Journal of

The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York

Volume 1, Issue 6

1st Symposium on Anomalous Phenomena: Part 2, John Burke.

This past April the student union (UPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hosted The 1st Symposium on Anomalous Phenomena. This was the 3rd annual UFO/anomalous phenomena symposium held by UPAC. Last month I wrote about Robert Hastings' talk: ``UFOs---The Hidden History.'' The second talk by Dr. Bruce Maccabee was cancelled and replaced with short presentations by the remaining three speakers. This gave me an chance to talk with John Burke about his upcoming talk ``Crop Circle Phenomena,'' which was attended by myself, Peter Huston and Daniel Forrest and about 100 other people.

Mr. Burke's talk was about his investigations of crop circles in England and New York state. For those not familiar with crop circles, they are formations made in cereal crops such as wheat. The formations range from simple circles to Celtic crosses, spirals, scorpions, handicap access signs, Micky Mouse, and Mandelbrot sets. They usually form at night, and have been the subject of various television shows such as -[encounters]- on the Fox network.

Many theories from meteorology to UFOs have been suggested to explain crop circles. One of the earliest investigators of simple crop circles, Dr Terrance Meaden, proposed a plasma vortex similar to ball lightning. Crop circles really took off as a phenomena in the late 1980's, and over the past few years a number of individuals have come forward who claim to have made many of those circles. This has not, however, dissuaded all investigators.

John Burke believes that crop circles are formed by a chaotic plasma vortex which descends from the ionosphere and strikes the ground. His talk was a chronology of the strange effects he and his associate Dr. W.C. Levengood have found in the circles themselves and in the grain recovered from the circles. Among the effects reported are:

John Burke and Dr. Levengood are co-authors of the ``H-Glaze'' Report which details these effects and attributes them to a plasma vortex that heated iron particles from the Perseid meteor shower and deposited them on the wheat while the crop circle was forming. The wheat was protected from most of the heating effects by the ``Leiden frost effect,'' which is a well know physical effect that allows, for example, a physics professor to place his wet hand in Moulton lead. The evaporating water insulates the hand (or wheat) from the heat of the hot lead (or plasma).

Since Burke's talk I've had on opportunity to do a bit of research on crop circles. I wish I could claim to have spent weeks in the library digging out dusty journals and months traveling to the English country side visiting crop circle formations while they are still ``hot.'' The truth is much of what I found was handed to me by other crop circle watchers who happen to read some of the same Internet mailing lists as I do.

The most relevant report comes from The Crop Watcher, which is published four times a year in the UK, and is available from the publisher[Paul Fuller, 3 Selborne Court, Tavistock Close, ROMSEY, Hampshire, SO51 7TY, $10.00 full year subscription (make checks payable to ``Paul Fuller'' and not ``The Crop Watcher.''] or over the World Wide Web at: Issue 23 includes an article entitled: ``Dr W.C. Levengood, John A. Burke, Lab Report No 18, the FE3 Project and the H-Glaze Report'' where we learn of the exploits of Robert Irving who claims that the circles were hoaxed, and the hoaxers spread fine-grade iron filings over the wheat. When they were examined 10-12 days later, the iron filings had oxidized into a "glaze" over the wheat and soil. Irving has offered his samples for independent analysis if Burke and Levengood do the same. So far (11 months later) they have refused to respond.

Somehow, this is not too surprising. Two things struck me most about John Burke: the strength of his desire to believe that crop circles were something other then hoaxers, and the inconsistency of his methods and procedures. The first is evident from his claim that 90% of all crop circles are ``real'' in the sense of not made by people. He states this even when showing pictures of crop formations that are obviously meant to look like something, such as spiders, scorpions, wheel chairs and Micky Mouse (I'm not making this up---ask Peter or Daniel).

