Crank magnetism in action: Astrology, crop circles, and Holocaust denial, oh my!

If there's one thing I've learned in my years of delving into pseudoscience, quackery, and alternative medicine is that conspiracy theories are just like Lays potato chips; cranks can't eat just one. No, they have to stick their hand in the bag and pull out a huge, heaping handful and snarf it all down. Believers in "alternative medicine" quackery often also believe in New Age woo or other bizarre unscientific beliefs. Scratch a "9/11 Truther" and you'll often also find a Holocaust denier. One of my fellow ScienceBloggers, Mark Hoofnagle, has a great term for how cranks seem unable to be cranks in just one area, crank magnetism, complete with examples. Indeed, I've covered examples of just this phenomenon over the three and a half years this blog has been in existence. Perhaps the one that sticks out the most in my mind is Dr. Lorraine Day, whose journey from being a respected academic orthopedic surgeon into a purveyor of quackery I discussed in one of my earliest posts in the old blog. In a great example of crank magnetism, it turns out that she's a Holocaust denier and a New World Order conspiracy theorist, not to mention a raging anti-Semite. Truly, crank magnetism has achieved its highest (or, if you prefer, lowest) form in Dr. Day.

Well, I think I may have found Dr. Day's soulmate, courtesy of Phil Plait.

Meet Nicholas Kollerstrom, an academic recently dumped from University College London. His research fellowship was terminated a couple of months ago because of his Holocaust denial, specifically for writing an essay for the Iranian News Service entitled The Auschwitz 'Gas Chamber' Illusion.

Yes, I'm serious. Here was a man who studied astrology and crop circles. Let me say it again: Astrology and crop circles. Indeed, he wrote a fairly famous book on crop circles as well as an astrological analysis of times when alchemists claimed to have successfully made gold, supposedly finding "remarkable" features in common. (This, of course, makes me wonder if Kollerstrom believes in alchemy, too. It wouldn't surprise me. Certainly he appears to believe that astrology can predict excellence in certain professions.) if I have nothing against UCL, but what on earth were they thinking here to have hired the guy in the first place? In what department was the offered fellowship? What was Kollerstrom going to study? I guess UCL will tolerate belief in and the study of pseudoscience but the administration brings the hammer down when it comes to pseudohistory:

The massacre of Jewish people during the Holocaust was "scientifically impossible," according to an article published by an Iranian satellite channel on its Web site.

Disabled victims of the vicious policies of Nazi Germany are shown in this Yad Vashem archive photo.

The article was written by Nicholas Kollerstrom, an academic specializing in astrology and crop circles, who had his fellowship terminated by University College London last month after he said there were never any gas chambers at Auschwitz.

"The views expressed by Dr. Kollerstrom are diametrically opposed to the aims, objectives and ethos of UCL, such that we wish to have absolutely no association with them or with their originator," the University College said in a statement. "We therefore have no choice but to terminate Dr. Kollerstrom's honorary research fellowship with immediate effect."

Press TV, an Iranian English-language 24-hour news channel, was set up last year, by the Iranian government, to offer "unbiased" reporting and "in-depth and complete analyses of current affairs," according to its Web site. It posted Kollerstrom's article on Sunday, and despite protest from a Jewish community organization, the article is still on the site.

Kollerstrom's even written in other places:

And he added: "If a smaller number were gassed, then surely the Jewish community should be pleased that it wasn't so ghastly."

Lovely guy, isn't he? There's more, though:

He wrote: "Let us hope the schoolchildren visitors are properly taught about the elegant swimming-pool at Auschwitz, built by the inmates, who would sunbathe there on Saturday and Sunday afternoons while watching the water-polo matches; and shown the paintings from its art class, which still exist; and told about the camp library which had some 45,000 volumes for inmates to choose from, plus a range of periodicals; and the six camp orchestras at Auschwitz/Birkenau, its theatrical performances, including a children's opera, the weekly camp cinema, and even the special brothel established there."

