However much they lagged culturally behind the Egyptians, Greeks, and their Roman conquerors of AD 50, the ancient Britons were certainly a busy and ingenious people, whose artifacts have never ceased to amaze, some because of their monumental size, others because their significance remains a mystery. The counties of Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Dorset in southern England are particularly rich in their works. Stonehenge and the smaller stone avenue and circle of nearby Avebury are the most prominent of the scores of stone circles of which remains can be seen in many parts of the British Isles. How the enormous stones of Stonehenge were transported from Wales, where they were quarried, is a never-ending matter for argument.

Carved into the chalk of a hill in Uffington in Berkshire is the figure of a horse that measures 374 feet from nose to tail, and in Cerne Abbas in Dorset, a little less than a hundred miles away, also carved into the chalk, is an 180-foot figure of a rampant man. The largest man-made hill in Europe is at Silbury in Wiltshire; its significance is still a mystery.

Tourists have always been attracted to these prehistoric remains, and in recent years the attraction has been growing so fast that today the police have to be mobilized each year to protect the stones of Stonehenge from being damaged by the crowds that forgather, as if to participate in some mysterious rite, at the rising of the sun at the time of the summer solstice—for the stones are so arranged that they form a crude clock of the seasons. Much of the region is one of vast rolling landscapes, patterned by cultivated fields, with few farm-houses or buildings in sight, most of which help form the picturesque villages that lie in the valleys.

About 1980 or thereabouts, circles of flattened corn with diameters of up to hundreds of feet, with the corn pressed down in a clockwise direction, began to appear in the fields of Wiltshire and Hampshire. As interest and comment grew, the story of what was happening became increasingly complicated. There were reports of circles with corn flattened in counter-clockwise swirls, and of circles surrounded by narrow unconnected annular rings of flattened corn. In 1987, as the number of circles increased, ever more elaborate geometric designs appeared, to which the name of pictograms was given. In 1980 only a handful of circles had been reported. By 1990 the number of circles and pictograms approached a thousand. The story was always one of instantaneous appearance. A field of growing corn which a farmer said was undisturbed when he went to bed would next day be graced with one or more circles. They were creations of the dark.

As news of the mystery spread, circle-spotter groups started to form, first in the south, and then in other parts of the country. In the hope of “seeing” one in the process of formation, teams of enthusiasts kept all-night vigils for as long as two to three weeks, with their attention focused on fields that were thought to be circleprone. They armed themselves with appropriate photographic and other equipment to record any untoward event. Aerial surveys were carried out. Radar is said to have been used. To this day, however, there are only a few unsubstantiated claims of circles having been “seen” as they became formed in the night, and fewer still of circles in process of formation during the hours of daylight. There has been talk of weird lights, of balls of fire, of strange noises over a field where next day there was a circle. UFOs came into the story, and talk of people who felt nauseated and otherwise disturbed after venturing into a circle. Some have told of carrying instruments that registered electrical changes when they were taken into one.

The circles and pictograms are real enough. To this day, however, the information we have about their creation remains essentially anecdotal. TV companies from as far afield as Japan have paid professional watchers armed with nighttime cameras and other apparatus to register whatever happenings might occur in the fields of Wiltshire and Hampshire, but to the best of my knowledge, none has so far come up with any decisive results. On a recent visit to Hampshire to see for myself what a circle or pictogram looked like, I turned my field glasses onto a Japanese TV team that was armed with a variety of apparatus. It was the ninth day of a ten-day vigil. The farmer who had given them permission to camp on his land told me that up to then they had drawn a blank. When I enquired later I was told that on their last night they had made a video recording of strange lights that they had seen in the area.

Circle-spotter groups competed in the recording of new circles. There were those who believed that super-natural forces were at work. Others felt that there had to be a scientific explanation, and still others were convinced that a gigantic hoax was being perpetrated. Publicity was at first confined to the counties where the circles had started to appear. With the publication in 1989 of a book called Circular Evidence, interest spread rapidly. The authors were Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews, the first describing himself as a retired electro-mechanical engineer, the second until recently as chief electrical engineer of the Test Valley Borough Council.1 Mr. Delgado’s attention had been drawn in 1981 to the occurrence of a line of three perfect circles of flattened corn in a field in Wiltshire. He started to investigate and was told that similar circles had been seen in previous years, as well as on many other farms in southern England. Mystified, he got in touch with the press and with television companies to report what he had seen and what he had been told. Over the next few years he saw to it that both were kept informed about the appearance and location of new circles. The not surprising result was that the number of people who wanted to see them began to multiply. Two years after Mr. Delgado’s first broadcast in 1981, Mr. Andrews got in touch with him, and found that the two were “on the same wavelength”—something supernatural was at work.


