Episode 101: The Chualar Barley Field Crop Circle and Reporting on it by Linda Moulton Howe
Recap: A mysterious crop circle appeared during the night of December 27-28, 2013, in Chualar, California. Security guards quickly came to guard the circle, and then it was mysteriously plowed under just a few days later. Crop circle researchers point to numerous lines of evidence that this was made by aliens, but it was later revealed to be a publicity stunt by NVIDIA. Or was it?
Puzzler for Episode 101: How could you tell if something was done by extraterrestrials?
Answer to Puzzler from Episode 94: Thanks to all of you who participated, including Richard, Ryan, Jan, and Warek. Several of you got that this was actually a trick question, and you can blame Leonard who sent this in for that. A nautical mile is defined as the distance corresponding to 1 arcminute on a sphere, which is 1/60th of a degree. So, the length of a nautical mile will change for any object in the solar system that you're on, and there will always be the same number of nautical miles around any given object. Since there are always 360° in a circle and 60 minutes in a degree, then there will always be 21,600 nautical miles around the circumference of the object in question.
Unless you take the definition of a nautical mile from Earth's sphere, which would then give the circumference of the moon at about 5,894 nautical miles.
Q&A: There was no Q&A for this episode.
- Audio Clips Used
- Additional Media References, provided by former guest (episode 62) Bill Hudson:
- "Chualar crop circle makers: Chualar should feel 'included'" via the Monterey Herald
- "Chualar crop circle whips up online frenzy, brings out onlookers" via the Monterey Herald
- "Locals wonder who -- or what -- created Chualar farm crop circles" via KSBW news
- "Unexplained crop circle found on Chualar farm" via KION news
- "Salinas crop circle - Behind the scenes with NVIDIA" on YouTube, produced by NVIDIA
- Logical Fallacies / Critical Thinking Terms addressed in this episode: Sacred Cow, Argument from Authority, Argument from Ignorance, Anomaly Hunting
- Relevant Posts on my "Exposing PseudoAstronomy" Blog
Claim: The specific claim in this episode is that in a field of crops - Barley in this case - a mysterious crop circle appeared that was likely made by aliens. It was investigated by crop circle enthusiasts who pointed to a lot of evidence that proved it could not have been made by people. Supposedly. And one of those people was the reporter from EarthFiles.com, Linda Moulton Howe ... one of the very first requests I ever got from a listener was to do an episode about her claims.
More General Claim: This actually gets to a more general claim of crop circles that I've been wanting to do an episode on for a long time, but I haven't had a good example to work from. This one, however, is excellent.
The evening of Friday to Saturday night, December 27-28, 2013, there were reports of dogs barking all night, which was very unusual. On Saturday, December 28, 2013, a strange pattern roughly 250 ft across appeared in a field of barley in Chualar (CHOO-ah-lahr), California. The field was later found to be owned by Scott and Debbie Anthony, who were conveniently on vacation. They said they had no knowledge of it.
It was photographed by professional aerial photographer, Julie Belanger, on Monday December 30, when she was en route to another job. She told a local NBC news affiliate, "The pattern was so unique in the middle of a field. I don't know what it is supposed to be, but it is beautiful." The part of the quote that Linda Moulton Howe did not give was the follow-up: "I believe it's possible that aliens exist, but I don't know if they would bother making a crop circle to give us a message."
One reader of Earthfiles, Paul Jacobs, who studies these in England and elsewhere, wrote for CropCircleConnector.com on December 31, "No one in the area has made claim to it and the locals had no knowledge of it or its construction. I estimate it would have taken three men working in daylight conditions doing 9-hour shifts for nearly 9 days to complete this pattern. My gut feeling is we have an important event on our hands here."
Other field researchers, such as Jeff Krause and David Mendez, talked with at least one local resident who told them that, just four weeks ago, he had seen "green lights in a triangular pattern on one large aerial craft" nearby.
Later that day, Echelon Security out of San Jose, California, showed up. They were hired by some unknown agency to guard the field and formation, and they would not let anyone in to take readings and measurements. [Coast to Coast AM, January 3, 2014, Hour 1, starting 13:41]
LMH: "They are a major security operation. And keep that in mind when you realize that this Ben Johnson [an Echelon Security guard] tells reporter [Phillip] Molnar that Echelon was hired on Saturday, December 28, to quickly get to the Chualar barley field and keep people out of the pattern."