The reality that there was indeed a swimming pool at Auschwitz-Birkenau does not in any way cast doubt on the fact that mass gassings took place there, any more than the fact that there was a labor camp component of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where many prisoners survived, does. The swimming pool, as far as can be told, was for the SS and the collaborator Capos who assisted them, not for the prisoners. It's just anther typical Holocaust denier lie in which an authentic but limited exceptional case is tarted up, exaggerated, and then generalize to the situation for all prisoners at a Nazi camp. It's also not surprising that there would be a pool there, given that the staff working at the camp did manage to have a good time when not working.

I looked up The Walls of Auschwitz, as well as another of of Kollerstrom's "revisionist" articles, entitled The Auschwitz 'Gas Chamber' Illusion. From my decade in the Usenet and blogosphere trenches refuting this sort of nonsense, I immediately recognized that there wasn't a single argument in either article that I hadn't encountered before. "Illusion," the more poorly written of the two, for example, begins thusly:

This essay will argue that well-designed cyanide gas chambers were indeed present at Auschwitz, and did work efficiently, but that they were operated for purposes of hygiene and disinfection, in order to save lives and not take them. Terrible mass mortality came about in the German labour-camps, especially towards the end of the war, but maybe we have to try a bit harder to understand what caused this. Amongst all the archival material for the German Third Reich, there has always been a notable lack of documentation to support the existence of an intentional mass-extermination program - of Jews, or anyone else. We've all heard stories about a Nazi program of exterminating Jews, but to what extent are there documents or any physical remains showing this? Has the traditional Holocaust story developed merely out of rumours, misunderstandings, and wartime propaganda?  From stories pre-dating the Second World War to the Nuremberg Trials which gave official sanction to the notion, to subsequent trials, books and films, we have had it imprinted on our collective psyche.

In this article, Kollerstrom parrots three favorite denier canards:

  1. That the gas chambers at Auschwitz were not used for extermination but rather delousing
  2. That there was no good documentation to support the existence of an intentional mass extermination program
  3. That the "Final Solution" involved expulsion, not extermination

Naturally, Kollerstrom can't resist finishing with a reference to the "hoax of Nuremberg" and donning the undeserved mantle of iconclast willing to speak truth to power. The other article, "Walls," expands on the canard that the gas chambers were not used for extermination. Hilariously, Kollerstrom cites the utterly discredited report by "gas chamber expert" (who's not) Fred Leuchter, among others.

The first denier myth is, as most denier myths are, based on a half-truth. There were indeed delousing chambers. Holocaust deniers will argue that much higher levels of cyanide residue were found on the walls of the ruins of delousing chambers than on those of the homicidal gas chambers but that the opposite would be expected if the homicidal gas chambers were actually used to kill people. One thing that has to be understood as background is that it takes a much higher concentration of cyanide to kill lice than it does to kill humans. Indeed, concentrations of Zykon-B as high as 16,000 ppm for as long as 72 hours were sometimes used to kill lice, while only 300 ppm is quite effective at killing humans. Given that the the walls of the delousing chambers were in contact with cyanide at much higher concentrations for much longer periods of time, added to the fact that the extermination chambers were largely destroyed, thus leaving their walls exposed to the elements for 45 years before Leuchter, it is not at all surprising that cyanide levels would be low or nonexistent in the extermination chambers and easily detectable on the walls of the delousing chambers, as the Cracow Institute of Forensic Research reported:

The hydrocyanic acid (HCN) that is released from the Zyklon B preparation is a liquid with a boiling point of about 27 degrees Celsius. It has an acidic character, and therefore forms compounds with metallic salts, which are known as cyanides. The salts of alkaline metals (such as sodium and potassium) are water soluble.

Hydrocyanic acid is a very weak acid, and accordingly its salts dissolve easily in stronger acids. Even carbonic acid, which is formed as a reaction of carbon dioxide with water, will dissolve ferro-cyanide.

Stronger acids, such as sulfuric acids, easily dissolve the cyanides. The compounds of cyanide ions with heavy metals are longer lasting. This includes the already mentioned Prussian blue, although this will also slowly dissolve in an acidic environment.

