‘Real’ Crop Circles and ‘Fake’ Crop Circles

The world knows now that the various woo-masters of the world were predictably taken in by a fancy crop circle shaped like a computer chip in Salinas, California. And yes, that should be embarrassing for them. But Ben Radford makes what I think is a very odd statement about it:

The crop-circle phenomenon came to global attention in the 1970s, when simple circles began appearing in the English countryside. The number and complexity of the circles increased dramatically, reaching a peak in the 1980s and 1990s, when increasingly elaborate circles were produced, including those illustrating complex mathematical equations such as fractals. The obvious and best-supported scientific explanation — that the designs are made by artistic hoaxers — is, by far, the least satisfying for many people. Which is more fun to believe: that nighttime pranksters are at work, or that mysterious, unknown intelligent beings are trying to communicate with humanity using complex, coded messages?…

In this case, the “experts” were once again fooled; it was, undeniably, an advertising stunt. This hoax also reveals an embarrassing truth about crop circle research: that so-called experts cannot distinguish a supposedly real crop circle from a fake one. If the ones supposedly made by humans are so amazingly complex and intricate — and laden with so much hidden meaning — that they are mistaken for the real thing, then, by definition, all of them could be hoaxes.

I’m with the “experts,” I can’t tell the difference between a “real” crop circle and a “fake” one either. Since they all seem to be made by human beings, does that make them “real” or “fake”? They’re either all real or all fake, aren’t they?

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  • http://blog.nikhilkrishnaswamy.com nkrishna

    “Fake” crop circles are when humans try to advertise their latest graphics technology. “Real” crop circles are when aliens do it.

  • naturalcynic

    They’re made by humans under alien mind control.

    The joke is that some people just don’t get the joke.

    And the aliens feed on that.

  • Blondin

    Real crop circles are the ones that you can’t prove were not made by aliens.

    (In the same way that we know that Jesus rose from the dead because you can’t prove he didn’t.)

  • Artor

    Ed, you seem to have missed the word “supposedly.” It’s kind of relevant to the sentence. The “experts” insist that there is a difference, but they can’t tell the supposedly real ones from the obviously fake. That casts doubt on the idea that there are any real ones at all.

  • Larry

    What’s little known is that real crop circles, that is, those made by aliens, are actually advertisements FOR the aliens. They come from the marketing department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, who, as you know, are a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

  • Callinectes

    Everyone knows that real aliens only land in quarries, since they most closely resemble their home worlds.

  • corwyn

    It is awkwardly worded, but I think the author is saying the same thing. “If ‘experts’ are unable to accurately classify crop circles into ‘alien created’ and ‘human created’, than we can conclude that there is only one category.”

  • https://www.facebook.com/adam.achen A Waterchapel

    “Choosy people choose Chew-Z.”

    Ah, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, a novel where aliens and marketing collide.

  • Doug Little

    The question is not whether they are real or not but why they hate farmers so much?

  • Doug Little

    Which is more fun to believe: that nighttime pranksters are at work, or that mysterious, unknown intelligent beings are trying to communicate with humanity using complex, coded messages?…

    This line of thinking can be applied to any conspiracy theory.

    Which is more fun to believe: that man landed on the moon, or that a massive government conspiracy faked the landings using a sound stage in Hollywood to demoralize the Russians.

  • dingojack

    “This hoax also reveals an embarrassing truth about crop circle Womble Burrow research: that so-called experts cannot distinguish a supposedly real crop circle Womble Burrow from a fake one.”*

    Spot the difference.

    @@

    Dingo

    ——–

    * NB: the rhetorical preclusion of the fact that there are no genuine Womble Burrows – they are (if such artefacts even exist) all fakes

  • Doug Little

    dingojack @11,

    But who is going to look after the environment by collecting and recycling rubbish in creative ways? Won’t somebody think of the children!

  • Nihilismus

    @10 Doug Little

    Which is more fun to believe: that man landed on the moon, or that a massive government conspiracy faked the landings using a sound stage in Hollywood to demoralize the Russians.