George Noory: "Who sent them?"
LMH: "Exactly! Who hired-- this is a lot of money, and it happened right on the day that the pattern emerged for the first time. Who knew, how did they know?"
One of the security guards told a reporter that he thought the formation was a menace - or menacing - and a warning.
Already, there were some rumblings among locals saying they had seen ladders and 20-30 people working, but those reports were quickly dismissed by professional crop circle researchers: [Coast to Coast AM, January 3, 2014, Hour 1, starting 12:48, then 17:21]
LMH: "I want to go to this quote, 'People with ladders that were seen in the pattern that was seen in the pattern,' that was reported by TV and other media New Years Eve."
George Noory: "And me, and me."
LMH: "Well, it's not correct, and let me give you the background. [...] This is where sometimes the media is frustrating because it's 'rip-and-read' news, there's no investigation, there's no reality--"
George Noory: "That's why we have you here, Linda."
LMH: "[laughs] That's right! Now, what happened? Well, you had Echelon Security guards and vans arrive there on Saturday, December 28, after the pattern emerged, and then on Sunday, December 29, one 85-year-old retiree, Harry Johnson, was interviewed by a local TV station, and said that he saw people in the barley pattern along with ONE 30-ft ladder leaning against a telephone pole at the south end of the barley field. Well, [reporters] Jeff Krause and David Mendez had also talked with eyewitnesses who watched Echelon Security use rope in the pattern to apparently measure it, and that apparently took place on Sunday, when Mr. Johnson-- perhaps he over-stated, and maybe the local TV station over-stated, and that's where the 'people with ladders in the field.'"
But on December 31, in the afternoon, the crop circle was plowed away. The field owners refused to answer questions: [Coast to Coast AM, January 3, 2014, Hour 1, starting 15:18]
"Now, later, after uh-- New Year's Eve, the Anthonys told one Monterey Herald reporter that they had been on vacation, they knew nothing about the pattern, and when [reporter] Phillip Molnar called to ask them if they are the people who hired Echelon, and also ordered the destruction of the barley crop on New Years Eve, the Anthonys have never returned Molnar's call, even as of today, when I last talked with him."
As Linda would say, this reeks of "high strangeness." Before I move on, a little bit more about Ms. Howe: She is an Emmy-award-winning reporter, an investigative journalist, and she runs the Earthfiles.com website. When it comes to practically anything other than what people have claimed is related to aliens, I have personally been impressed with her reporting and objectivity, including standing up to George Noory on Coast to Coast AM to say that she trusted what the doctors were saying about the flu rather than what conspiracy people were saying. But, when it comes to lights in the sky, cattle mutilations, crop circles, or anything like that, her reporting is among the most credulous I've seen. As you'll experience throughout this episode.
I highly recommend folks listening at home or work or wherever they can safely access the internet go and take a look at the formation. It's pretty neat. There's an outer ring with three large circles embedded in it. There's a square or rectangular outline within the ring, and in each section between the ring and square outline, there's more squares and rectangles. Within the large square, there is a very intricate design that includes Morse Code and Braille.
I have a few photos of it up on the website, but any Google or other internet search will show them. I don't doubt that it would have taken several people several hours to do. IF it were done by humans.
Various Evidentiary Claims: Magnetic Readings
With that in mind, let's get into some of the claimed evidence for the circle being made by not-humans. [Coast to Coast AM, January 3, 2014, Hour 1, starting 16:31]
"One of the guards was willing to carry Jeff's magnetometer into what we're calling the western circle on the ring, where the needle jumped from a low around 43 Gauss-cgs units to 58 Gauss-cgs units."
What Linda didn't say here but did on her website is that the magnetometer that Jeff was using was an application on his iPad. Jeff wrote, "The measurements were taken by holding my iPad just above each sampling point in that western circle. I believe the calibration of the app to be accurate as I have tested it previously on different devices, and situations."
