DISCOVERY CHANNEL DOCUMENTARY THE TRUE STORY - 20/06/2003
By GURO K PARVANOVA
Since last autumn, a crop circle television show has been circulating on the 'Discovery Channel', in which students from MIT attempt to recreate a crop formation with all the required biological effects identified over the years. But is the portrayal of events shown in the documentary the correct one? No, says BLT Research co-ordinator Nancy Talbott. GURO K PARVANOVA investigates the truth
An hour-long special, 'Crop Circles: Mystery in the Fields' was shown on the 'Discovery Sci-Trek Channel' (now 'Discovery Science') for the first time in October 2002, and has been repeated several times so far this year. Apparently the idea for the film was put forward by producer John Tindell of Termite Art Productions, in Studio City, California, USA.
The documentary follows five MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) students as they plan and carry out a project, designed by John Tindell, of making a crop formation in a field in Ohio. A mobile home, turned into a lab, was rented by Termite Art Productions to house and transport the students. Three undergraduate engineering students, all in aeronautics and astronautics, were assigned the task of making a crop formation in four hours - replicating three precise plant and soil changes documented in "genuine" crop circles. The remaining two students, graduates at MIT's Media Lab, were assigned the job of analyzing the undergraduates' final results.
Nancy Talbott, president of the BLT Research Team Inc. (which has sponsored scientific plant and soil analyses in crop circles worldwide for the last 10 years), was asked by the TV production company to outline for the students three precise plant and/or soil abnormalities documented regularly in crop circles around the world. She agreed, and parts of her meeting with the three undergraduates are shown in the film.
The three plant/soil changes chosen by Talbott and presented to the students as reliable characteristics of the genuine phenomenon were:
1) Elongated apical plant stem nodes (the first node beneath the seed-head)
2) Expulsion cavities in the plant stems (holes blown out at the nodes)
3) The presence of 10-50 micron diameter magnetized iron spheres in the soils, distributed linearly
After having shown to the students (in close-ups, on camera) actual samples of plants with elongated apical nodes and expulsion cavities, as well as photomicrographs (photos taken through a microscope) of the iron spheres, Nancy was left with the impression that it was these three criteria which the students would then attempt to replicate. Although the issue of the design of the crop circle was raised, Ms. Talbott expressly pointed out that the design element of crop circles had NOT been scientifically evaluated and was not, therefore, of any particular significance insofar as the established science was concerned.
Ms. Talbott was told that the MIT crop circle was to be made in an Ohio field in the dark (nothing was said at the time about night-vision goggles or the use of flashlights in the field), that the students would try to accomplish their goal within a four-hour time span, and that they would build a portable microwave unit to try to replicate the elongated and exploded plant stem nodes and a "particle shooter" of their own design to create and distribute the iron particles, as per the outlined protocol above.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS:
Unfortunately, the criteria which the MIT students actually attempted to replicate in the field differed substantially from that which had been agreed upon with Ms. Talbott. Additionally, it was nearly impossible for anyone watching the final product to evaluate what the students had achieved, because the TV cameras failed to show any close-up photos of the plants or the iron particles, and there was no demonstration at all to indicate that the iron particles, at least, had become magnetized.
As we shall see, Ms. Talbott was not impressed by the so-called "scientific" results claimed by the two graduate student 'judges' in the film. At our request, Nancy responded to our questions about the film in a long e-mail, and gave us (The Norwegian Crop Circle Group) "carte blanche" to quote from it as we wished.
Here are her comments: "MOST IMPORTANTLY We (BLT) had NOTHING to do with the analyses of the students' performance. None of us were shown ANY of the plants from their man-made formation, nor were we shown any of the soil samples."
"It was MIT graduate students who "judged" the undergraduates' achievement - and these graduate students clearly didn't have any idea of what the original three scientific criteria were which the undergraduates were supposed to replicate. Much to my surprise and dismay, the TV producer had removed all reference to elongated nodes as a major criterion, inserting instead the idea that the "geometry" of the circle was of major importance - this in spite of the fact that, while discussing the scientific parameters with the undergraduates ON CAMERA, one of the students clearly says he understands that the geometry of the circle does not matter."
"The finished film does show the audience a good close-up of BLT's example of an expulsion cavity (the second scientifically-determined plant change which the students were to try to replicate) - however, the film DOESN'T show even one close-up of any of the plants from the Ohio crop circle. The shot they do show is of one plant (which the announcer says has an expulsion cavity) but it is from a DISTANCE... so the viewer cannot see if there is an expulsion cavity or not."
"Insofar as the 10-50 micron-diameter magnetized iron spheres are concerned, the film shows the iron filings (which can be bought at any scientific supply outlet) used by the students in their "particle projector" - but they DON'T show you even one iron sphere, magnetized or otherwise. Although clear photomicrographs of such magnetized iron spheres were provided as an example of what the students were to try to replicate, NO photomicrographs of the results were taken. The iron filings which were shown are hundreds of times larger than the tiny spheres in the protocol and, of course, they are neither magnetized nor spherical. And, although the "particle shooter" built by the students (including the two graduate student "judges") looked like an idea which might have produced the protocol results, it appears that the iron filings came out of the MIT gizmo in more or less precisely the same state as they had gone into it. There was no mention whatsoever in the film of these particles being distributed linearly, as outlined in the protocol."
And so it appears that, once again, Hollywood's love of theatre and commitment to "entertainment" over any factual information has guided the hand of this producer. There were a number of interesting things about the film, though, not least of which was the fact that, on camera, we observe that a malfunction of the microwave projector (the wave-guide failed and the microwaves leaked out in all directions) knocks out the professional camera. This show clearly demonstrates that microwaves CAN, and DO, cause massive camera malfunction... something we now have demonstrated for us clearly.
Additionally, it is amusing to hear the announcer making various statements about how "some crop circles are man-made, but not all of them are", while the MIT students are busy congratulating themselves on their "success" and stating that, yes, they think this is how all crop circles must be made. (This bit really makes one wonder about the overall intelligence level of the "best and brightest" as students of MIT are generally thought to be.)
But the best part of the film is the really marvellous fire-show which accompanies the "particle shooter" (a ring of fire surrounds the end of this gizmo which could easily be seen from quite a distance away) and the huge plume of fire and smoke from a bomb-like device, which is set off at the very end in an attempt to produce a linear distribution of the iron particles. The pyrotechnics are terrific. Good theatre. Ridiculous, if you happen to know anything about crop circles.
Clearly, the producer is counting on the fact that most people either don't know much about crop circles, or don't care. And, further, that nobody will wonder where the power came from to run the portable microwave unit and the "particle shooter" (a very loud generator, off camera). Or think at all about the possibility of a really good field fire (there were two large fire trucks stationed next to the field, off-camera also). Or wonder why field-watchers in crop circle areas wouldn't notice any of this, not to mention the farmers and land-owners.
Yep, this is apparently how crop circles are made. And you might think twice about sending your kids to MIT.
References: Nancy Talbott: http://www.bltresearch.com and http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/2002/crops.htlm
© GURO K PARVANOVA 2003
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