Nancy Talbott claims to have unlocked crop circle science. Matt Williams is a crop circle maker encountering the paranormal in his circles. Why are they at odds?
photo by: Gary S
On this episode of Skeptiko, I return to a topic that’s haunted me for awhile. I’m from Chicago. For a lot of people from Chicago one value that’s ingrained into you from a young age can be summed up by the phrase, “don’t be a chump.” For someone from Chicago, there’s nothing worse than being played for the fool. The chump. A couple of years ago when I interviewed Suzanne Taylor about her movie about crop circles and about her investigation into the crop circle phenomena, I got played for a chump. I bought into Suzanne’s story without fully investigating it. I bought into her claim that no imperfect crop circle or incomplete crop circle had ever been found. I bought into the idea that the phenomena was shrouded in a mystery that was being revealed by science. Thanks to you Skeptiko listeners, I was quickly reeducated. Many of you told me about the work that’s been done by people with a more skeptical perspective on crop circles and what’s been revealed by human crop circle makers. Of course, much of this is old news, both to the general public that has moved on from crop circles, and for me. That is until I heard from today’s guest, Nancy Talbott.
Nancy is one of the best-known crop circle investigators. She claims to have adhered to very tight scientific protocols, and investigated crop circles from a scientific perspective. And, she claims to have peer reviewed papers to back-up her work. So when Nancy popped up in my Facebook and started messaging me, I responded. I told her about my skepticism. I told her how I had gone down this path and felt like there really wasn’t much there to investigate but she persisted and convinced me to take a second look. So we set up this interview:
Alex Tsakiris: Blinding is just a control mechanism.
Nancy Talbott: No, the double-blind study means very specifically something.
Alex Tsakiris: A double blind study, for example in pharmacology, means something very specific but blinding is just a basic scientific control that can be instituted in any experiment. And in this case, the simple fact is–one of the people that you get when you Google that is Colin Andrews who said, in 1995 I tried to send samples to Nancy, to BLT, collected independently, and say here are the samples. One is from a field that we presume to be alien. Another is from a field that is subjected to wind damage. [These are] independently collected samples–photographed and videotaped so we know that they’re independent–send them to you. You evaluate them. I’ve talked to a number of people including crop circle maker Matthew Williams who I know you don’t feel fondly of. But I’ve talked to a number of people and they all say the same thing: there’s this real resistance from BLT when it comes to just doing simple blinding and–
Nancy Talbott: Okay, I get what you’re saying. But first of all, you don’t know a lot of stuff so let me tell you a few things. Levengood (crop circle researcher and Nancy’s former associate) who did all of the early plant work, probably couldn’t have been much blinder than he was…
Matthew Williams: …there are some circle making groups out there [who] actually play on the keeping the sense of mystery and cloak-and-dagger going. It’s part of what they consider to be their art form. It’s not everyone who’s making circles — it’s not their idea of how it should be done. So when some people encounter certain circle making teams and they asked them pointed questions, what about this formation, what about that formation? On purpose they will actually say, yeah, we couldn’t make that one…no, definitely not. And the people say, yeah you see, I’ve got you! And they’re going you [don’t] have me, and they’ll get up and walk away as if they have got them. They actually foster, and pretend and play. It’s almost like theater for them. The whole crop circle thing for them is making a crop circle, a really good one, and then pretending like, well actually, yeah, that’s the one we couldn’t have made. It’s too good for us.
Read Excerpts From Interview:
Alex Tsakiris: But Nancy, it’s not that hard. You’re suggesting that you have a way of analyzing crop circles that shows this anomalous condition.
Nancy Talbott: No, you don’t understand the plants are very complex.
Alex Tsakiris: I understand this: whatever testing you’re going to do you’re already doing that testing and you’re claiming that you’re able to identify plants with this anomalous condition.
Nancy Talbott: Correct.
Alex Tsakiris: So the only thing you need is the control–a control that shouldn’t do that. There shouldn’t be plants in your control group that exhibit those same conditions. If there are plants that are wind damaged, or if somebody steps on them–
Nancy Talbott: There are reasons when–it’s complicated. I understand what you’re saying.
Alex Tsakiris: It’s not complicated.
Nancy Talbott: Let’s start again with me just outlining basically what it is we’ve done and why. And maybe as you follow along you’ll see that in the living substances like plants, it’s not quite as simple as I think you may think it is.
Alex Tsakiris: To me it seems kind of simple. What you’re saying–what I would deduce from that–is if you identify a particular field and if you could then say with a certain degree of certainty, that the field has these anomalous characteristics to the plant …
Nancy Talbott: You’re talking about crop circle. Not a field.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, a crop circle. That’s fine. That’s a good distinction. So have you ever gone through that process, identified a field, publically stated that that field you believe to be a genuine “crop circle,” and then had a manmade circle maker come out and say, no, that field was constructed by us. Has that ever happened?
