By Rod Dickinson
A review of 'The Greatest Mystery of Modern Times' by Lucy Pringle published by Thornsons, Harper Collins September 1999.
Lucy Pringle (pictured below) is one of those few intrepid crop circle researchers that has stayed the course of the crop circle phenomenon for a whole decade. This is her first book on the subject, and it might have been reasonable to expect that the culmination of a decade of research would produce an incisive study of the phenomenon. Unfortunately much of the information here is misleading, and there are also many factual errors.
The book begins with a farmer whose vegetables appear to have been removed in geometric patterns, and eyewitness accounts of crop circles forming - the very same eyewitness accounts that have been repeated in virtually every crop circle book since 1991. Since then, the credibility of some of these witnesses has been questioned, particularly the Tomlinsons. Back in 1993, Jim Schnabel travelled to the farm where they'd allegedly had their encounter with a circle forming. Only three seasons had past, and the farmer was adamant that he'd never had any crop circles on his land. To date, no crop circle researcher has addressed this gaping contradiction in their testimony. Pringle is just the latest 'researcher' to repeat their story.
The chapter concerned with 'hoaxers' focuses on the circlemaking activities of Doug Bower, John Lundberg, Wil Russell and myself. Pringle creates the impression that almost all crop circles have a non human origin and would be impossible for humans to replicate. A catalogue of errors ensues: The number of people and the duration it took to create demonstration formations are consistently incorrect. The time taken to flatten large areas of crop are massively overestimated. The formation that John Lundberg, Wil Russell and I constructed for US TV was over 300 ft in diameter and contained nearly 150 circles, with geometries as complex as nearly all the formations that appeared in the UK that previous summer. The formation was completed in under 4 hours, not the rumoured 8 hours. Pringle also alleges that photos of the lay of the crop that revealed a mess of broken and crushed stems, were briefly shown on the internet, and that they were "so revealing of the deception that they were quickly taken off, never to be shown again." This characteristically confused piece of reporting in fact refers to aerial photos, (which did not show close shots of the lay), being withdrawn from this web site after a request from NBC who were being inundated with enquiries about the prospective programme. Naturally enough they wanted to retain a certain amount of secrecy about its contents. Photographs of the lay have never been posted on the net, and the programme only featured similar shots very briefly.
Pringle criticises our BBC TV 1998 UK demonstration formation, mistaking the 'Yell' company logo included in the middle of the design for a piece of 'bad geometry'. She also argues that the 'thick tracer' or construction rings that run through the formation are indicative of a 'hoax'. Ironically the formation which she chooses to cite as an exemplary case of non human construction, the triple spiral Julia Set (1996) was also known for its prominent 'tracer' lines. As has been noted by keen eyed researchers, construction lines are an integral feature of many, many formations - to name a few: the DNA, Koch fractal, Stonehenge Julia Set, East Field snowflake etc. As long ago as 1991, it was the tangible evidence that these construction lines provided, located strategically around the formations, that led researchers like Ken Brown to the inevitable conclusion that the circles were the work of men.
On geometry, Pringle is equally out of her depth. She alleges that "It is generally accepted by mathematicians that genuine formations contain sacred or euclidian geometry, using the vital numbers 5,6 and 7." Ill-informed comments like this will probably even enrage other crop circle researchers, not to mention mathemeticians. When examined, many formations do reveal hidden geometries but they are often more subtle and complex than this. The Stonehenge Julia set (1996) was constructed on a Fibonacci Spiral. The quintuplet of quintuplets (1995) showed an underlying structure of expanding squares. The triple armed Julia Set (1996) revealed a series of rotating and expanded equilateral triangles.
Much of the book catalogues Pringle's research into the physiological and psychological effects the circles have had on humans and animals. The proposition that they can measurably affect humans is an interesting and under-explored area. Compiled as reports (or anecdotal accounts), some curious cases are included, though many read as rather self-conscious spooky stories of vaguely circumstantial events which Pringle often sensationalises. At one point, pregnant women are advised against visiting crop formations. Apparently they can cause massively premature births!
That many of these effects might be the result of a social mechanism, a product of expectation rather than affect is hardly discussed. Pringle holds out for a literal interpretation of crop circles buzzing with nitric oxides, gravitational anomalies and microwave energy. The section on mechanical failures that occur in formations (battery drains, camera malfunctions etc) also ends in another hilarious warning - don't go into a crop circle if you have a battery-powered cardiac pacemaker.
Since Pringle began her research in 1989, crop formations have evolved into huge majestic land markings, yet her research is still stuck with many of the old and redundant assumptions of a decade ago, and she absolutely fails to see the very human processes of art at work. The title says it all; 'The Greatest Mystery of Modern Times' is a masterpiece of misperception.
Photo Credit: Image of Lucy Pringle courtesyPeter Sorensen