The second observation comes from the way his talk was peppered with ``we found this in a couple sites,'' and ``that in a couple of other.'' The description was that of a fishing expedition---find a circle and look for something, anything, odd about it. If you find something (anything) it is a ``real'' crop circle, otherwise it is fake. I questioned Burke at length about his control groups and control samples. In short, he has none. If a circle is know to be faked then it is found to be fake. Otherwise, it is real no matter what others (including confessed haoxers) may say. Consistent with this attitude, several of the effects, such as static charge and ground voltage gradients, are by their nature small and difficult to measure accurately. At one point Burke showed a chart of static charge in a wheat field. The samples where taken along two lines vertically and horizontally in the field. On the chart 4 samples were different (higher or lower) then the others---imagine the 4 end points of a cross. Over this chart Burke drew a spiral vortex form. Why a spiral and not a diamond or cross---which are just as consistent with the data? I suspect because a spiral is consistent with the plasma vortex theory. (Interestingly enough, the author of The Crop Circle article had similar questions and doubts about methods.)

On the whole Burke's talk was informative. He did clear up the stories about ``magnetized grain'' (as stated above, it wasn't), radiation (only found at one or two sites, nothing consistent), and genetic abnormalities (one of the early samples was abnormal, that's all). He was also an entertaining speaker whose talk did include real science (the Leiden frost effect, self-organizing systems, ground water geology), and he was polite enough (or at least eager enough about his theory) to engage in a half-hour conversation with an admitted skeptic.

His thesis, however, struck me as a case of self-confirming research, that is research to confirm a previously held belief, instead of to test (potentially disproving) a hypothesis. During our conversation I could not find any results that would refute the plasma (or some other anomalous phenomena) theory of crop circles. Burke rejected outright the claims by hoaxers to have made the circles---he just doesn't believe them.[I can imagine little that would be more frustrating then faking a good crop circle, and not being believed by the ``experts.'' ``Sorry, but you didn't make this circle because we found anomalous readings with our hyperspacial electrostatic meter.'' ] Even when the shapes look a lot like pictures he writes it off as ``chance'' similarities created by the plasma vortex.

The desire to believe was perhaps most evident in a picture taken at a New York state crop circle. This was of what Burke described as `a vortex or dust devil that was not visible when the picture was taken.' The slide showed typical farmland with a black, crooked line along the bottom edge. Peter and I looked real hard at this slide. I tried to see the a vortex in the shape of the line, but to my eyes (and those of Peter) it looked like a piece of lint on the lens. Burke admits he has not had the picture checked by experts.

Next Month, Kevin Randle on the ``UFO crash at Roswell.'' Oh, and regarding micro-meteorites it would be surprising if microscopic analysis did not find any. Micro-meteorites are very common and easy to collect. One method suggested to me is to leave out a pan of water, and run a magnet through it.

-Michael Sofka

The UFO Skeptic.

Last month Alan French provided a bibliography of books skeptical of UFO sightings, crashed saucers, and alien abductions. This month, for those of you with access to the Internet and particularly to the World Wide Web, is a list of electronic information about UFOs. Many of these sites are not skeptical, and many cover topics other then UFOs. There are two reasons for this, one just as in book stores, the pro-UFO and paranormal literature outnumbers the skeptical literature, and two the nature of the World Wide Web makes it easy to add ``links'' to other sites which may be only tangentially related to the main topic. These references will, however, provide access and insight to the cutting edge of current UFO and paranormal beliefs, research and literature.

Skeptic organizations and resources: Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Skeptics Society, publisher of Skeptic Magazine. British Columbia Skeptics, Meeting schedule and newsletter articles. New York Area Skeptics, links to other pages, skeptics groups and software. East Bay Skeptics Society, Mission statement, membership info, organizations and other information. Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York, meeting schedule and newsletter. The Georgia Skeptics, newsletter, information and links to resources. NCAS---National Capital Area Skeptics, information and newsletter. SKEPTIC Annotated Bibliography, an annotated listing of books and other resources relevant to paranormal and fringe science topics. Skeptic's used bookstore. False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

UFOs, Fringe Science and Others: A large number of sites with information about the paranormal and fringe science. Archive X, Paranormal Phenomena, list of paranormal phenomena pages including hauntings, UFOs, and folklore. Sumeria, various fringe science sites including alternative healing, oxygen therapies, alternative science and technologies, cosmologies, and so on. .html The Revisionist Usenet Experience, tracking revisionists on the Internet providing information, history and pointers. Fortean Times on line. Links to conspiracy theory information and information of interest to conspiracy theorists. Very colorful. The Society for the Advancement of Autodynamics established to champion a new theory of relativity as created and described by Dr. Ricardo Carezani. The Farce of Physics. The Groom Lake Desert Rat and The Paranoid News. Links to internet ``zines'' (short specialized magazines) of UFOs and skeptics. Links to many UFO sites. Unmasking the Enemy, Catholic eschatology as revealed by UFOs, conspiracies and prophecies. The X Files.