As the Eighties wore on, there were reports of circles being spotted not just in counties in the south, but in parts of England where they had never been seen before. A few “circles” were reported in other countries—one in a paddy field in Japan. Mr. Delgado tells us that he and those of his colleagues who were on the same wavelength as his own traveled hundreds of miles examining circles, paying attention to their configuration, their ” ‘floor’ details, weather conditions, moon phases, location, and other parameters.” His 1989 book is lavishly illustrated with photographs of all manner of flattened corn circles that he had examined both on foot and from the air.

Several, we learn, were found in fields that were the site of tumuli and other ancient burials. Some were not far from Silbury Hill and Avebury. They were frequently close to roads, and Mr. Delgado was told that unspecified road accidents had often occurred near the site of a circle. He also writes of circles that were identified as hoaxes, but apparently only after their perpetrators had confessed. And he implies that he has a secret way, which he does not describe, that allows him to tell a hoax from the “real thing,” without however trying to explain how “hoaxes” are carried out.

In a follow-up booklet published in 1990 and entitled Crop Circles: The Latest Evidence, he and Mr. Andrews include a photograph of one “circle” that spelt out the message WEARENOTALONE. “Each letter was 36.5 metres from top to bottom and the whole word was 183 metres long.” The farmer on whose land this mysterious message appeared had no explanation. The letters had not been there the previous evening, and it was only very early next day that one of his men told him about it. Mr. Delgado was quickly informed, and was able to examine and photograph the flattened corn message, both from the air and on foot. His account of this particular pictogram indicates that he did not take it to be a hoax but thought it a genuinely remarkable event.

After the publication of this second booklet, Mr. Delgado and Mr. Andrews launched a quarterly newsletter of between four and six typescript pages, of which four have now appeared. They tell us that their first book, which is now in its second edition, is a world best seller, and has sold 200,000 copies. In addition, thousands of people throughout the world “are already subscribers” to their gossipy newsletters, which invite information from people who are interested. Anyone can become a subscriber at a cost of six pounds in EC countries and eight pounds in others, “cheques payable to Pat Delgado.” A slip in the second edition of their book informs readers that those wishing to arrange personal or TV interviews with the authors can do so by getting in touch with their agent.

By 1990 so many tourists from home and abroad wanted to see the circles and pictograms that farmers were becoming concerned about the way their crops were being trampled and ruined. One who helped me when I went to see some of this year’s harvest of circles had been forced in 1990 to limit access to his land by charging visitors an entry fee if they wanted to inspect a large pictogram that had appeared in one of his fields. He had to follow the same practice this year when an even more elaborate pictogram made its appearance. His “gate-receipts” just about covered the wages of part-time helpers whose job it was to prevent visitors who wanted to walk into the pictogram from trampling down otherwise undisturbed corn. He told me that he knew of four or five other farmers who have followed his example during the two- or three-month period between the appearance of a magic circle and its elimination at harvest time, but that he did not know whether they made money by so doing.


According to the International Herald Tribune (September 19, 1991), travel agents have been offering package tours for visitors from the US and other countries who wanted to see the circles. A landowner with whom I have been in touch regards the circles phenomenon as an unexplained hoax and as an unmitigated nuisance, and has tried to keep people off his land by strengthening his fences. The farms are so large, the landscape so open, that a nighttime guard against intruders would be prohibitively expensive.

As I have said, Mr. Delgado and his colleague, Andrews, believe that the circles are caused by some supernatural “intelligence,” something beyond “the grasp of contemporary scientific understanding.” This, however, is not the view of Dr. George Meaden, an Oxford Ph.D. in physics, who apparently works on his own, and whose field of research is atmospheric vortices, tornadoes, whirlwinds, waterspouts, and ball lightning.

Some time ago Dr. Meaden formed his own Tornado and Storm Research Organization (TORRO), from which he has recently budded a Circles Effect Research Group (CERES), whose main responsibility is to keep an independent register of circles as they are reported.2 The first specimens to which his attention had been drawn, and in which the corn had been flattened in a clockwise swirl, were single and simple, and appeared on a Wiltshire farm at three different times between May and July of 1980. The farm is below an eighteenth-century carving in a chalk hill known as the White Horse of Westbury, and presumably is one which had also been visited by Mr. Delgado. The circles were not perfect—he calls them quasi-circles—and were about sixty feet in diameter. In 1981 he was told of three new circles that appeared in line on another farm in the same general area. The largest had a diameter of sixty feet, and was flanked by two smaller circles each of twenty-five feet wide. Nineteen eighty-two, he writes, was a “dull year,” but as the Eighties moved on the circles that he noted multiplied both in number and in complexity of pattern. Of the hundreds reported throughout Britain in 1990, more than two thirds were in Wiltshire, which, together with its neighboring counties, continued this year to be the area of highest density of new sightings.