    That man landed on the moon. Because then I can imagine where humanity will go next, and a multitude of other space-based sci-fi adventures, including making crop circles on the aliens’ homeworld.

  • Taz

    Which is more fun to believe: that nighttime pranksters are at work, or that mysterious, unknown intelligent beings are trying to communicate with humanity using complex, coded messages?

    Silly me – I actually don’t like being made a fool of.

  • Sastra

    I think Artor at #4 is right and first to mention the significance of the word “supposedly.” What I would have done with

    This hoax also reveals an embarrassing truth about crop circle research: that so-called experts cannot distinguish a supposedly real crop circle from a fake one.

    is also change “a fake one” to something like “one the researchers agree is fake.”

    I have friends who believe in crop circles (well, so do I — but they think they’ve been made by aliens or “spiritual energy.”) They don’t even want to hear about alternative explanations and excuse this by pointing out how nonconfrontational this makes them, since they will easily agree to stop endorsing them the minute they realize someone is a skeptic (and therefore not receptive.) Everyone stays happy on their own side. And curiosity, integrity, and human progress die.

  • Doug Little

    including making crop circles on the aliens’ homeworld.

    Ha Ha Ha, payback’s a bitch. That is absolutely the first thing we need to do if we ever discover intelligent life elsewhere. Maybe that’s the running joke throughout the cosmos, when you finally get the tech to make it to a new world the first thing you do is drop some crop circles on the natives.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    mysterious, unknown intelligent beings are trying to communicate with humanity using complex, coded messages?

    They’d probably use a high-V rock as a signal that they’d noticed us, not a crop circle.

  • Stacy

    Radford’s a shitty writer, but we know what he meant.

  • had3

    Are they documented aliens, or undocumented?

  • blf

    The crop circles, of course, are the aliens. They mysteriously appear, we don’t know what they are doing, and then they vanish.

  • Nick Gotts

    Maybe that’s the running joke throughout the cosmos, when you finally get the tech to make it to a new world the first thing you do is drop some crop circles on the natives. – Doug Little@14

    I thought kidnapping random individuals and anally probing them was the standard approach. Or am I thinking of the police?

  • caseloweraz

    Ben Radford: This hoax also reveals an embarrassing truth about crop circle research: that so-called experts cannot distinguish a supposedly real crop circle from a fake one. If the ones supposedly made by humans are so amazingly complex and intricate — and laden with so much hidden meaning — that they are mistaken for the real thing, then, by definition, all of them could be hoaxes.

    One shortcoming of this assessment is that it fails to specify who the “so-called experts” are. Could they include Stanton Friedman, long-time UFO proponent? I use “UFO” here in its popular (and contradictory) sense — that of being implicity identified as an alien craft.

    The second shortcoming is that it seems to suggest there are “real” crop circles, i.e. those made by aliens. But I agree with others here that this is only due to sloppy writing.

  • caseloweraz

    nkrishna: “Fake” crop circles are when humans try to advertise their latest graphics technology. “Real” crop circles are when aliens do it.

    Those aliens must have some really rad graphics technology!

  • caseloweraz

    Larry: They come from the marketing department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation…

    So if they show up at Comdex, we can ask them, “Are you Sirius?”

  • caseloweraz

    I’ve now read Ben Radford’s entire article and can report that he does a good job of explaining why certain people keep on believing in “woo.” Indeed, some of those people comment on his article.

  • caseloweraz

    Ben Radford again: The obvious and best-supported scientific explanation — that the designs are made by artistic hoaxers — is, by far, the least satisfying for many people. Which is more fun to believe: that nighttime pranksters are at work, or that mysterious, unknown intelligent beings are trying to communicate with humanity using complex, coded messages?…

    For me it would be more fun to believe that aliens were trying to communicate via these crop circles. But since, once decoded, they only tell us what we already know about (e.g. fractals), I can’t believe that. If there were, for example, one that showed the atomic structure of element 119, along with certain parameters that we had not yet determined, that might — might, I repeat — be convincing evidence.

    The same applies to all purported evidence of alien presence.

  • stripeycat

    Is the fractals thing a reference to the exchange of pranks by Oxford and Cambridge maths societies? That was epic!