Send your UFO questions, comments and suggestions to Alan French. He can be reached via email at to or by phone at 374-8460.

-Michael Sofka

Ask The Skeptic.

Although the wording of this month's question is Peter's, he assures me that its spirit and nature are consistent with the questioner's correspondence and conversations. -The Editor

Question: I am a member of ISUNY who denies that the Holocaust occured. Although I believe that Hitler and the Nazis ran the concentration camps as internment centers, I do not believe that they were death camps set up for extermination. I believe that the claim that they were death camps originated as war time propaganda and is being maintained by naive dupes such as yourself who have been brainwashed by the Media.

At a recent meeting of ISUNY a speaker was brought in who spoke about the Holocaust and Holocaust deniers such as myself. I challenge you or the speaker to disprove my evidence that the holocaust never occurred. For my first piece of evidence I have provided you with a map of Buchenwald concentration camp. As you can see there is a zoo in the concentration camp. I feel that this shows that they were really quite nice places to live. Could you or your speaker explain that?''

Answer: I spoke with our speaker Mr. Nardini about the map. You are quite correct that it does, in fact, show a zoo at Buchenwald. However, you will also have to concede that the zoo on the map is quite clearly in the staff section of Buchenwald, not the inmates area. Mr. Nardini states that the zoo was for entertainment of the commandant of the camp and that it was quite small. We both feel that it is extremely unlikely that any of the inmates ever had the chance to see the zoo before they were killed although one of our creative consultants, who shall remain nameless, had his own theories about people being thrown to the lions.

Now, let me publicly state that I will reserve the right to reject questions concerning Holocaust denial in future columns of this newsletter. My reasons are several.

First, the sort of ``evidence'' that I have heard from Holocaust deniers tends to be slim and gruesome. For example, holocaust deniers frequently state facts about the difficulty of cremating bodies, often citing examples of the high energy required to run a commercial crematorium such as a mortuary might use. I do not wish to spend large amounts of time reading about such things as the various methods of disposing of the bodies of innocent men, women, and children, in order to do a comparative study of their efficiency and their usage by the Nazis. I will state for the record, however, that the energy to burn ten bodies in a group is much less than the energy required to burn ten bodies one at a time allowing the crematorium to cool in the middle. Also high on the list of points raised by Holocaust deniers are the lethality of various execution methods used by the ``brave'' Nazis against unarmed men, women, and children. They particularly love to talk about the effects of various poison gases. Quite honestly, I simply do not wish to learn about such things, nor do I think much would be accomplished by it.

Am I scared of what I might learn? No, simply squeamish. Let me put my squeamishness in perspective, however. I am an experienced EMT with various sorts of advanced training, including Trauma examination. I have, honestly, no idea how many corpses I have seen or handled in my life. I have seen many people die and attempted unsuccessfully to resuscitate many of them. I study self defense, including boxing and martial arts. I collect and study weapons of all sorts as a hobby. I have studied a lot of military history, and can tell you in great depth about the causes and effects of genocidal massacres on many people who most Americans have never even heard of. I am the author of a book that deals extensively with gang violence and organized crime[Tongs, Gangs and Triads: Chinese Crime Groups in North America, Paladin Press, 1995.] and while reading it I read virtually everything that I could get my hands on relating to the subject. I am fascinated by the subject of why people hurt other people, particularly in cases when violence is not in anyone's interest.

I can deal with gruesomeness when I have to. I simply don't enjoy doing so, and only do so when I feel it will accomplish something. I have answered your first question. I am sure you will soon find another piece of ``evidence.'' It will most likely take me a gruesome couple of hours or even days, minimum, to find the answer to that. Then you will find a third, and so on and so forth. In the meantime, space will be devoted to promoting an fallacy that is extremely offensive and is predicated on the idea that literally millions of people are either consciously lying or else mistaken. It is also based on a complete revision of the flow of events throughout world war two, and requires a major reworking of the Nazi ideology. But then again this is part of the appeal of such an idea, isn't it?