Therefore, one can hardly assume that traces of cyanic compounds could still be detected in construction materials (plaster, brick) after 45 years, after being subjected to the weather and the elements (rain, acid oxides, especially sulfuric and nitrogen oxides). More reliable would be the analysis of wall plaster [samples] from closed rooms which were not subject to weather and the elements (including acid rain).

Of course, the Leuchter report was not the only such pseudoscientific report thrown together by Holocaust deniers trying to "prove" that there were no homicidal gassings at Auschwitz. There was also one by German Holocaust denier Germar Rudolf and others. Suffice it to say that these pseudoscientific "studies" have been thoroughly discussed by Danny Keren and Jamie McCarthy, as well as two articles by Richard J. Green entitled The Chemistry of Auschwitz and Leuchter, Rudolf, & The Iron Blues. Also don't forget that at other camps Zyklon-B was not the favored agent of execution in the gas chambers; diesel exhaust was.

The second myth, that there were no documents, is about as ludicrous as it gets. It dismisses mountains of evidence from eyewitnesses and documentary evidence from the Nazis themselves. Of course, this entire myth is made possible by how the Nazis frequently used euphemisms in official documents for what was really going on. Howver, the confluence of evidence is irrefutable, and denying it depends upon in essence a massive conspiracy theory in which Allies supposedly tortured hundreds of key Nazis into admitting horrific crimes that they never committed and planting thousands of documents that were only recovered after the war. Indeed, the Goebbels Diaries were rescued from being sold as scrap paper and included entries such as this:

February 14, 1942: The Führer once again expressed his determination to clean up the Jews in Europe pitilessly. There must be no squeamish sentimentalism about it. The Jews have deserved the catastrophe that has now overtaken them. Their destruction will go hand in hand with the destruction of our enemies. We must hasten this process with cold ruthlessness.

March 27, 1942: The procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitely. Not much will remain of the Jews. On the whole it can be said that about 60 per cent of them will have to be liquidated whereas only 40 per cent can be used for forced labor.

What is it that Holocaust deniers claims about there having been no plan to exterminate European Jewry and that Hitler never ordered such a plan or knew what was happening to the Jews. Indeed, Michael Shermer has pointed out

Okay, let's do a simple calculation. According to Irving (p. 16), there were 11 million Jews left in Europe at this time. 11 million Jews x 60% liquidation = 6.6 million liquidated Jews. Um, where have I seen a figure like this before?

Where, indeed?

The third and final of the top three favorite denier myths is that the "Final Solution" involved expulsion, not extermination. Once again, this is a lie that contains a grain of truth. It is indeed true that the initial Nazi plan was to expel all Jews from the territories under its control. Before the war, this involved making life as unpleasant as possible for German Jews so that many of them emigrated, after, of course, having had to pay large fees and having their lives' possessions plundered. Early in the war, it involved shipping the Jews into ghettoes, where they lived under horrific conditions. After the invasion of the Soviet Union, expulsion turned to extermination, as millions of Jews fell under the control of the Nazis, too many to be expelled. Indeed, one briefly considered plan was to take all the Jews and ship them to Madagascar; however, shipping millions of Jews thousands of miles by sea to a remote island was clearly impractical, especially given that the British Navy controlled the sea lanes. The idea was dropped in the spring of 1941. Indeed, one could say that the Holocaust evolved over the 12 years of the Nazi regime, an observation that is encompassed in the whole functionalism versus intentionalism debate. (Believe it or not the Wikipedia entry on this topic isn't a bad brief description.)

Of course, Kollerstrom can't resist pulling another favorite rhetorical gambit, claiming that the number of Jews murdered was nowhere near the accepted figure of around 6 million. Indeed, in a different and apparently earlier version of the "'Gas Chamber' Illusion" article (listed as having been revised on 5/5/08) than the one on CODOH (which is listed as being "Revised 5/24/08), we find these words starting out:

As surprising as it may sound, the only intentional mass extermination program in the concentration camps of WW2 was targeted at Germans. From April, 1945 five million Germans were rounded up after surrendering, and deliberately starved until well over one million had died, in French and American-run concentration camps[1] - an event soon erased from the history books. There was, in contrast, never a centrally-coordinated Nazi program of exterminating Jews in Germany. Lethal gas chambers did not function in German labour-camps, that's just an illusion. The traditional Holocaust story has developed out of rumours, misunderstandings, and wartime propaganda. From stories pre-dating the Second World War to the Nuremberg Trials which gave official sanction to the notion, to subsequent trials, books and films, we have had it imprinted on our collective psyche. In most of Europe now, it is a thoughtcrime to believe what you have just read, punishable by imprisonment, so think carefully before deciding to read on.