Dr. Meaden is convinced that the circles are formed by “the descent of energetic atmospheric vortices of previously unrecognized type,” and that the electrical effects and luminous phenomena that some circle spotters have reported may be due to “a low-density of charged particles carried along by the primary vortex.” He recognizes that “most vortices known to meteorologists are ascending.” An ascending vortex is the basis of a tornado that may suddenly develop in, for example, the plains of northern Colorado, and, as it rapidly moves, destroys or damages everything in its narrow path, at the same time as an accompanying wind makes the prairie alive with tumbleweed. Equally, a commonplace whirlwind can devastate an entire cornfield while leaving a contiguous one intact. The new “problem for the atmospheric scientist,” he writes, “is to determine how the breakdown of the common spin-up vortex condition can evolve into a state of downward vortex-motion” so as to create a stationary vortex that discharges its energy within a few seconds in order to produce a crop circle.

In 1990 he and Dr. Derek Elsom of the Oxford Polytechnic convened an international conference—made somewhat stormy by the interventions of Mr. Delgado—to consider the “circles effect.” Ten papers were delivered, three by Dr. Meaden himself in which he set out his theory, but which, like two of the others, were essentially descriptive in nature. Three Japanese scientists contributed to the remaining five papers. The purpose of the first was “to describe conceptual models for possible formative mechanisms of the basic circular pattern.” The second paper claimed to report “trial laboratory experiments for simulating the creation of plasma vortices under natural circumstances.” The third, presented in summary only, described a theoretical examination of “a small-scale helical turbulence with electrical and space-charge fields from the aspect of EHD (electrohydrodynamics).” The coauthor of the first of these papers was a physicist from Purdue University, and he and his Japanese collaborator emphasize that their attempt to formulate models “is highly speculative since it must be based largely on circumstantial evidence”—that is to say, on the reports provided by Dr. Meaden—which they find “more tantalizing than conclusive.” Their attempt to formulate explanatory models relates only to the basic circular rings—not to the complicated geometrical patterns that started to appear toward the end of the Eighties. It is particularly noteworthy that apparently neither the British government’s meterological office nor any university department of meteorology was represented at the meeting.

How a downwardly directed tubular vortex—given that meteorologists agree that there are such things—could explain the more elaborate circle designs is not touched on in the printed proceedings of the conference. Mr. Delgado, his colleague, Mr. Andrews, and those who believe that the “circles” are the work of an extra-terrestrial “intelligence” argue that an attempt to seek a scientific explanation based on downwardly directed energetic vortices is pointless. It is impossible, they say, for a vortex to hit the ground to make a main circle and then bounce back in a subdivided form to make a coherent geometric pattern.

More recently, a beautifully illustrated book, The Crop Circle Enigma, was produced by a new group calling itself the Centre for Crop Circle Studies, most of whose founder members also appear to be associated with the Society of Psychical Research. In an article contributed by George Wingfield we read that the presence of four rectangular boxes of compressed corn as part of a recent pictogram has driven “the final nail into the coffin of the atmospheric vortex theory.” Even more remarkable was the appearance of an elaborate geometrical pictogram in a field a few miles from where one similarly designed, and with the same dimensions to an inch or two, had appeared nine days before. “To the honest observer,” writes Mr. Wingfield, “the undeniable impression of intelligent manipulation is overwhelming; and this intelligence must inevitably be either human or non-human”—his own view being the latter.

Ralph Noyes, the editor of the book, is an ex-senior British civil servant who is now the honorary secretary of the Society for Psychical Research. He points out that Dr. Meaden’s attempts to forecast from his primary vortex theory about the way the circle phenomenon was likely to develop have been a failure, while John Michell, a writer who concerns himself with “many topics at the edge of present understanding,” emphasizes “the apparent responsiveness to human ideas” of the circle phenomenon. For example, within a day or so of Dr. Meaden’s claiming that the swirl of corn in a central circle alternates in direction with that in the annular rings of flattened corn by which it was surrounded, a new “circle” was reported in which the swirl was the same in both. It is “as though the phenomenon delights in confounding its investigators and upsetting their theories.”