Various Evidentiary Claims: Smoothly Bent Barley
On January 2, 2014, Shawn Randall - a "consciousness studies researcher" - who's investigated lots of English crop circles since 2002, decided to drive to the plowed no-longer pattern. She wanted to get some plant and soil samples that she could study. She later told Linda: [Coast to Coast AM, January 3, 2014, Hour 1, starting 21:43]
"'What struck me in walking on to the plowed Chualar barley pattern on January 2nd was finding the smooth bends of the crop flat at the soil level just like the ‘magic bends’ of English crop formations.' It's one of those things that we all have looked for."
According to the EarthFiles website, "the unbroken, not creased “magical bends” flat to the ground that have been famous in United Kingdom crop formations since the late 1980s onward. The hypothesis is that a 'spinning plasma vortex containing microwave and other energies is focused rapidly onto crops or grasses by an unknown force that creates the genuinely mysterious formations that are not manmade.'"
Also, Shawn Randall, who has investigated dozens of crop formations in England since 2002, examined the lopped-off growth nodes at the end of the barley. She couldn't match them up to the smoothly bent stems because they had been chopped off when the field was plowed, but she said that some of them looked darker than others, "and she wonders if heat energy was involved in making the Chualar barley pattern." She also gathered some plant and soil samples, hoping that she could get labs to test it -- figure out the exact barley species, examine the plant and soil samples to figure out if there was anything out of the ordinary to figure out if there was a reason why the circle was formed in that field.
Various Evidentiary Claims: Perfect Angles
Another bit of evidentiary information comes from Jeff Krause, who said, "those rectangular lines were incredibly straight and very precise. The barley was laid down right along the edge and right next to those – like someone had used a square tool – other barley was standing perfectly straight right next to the downed crop. It was such a sharp angle, it was like someone had taken a cookie cutter and pressed down on it. The delineations where the ring of flattened barley is versus the standing barley were phenomenal."
Various Evidentiary Claims: Mathematical Language of Braille
While the formation is interesting, there are some languages embedded within it. One of those is the three rows of Braille in the center-most rectangle. It reads, 192 192 // (2 or B) 192 1 // 192 192.
Clearly, there's a theme. [Coast to Coast AM, January 3, 2014, Hour 1, starting 31:37]
"We've had so many 1-9-2s from the outside going in, what could 1-9-2 relate to?"
Linda lists several possibilities on her website: It's an even number, it's the sum of 10 consecutive prime numbers, it's a composite number meaning it can be factored into 2 and 3, it may be related to iridium-192 which is a radioactive isotope of iridium with a half-life of about 74 days that could be used to make a dirty bomb, it's the starting three digits of an IP address on a private network, and AES-192 is one of the Advanced Encryption Standards in cryptography. STS-192 is an internet network transmission designation and bandwidth, OC-192 is a network line with fast transmission speeds, 192192 2007 GX45 is an asteroid discovered April 14, 2007 in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Or, #192 Memorandum National Security Action by President John F. Kennedy was, "A Separate Arms Control Measure for Outer Space" that was sent to the Secretaries of State and Defense, and the Directors of NASA, the CIA, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Various Evidentiary Claims: Mathematical Language of Outer Circles
But, 192 appears not only in the Braille, but also it's coded in the outer circles and ring. If you look at the outer 250-ft-diameter ring as a clock face, with north pointing to 12:00, then the largest circle embedded in the ring is at the 1:00 position. The second-largest circle is at the 9:00 position, and the third circle is at the 2:00 position. 1-9-2 ... again!
What could this mean? Well, crop circle researcher Mark Wood, who's a U.S. Naval Flight Officer and Captain (retired), who holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech and a M.S. in Ocean Engineering from Florida Atlantic University and is a registered Professional Mechanical Engineer, and was screened for Aviation Command and various other things, wrote to Linda. He found a solar system simulator and ran time forward, 192 days, from the crop circle's formation on December 28, 2013, to July 8, 2014.
What he found was amazing: "[...] in the inner solar system Earth will be at the 1 o'clock position; Venus will be at the 9 o'clock position; and Mars will be at the 2 o'clock position. Note that Earth is the largest of the three planets and appears at the 1 o’clock position just like the largest disk in the Chualar barley pattern; Venus is next in size and it appears in the 9 o’clock position like the Chualar pattern; and finally Mars is the smallest of the three and it appears in the 2 o’clock position, 1-9-2! Now, why is this date important?"
