Thoughts for a Sunday Morning: “If I am right, then . . . I am right.”

Joe Marino wrote to me last night. “This little bit is too good not to share with someone right now.”

Indeed. They were choice quotes from emails that Walter McCrone had sent to Marino. In one, the last, “[A]pparently because I wouldn’t believe his point of view,” McCrone wrote:

imageYou say since the "blood" went on first; this is not so. The body-image was first so that the artist knew where to put the blood-image. There is NO doubt about that. The paint in the blood-image area shows separate applications of red ochre and vermilion. I can’t say which was first by this observation but common sense says the body-image has to be first for an artist to put the "blood" in the right places."

Marino analyzes this very perceptively:

When I had mentioned the blood going on first, I gave the scientific explanation of why that is believed.  Notice that he doesn’t respond to the scientific explanation–he just says it’s not so–but gives no scientific explanation.  He just appeals to common sense saying that an artist would have to put the image on first to know where to put the blood.  That’s obviously true if the image was forged, which he is assuming.  Nickell always writes that "shroudologists" always begin with a conclusion and then work backwards to the evidence.  And McCrone is NOT doing that???

But there was more. McCrone’s email stated:

I did not address many of the points you raised on behalf of Heller and Adler, Piczek, and Jackson because they are meaningless. They represent the will-of-the-wisps they have concocted to rationalize their belief in an authentic Shroud. All of them and Meacham, Frei, Whanger, Garza-Valdes, Wilson, etc., are "red herrings." They cannot be right because the Shroud is a straightforward artist’s painting, no more, no less. It is 100% red ochre, vermilion, and a gelatin base there is no blood on the Shroud. Most of the arguments of these people are based on no known facts but come from their imagination. The observations seemingly based on factual observations (Bollone’s typing of my paint, Garza-Valdes biological contamination, Frei’s pollen, Adler’s positive tests for blood, etc., are either imagination or due to incompetence or deceit; Adler and Frei fall in that category.

Marino correctly observes:

We’re aware of the articles that anti-"shroudologists" have written saying Frei was deceitful.  So when he says, "Adler’s positive tests for blood, etc., are either imagination or due to incompetence or deceit; Adler and Frei fall in that category," it can be deduced that he’s saying Adler was incompetent.  Since Adler was a blood expert and a Jew with no religious motivation, what else is McCrone going to say?  Actually, I can give you another excerpt from another email from McCrone. 

In an earlier email to Marino, McCrone had written:

Everything I have read or heard from Ian Wilson, Max Frei, John Jackson, William Meacham, Alan Adler, Baima Bollone, Alan Whanger, Leoncio Garza-Valdez, et al., is contradicted by my findings. How can I explain how only I could be right and dozens of other "scientists" be wrong? Very simply, none of them are chemical microscopists, small particle microanalysts, nor have they studied the Shroud tapes against a background of familiarity with pigments, media and artist’s paintings. If I am right, then all of their ideas are wrong and I am right.

Read that last sentence again: “If I am right, then all of their ideas are wrong and I am right.”

A little history is in order. When it comes to the Shroud of Turin, McCrone’s observation and conclusions are disputed by numerous studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The issue was not solely the Shroud’s authenticity. Rather it was the quality of McCrone’s assessments in light of considerable scientific observation. The overwhelming evidence against McCrone is detailed in several peer-reviewed scientific journals. 

In 1978, Raymond N. Rogers, a chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, collected 32 adhesive sampling tapes from the Shroud of Turin as part of STURP. These tapes were specially designed to be applied with a minimum amount of pressure to collect loose fibers and other particulate matter from the surface of the Shroud. Rogers hand carried the samples from Turin to McCrone in Chicago. They were only to be borrowed and returned. As part of the arrangement, the particulate material was not be pressed into the adhesive by mounting them on glass slides. McCrone ignored the agreed upon protocols. Rogers, accompanied by other scientists, had to travel to McCrone’s lab in Chicago to demand the return of the slides. Much to his dismay, he discovered that McCrone had, in fact, attached the tapes to glass slides. Rogers would later write:

Walter McCrone had ignored agreements on how the STURP samples were to be observed, and he contaminated all of our samples by sticking them to microscope slides. All of the fibers were immersed in the tape’s adhesive.

McCrone claimed that there “is no blood in any image area, only red ochre and vermilion in a collagen tempera medium.” Other scientists, including John Heller of the New England Institute and Alan Adler of Western Connecticut State University, having conducted sophisticated tests and not relying merely on microscopic observation, found these claims preposterous. Many of the studies are reported in the journals: Applied Optics, ACS Advances in Chemistry, Archaeological Chemistry, Analytica Chimica Acta and Canadian Society of Forensic Science Journal. 

