Balls of Light at Hoeven? (3)

Russo replies to Haselhoff's open letter

Open Reply to
Eltjo Haselhoff

March 14, 2008

Hello Eltjo,

here is my reply to your open letter (July 30) that criticizes my article Balls of Light at Hoeven? (or Sfere di luce a Hoeven? ) and the overall activity of CICAP in the field of crop circles. Sorry for taking so long to publish my answer, but I have been busy. This reply is open: it can be freely copied and distributed and I would appreciate that whoever distributed your letter did the same with this reply. You wrote:

The first section in your article that caught my attention, was the part where you describe how you reconstructed my numerical data by counting pixels in the bar graphs that can be found on the Internet:

... the JPEG format certainly did not help (a GIF would have had sharper edges), but... this is the form chosen by Haselhoff to publish his data and this is all that anybody has at his/her disposal to verify Haselhoff's conclusions.

... The images you refer to were taken from the Internet. As you are a computer programmer, I would assume that you are aware of the fact that many web publishing applications convert any graphical image into JPG format, for compatibility and storage efficiency reasons. Moreover, as you can see from the images below, despite the lossy compression of the JPG images, your remark about the sharper edges of GIFs is completely senseless.

Then you showed a JPEG image which is actually sharp enough (fig. 1); it seems you are right. However, I can still remember having worked on blurred images, so blurred that I was often uncertain about which pixel row to assume as an edge. Unfortunately, I cannot recall much more about this operation, which I performed in 2002, years before I wrote the article. After having had another look at the images I had available in 2002, I just realized that the version of your Hoeven report titled Node Length Measurements (or Report on Pulvinus Length Measurements ) contains good quality images such as the one you showed, while the version titled Hoeven Report (currently off line) contains low quality images (fig. 2) which are perfectly compatible with my current recollections.

Figure 1: detail shown by Haselhoff.

Figure 2: same detail from the poorer version.

There are reasonable proofs in my files that the data I used for the article came from the good images, but also proofs that I made more than one attempt at extracting them, using different software tools as a magnifier/counting aid. It is possible that I tried with the poor images first, before finding the version of the report with better ones, and that I later remembered the nuisance related to that first attempt much better than any other detail. I'll probably never know for sure.
Therefore, I was partially incorrect and I apologize for this. I was wrong when I wrote that the only public source to the data was a set of poor images, but nonetheless it is correct to state that anyone reading the Hoeven Report is left with poor images and no pointer to better sources. By the way, since I am a programmer, I know how easy it is to put GIFs in web pages, as I did in the article you read. GIF is at least as standard a format for web graphics as JPEG is for photos and is much more compact in some cases. Anyway, your quoting of my words is somewhat misleading. The full quote should have been:

Unfortunately, data have not been supplied in numerical form, neither in the book nor in the report; it has been necessary to read them back from the bar charts. Of course, this procedure may have introduced some small errors of about one pixel, and the JPEG format certainly did not help (a GIF would have had sharper edges), but... this is the form chosen by Haselhoff to publish his data and this is all that anybody has at his/her disposal to verify Haselhoff's conclusions. I wrote to Haselhoff asking for the original data, but I never received a reply.

As you can see, my complaint was about the unavailability of numerical data; this lack discourages verifications like mine. The image quality was just a minor note («... certainly did not help»), but your quoting conveyed the idea that it was my only concern about the data. I just felt obliged to warn my readers about the limited accuracy of the data that I had to use, but you wrote:

This remark made it immediately clear to me that you were more interested in a personal attack, bringing up as many arguments as possible to discredit me and my work, rather than in an honest and objective analysis of my findings.

Curiously, I had exactly the same impression – with role reversal – when I read your letter. There is a serious analysis of your findings in my article, including a detailed list of the errors you made, but instead of commenting it, you focused on a partially incorrect minor remark on image formats (probably the only imperfection you could find in my whole article), cut the text so that it seemed more important than I intended, then accused me of trying to discredit you with irrelevant details instead of focusing on the real arguments... but that is exactly what you, not I, have just done.
The only issue you tried to address is about the models:

Your reasoning here contains most fundamental errors. We are not just inventing arbitrary functions to fit our data, or trying to have curves ‘bubble up’ from measurements, but we are testing a hypothesis. The 1/r˛ curve is chosen because of its physical counterpart: a ball of light, seen by eyewitnesses, and recorded on video multiple times. What is the physical counterpart of your straight line? There is none. Your straight line is just an arbitrary, senseless choice. Moreover, what you call and interpret as a ‘simple straight line’ is in fact not a straight line, but a symmetric triangle in each of the cross sections of the crop circle. Hence, what you have demonstrated in your article, is that the node lengths in the cross sections correlate well to a triangular shape. Fine. But a triangular fit must be considered an anomaly too, unless you provide a logical (bio)physical explanation for a triangular symmetry of node lengths in a crop circle. If you don’t, there is no sense in refusing the BOL model, and replace it by a straight line model, because the BOL model has a physical counterpart, supported by video footage, and your straight line model has not.