Why indeed? [Coast to Coast AM, January 3, 2014, Hour 1, starting 30:09]
"This number, 1-9-2, that's in the outer circle, possibly, uh, it gets us 192 days to a date that we didn't know it would match, uh, the configuration, we just did this as an experiment!"
Various Evidentiary Claims: Mathematical Language of Morse Code
The Morse Code is a different question. An Australian retired geneticist, Horace Drew, who's also a crop circle researcher, said that it was E-T B // I-S-O-N // S-T-S. ISON could refer to comet ISON.
But, an Oregon Ham radio operator who remained nameless on her website, said it was different. Clockwise, from the right side first, it could be T M N B E T B T. Counter-clockwise it could be S T H M T, or S T H O, or T V T E. If it were American Morse Code instead of International, it would be T M H B E T B L, or V H M T L V T S. [Coast to Coast AM, January 3, 2014, Hour 1, starting 37:24]
"He said, 'What's interesting is that, the combination that you get out of this in letters, to us, it doesn't make any logical sense at this point. But it is there to contemplate.
But, he also said, "The numbers 192 in the middle could be significant. That might be the radioactive cloud coming from Fukushima power plant with the big dose of RADS - it might go over that area in question (central coast of California) with that 192 number isotope as the prominent isotope. Circles on ring: The outer circles appear to be orbital information, indicating the time of arrival in that region. I would think whatever direction the orbits go in the planet circles would be the direction to read the code. ... Maybe timing is the key to reading these things."
Various Evidentiary Claims: Camera Sensor?
Another reader of Linda's site said that it looked to her like a camera CCD sensor. She pointed to many points of similarity, and she wrote: "If E. T. non-terrestrial, we might be meant to see this formation as a powerful demonstration of the entity’s ability to investigate our human technology and also to harvest it regardless of our wishes. ... The use of Braille is another aspect of this, but I have no explanation for the repeated use of numerals 192. They may mean something to the module designer as a registration number or perhaps to NASA as an identification to a surveillance satellite camera. We will probably never know the full story here - but it bothers someone!"
What Really Happened
What really happened was that this was a marketing stunt by the graphics card maker, NVIDIA. They paid the Anthonys for use of their field, paid for security, and paid people to make the formation. The 1-9-2 refers to the number of parallel processing cores in the chip they were making and that this was a marketing stunt for. And, it sure as heck got A LOT of free publicity. I wish I had come up with the idea.
But, what about all those lines of evidence? Well, let's go back and look at them ...
One was that we had reports of dogs barking. Easily explained by a bunch of trucks carrying workers around the night before.
Another was strange lights four weeks earlier ... that is useless information that has nothing to do with this.
A counter-piece of evidence that was dismissed was guys with ladders. Well, guess we can't dismiss that as easily as Linda and others would have liked.
We have the security company hired by an unknown person or group, and the owners of the field refusing to answer further questions. That is mystery-mongering and could be explained by anything -- in fact, it's better explained by a marketing stunt, a company that wants to protect the field from looky-loos like these crop circle "researchers" due to their contract with the field's owner. And they want to protect their marketing tool.
Plowing it just a few days later? Who knows. It can't be used to point to ETs or anything else.
Magnetic readings? Well, an uncalibrated iPad app being used as a detailed magnetometer with readings reported by a security guard back to a crop circle researcher ... I don't put much stock in those. And, regardless, that can be thrown off by almost anything without proper controls in place.
Then there's the smoothly bent barley stems. I have heard this claim made over and over that if you have a human making a crop circle, they break the stems, but in REAL crop circles made by not-humans, the stems are just smoothly bent and not broken. To me, this has been one of the stupider claims, since I - someone who has never tried to make a crop circle - tromping through fields of cereal grains, have bent stalks over and - gasp! - they didn't break! So ... yeah, to me, this being claimed evidence that this is a "genuine" - as in non-human-made - crop circle, is pretty silly.