According to a report on the McCrone Research Institute website:

The faint sepia image is made up of billions of submicron pigment particles (red ochre and vermilion) in a collagen tempera medium. Dr. McCrone determined this by polarized light microscopy in 1979.

But polarized light microscopy (PLM) has its limitations. So, too, does individual observation. And these conclusions from McCrone seemed to contradict other findings by several other scientists. To get a more precise chemical analysis, pyrolysis mass spectrometry tests were undertaken at the Midwest Center for Mass Spectrometry at the University of Nebraska, a National Science Foundation Center of Excellence. The results were conclusive beyond any doubt. What McCrone claimed to have found was simply not there. The images were not painted. Other spectra tests were done, as well. Raymond N. Rogers, a chemist and Fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, later wrote:

The Shroud was observed by visible and ultraviolet spectrometry, infrared spectrometry, x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, and thermography. Later observations were made by pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry, laser­microprobe Raman analyses, and microchemical testing. No evidence for pigments or media was found.

Your eye sees colors when the surface absorbs some wavelengths of light and reflects others. A red surface absorbs all visible wavelengths other than red. Each chemical compound absorbs wavelengths that are characteristic of its chemical structure. The best way to determine the properties of a color is by measuring its spectrum.

The reflectance spectra in the visible range for the image, blood, and hematite are shown in the figure. The image could not have been painted with hematite or any of the other known pigments. The spectrum of the image color does not show any specific features: it gradually changes through the spectrum. This proves that it is composed of many different light-absorbing chemical structures. It has the properties of a dehydrated carbohydrate.

And we saw in the emails to Marino, strange tilting-at-windmill responses from McCrone. The Vinland Map may give us a clue, as to why.

imageIn 1965, Yale researchers discovered a map that was known to have been produced at least 50 years before Columbus’ first journey to America. The map, which showed Vinlandia Insula, the Island of Vinland or Newfoundland as it is known today, was part of a small medieval volume, the Tartar Relation. The Tartar Relation had originally been bound together with the Vinland Map and another medieval volume, the Speculum Historiale. Wormhole alignments between the map and both volumes clearly showed that they had been all bound together at one time. The Tartar Relation volume was reliably dated by contemporaneous references to the Katatas people (Mongols) who dominated one end of the Eurasian land mass. There were also references to a certain bishop of Gada and Greenland that further corroborated the dating.

In 1972, Walter McCrone, who would later attempt to debunk the shroud, examined some particles of ink and found titanium anatase, a material scientist discovered in the 1920s. He thus concluded that the map was a recent relic-forgery.

Several people doubted McCrone’s conclusion including George Painter, the curator of ancient documents of the British Museum. In 1985, physicist Thomas Cahill, of the University of California at Davis, analyzed the map using a newly developed process, Particle Induced X-ray Emission, and found only minute traces of titanium anatase, amounts that were consistent with what would be expected in the common green vitoral ink of the fifteenth century.

As with the shroud, McCrone had found the substances that he claimed were there. Indeed they may be there but in amounts too miniscule to support his conclusions.

Yet, myths and doubts about the Vinland Map persist. Why? Because a scientist had proven it was a hoax and PBS television reported the results of McCrone’s findings. There was very little reporting about the Cahill’s later findings at Cal-Davis until 1996.

Then, on February 10, 1996, a symposium was organized by Yale University Press to announce a second edition of “The Vinland Map” published by Yale University Press and authored by R.A. Skelton, T.E. Marston, and G.D. Painter. Many scholars and journalists were invited. It seemed that anyone and everyone ever involved with the Vinland Map was present except Walter McCrone. He had not been invited. The New York Times quoted Wilcomb Washburn of the Smithsonian saying, “I think the evidence is clearly on the side of authenticity.” Cahill reported at the symposium by his trace analysis instrument that the VM ink contained only the trace amounts of titanium characteristic of all medieval maps – “none of the quantities were sufficient to be considered a purposefully added ingredient.”

Walter McCrone was furious. More tilting-at-windmills. Was he trying to defend his solo visual observations against “two different groups of presumably good scientists” or was he claiming that PLM was unjustly being replaced with newer technology? “I hope something can be done,” he writes, “to convince scientists to use the proper technique and instruments to solve today’s analytical problems.” He continued:

Up to now I’ve been able to maintain my equilibrium and even my sense of humor in the face of being ignored or being insulted-one post-card stated “Old man Walter C. McCrone is an incompetent senile old fart who belongs in the nuthouse. That old fraud fudges data on an unprecedented scale [signed] Citizens for Scientific Honesty". . . .