Yes indeed. It's pure Holocaust denial crankery. Not only does he invoke utterly discredited Holocaust denier Arthur Butz to argue that "only" one million Jews died (and not by intentional murder, by the way) but he claims the mantle of free speech victim. I've said time and time again that I detest laws outlawing Holocaust denial in some European countries, but that doesn't mean that lies shouldn't be refuted at every turn. Indeed, what I hate the most about such laws is that they give an undeserved patina of plausibility to such claims to the most despicable anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and Hitler admirers. Consequently, we're treated to the disgusting spectacle of white supremacists like David Duke (who hilariously calls Kollerstrom a "respected astronomer and author" and the "latest scientist to discover the limits of academic freedom") lamenting an "unjustified" firing. Personally, I find it interesting and telling that Kollerstrom apparently sanitized the original version of his essay before republishing it on CODOH. It's also a good thing that the wacky conspiracy loons at kept the original posted, so that reasonable people can point and laugh at its sheer, despicably anti-Semitic idiocy.

So let's see. We have a believer in crop circles, astrology, and Holocaust denial. It's a trifecta of woo, a perfect example of crank magnetism. I often wonder why people who tend towards one pseudoscientific or pseudohistorical (or just plain crank) belief usually cannot resist the siren call of other forms of woo. Oddly enough, it doesn't appear to be a lack of intelligence. David Irving, for example, for all his digustingness, is a very intelligent man. Dr. Lorraine Day, for all her looniness when it comes to religion, "alternative" medicine, Holocaust denial, and New World Order conspiracy theories, is also similarly very intelligent, having been a successful academic surgeon in the 1980s. From my perspective, the lack of critical thinking abilities is clearly one reason for this phenomenon, but in and of itself I doubt it's enough. Also, no doubt a paranoid streak making them prone to accepting the conspiracy theories that are at the heart of a lot of pseudoscience and pseudohistory. There also has to be a streak of self-aggrandizement, in which the crank believes himself or herself to more creative, more insightful, more clever, more "free thinking" than all those boring conventional scientists or historians and thus able to see what they cannot. Certainly, David Irving has this latter characteristic in huge quantities. Of course, the individual mix of characteristics varies with the individual, with some just leaning more towards being credulous and others more paranoid and self-aggrandizing. Of course, what all of them also share is the "arrogance of ignorance," in which they have a much higher opinion of their abilities than they in fact have and are thus ignorant that they don't know what they're talking about.

Having hit a Trifecta of Woo, can Kollerstrom do even "better" than that? Come on, now, you shouldn't even have to ask! In fact, crop circles, astrology, and Holocaust denial just aren't enough pseudoscience for him. Oh, no. Not at all. Kollerstrom needs more.

He needs 9/11 and 7/7 "Truth," too.

More like this

Hoo boy. Via The Poorman Institute and an anti-Holocaust denial mailing list that I belong to, I've learned of an analogy so breathtakingly bad that I have a hard time not blogging about it, mainly because it relates to a topic that I'm very interested in (Holocaust denial) and a related topic that…
I'm reminded by this article that today is the 62nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops advancing west towards Germany: OSWIECIM, Poland -- As they do on every anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops, witnesses to the Holocaust will gather Saturday --…
While I am on vacation, I'm reprinting a number of "Classic Insolence" posts to keep the blog active while I'm gone. (It also has the salutory effect of allowing me to move some of my favorite posts from the old blog over to the new blog, and I'm guessing that quite a few of my readers have…
Well, today's the day. After all the waiting, it's finally here. David Irving is going to stand trial for Holocaust denial in Austria today. Those of you who have read my old blog a while know what a despicable human being I consider David Irving to be. He's clearly an anti-Semite, most famously…

My grandfather always gets very angry when he hears this sort of thing, but he doesn't have very many words to say. He'll talk about it a bit, revealing a depth of anger and disgust that is quite uncharacteristic of him, before lapsing into silence, a haunting look on his face as his eyes unfocus and he drifts into memories that he'd rather not remember.