It seems you are missing a most fundamental point. I would have no problem inventing a physical counterpart for a triangular (actually conic) fit: for example, a row of people along a radius of the circle who walk clockwise, stomping the plants and keeping the alignment when turning. The people closer to the border would move faster than central ones and would insist less on any single plant; since the amount of damage is known to affect node lengthening, that stomping pattern might yield a conic effect. Moreover, we know that people can and do exist, so they are a real physical counterpart, while we do not know if radiating BOLs might ever exist, let aside imagining how they could possibly be controlled, bend the stems, or cause a huge thermal expansion of water without killing the plants. So, why am I not claiming that I have found solid evidence of circlemakers stomping plants in neat rows? I certainly could if I followed your reasoning. Well, first, I don't think circlemakers normally work that way; second, I don't really see a good linear trend in the data; third, I just don't see any anomaly to explain. The observed dependency on distance in the few known cases is very irregular and node lenghtening is known to be affected by many factors; some of them, such as wind and damage, as I wrote in the article, can correlate with the position in the circle. Therefore, there is nothing anomalous. An anomaly is not just something lacking a detailed explanation, but something that seems to contradict current knowledge and this is certainly not the case: we do know that so many factors may influence node lengthening that we cannot currently make any detailed prediction about it.
It may still be interesting to verify if there is an observable 1/r˛ trend in node lenghtening, since some people might consider it a sort of fingerprint of a BOL, or at least a strange coincidence. Thus I tried to determine if that specific trend is discernible in the data, and the answer is: no. I actually verified that the statement "node lengthening decreases with distance following a 1/r˛ trend" is no more founded than its first part alone, "node lengthening decreases with distance" (a linear decrease is just the simplest and most neutral choice, not an arbitrary one). There is no strange coincidence that needs to be explained because there is no coincidence at all.
You seem to think that the existence of BOLs has been already proved by video footage and I suppose you are not referring to the notorious Oliver's Castle fake, but to videos of fuzzy dots. Well, when crop circle enthusiasts are asked for proofs that those dots are BOLs rather than unfocused birds or plastic bags, they usually cite your work as the scientific proof that BOLs exist... but you cite the videos. There must be something that I fail to grasp here.

It is hard for me to reply to the rest of your letter because I cannot see any way to reject inexistent arguments. You just threw words at me:

... I did not see much value in your work. ... I found many more examples of flawed, meaningless and non-objective arguments, but considering your attitude, so clearly demonstrated all over your article, I fear it will be a waste of my time bringing them all to your attention.

So you claim I made lots of errors, yet you do not back this claim with any evidence. I particularly appreciated the justification: it would be a waste of your time to bring such evidence to my attention. And what about the attention of the much wider audience you evidently wrote your open letter for?
You threw words at CICAP as well. For example:

Knowing the attitude and way of working of the CICAP organization, I did not think it was worth my time to react. [...] Browsing over the Internet, I discovered that the CICAP organization has made huge efforts to manipulate the public opinion about the crop circle phenomenon, and to discredit my personal efforts in this field in particular.

You seem to suggest that CICAP is flooding the Internet with disinformation. I am not a full member of CICAP , thus I cannot speak for CICAP without their permission; what I write is just my own opinion. However, I do cooperate with CICAP in a few ways; in particular, I am part of the CICAP Study Team on Crop Circles, thus I suppose I should be pretty well informed about most CICAP activities about crop circles. The Study Team maintains the crop circle section of the CICAP web site, containing FAQs, some articles (not necessarily written by CICAP members, such as mine), letters and links. As of this writing, as far as I know, this section (that you have known for a long time), together with some occasional reply messages to issues raised in Italian newsgroups, are the only Internet presence of CICAP about crop circles, and a rather limited one in my opinion. I cannot imagine what kind of «huge efforts» you may have just recently discovered browsing over the Internet. Although you seem to regard any criticism to your work as a personal attack and a massive disinformation campaign, the sad truth is that most people who read your letter had probably never read my article, since I certainly did not advertise it like you spread your letter. All I can do now is to invite whoever read your letter to read my article too before judging it; the reader might be surprised to find pretty solid arguments there – and no personal attacks at all.

Just a final note. You wrote:

As you have found out by now, after reading the proofs of the upcoming publication in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, the arguments and conclusions disseminated so rigorously by CICAP are wrong in my opinion, and only the result of fundamental errors in very basic mathematics, in combination with an unwillingness to communicate. ... my recent article in the Journal of Scientific Exploration ...

I wonder how many readers could guess what you were talking about. Francesco Grassi, Claudio Cocheo and I wrote an article that was published by the JSE. Some months ago you criticized our paper in a letter to the editor (not «article») that the JSE published (in the last October) together with our reply. I think it is incorrect to discuss or even cite something still unpublished; how could readers form their opinion if the necessary information was not yet available? At the beginning of August, just a few days after JSE sent you the proofs of both your letter and our reply, you attacked the latter in an open letter to Grassi and in a public message to Cocheo in the newsgroup it.discussioni.misteri and you briefly summarized your criticism in your open letter to me. Well, it seems you could not wait for the publication of our reply before attacking it. Here is the full exchange, so readers can now form an opinion.

Paolo Russo