The Earthlights Debate

Paul Devereux
Magonia 25, March 1987

There are a number of points in Magonia 24 I’d like to pass brief comments on. Michael Goss’s article was a delight. I would just point out that those shito-dama phenomena described as “roundish tadpole shaped” does bring dramatically to mind Kenneth Arnold’s description of his Cascade Mountains ‘fying saucers’ as taking on a ‘tadpole when crossing Goat Ridge; of the descriptions of the lines of “tadpole shaped lights” witnessed by hundreds of people before the 1957 Charnwood (Leicestershire) earthquake
and the fact that laboratory discharges similar to those produced by Brady et al develop a tadpole-like tail when subjected to radio fields, which extends their life. Likewise, David Clarke’s contribution was most welcome.

Claude Maugé’s critical article on Persinger’s Tectonic Strain Theory (TST) was sensibly written, but does raise a few points. Firstly, it is interesting that such an article appears in Magonia ten years after the publication of Persinger’s book on the subject: one can only assume that my book Earthlights has at last brought a curiously lethargic and indeed reticent ufological awareness of the research area. There is however a fundamental flaw in Maugé’s critical methodology.

While some of the weaknesses sugested by Maugé are valid, the approach of dealing just with Persinger’s TST on its own is fallacious. The only way for anyone now to appraise the earth lights theory is to take account of ALL the work going on in the area. The work of myself and my colleagues in many ways complements Persinger’s work, and vice versa. So, while it is valid to complain that Persinger’s databases and huge geographical areas covered can, at best, show only general tendencies, we in Britain have shown the theory to be even more strongly upported in detailed, regional studies.

The Barmouth-Harlech (Egryn) events of 1904/5, for example, have been meticulously associated with faulting in the most unambiguous way. The reported lights phenomena cannot be dismissed as strictly psychosociological (though their interpretation may have been) as many sightings were multiple witness events, and outside observers also saw the phenomena. Moreover, there was not a media industry devoted to ‘UFOs’ at the time to influence an one’s thinking. The sheer correlation of lights with faults in any case shows too distinct a pattern for dismissal.

Further, we have now obtained the data to show that the Barmouth events occurred in the middle of a period of exceptional seismic events in Wales stretching from the mid 1890s to 1906. We now know, for example, that the Barmouth events of late 1904 to early 1905 were presaged by a quake epicentred on Bedgellert on 21st October 1904. The Welsh faults were under virtually constant stress during the ten years to 1906. Other outbreaks of lights were recorded in the Llangollen area and the Pontypridd – Newport areas also. This sort of data, and similar material McCartney and I have researched for other regions means that it is impossible to dismiss the tectonic correlations with these lights if intellectual viability is to be maintained. (This observation can be made without anyone being able to detail the mechanisms that may actually be involved.)

Persinger and Derr have now conduced detailed studies of the Toppenish Ridge region of Washington State, and have used an exceptional database (using the observation and photography of light phenomena by fire lookouts using radio communication and triangulation in some cases, police officers and scientists, linked to detailed information of geological features and temporal seismic events of a low order of magnitude. Persinger and Derr make a distinction between the fundamental mechanisms producing earthquake lights and UFO light phenomena, though both sets of associated mechanisms are nevertheless linked. They also refer to the possible involvement of ultrasonic waves in light phenomena production: ultrasound has been picked up anomalously by Dragon Project researchers at stone circle sites in Britain, which share a similar correlation with faulting as does light phenomena incidence. There is so much practical work that ufologists could be concerning themselves with. It is a pity that armchair criticism bogs down research within ufology.

Maugé refers to Rutowski, but in responses to American publications I have shown him to be grinding a particular axe, and that his criticism is poorly founded. Rutowski complains that 90% of Persinger’s catabase is ‘noise’, a figure Maugé feels is likely to be larger. I would be most interested to learn what the factual basis is for such figures. While I have always supported the idea that there is a powerful psychosociological component in UF0 data, I nevertheless suspect that it is over-emphasised. There are elements of sociological thinking within ufology that cannot be convinced that there is any unexplained external phenomenon involved, and this bias should not be mistaken for objectivity.

I am not saying that Persinger’s work is beyond criticism. Indeed, in 1983 McCartney, Robins and I pointed out the inadequacy of piezo-electricity as a primary earth lights ‘motor’, in contradiction of Persinger’s earlier ideas. This was confirmed by work at Sussex University which shows that non-piezo rocks can still produce light phenomenon when stressed in laboratory conditions. This has subsequently been endorsed by Brady’s work in Denver. But earth lights exist, and Persinger – and anyone else – should only be congratulated in attempting to understand how such phenomena arise.

It is those who dismiss or attack such efforts who are culpable. Why does not Maugé, or Magonia in general, turn their critical faculties back on themselves, and produce a sociological study of the extraordinary negative and hostile initial response to the earth lights theory?

Maugé, Rutowski and others, are all so readily omit from their view of earth lights theory that it is already known, accepted and established that the earth can produce atmospheric luminescent phenomena (earthquake lights) and has been reliably photographed in time-lapse sequences. So a mechanism similar to UFO light phenomena is known to exist, if, as yet, also incompletely understood.

In the light of all the above work, and much more, it is therefore both annoying and saddening to note the comment in David Taylor’s letter in Magonia 24 that earth lights theory is “a worthwhile idea, desperately in need of more scientific study”. I agree it is worthwhile, but it has graduated far beyond the level of a mere ‘idea’ and it has more scientific work being carried out on it than any, repeat any other UFO theory, whether ETH, psychosociological or Steuart Campbell’s ‘stars’ theory. Moreover it is also true that I have been able to sit down with physicists carrying out the most advanced quantum work, and co-operate with leading geologists here and in America, while it has proven less easy to do so with ufologists. Earth lights theory has shown up the inadequacy of genuine intellectual and scientific credibility within areas of British ufology. That has been one of its greatest, if most unfortunate, achievements.

No-one is saying that everyone should swallow the whole earth lights theory hook, line and sinker, but it is a highly credible theory, it is regularly producing stronger evidence, and it is highly desirable that such an area be fully investigated.

I feel the evidence is currently pointing to the fact that we are at last beginning to identify an energy phenomenon that may have much to teach us. The very recent discovery by Brady et al that laboratory-produced’ rock lights are not plasmas (the lights do not produce microwaves), and show only spectrographic information of the medium (whether gas or liquid) they are occurring in, underlines these points.

We are entering an exciting realm of hitherto unexplained energy effects. I believe the energy may be sensitive to consciousness, and am attempting to assemble the necessary experimental elements to test such an idea. The implications cannot yet be discerned, other than to suggest they are going to be momentous

Brady’s suggestion that we may be dealing here with another candidate for the origins of life on earth is a possible example of this, even if it supremely ironic. It will be sad indeed if ufological thinkers cannot rise to the challenge.