He saw a concentration camp when his unit helped liberate it. There were not many survivors among the prisoners, but there were meticulous records kept by the camp commandante making it quite clear what had been going on.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 24 Jun 2008 #permalink

if I have nothing against UCL, but what on earth were they thinking here to have hired the guy in the first place?

Orac, seems that you got carried away with Phil and failed to understand the situation properly. The crank was never an employee. He was never hired, he was never paid. His level in the organization seems to be akin to a part-time postdoc.

In what department was the offered fellowship; what was Kollerstrom going to study?

The crank collaborated with the STS (science and technology studies) department. This was his work:

Seems that the Royal Astronomical Society gave him a grant "for collating the British Neptune-discovery correspondence, 1835-1848".

I have not read his work for UCL, but it does seem to be marginally better that the tripe you describe above. At a first glance, there is nothing there of astrology as divination, crop circles or Holocaust denial. So, whatever his collaboration with UCL was, it had nothing to do with his delusions.

I agree that UCL should have never interacted with the lunatic to begin with. But please, do not imply that UCL tolerated his idiocy when there is absolutely no evidence of this.

I find the focusing on the chambers so odd. Nobody is saying all 6 million were gassed. I imagine firing squads, starvation, torture and typhus are pretty efficient in rooting people out.

And let's not forget the non-Jews like the dissidents, homosexuals and the Roma / Sinti. Ask them why there's a big gaping hole in the family tree.

I find the focusing on the chambers so odd. Nobody is saying all 6 million were gassed. I imagine firing squads, starvation, torture and typhus are pretty efficient in rooting people out.

It's not strange at all. Starvation, typhus, and other disease Holocaust deniers will blame on overcrowding and the cutting off of supply lines by Allied bombing. Never mind that they neglect to mention that the overcrowding was intentional and that the guards and the people in the towns nearby the camps were generally well fed until the last couple of months of the war or even to the very end of the war. Firing squads can be attributed to use on "criminals" and "partisans."

But homicidal gas chambers are a different thing entirely. Their sole purpose was to exterminate Jews and others that the Nazis considered "racial undesirables." Their existence and use for extermination constitute undeniable evidence that there was a systematic plan to exterminate. Other things, deniers can try to explain away, but they know that if the gas chambers existed and were used for what we know they were used for, there is no denying that the Nazis intended to exterminate European Jewry and other racial groups they considered enemies.

Of course, the claim that the chamers were for 'delousing' is correct, provided you are able to define Jews as lice, which the NAZIs seemed to be perfectly capable of doing.

As far as the "Expulsion not extermination" claim is concerned, one need only remember St. Patrick, who is credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland. Of course, snakes are not indiginous to Ireland; the "Snakes" referred to were Celts, Picts, and anyone else who refused to convert. They were expelled, all right, albeit sans heartbeat...

By Blaidd Drwg (not verified) on 24 Jun 2008 #permalink

I found that your previous post (oldie but a goodie) an excellent synopsis on human nature and our susceptability to alternative therapy. "earliest posts from the old blog"

