Levengood’s Crop-Circle Plant Research
Skeptical Briefs Volume 6.2, June 1996
In several technical papers, W. C. Levengood purports to show that “Plants from crop formations display anatomical alterations which cannot be accounted for by assuming the formations are hoaxes.” Unfortunately, there are serious objections to Levengood’s approach. First of all, while he uses various control plants for his experiments, nowhere in the papers I reviewed [1,2,3,4] is there any mention of the work being conducted in double-blind manner so as to minimize the effects of experimenter bias. (As one “cereologist,” the Earl of Haddington, said of another laboratory that claimed to detect different “energy levels” between crop-circle and non-crop-circle areas [a concept that appears to have begun with dowsers], “When they are not told which sample came from a Crop Circle and which from a heap of grain in my back yard they are either unable or unwilling to give a result.”)
The question of bias is important since Levengood’s attitudes and assumptions reveal him as a partisan crop-circle “believer” of the Terence Meaden, ion-plasma-vortex variety. Alas, Meaden-who wrote several articles and books advocating the vortex hypothesis-was increasingly forced to conclude that great numbers of crop circles, especially the elaborate pictograms, were produced by hoaxers, and he reportedly abandoned interest in the subject.  Levengood’s colleague, John A. Burke, seems particularly defiant towards “alleged hoaxers” , as if there were not powerful evidence that most-probably all-of the crop patterns were man-made.
There is, in fact, no satisfactory evidence that a single “genuine” (i.e., vortex-produced) crop-circle exists, so Levengood’s reasoning is circular: Although there are no guaranteed genuine formations on which to conduct research, the research supposedly proves the genuineness of the formations. But if Levengood’s work were really valid, he would be expected to find that some among the putatively “genuine” formations chosen for research were actually hoaxed ones-especially since even some of Meaden’s most ardent defenders admit there are more hoaxed circles than “genuine” ones. [6,8] In fact, there is now evidence that a major formation that Levengood believes genuine and uses as a basis for theoretical discussion-the “Mandelbrot” formation-was the work of hoaxers. 
Although Levengood finds a correlation between “structural and cellular alterations” in plants and their location within crop-circle-type formations (as opposed to those of control plants outside such formations) , he should know the maxim that “Correlation is not causation.” As the noted Temple University mathematician John Allen Paulos recently demonstrated-quite tongue in cheek-there is a direct correlation between children’s math ability and shoe size!  Comments statistician Rand Wilcox of the University of Southern California: “Correlation doesn't tell you anything about causation. But it’s a mistake that even researchers make.” 
That Levengood’s work does not go beyond mere correlation in many instances is evident from his frequent concessions: For example, “Taken as an isolated criterion,” he says, “node size data cannot be relied upon as a definite verification of a ‘genuine’ crop formation.”  Again he admits, “From these observed variations, it is quite evident that [cell wall] pit size alone cannot be used as a validation tool.” 
Even his alleged correlations are suspect. Citing variations in pit expansion and node size in plants from within the formations, he states: “These energy distributions are by no means uniform.” Again, he cites formations where there were increases in plant pit size well outside the formations, saying that “some 20 feet out is the farthest I've seen this energy carryover and so even [though] those crops were standing upright and looked perfectly normal they had been hit.” He attributes this to “several different kinds of energy” being involved. 
He thus gives the impression that, like Meaden, he is constantly rationalizing new data and attempting to fit it in to preconceived vortex notions. Apparently no one has yet independently replicated Levengood’s work. One scientist from Colgate did attempt to verify his seed germination claims using some of his seeds but without success. Apparently few mainstream scientists take Levengood’s work seriously other than one or two friends who wish “to remain anonymous because of the ridicule. 
Until his work is independently replicated by qualified scientists doing “double-blind” studies and otherwise following stringent scientific protocols, there seems no need to take seriously the many dubious claims that Levengood makes, including his similar ones involving plants at alleged “cattle mutilation” sites.
I am grateful to Franklin D. Trumpy, professor of physics, Des Moines Area Community College, for critiquing this article.
- W. C. Levengood, “Anatomical Anomalies in Crop Formation Plants,” Physiologia Plantarum 92 (1994): 356-363.
- W. C. Levengood, “Technique for Examining Crop Circle Energetics,” Report No. 18, [Pinelandia Lab], October 12, 1993.
- W. C. Levengood and John A. Burke, “Delineation of Electromagnetic Energy Influencing Crop Formations,” Report No. 24, Pinelandia and Am-Tech Labs, September 28, 1994.
