Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Going Around in Credulous Circles 3

In this final part of the discussion of Contact, EoR will be looking at Dr Eltjo Haselhoff's proof of Balls of Light (BOLs) creating crop circles.

Dr Haselhoff is that creature beloved of alternatistas, a real scientist who has had a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal proving some paranormal phenomena is real. In this case, the paper was published in Physiologa Plantarum. A copy of the paper can be viewed online (it's quite short, only two pages including diagrams).

The paper is actually a comment on a previous paper by W C Levengood and N P Talbott on pulvinus length increase in crop-circles.
data points corresponding to the central ‘tufts’ in the formations were omitted in the analysis. It was found that the Pearson product moment correlation coefficient, R (Levengood and Talbott 1999), decreases in one of the
reported cases. In the other two reported cases, however, no significant changes in the correlation coefficients were

The rest of the paper concerns the position of a BOL to form a crop circle, and includes language such as (my emphasis)
Assuming the point source to be located at a finite height above the field for the case of simplicity, it
is fair to assume that the radiation absorption in the air is negligible in comparison with the 1:r decrease of the radiation emitted by the BOL. Assuming that the BOL is located at the centre of the circular imprint

Dr Haselhoff also claims a personal communication from van den Broeke as an authority.

The author concludes
The experimental data published in Levengood and Talbott (1999) suggest that pulvinus length expansion in crop circles is a thermo-mechanic effect, possibly induced by a kind of electromagnetic point source. Data obtained from a simple
hand-made formation did not reveal the same characteristics.

So Dr Haselhoff's paper shows there is some statistical correlation between plant node lengths in crop circles. There are lots of assumptions and possibilities. There is no evidence or proof that BOLs are involved.

A less technical explanation can also be found at Swirled News, though
An identical analysis was repeated on a formation in Holland. An eye witness claimed that this crop circle was created in a matter of seconds, while a "ball of light" was floating in the air, right above the centre of the circle.

with its unnamed source immediately brings Mr van den Broeke to mind, and his high levels of trust and respect for the truth.

Joe Nickell has posted some concerns with Levengood's work, including the possibility of researcher bias, that correlation does not prove causation, and
Even his alleged correlations are suspect. Citing variations in pit expansion and node size in plants from within the formations, he states: "These energy distributions are by no means uniform." Again, he cites formations where there were increases in plant pit size well outside the formations, saying that "some 20 feet out is the farthest I've seen this energy carryover and so even [though] those crops were standing upright and looked perfectly normal they had been hit." He attributes this to "several different kinds of energy" being involved. He thus gives the impression that, like Meaden, he is constantly rationalizing new data and attempting to fit it in to preconceived vortex notions. Apparently no one has yet independently replicated Levengood's work. One scientist from Colgate did attempt to verify his seed germination claims using some of his seeds but without success. Apparently few mainstream scientists take Levengood's work seriously other than one or two friends who wish "to remain anonymous because of the ridicule. Until his work is independently replicated by qualified scientists doing "double-blind" studies and otherwise following stringent scientific protocols, there seems no need to take seriously the many dubious claims that Levengood makes, including his similar ones involving plants at alleged "cattle mutilation" sites.

Francesco Grassi, Claudio Cocheo and Paolo Russo have published a paper detailing concerns with these papers. Among these concerns are sampling inadequecies (only four crop circles were sampled), lack of defining parameters, different sampling methods, the possibility of researcher bias, discarding some data, and inconsistent assumptions. The authors conclude
The total evidence discussed in this critical review demonstrates nothing but a mere difference in the stem elongation between the flattened plants lying inside the circles and those standing outside it, as we should expect when
whatever kind of mechanical force flattens the plants, rope and wood plank included.

Dr Haselhoff has provided a response, stating
Most, if not all of Grassi’s points of concern on my publication are irrelevant or erroneous. Some of his comments would have been valid in case my paper had been a full- length article, which it was clearly not.