"Some might ask: Why do patients fall for this? It is not a matter of intelligence. In my experience, women who pursue alternative therapy are, more often than not, intelligent and/or highly educated. Instead, they do not possess the scientific knowledge or enough critical thinking skills to separate truth from nonsense in medicine. It also seems to be a question of human nature. The diagnosis of breast cancer is devastating emotionally. Formerly self-assured women feel themselves losing control of their lives. Unfortunately, our system of medicine reinforces this feeling of loss of control, as it is all too often impersonal and even disrespectful of patients. Patients find themselves going to multiple doctor's visits, where all too often they have to wait for hours in crowded waiting rooms to see their doctors, who then, thanks to the demands of managed care, often only spend 5 or 10 minutes with them discussing a life-threatening disease. They deal with voicemail hell trying to reach their doctor when they are having problems and endure other indignities. They often conclude from this that the system does not respect their time or them and that they are considered nothing more than a number, a disease, or money. In contrast, alternative practitioners often provide the human touch that is too often missing from modern medicine. They take the time to listen to the patient and make her feel good about herself and her decision, all too often giving erroneous information about chemotherapy and radiation therapy. When a woman makes a decision to choose alternative therapy, she often sees herself as "taking control" of her treatment from uncaring doctors whose treatments, she is told, do not treat the root cause of her disease. Understandably, she may feel liberated and back in control. In addition, many testimonials have religious overtones as well, where lost, suffering women misguided by conventional doctors and without hope find a savior (their "healer") and/or enlightenment (the "alternative" therapy) that leads her out of the darkness and into the light of health. Her ignoring the reportedly dire warnings of doctors (unbelievers) is validated. Filled with quasireligious (or explicitly religious) fervor, they want to convert the doubters. Depending upon a woman's background and beliefs, this religious appeal can be as powerful as the desire for regaining control."

By Uncle Dave (not verified) on 24 Jun 2008 #permalink

I often wonder why people who tend towards one pseudoscientific or pseudohistorical (or just plain crank) belief usually cannot resist the siren call of other forms of woo. Oddly enough, it doesn't appear to be a lack of intelligence.

Intelligence is a tool, and it can be put to many purposes; as Robert A. Heinlein reminded us, "Man is not a rational animal, man is a rationalizing animal." Greater intelligence is no defense against irrationality, but instead becomes a greater tool in its service.

Personally, i ascribe most of these cases to a simple code transposition from "am I right?" to "I am right!" A failure, as it were, of the error detection and correction system -- a failure of self-doubt.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 24 Jun 2008 #permalink

There is some assumption about your comments on crank magnetism that is not logical and faintly dishonest. Because someone who appears to be fairly unbalanced such as the Day/Kollerstrom type also has an interest in other topics does not make those topics (crop circles etc) somehow contaminated by their interest. There is an expression 'a cat may look at a king' which encapsulates this idea. Anyone may be interested in anything, without impressing upon that thing its catship or kingship. An open mind will not discount certain topics/world views on the basis that they are of interest to unbalanced minds. There is no end to that line of thought, if you wish to pursue it fully. Each expression needs to be considered on its own merits. Well, that is, if you are truly interested at arriving at some sort of truth. The belief that Auschwitz was a holiday camp means discounting the evidence of hundreds of thousands of witnesses, victims or observers. The belief that crop circles are an interesting and unexplained phenomenon only requires partially discounting the evidence of a few people who amazingly claim to have created all of them world wide. This, to my mind, is more along the lines of the death camp discounters - a highly improbable situation.

It seems to be somewhat of a vicious circle.
You start off by disbelieving something, usually due to
an inability to grasp the principles behind it.
From there, they go on, step by step, their belief in denialism strengthening along with their paranoia.
Until eventually no "official" history or explanation can be accepted. It's accomplished by short steps, but you start off wondering about JFK and end up believing that there's a face on Mars.

stewardy must be referring to such bizarre crop formations as this, which clearly could not have been made by human beings. What insight into the deep meaning of the universe this symbol must represent, if we could only understand it!

By AntiquatedTory (not verified) on 25 Jun 2008 #permalink

But I like "Crop Circles", and those yanking the believers' chains are getting so much more creative. See English Crop Circle's Mysterious Pattern Solved,
Thursday, June 19, 2008 at,2933,368422,00.html

A slice of Pi with your Kool Aid?

So, for this man, astrology is a valid scientific enterprise, crop circles a real unexplained phenomenon, and the Holocaust an illusion. He truly lives in an alternate universe. I wonder what it feels like.

