Anderson, Alun. "Britain's Crop Circles: Reaping by Whirlwind?" Science 253 (30 August
1991), pp. 961-962.
Scientists tend to be conservative when identifying themselves with the investigation of novelties
as one risks exposure as a fool when the "mystery" is shown to be a fraud, trick, hoax, or some
simply explained phenomenon in a new guise. Over the past dozen years, there have appeared in
southern England a number of "rings" or "circles" of unexplained origin. They have appeared
mysteriously in the middle of hayfields. Several serious investigations of the phenomena have
been made and the results have thus far been inconclusive. There are plenty of theories around
One researcher, Terrance Meaden, formerly a lecturer in physics at Oxford and Grenoble, has
spent the last decade trying to explain the circles. He admits that some of these circles are the
work of pranksters. But here also credits others of them as "genuine mysteries" in need of a
scientific explanation. He refuses to believe that all of them are the work of pranksters.
"...Meaden is certain that many are the work of a simple but as yet unexplained natural
phenomenon." (p. 961)
"The circle problem is definitely a problem in physics and meteorology needing help from
mathematics," says Meaden. While few other scientists are willing to stake their reputations and
swear that Meaden is right, this past year a small but growing band of researchers has been
willing to ignore all the media hype that links crop circles to the appearance of flying saucers and
take a serious look at Meaden;s observations. As a result, the first tentative models providing
wholly unmysterious explanations of circle formation and now appearing in print.
"Even laboratory experiments are under way - a model of the English hills sits in a wind tunnel in
Ohio and artificial ball lightning is being used in a Japanese laboratory to create simulated crop
circles. Add another astonishing find-0-circles imprinted in the dust of subway tunnels beneath
Tokyo - and you have an emerging field full of unexpected links between disciplines." (p. 961)
Meaden has tried hard this past summer to get pictures of the process of circle formation on film.
One did appear nearby but his sophisticated instruments were blinded by mist. It is reported here
that the field in which the circle was formed was one which was protected by automatic alarms
and so is not likely one resulting from hoaxers.
Meaden has personally inspected 1000 circles and is identified here as a "circleologist." He first
got interested in circles in the U.S., the midwest, where whether might have been the cause. One
theory suggests that the circles are the result of vortices, cousins to the dust devil or whirlwind.
A Japanese physicist, Yoshihiko Ohtsuki, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, thinks that
the circles may be electrically produced, be the result of "ball lightning." His special interest is in
ball lightning. He has published in Nature on his work and it is legitimate: ball lightning appears
in thunderstorms and Ohtsuki saw one when he was a child and has been fascinated ever since.
His work has led to his investigation of "circles" in the Tokyo subways (where there is ample
electrical energy) but he admits that since enormous energies are required to produce the balls (as
in tornados), he has no explanation of the crop circles, which appear on clam evenings, at the
What is needed is more research but: "...(C)rop-circle research is not respectable enough for that
kind of funding." (p. 962)