Dr. Meaden contributed to the new book in an article in which he reaffirmed his conviction that the circle phenomenon can “be explained wholly within the bounds of conventional science,” despite the increasing frequency with which elaborate geometric designs of flattened corn have been appearing. But the explanations that he gives for the increases in complexity are, however, no more than tautological extensions of his primary hypothesis that what is at work is the force of a downwardly directed stationary spinning vortex. The appearance of one or more narrow rings of flattened corn around a primary circle, or a pattern of a main ring surrounded by up to four or five smaller satellite rings is caused, so he writes, by a breakdown of the primary vortex. The inference “together with certain instrumental evidence”—unspecified—is that the rings are due to a flow of ionized air “in the manner of an ion race.” Everyone he has met who has inspected real circles, so he writes, “including “many good scientists”—unnamed—has “been completely convinced by the legitimacy of the circles problem.” More than that, the few scientists—also unnamed—who have contested his hypothesis “display their ignorance of the phenomenon of vortex breakdown.”

As the difficulty of accounting for the increasing number and complexity of the “circles” has increased, it would seem that Dr. Meaden has kept in step by elaborating the wording of his hypothesis so as to make it cover every manner of happening. For example, to explain multiple circles “one may deduce” that vortexes “may be interlinked and hence interdependent.” He tells us that he has been asked to explain how he reconciles the notion that a column of air turbulence, i.e., one characterized by disorder, that results in an ordered pattern of flattened corn can be reconciled with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since the energy of the vortex necessarily lessens when it forces down the corn to make a primary circle, the entropy of the system, or the extent of the resulting disorder, should, in accordance with this law, increase—instead of producing regular patterns of satellite circles. The answer, he writes, is to be found at “the microscopic level of inquiry,” which insofar as he explains what this is, turns out to be another set of speculations which it would be impossible to test scientifically. Every circle happening, whether simple or complex, whether or not associated with reports of strange lights, fireballs, noises, electrical disturbances, and so on can be explained as having happened because the circumstances were right for the vortex theory to apply. Even the burning bush of Moses can be interpreted as “a luminous incandescent light of plasma vortex origin” while the Star of Bethlehem can be explained by “the movement and hovering of a self-sustaining luminous vortex.”

In short, those who follow Dr. Meaden are invited to believe that all manifestations of the circles phenomenon can, or will in due course, be explained by verifiable science. Those who are convinced that they are due to the play of some supernatural force—and here, as is admitted by Hilary Evans, another contributor to the new book on the subject, there is no limit to what faith and belief allow—cast aside Dr. Meaden’s theories. They do so not only because his speculations about downwardly directed vortices are opposed to generally accepted scientific explanations about the formation of upwardly directed vortices—with which they are in any event uninterested—but because it is inconceivable that a circular downwardly spiraling vortex could create pictograms graced with neatly arranged rectangles of flattened corn. Nor, since Dr. Meaden’s hypothesis demands that his presumed downwardly directed vortices generate their effects only in specific topographical and meteorological conditions, can they accept that an elaborate pictogram can be repeated practically to the same dimensions miles from where it was first seen, and in a landscape totally different from the first. They are also at one in rejecting the notions that the circles phenomenon is all an elaborate, costly, and widespread hoax, as well as being opposed to other improbable suggestions, such for example that simple circles are caused by a spreading fungus similar to the circles of mushrooms that are commonly seen in the fields.

As I have said, in the chapter that he contributes to the new book, Dr. Meaden not only reaffirmed his conviction that the circles phenomenon is the consequence of the play of natural forces, but that what is conventionally regarded as supernatural, such as visions in the sky of the Virgin Mary, can or should be explicable in scientific terms. As it stands, however, what he has put forward is little more than an hypothesis in search of a foundation. The fact is that his vortex theory is neither verifiable in the environment in which it claims to apply, nor can it be used to predict whether this or that field in this or that area will be the site of a further visitation, or what shape the next pictogram will take. Tornadoes and “dust-devils” can be studied by meteorologists while they are occurring. In contrast, the circles are amenable only to what, as it were, is post-mortem analysis and speculation. Anecdotal reports about lights and noises being seen or heard by one or two individuals at the very instant that it is then presumed that corn was subjected to a force which created a circle or pictogram do not constitute the material of science. We are not dealing with those lights in the sky that we now recognize as comets, which are there for all to see, and whose appearances and disappearances can be precisely predicted.

