Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 16 January 2010
Every now and then you have to salute a genius. Both the Daily Mail and the Metro report new research analysing the positions of Britain’s ancient sites, and the results are startling: primitive man had his own form of “sat nav”. Researcher Tom Brooks analysed 1,500 prehistoric monuments, and found them all to be on a grid of isosceles triangles, each pointing to the next site, allowing our ancestors to travel between settlements with pinpoint accuracy. The papers even carried an example of his map work, which I have reproduced here.
That this pattern could occur simply because one site was on the way to the next was not considered. Mr Brooks has proven, he explains, that there were keen mathematicians here 5,000 years ago, millennia before the Greeks invented geometry: “Such is the mathematical precision, it is inconceivable that this work could have been carried out by the primitive indigenous culture we have always associated with such structures… all this suggests a culture existing in these islands in the past quite outside our expectation and experience today.” He does not rule out extraterrestrial help.
In the Metro Tom Brooks is a researcher. To the Daily Mail he is a researcher, a historian, and a writer. I hope it’s not rude or unfair for me to add “retired marketing executive of Honiton, Devon”.
Matt Parker, his nemesis, is based in the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London. He has applied the same techniques used by Mr Brooks to another mysterious and lost civilisation.
“We know so little about the ancient Woolworth stores,” he explains, “but we do still know their locations. I thought that if we analysed the sites we could learn more about what life was like in 2008 and how these people went about buying cheap kitchen accessories and discount CDs.”
The results revealed an exact and precise geometric placement of the Woolworths locations. “Three stores around Birmingham formed an exact equilateral triangle (Wolverhampton, Lichfield and Birmingham stores) and if the base of the triangle is extended, it forms a 173.8 mile line linking the Conwy and Luton stores. Despite the 173.8 mile distance involved, the Conway Woolworths store is only 40 feet off the exact line and the Luton site is within 30 feet. All four stores align with an accuracy of 0.05%.”
Matt Parker used an ancient technique: he found his patterns in 800 ex-Woolworth locations by “skipping over the vast majority, and only choosing the few that happen to line-up”.
With 1500 locations, Mr Brooks had almost twice as much data to work with, and on this issue Parker is clear: “It is extremely important to look at how much data people are using to support an argument. For example, the case for global warming covers vast amounts of comprehensive evidence, but it is still possible for people to search through the data and find a few isolated examples that appear to show otherwise.”