Dr Haselhoff's main points of refutation are: his paper was only a comment on the two earlier papers, and "stimulates further discussion"; that his original conclusion was that "much more data" would be needed (which seems to support Grassi et al); that his paper does not contain full data because it is not standard practise to do so in a scientific paper (but, as Grassi et al argue, does it contain all relevant data?); and, most bizarrely of all
the reason for omitting the data in my analysis was simple: due to an unfortunate incident several of the samples in this series had been mixed up even before the measurements were made. Although I had re-ordered the samples to the best of
my knowledge, this event rendered any correlation analysis worthless, including much of the work performed by Grassi and presented in his paper. All of his related findings and conclusions are therefore worthless as well.

To the best of his knowledge? Any good scientist would have been extremely frustrated, and gone off and done the statistics again. It seems more likely that it is Dr Haselhoff's findings and conclusions which are worthless given his seeming admission that he simply fudged and made up the statistics. This is disingenuous at best, and fraudulent at the worst. Dr Haselhoff concludes by arguing that further 'studies' are available in his book and on the internet, provides an ad hominen attack on Dr Grassi, and finally threatens to take his bat and ball and go home.
I will consider writing a formal reaction, together with the authors of the other two articles, to the Journal of Scientific Exploration. In such a reaction I would address all of Grassi’s points of concern one by one, in more detail. However, as it has become clear to me that Grassi and coworkers have no or little interest in an honest and constructive scientific discussion, and too much time and energy has already been wasted in my opinion, I may decide to spend my time on more useful activities.

Oh, if only...

Dr Haselhoff, like a lot of 'alternative' provers, appears to have forsaken tiresome scientific methods (and all that entails, such as proof, peer review and repeatable results) for publishing books. He is the author of "The deepening complexity of crop circles".

EoR wonders if, as Dr Haselhoff believes, crop circles are formed by some hovering electromagnetic source, why aren't all crop circles exactly that - circles? How does this 'source' which he likens to the effect of light from a hanging lightbulb and which he argues projects an inverse square law ratio of 'energy' also create straight edges and lines linking the various parts of the crop circle formations?

Going Around in Credulous Circles 2
Going Around in Credulous Circles 1


  1. Good write-up.

    Levengood's work, as you point out, is fundamentally flawed. He takes stalks from inside crop circles and from just outside the circles, and notes that the stalks taken from in the circles are different from those taken from outside the circles. Well duh: the stalks in the circles have been flattened! He also finds that some circles do not produce stalks with anomalies. He declares these to be "fakes" (ie man made), while the stalks that do have the anomalies are from "genuine" (ie not man-made), circles. How does he know this? Because if the stalks have anomalies they must be from "genuine" circles. How does he know this? Because "fake" circles don't have anomalies. How does he know this? Because if they have anomalies they are not from "fake" circles (etc etc: you get the idea). This is, of course, circular reasoning (pun inevitable). Also, as you point out, none of his work is done double-blind and so experimenter bias is not controlled for. Levengood's work on BOLs is therefore BOLLOCKs.)

  2. Grassi, Cocheo and Russo replied to the rapid reaction by Haselhoff, have a look here:

    More precisely here:
    Balls of lights (3): The Questionable Science of Crop Circles
    (by Francesco Grassi, Claudio Cocheo e Paolo Russo)
    Grassi et al. reply to the internet rapid reaction by Eltjo Haselhoff on the JSE article.

    and here:
    Balls of Light at Hoeven? (by Paolo Russo)
    An analysis of the Hoeven crop circle case: is there really any evidence that it has been created by a ball of light?

  3. Eor, you're a fool.

    You have explicit opinions, yet, your argumements are as speculative as what you accuse Dr Hasselhoff from. Did you ever talk to Dr Haselhoff? Unlike you, he is NOT afraid to reveal his real identity.

    Your remark about the rectangular edges is simply pathetic. Read ANY of Hasselhoff's articles about the CC phenomenon and even an uneducated bushman like yourself could find the answer to that: Hasselhoff NEVER discussed the actual flattening and NEVER pretended he wanted to explain ALL CCs. He believes that most are man made. It has been addressed thousands of times.

    Go back to elementary school man. Learn to inform yourself before blogging your uneducated opinions.

  4. anonymous: EoR can't help wondering, WHY ARE YOU AFRAID TO REVEAL YOUR IDENTITY????


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