Dr. Meaden has written that since 1980 he has personally inspected several hundred—one report says more than a thousand—which, with a very few exceptions, “have been checked out as genuine.” There is, he also says, “an instrumental test known only to a few circle investigators which can be applied to any circle as an independent check on its authenticity.” What this test is he does not say, which is strange for a scientist. I can only imagine that its nature was not revealed, or if revealed, could not have convinced Professor John Snow of Purdue University and Professor Tokio Kikuchi of Kochi University in Japan, two of the contributors to the international conference that Dr. Meaden organized, for otherwise why should they have qualified their contribution by prefacing it with the statement that authenticity has not been proved? Whether Mr. Delgado’s undisclosed method for assuring the “authenticity” of a circle is the same as Dr. Meaden’s is unlikely. The fervid conviction of the one that there must be a scientific explanation, and the equally fervid belief of the other that an extraterrestrial “intelligence” is at work, has left the two at daggers drawn. Up to the end of this year’s harvest both, however, have insisted that all but possibly a few “circles” were not frauds.

Early in September, toward the end of this year’s harvest, the issue of fraud, however, took a new turn. Various accounts appeared in the press that two men, Messrs. Bower and Chorley, variously described as artists, or as being connected with the University of Southampton (in whose register their names do not appear), declared that for thirteen years they had been making the corn circles in southern England, and enjoying the secret pleasure of being regarded by Mr. Delgado and his followers as a “supernatural intelligence.” The representatives of a tabloid newspaper that had been let into their secret took Mr. Delgado to inspect a new circle that had just appeared. Without hesitation he declared that it was something for which no human being could ever have been responsible. When he was then told the truth, he is reported as having declared, “We’ve all been conned.”

This was very embarrassing, particularly as the disclosure and Mr. Delgado’s admission came on the eve of a conference, presumably of the “faithful,” that he had just organized. The two hoaxers then agreed to demonstrate before Mr. Delgado and his colleague, Andrews—plus the press and TV—how they made a circle. No sooner had this been done than Mr. Delgado recanted, and with Mr. Andrews asserted that anyone could see that what the two self-confessed hoaxers had done with the help of boards was not an authentic circle. Dr. Meaden, who apparently was not present, then gave his views, proclaiming that contrary to both his original and more recent statements, and despite his continuing adherence to his theory about downwardly directed spinning vortexes, he had suspected over the past few years that what became known as pictograms were the work of hoaxers.

There have certainly been some remarkable presumed hoaxes about which he must have known. For example the BBC helped to sponsor a three-week “hi-tech” vigil to film a circle in process of formation. On the third day of the operation, it was announced that during the night flashing orange lights were seen (and video-recorded) over a field where next day six circles had appeared. For a few hours the affair was regarded as “genuine.” But when the circles were inspected on the ground it was found that a Ouija board and a wooden cross had been placed in the center of each of them. Military personnel were believed to have made the circles, but this has not been confirmed.

Not many weeks ago, too, a strange pattern of flattened corn appeared on a German cornfield, and was treated by the press as a genuine “circle.” It then turned out to be the work of four young German lawyers out to prove that what the British could do, the Germans could also do. A pictogram in England was roughly in the shape of a swastika. Another that appeared in August of this year on a farm south of Cambridge had the shape of a “Mandelbrot set,” with a maximum dimension of 180 feet. A Mandelbrot set belongs to the subject of “chaos mathematics” or “fractal geometry,” and the relevant equations that underlie the “set” cannot be worked out except with the help of powerful computers. The cornfield Mandelbrot could hardly have been formed by a downwardly directed vortex any more than could the enormous pictogram “WEARENOTALONE.” I can hardly imagine that any of these appearances did not put a strain on the imagination of even the most ardent believer in the supernatural, even on those who for a time were ready to believe that the “circles” manifested themselves only on a line which ran from Wiltshire to the Great Pyramid at Gîza.

What therefore seems to me strange is that instead of claiming the ability to tell a hoax from the real thing, circle enthusiasts, whatever their beliefs, have not set out to demonstrate that the notion of hoaxes is untenable. For example, they could have trained one or more teams of, let us say, university students, to flatten a patch of a cornfield to a particular shape, first in daylight and then at night, and, once trained, have them demonstrate their skill—or lack of it—before a jury of scientists representing the government’s meteorological office and, say, the Royal Society, plus perhaps a couple of High Court judges to help assure fair play.

