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Going Around in Crop Circles PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Reader "Troy C" shares this with us:

I have enjoyed your site for some time now.  I'm a former high school agriculture science teacher, and I'd like to share an experience I had with one of my classes a few years ago.  A local newspaper reported that a farmer in the area had discovered  a crop circle in one of his soybean fields, so naturally a crop circle "expert" was brought in to "investigate."  One of the comments in the article  made by the "expert" caught my attention: she noted that only about 50% of the soybean stems were broken off in the circle, and the rest were merely bent over.  That curious observation was one of the things that led her to believe that the circle was "genuine" - whatever that means - since according to her all the stems should have broken.

Right at that time, we were covering the scientific method and experiment design in my class, so I had an idea for a quick control experiment.  Being an agriculture program, we had some soybean test plots at the school.  So, one day I took a class out with a small section of plywood about 2 feet by 2 feet and we smashed down some soybeans in a few locations.  We then counted the smashed plants and noted the stems.  Lo and behold!  About 50% of the stems were broken - the rest were merely bent over.

After some discussion and jokes about the aliens siding their spaceships with plywood, the students got the point.  The "expert" had also taken soil samples from the field for testing.  Of course, what exactly was being tested for, and where in the field the samples were taken from, was not included in the article.  This made for a good discussion in class about how and where the samples should have been collected, and how to keep the testing blind.  Incidentally, a follow-up article later revealed that the expert's soil tests "confirmed" that the circle was "genuine" - still no mention of what exactly was tested, or by whom, though.  At any rate, I feel better knowing that at least some of  those kids will be better equipped to protect themselves from flim-flam later in life.

Thanks and keep up the good work!

We've every intention of doing so, Troy. After seeing this, though, I have to wonder just what qualifications an "expert" on crop circles might be expected to have, and how the newspaper located her. Under "Circles, crop" in the yellow pages? By Tarot cards? The mind boggles...