence - that this then explains 80% of formations, then so be it. Beyond this criterion, any other assessment is bogus.
The CD-ROM also makes a number of obscure intimations which don’t bear scrutiny. For instance, it is stressed that many formations appear over weekends, when hoaxers are supposedly more available to do their work. However, given that at least one of the major hoax claimants in recent years is unemployed and most of the few others are freelance artists, this statement appears to be meaningless. In any case, Barry Reynolds’s statistical analysis of formations made with his unerring sense of accuracy while still guardian of the CCCS database in the late 1990’s, demonstrated palpably that most formations in fact appear midweek, not weekends. It could simply be a statistical blip that the two years Colin looked at showed a tendency towards weekends, or, equally likely, it could be explained by the fact that many formations (particularly outside Wiltshire) don’t actually get reported until the weekend, when more people are out and about. A lot depends on what the sources for dates are and how reliable they are, and date reporting has got sloppier in more recent years. Observations that 50% of formations appear in areas where ‘known hoaxers’ live are also meaningless, given that at least one claimant deliberately moved into the area where there was already most activity!
What the CD-ROM leaves out is also crucial. Very short time frames in which several formations have been known to appear within are ignored. No anomalous effects on people or in laid crop itself is taken into account, astonishing geometrical properties aren’t even mentioned and there is almost no exploration of the fine detail of crop lays, which is sometimes where the puzzles deepen. The presentation expects us to take the magical ‘skills’ of human circle-making teams for granted.
The hand-out letter from Colin at the UFO Congress read “Researchers who have so far reviewed the findings of this paper, have told me ‘The Assessment’ represents the most important results yet in the field of crop circle research”. It is hard to guess who these ‘researchers’ might be, especially as no official ‘paper’ has yet been forthcoming despite almost a year’s wait. Perhaps they were just being kind. More likely, they were people who shared Colin’s view in the first place.
So much for the hoax assertions. But what of the much-touted magnetic theories? What, then, of the 20% of crop formations Colin believes are real? Incredibly, this theory is not even outlined in the CD (not in the version seen at Laughlin, anyway), nay, barely receives even a mention, and almost nothing is said of the ‘unexplained’ crop circles. Which says it all, really – that Colin seems more concerned with proving most circles hoaxes than he is exploring the remainder or investigating anything more interesting. Perhaps this information will come in a separate package? Don’t hold your breath.
So the promised ‘evidence’ has still not arrived, and neither, it seems, ever will it. The words of my article from 2000 above still appear to hold true. Colin is fully entitled to his views, of course. However, they did not deserve to be inflicted on the world as solid truths with such big media splashes as they received.
Should you wish to browse Colin’s CD-ROM for yourself, it will set you back $60. Consider very carefully just how much you want this information and what else you could do with $60 before making the decision to put that cheque in the post.
Meanwhile, the crop circle mystery continues.
‘THE ASSESSMENT is available in the US from: CPR International, PO Box 3378, Branford, CT 06405-1978, USA. Cost $60. UK orders: 14 Reynolds Court, Artist Way, Andover, Hants, SP10 3ST. Cost £42. All cheques payable to ‘CPR International’.