There is no problem about entering a cornfield without leaving any trace behind. As the illustration in the various circle books show, all cornfields are traversed by the parallel lines made by the wheels of tractors as they move up and down applying up to as many as seven dressings of fertilizer and pesticides in order to control the growth of the corn. The tractors always follow the same lines of flattened corn as they move—in England the tracks left by the tires are familiarly called tramlines—in order to limit the amount of inadvertent damage that they cause. Each tramline is from twelve to eighteen inches wide, depending on the width of the tractor tires, and is separated from its neighbor by the width of the tractor. The pairs of tramlines are separated from their neighbors by the length of the spray tubes carried on either side of the tractors—usually from twenty to forty feet. It is no problem to walk along a tramline either in daylight or at night without disturbing the corn on either side.

Dr. Meaden writes that circles are as a rule “roughly centered” on tramlines. The numerous excellent photographs that illustrate his and other publications in fact suggest that all, including pictograms, straddle one or even two. The crops concerned grow to a height from about three feet in the case of wheat, or as much as five in that of rye. A single person, or three or four in line, could easily walk along a tramline at night, or certainly in the faint light of dawn, or even crawl by day without being seen. The leader of a hoaxing team could stop at a point where it was decided to press the corn rows either in the form of a circle or of a more complicated pattern. The German and Southampton hoaxers used boards to do the flattening. Another way would be for the leader of a team to trail a rope to which one or more weights would have been attached to make it hang, say, about three inches above the level where it is decided to sweep the ground, stopping either on or a stride from a tramline, so making that point the center of a circle. His follower (or followers), holding the other end of the rope, joins him, and then moves away to the full stretch of the rope before walking round in either a clockwise or a counterclockwise direction until both are satisfied that the corn has been adequately flattened. Dr. Meaden describes one circle which he examined that had a hole in the ground near its center. This would suggest that one man could do the operation on his own, working from a peg pushed into the soil. In theory the same “principle” could be used to produce annular rings around a primary circle. The New Scientist of September 14, 1991, published a letter indicating that three trained people using a rope could even flatten corn to the shape of a Mandelbrot set.

Another way would be for a team of hoaxers to begin by cutting out a pattern of a circle, or of a complicated pictogram, from rolls of heavy-duty polythene sheet, and then to carry the separate pieces along a tramline. The parts would be pinned down to lay out the whole pattern, over which a small roller or some other device would then be moved to flatten the corn.

I am not saying that any of these approaches would necessarily work. But clearly there are ways to flatten corn in a particular shape. How otherwise could one explain Delgado and Andrews’s WEARENOTALONE, a pictogram that they regarded as “genuine”? And here it is certainly worth noting that apparently no pattern of flattened corn has ever been reported as crossing the boundary between two contiguous fields belonging to two different farmers.

On my visit to Hampshire and Wiltshire when I saw eight pictograms and circles, I was interested to learn that New College, Oxford, is the landowner of the large farm run by the well-educated farmer who was my guide, and who had followed his father and grandfather as tenant of the land. He has never had any indication that the fact that the farm has been the site of several circles has stimulated any interest among the college’s several distinguished science fellows. His farm is also less than ten miles from Marlborough School, a school which has as always been famous for encouraging the sciences, and which counts among its scientific alumni Professor J.Z. Young and the late Sir Peter Medawar. To the best of my guide’s knowledge, the school, like New College, has never evinced any interest in the “circles” phenomenon. Is this a case of the dog that did not bark? Are the conventional scientists whom one would expect to be interested not yet persuaded that the “circles effect” poses any scientific problem?

Were it to turn out that circles and pictograms can easily be made by trained people, it would not, of course, necessarily mean that all circles that have been reported have been hoaxes. Nor would it mean that a single pair of hoaxers could have been responsible for the hundreds that have been recorded during this and previous growing seasons. That would have been physically impossible. But if it did turn out that hoaxing was easy, it would certainly help knock the bottom out of the explanations that have so far been offered. Equally, it would raise a host of other questions. Why, for example, do hoaxers go to all the trouble? Are different teams of pranksters secretly in touch with one another? How do they maintain their hidden identities? Is it even possible that there are people out to persuade a doubting world that corn circles can be added to flying saucers as proof of the existence of a supernatural force?

Obviously, if carefully controlled experiments were to show that faking is far from easy, we would be back at square one. But I very much doubt that that would be the case. The journal Nature has recently asked whether the whole thing is not just “a media ploy.” 3 Maybe it is. “The annual spate of crop circles,” Nature points out, “brings to light the circular nature of science itself—at least as far as the media are concerned.”

This Issue

November 21, 1991