Perfect angles can be explained by anything, people or ETs -wise, at least. Various claims were made that you'd need military-grade surveying equipment to make a 90° angle and really straight, but that's kinda bull. A few laser pointers and right angle tool would do the trick. And, NVIDIA kinda has a lot of money they could throw around for some decent quick surveying equipment. Not that hard.
Then there's the Braille ... Obviously it's Braille, and 1-9-2 was explained as the number of processors in their chip. I think it makes more sense for some Earthly source to put down Braille as opposed to ETs.
The big circles on the outside, that seems to be one of those 1% things -- something you put there with forethought but think maybe 1% of your audience will get. The largest circle at 1:00, second-largest at 9:00, third at 2:00 again gives you 1-9-2, the number of cores. It does NOT correspond to the positions of the planets 192 days from when the crop circle formed. If you use a solar system simulator, and place Earth at 1:00, Venus is at 9:22, and Mars is at 2:25. Yeah, kinda close-ish to 1-9-2, but it is far from the exact match that was claimed. To me, this is anomaly-hunting with a lot of hand-waving and a large margin of accepted error.
The Morse Code? Maybe it wasn't Morse Code, it was just random design elements to make it more interesting. Or, it was just random Morse Code letters that didn't correspond to anything about their marketing attempt. I haven't spoken with the designer, so I don't really know.
Refusal to Believe
But, none of this means that the story is over. In fact, many ardent crop circle enthusiasts have refused to accept NVIDIA's admission. From CropCircleConnector.com:
All we actually have here are claims, stories and confusion throughout. No actual proof or video of constructional process. It just does not seem credible that this massive formation was created first go without mistakes and without being noticed by either passing terrestrial or air born traffic in the days leading up to it being reported. A CC like this could not be rushed as the accuracy in geometry and coding are vital components. ( Why a ‘chip’ company would want to use Braille coding without stated reason or explanation I really don’t know). On the ground the pattern’s sheer size would be daunting. According to the Nvidia spokesman..."They worked quickly". This point puzzles me. I repeat…just creating a perfect circle with such a radius would be immensely challenging. One would also need continuous live aerial verification to ensure complete confidence and accuracy of the pattern as seen from above. If mistake made…what then? Again I say…just couldn’t be rushed. Ask a qualified surveyor.
[...] The dialogue surrounding Nvidia is most probably part of an ongoing disinformation process (John Le Carre type?…just an amusing thought) and also that of a commercial company jumping onto an opportunity to promote a new product. It would seem that the people concerned are just making things up as they go along. The videos prove nothing at all in truth, just a few people milling around in a field at double speed (odd that) and some green flashing lights in the other...all is based on inference and suggestion. Should be obvious to even the most gullible in our midst!
To her sorta credit, Linda removed the three-part series from the main page of her site, but it's still in the archives, and I don't see any notice about a retraction.
But, others are much like the CropCircleConnector guy -- refusing to believe the admission that this was just a PR stunt. Because, of course, how could humans POSSIBLY have done something like that? Or the pyramids, right?
If you're an experienced skeptic listening to this, you may have been playing a "Spot the Logical Fallacy" game for this episode so far. I count three MAJOR ones. The most significant is anomaly hunting with an argument from ignorance twist -- searching for something that YOU think is weird and don't know how to explain, therefore aliens. The third is the argument from authority, where Linda made sure to point out in a several-line paragraph the various credentials of several people whose information that Ms. Howe used.
The issue really boils down to a simple one: If you don't know how something was done, don't jump to aliens. I think that a lot of these investigators, when they go out and make all these claims about how much of a "genuine" ET crop circle this particular example is as opposed to a human-made one, and then it's revealed to be something like a PR stunt, well, they lose any credibility they had.
Their only recourse is to claim that it's a conspiracy, that they really are correct, and that all of the admission of it being a PR stunt or whatnot is just a cover story. Really, that's all they have to go off at this point, and it's what people have been saying for years since the original crop circle makers in England admitted to it.
In this wrap-up lesson, I should also say that this was not at all meant to be a "hit" piece on Linda Moulton Howe. As I said earlier, I admire some of her reporting. What it is meant to show is that everyone has their sacred cows, and when you believe in something, your ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality and do that hard, journalistic investigative reporting is severely compromised.
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