- W. C. Levengood and John A. Burke, “Study of Simulated Crop Formations, 1994,” Report No. 27, Pinelandia and Am-Tech Labs, October 10, 1994.
- The Earl of Haddington, letter to The Cereoloqist (Spring 1991), quoted in The Skeptics UFO Newsletter 10 (July 1991): 7.
- Joe Nickell, “Crop-Circle Mania: An Investigative Update,” Skeptical Inquirer, in press.
- John A. Burke, Introduction to W.C. Levengood’s Report No. 18 (see ref. 2).
- Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer, “The Crop-Circle Phenomenon,” chapter 11 of Joe Nickell with John F. Fischer, Mysterious Realms: Probing Paranormal, Historical and Forensic Enigmas (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1992), 177-210.
- “Statistics Often Misused to Cite Links as Causes,” Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.), January 5, 1995.
- W. C. Levengood, telephone interview by A. J. S. Rays, December 8, 1994.
Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at joenickell.com.
William C. (“Lefty”) Levengood
March 13, 1925 – September 28, 2013
“Lefty” Levengood, a pioneering biophysicist and long-time resident of Grass Lake, Michigan (and the “L” in the original “BLT Research Team”), has died at the age of 88. Educated at the University of Toledo (B.S. in Physics and Mathematics, 1957), Ball State University (M.A. in Bioscience, 1961) and the University of Michigan (M.S. in Biophysics, 1970), Levengood worked as a research physicist at the now-defunct Institute of Science & Technology and the Dept. of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan from 1961 through 1970, after which he was employed as the Director of Biophysical Research and as a consulting scientist for various private-sector companies.
Because of his wide-ranging scientific curiosity he maintained a well-equipped laboratory at his home in Grass Lake, where he pursued a variety of interests and obtained multiple patents, several relating to seed germination and vigor and the development of new plant varieties through genetic transduction. He also authored more than 50 peer-reviewed papers published in professional scientific journals, including several in the preeminent journals Nature and Science, as well as in a diverse selection of other professional publications, ranging from The American J. of Physics and the J. of Applied Physics to The J. of Experimental Botany, The J. of Chemical Physics, The J. of Physics and Chemistry of Solids, Bioelectochemistry and Bioenergetics, The J. of Geophysical Research, to The J. of Insect Physiology and many others.
In December of 1990, after his wife Glenna had seen a TV crop circle show (which he then subsequently also watched), Levengood contacted Pat Delgado (one of the original British investigators of the phenomenon) and they arranged for Delgado to begin shipping plant samples and controls to “Lefty’s” Michigan laboratory. Almost immediately Levengood began to find multiple anomalies in the plant samples from within the crop circles as compared to the control plants taken at various distances outside the formations (but in the same fields). In these early trial stages of his crop circle research some approaches were non-productive, while others began to build a consistent data set of abnormal changes characteristic of the crop circle plants.
By 1992 both John A. Burke, a New York businessman with a strong avocational interest in electromagnetic theory and Nancy Talbott, a New England music festival producer with a research background at Harvard College and the University of Maryland, had both also become aware of the circle phenomenon and Levengood’s involvement and–encouraged by WCL’s early laboratory results and the indication that something highly unusual was taking place in the crop fields of England—an informal research collaboration was formed which became known as the “BLT Research Team.”
Over the next ten years crop circle plant (and after 1993, also soil) samples and controls were being collected by hundreds of field personnel in multiple countries and arriving at Levengood’s Michigan lab non-stop. During these years “Lefty” worked on circle plants and soils not just from the UK, but also from Germany and Holland, Israel and Australia, the U.S. and several Canadian provinces. In later years circles in Belgium, Poland, Italy and Scandinavia were also examined and three peer-reviewed papers were published presenting many of the research results: Levengood, W.C. (1994) “Anatomical anomalies in crop formation plants,” Levengood, W.C. & Burke, John (1995) “Semi-Molten Meteoric Iron Associated with a Crop Circle,” and Levengood, W.C. & Talbott, Nancy P. (1999) “Dispersion of energies in worldwide crop formations.” The 1994 and 1999 papers were published in Physiologia Plantarum and the 1995 paper in the J. of Scientific Exploration (see: http://www.bltresearch.com/published.php).