By Christophe Thill (not verified) on 25 Jun 2008 #permalink

"Most scientists, however, sniff at the suggestion, pointing out that anyone with planks and rope can create crop circles in a couple of hours". Oh really? This sniffing is scientific fact, just because it comes from a scientifically-trained nose? Has it been demonstrated in an experiment of any sort, or even by these chaps simply duplicating one of these complex circles while being observed? (What to speak of in the middle of the short English summer night undetected by hostile farmers who don't like having their grain crops interfered with.) I think you will find they are able to create simple and rather messy circles successfully but have never demonstrated the capacity to create the neat, complex, and enormous circles such as the PI circle described in the Fox news item above. This is an example of the so-called 'scientific' mind contenting itself with rumours and conjectures where it suits the particular prejudice of that mind, scientifically trained or not. I am right there with you on the topic of the death camps - since childhood, I have read every book that came my way that included first- hand experience in these camps, and as a conspiracy it would have to be of a vastness and comprehensiveness to beggar description (all those conspirators since 1945 - who put them up to it?). To somehow lump this in with the crop circle phenomena is just misleading and lazy. But I am enjoying your blog.

Stewardy, define "complex". I think you'll find that humans can make pretty complex, neat circles. Most of them are simple geometry. In fact, messy circles are harder to make than neat ones, since it involves changing the distance of rope.

Besides, what evidence is there that they're magical/alien/whatever? Mundane explanations work much better. No new entities to posit beyond some eccentric people. Occam's Razor.
Try this article - particularly the items under Circular Stories, Facts and Figures. Certainly, there are many, many hoaxes but also quite a plethora of unexplained designs, particularly in the years prior to 1991. The hoaxers admitted to creating 25-35 per year but there have been hundreds world wide for decades. In the earlier years they were often in fields with no 'tram tracks' which allowed hoaxers a means of entering the fields without leaving obvious tracks. Circles appeared in fields with no tracks entering the circles from outside. Perhaps made from balloons? Hmmmm.... I don't know what creates them but I sure would like to know! Wouldn't you? I find them fascinating wherever they come from.
By complex I mean there were complex patterns of bent grain stems which did not show evidence of being battered by rope and platforms. They gave the appearance of having been more like woven stems, all going in one direction,opposed closely by other stems going in a different direction. None had been broken, they were simply bent. In some cases the grain continues to grow even though it has been bent - this is not the case if grain stalks are broken by stamping.
I don't spend my life following these websites but I saw convincing video evidence that does not indicate fellows tramping around in the middle of the night! And even a few unexplained anomalies are worth maintaining an attitude of curiosity. However there are more than a few.

Perhaps farmers' anger at having their crops damaged is alleviated by them being able to charge the credulous a tenner a pop for wandering round the formation with their dowsing pendulums and what-have-you.

There is more than one group making the form of landscape art known as 'crop circles'. And they're laughing at people like you.

"a few unexplained anomalies are worth maintaining an attitude of curiosity" -- I'll agree with you there, but crop circles aren't unexplained.

Oh, and I forgot to mention: It's funny that when large parts of the countryside in the UK were closed to the public during the foot-and-mouth crisis, not a single formation appeared on closed land. Why is that, if "mysterious forces" are truly at work?

Stewardy, you're not giving me anything new to think about. One note right off the top of my head: There's a period in the plant's growth cycle where they're amendable to bending instead of breaking, and circle makers know about it. The best plan for it.

And note, they're not all 'hoaxers'. Some prefer to think of themselves as artists. The only reason 'hoaxing' is involved is because of all the unimaginative alien worshipers and think there's a line between 'authentic' and 'hoax'. I just see a spectrum of human cleverness. Nothing mystical or alien.

It's like you're asking me to believe that because the guy in a tuxedo wielding a wand and top hat doesn't use trapdoors and mirrors, he must be using demonic forces.

Bronzedog, I am not going to beat this to death - but all scientific minds are not satisfied with the hoax/artist theory. Please check out: particularly the reference to a book written by physicist Dr. Eltjo H. Haselhoff, Ph.D. "The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles
Scientific Research & Urban Legends".