Nancy Talbott: I don’t think that any … I’m not willing [to go] on the record because it’s very nasty to speak about one thing in particular but generally nobody … I mean the hoaxers, all the time they claim that none of the BLT work is meaningful. They just ignore it all.
Alex Tsakiris: But do you understand why I ask the question? Because that gets down to the heart of it.
Nancy Talbott: No it doesn’t because you don’t know what you’re talking about here, Alex. There is a particular thing that you do not know about.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay. What is that particular thing? I would think that if you identify a circle and say this circle exhibits anomalous characteristics and then someone can prove that circle is manmade, that kind of blows your theory.
Nancy Talbott: It would definitely do that if in fact–it depends on when in the stage of development of the work–because Levengood modified the work that he did as he went along and learned more. Things would be changed. At first, at the very beginning he was using microscopic analysis of the node tissue and looking at changes there, which he thought were significant or highly significant. And he later moved on–when you start doing something brand new with living material it takes a lot to figure out what are the things to look for. So in the development of the work, the sophistication of the work, has something to do with how authoritative–some of his very early stuff–I don’t even think he thought was. And it also depends on whether the individual who is reading the report actually understands what it says.
Alex Tsakiris: When I heard that you started out as a paranormal investigator and a UFO investigator, I missed that in the story and [thought] he’s hooked up with all these skeptics. Because these hard core, dogmatic skeptics who are very vocal even though they’re a very small group, have really latched onto the work of the circle makers and said, look, here is proof. This whole UFO phenomenon is more “woo-woo”. It’s just more fake stuff by stupid people. But when you really listen to what you’re saying and what you’ve said for a number of years. This isn’t something you’ve just latched onto lately. You’re pointing people to the larger phenomena and trying to understand it from the perspective of the paranormal. How do you feel about being used by the skeptical, UFO denier crowd? It seems like in one way you’re just like, hey, I’m just giving the information. People can use it as they’d [like]. But in another way, how do you feel about that?
Matthew Williams: I suppose in an ironic sense it’s slightly funny to look at my situation as being that I’m hated by the people who believe crop circles are made by aliens and they say well, people can’t make them. So I’m hated by those guys. But then the skeptics who would like to say, oh look, Matt Williams is saying they’re made by people and he can prove it so therefore everyone who believes in that is crap. And then when they dig beneath the surface they find out actually I believe in the paranormal and I believe in these things which doesn’t go with some sort of hardcore skeptics. So I’m hated from both directions really. So that’s kind of ironic. My whole time involved in paranormal research has told me there is definitely something else going on. There are ghosts. There are UFOs that people see. People have strange experiences that can’t be explained in their lives. I came into this as more of a skeptic than people would think, and I had experiences which told me there was something going on. Then hanging around in Wiltshire looking at the crop circles I got drawn into making them to kind of test the waters; to kind of see what people would think about this. And I had the strangest thing happen to me that I literally didn’t expect, which was that paranormal things started happening because we were making the crop circles. This is the hardest thing to get across to both camps because the skeptic side, they just want to say it’s humans isn’t it? So therefore, case closed. And I’ve always been telling people, no, the fact that humans make them is not case closed because unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you want to look at it, we’re having strange experiences. The people who visit the circles afterwards are having strange experiences.
Matthew Williams: A lot of people involved in paranormal research, I think certainly with crop circles, they don’t have this debate concept going there. They say they do. They say, look we put conferences on and it’s all about finding out the truth yet it’s only one-sided. There are only people who are going to talk about why circles are real and made by aliens. And there’s never any circle makers invited. There’s no debate. I can count over 20 years how many times I’ve been invited to enemy territory as it were to discuss this stuff. When people actually see me debating this stuff and talking, they can sit down and have a drink. We can just sit there and chat and I’ll answer the questions. They come away with a very different impression of me and that I’m not an enemy. That in itself is I think one of the reasons that we’re kept at bay because we would probably give people this different impression if people just got to meet us and speak to us. There are some circle making groups out there [who] actually play on the keeping the sense of mystery and cloak-and-dagger going. It’s part of what they consider to be their art form. It’s not everyone who’s making circles — it’s not their idea of how it should be done. So when some people encounter certain circle making teams and they asked them pointed questions, what about this formation, what about that formation? On purpose they will actually say, yeah, we couldn’t make that one…no, definitely not. And the people say, yeah you see, I’ve got you! And they’re going you [don’t] have me, and they’ll get up and walk away as if they have got them. They actually foster, and pretend and play. It’s almost like theater for them. The whole crop circle thing for them is making a crop circle, a really good one, and then pretending like, well actually, yeah, that’s the one we couldn’t have made. It’s too good for us.
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