One of the clearest indicators that mechanical flattening of crop circle plants by planks and boards was an inadequate explanation of the phenomenon–and that a complex electromagnetic energy source was involved instead–was the discovery that the apical (first plant-stem-node beneath the seed-head) node-length increase regularly documented in crop circle plants was found, repeatedly, to match the degree of change consistent with that predicted by the Beer-Lambert Principle, a well-known law in physics which predicts the results of the absorption of EM energy by matter (see Item #6: http://www.bltresearch.com/plantab.php; see also, the introduction to the v/d Broeke case: http://www.bltresearch.com/robbert.php, and the1999 paper: http://www.bltresearch.com/published/dispersion.php).
Perhaps the most significant discovery of the early BLT circle research resulted—as is often the case in science—when Levengood accidentally forgot to dispose of boxed left-over crop circle samples which had been deprived of water and light for between 10-14 days–and his observation upon re-opening the box that the circle plants so deprived were not only alive, but growing vigorously…while the controls had all died.
He and John Burke were eventually able to reproduce this effect in the lab—creating enhanced growth-rate, increased yield, and increased “stress tolerance” (the ability to withstand drought and lack of sun-light)–in a variety of cereals and vegetables by exposing normal seed to very specific electrical pulses. Named the “MIR process” (Patent #5740627, and carrying the registered trademark “Stressguard”), the MIR equipment delivers “organized electron-ion avalanches” which then form “organized plasmas,” to which the normal seeds are exposed (Item #7, “Laboratory Replication of Crop Circle Plant Changes: http://www.bltresearch.com/plantab.php).
Mechanical flattening of plants cannot produce this result…and the fact that the MIR process can replicate this regularly-documented capability of those crop circle plant seeds taken from formations which occur late in the growing season (when the seed is fully formed) is proof, again, that highly unusual electromagnetic energies are involved in the authentic crop circle creation process.
Levengood’s published hypothesis regarding the causation of crop circles involves the exposure of the plants to multple energetic, interacting, thermodynamically-unstable plasma vortices, which he felt most likely originated in the ionisphere (as opposed to Terence Meaden’s more meteorological idea of a plasma vortex which originates in the earth’s lower atmosphere)–which vortices, upon impact with the crop surface, then create a wide variety of crop imprints. The fact that plants taken from many “non-geometric” or totally randomly-downed areas also have exhibited the same plant “indicators” of authenticity as many “geometric” circles lends further support to this hypothesis (Item #2: http://www.bltresearch.com/otherfacts.php).
Some of Levengood’s crop circle plant findings have been replicated by two other scientists, but the strongest overall substantiation of Levengood’s work comes from the Laurance Rockefeller-funded “Clay Mineral XRD Study” conducted on a 1999 Edmonton, Canada crop formation (see: http://www.bltresearch.com/xrd.php). WCL’s participation in this study was limited to his typical plant work and examination of soil samples for the presence of magnetic material. Of the four scientists involved in the XRD study, Levengood was the only one who had ever even heard of a crop circle—a protocol specifically designed to avoid any possibility of “experimenter bias.” Also, none of the scientists involved knew each other or had any contact during the study.
The results showed not only a statistically-significant increase in the crystalline “structure” of the clay minerals examined (at the 95% level of confidence)—but also revealed a statistical correlation at “greater than the 99% level of confidence” when Levengood’s plant-abnormality data were compared with the clay mineral XRD results—the sampled plants and soils having been taken from precisely the same sampling locatons. With a correlation at the 99% level of statistical confidence there can be no question regarding Levengood’s accuracy.
Finally, the eminent clay mineralologist and XRD expert who interpreted the results of this study, Dr. Robert C. Reynolds, Jr. of Dartmouth College, not only reaffirmed the previous XRD and statistical results, he concluded that the energy involved in creating this crop circle had to be an “energy unknown to science.”
Throughout his career Levengood remained interested in transformations caused to living organisms by exposure to various energies, and the methods through which these alterations were achieved. Toward the end of his life his research focussed primarily on bioelectric fields in living organisms and “subtle energies” and methods by which to demonstrate their presence.
As seems to be the unfortunate “norm” in the scientific arena today, profoundly new ideas and concepts are often initially overlooked or dismissed, or—if they represent possible serious challenge to currently accepted scientific paradigms—are usually vigorously attacked. Lefty was aware that much of his later work would likely face this problem, but with an ongoing desire to expand his knowledge and though the application of his professional expertise, he persisted. In regards to the crop circles his work has laid a foundation upon which future scientific efforts will build, and he will be remembered by many other people also with whom he worked on additional not-yet-understood “anomalous” phenomena.
Obituary courtesy Nancy Talbott, president, BLT Research, Inc.