The Nazis killed millions of people in cold blood. Thats the fact. If they were to repeat these events in the United States then millions of people would be killed, many of whom I care about. I have no doubt that among those singled out would be albinos, people with cerebral palsy, as many of my Quaker relatives as they could round up, hippies, Peace activists, Buddhists, and I don't even want to speculate on which ethnic groups.

I really think that all of our energies would be better spent by supporting groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and making the small efforts that we can to prevent genocide---not deny it.

-Peter Huston

Ask The Psychic.

Question: Dear Mr. Psychic. I recently planted new grass in my yard, and noticed that every time I water the lawn it rains, and when I don't water the lawn it doesn't rain. This happens regardless of the weather report. Could this be due to the negative PMFs (Psychic Magnetic Field(s)) you mentioned in your last column.

Answer: No, I don't think that is your problem. All the PMFs I detect from your letter's aura are positive. Even if the natural PMFs of the tree used in making the paper were positive a negative field from your own hand would be detectable in trace quantities.

Instead, I suspect that simple physics is involved. Yes I, David ``the Mighty'' Quinne, resident psychic of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York, do recognize and use the powers of science where they are appropriate. We have, after all, come a long way since the middle ages when a problem such as yours would be attributed to a mischievous imp or daemon.

Today, due to progress in the physical sciences, we can say with confidence that your problem is due to fluctuations in the Orgone energy caused by your garden hose. Orgone energy, as discovered and documented by the great psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, is the \'elan vital or life energy force that permeates the Universe. Orgone energy can be manipulated by devices such as the ``cloud busters'' used by the Orgone Institute to relieve the draught in California. I would talk with you more about Orgone energy, except that I recently started a class action suit against the Orgone Institute on behalf of Midwest flood victims. In the meantime, I suggest you water your grass using only bottled water carried to the garden in a metal bucket. If it still rains wrap the bucket in aluminum foil.

-David Quinne

Book Announcement.

Peter Huston, our vice-president has signed a contract for his second book, tentatively entitled Scams From the Great Beyond. This will deal with means of hoaxing paranormal phenomenon. Those interested in assisting with comments, suggestions, or especially help with creating photographs of UFOs, Crop Circles and other phenomenon please contact Pete at 393-3478. Note, this is not an official ISUNY activity, but we thought we'd pass the word.

-the Editors


Our next meeting is June 7th at the Guilderland Public Library. Our speaker will be our own Alan French. His talk is entitled The Trouble With Astrology, which is an encore presentation of the talk he gave to the 4th annual Northeast Astronomy Forum in Suffern, NY. This is a very entertaining talk, which discusses the history and methods of astrology, as well as providing a review of the scientific data.

Our July 5th speaker we will be Dr. Carla Sofka. She will discuss the phenomena of ``Cultural Reincarnation.'' That is, the tendency of our culture to keep celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy alive. A complete list of speakers can be found on the ISUNY Web page at:

Thank You.

Thank you to Alan French, Peter Huston, Daniel Forrest and David ``the Mighty'' Quinne for their help in preparing this newsletter. Thank you to Bob and Dee Mulford for publicizing the meetings.

Thank you also to all of our members for their kind support of ISUNY. We would especially like to thank our Supporting members: Sylvia Chessin Arthur R. Petrick Duncan Tuininga, and our Patron members: Jordon Coleman, Charles Davies, Daniel Forrest, Alan & Susan French, Christopher Masto, Bob & Dee Mulford, Matthew Schnee, Mike & Carla Sofka, Douglas Wells.

About the Newsletter.

The Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York is the newsletter of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York. The manuscript was typeset using the document preparation system written by Donald Knuth of Stanford University, and made freely available over the Internet. Public domain copies of and the macros used for this newsletter are available to authors from the editor. The Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York is available on the World Wide Web at:

Articles, reports, reviews, and letters published in the Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York represent the views and work of individual authors. Their publication does not necessarily constitute an endorsement by Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York or its members unless so stated.