Lately and especially after the recent Yale Symposium, I find it more difficult to see the humor in these situations. From a scientific point-of-view, these two problems were not difficult to solve, especially if one uses PLM and other ultramicro techniques and instruments on tiny particle samples rather than trace analysis techniques on millimeter samples like PIXE, Cahill’s instrument. No one other than McCrone working on these two fakes used light and electron microscopes. Instead, others looked for traces using good but inadequate and inappropriate trace analysis techniques. These are not intended for problems like VM or the Shroud.

I had hoped solving these problems using PLM then using other proper ultramicroanalytical instrumentation for confirmation would help PLM recover its lost position in analytical chemistry. PLM has been cheated out of this recovery and is rapidly sliding into oblivion. This situation is now no longer funny, and I am looking for ways to redress this wrong. It seems to me to be a matter for the attention of the American Academy of Sciences.

If a committee of scientists qualified in the physical methods of ultramicro particle analysis were appointed by the Academy, I am absolutely certain they would decide the VM and the Turin “Shroud” are masterpieces of art. If two different groups of presumably good scientists can be so wrong on the VM and the Shroud, what other important projects they work on may also be wrongly concluded. The situation, highlighted by the VM and Turin “Shroud,” indicates a very serious problem in science today. Far more serious than either the VM and Shroud or any individual scientist, I hope something can be done to convince scientists to use the proper technique and instruments to solve today’s analytical problems.

I get the strange feeling that newer technology was what McCrone feared most.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts for a Sunday Morning: “If I am right, then . . . I am right.””

  1. The mystery wrapping the Holy shroud is multi-dimensional. As debated, it can be either man-made or natural. Any theory which attempts to untie the knots should invariably explain all the unique characteristics hitherto identified by scientists like photographic negativity, 3-dimensional encryption of light intensity, anatomical exactitude etc. If the hands of a faker are assumed, then such theories should unequivocally explain how could the faker have envisioned the idea of ‘negative image’ or a painting with reverse shade, and executed it as back as in the 14th century? How could he have incorporated the image intensity versus distance correlation into the Shroud image? How could he have ensured that the impression of the image did not penetrate a depth less than 1/100th of a hair? How could he have been able to bring in the X-ray effect amazingly in the case of hands, where one could easily observe metacarpal bones and phalange bones of each finger? What could have made the pollens grains, endemic to Palestine region, appear on the Shroud? Who could have brought the samples of limestone on the Shroud from Jerusalem? And, as Stevenson commented, if the Shroud was a creation of the Middle Ages, then its forger must have ordered the mites to go with it!

    The painting theory of McCrone may be, as he believes, able to prove that the bloodstains on the Shroud do not relate to human or that they are not blood at all. But he should not close his eyes to other perspectives of the problem. It requires a holistic view, comprehensive analysis and a complete package of solutions. Any attempt to pick out a single characteristics and to solve it without considering the connected facts will not be good. It is like the description of an elephant by four blind men. One grasps the trunk and concludes it is a snake. Another explores one of the elephant’s legs and describes it as a tree. Third finds the elephant’s tail and announces it is a rope. And the fourth blind man, after discovering the elephant’s side, concludes that it is, after all, a wall!

  2. Prof. McCrone claims to be familiar “with pigments, media and artist’s paintings”.
    He is a real expert unlike all others.
    At this point why do not recall that in 1997 McCrone declared “100 percent unadulterated Rembrandt” some chips from paintings that after subsequent tests were found as fakes?

  3. – It seems to me that

    1. The “DIRECT” evidence – the unofficial, but highly probable, history of the Shroud, as well as the vast majority of scientific testing that’s been done on the Shroud – greatly supports Shroud authenticity…
    2. The evidence against (as illustrated(?) by McCrone’s attitude/approach in his emails to Marino) is actually much weaker than the “ANALYTIC” — but casual — reader will generally assume.
    3. It is the “INDIRECT” evidence that causes the analytic reader to insist that the Shroud is fake.
    4. (Ironically enough, analytic readers tend to place too much FAITH in Sherlock Holmes. They believe that they have “eliminated the impossible” (the supernatural), and consequently believe that we are stuck with fakery — “however improbable” such a conclusion is, given the DIRECT evidence. See what I mean?)
    5. I have a way to expose these analytic, but wrong-headed, readers to the world, and SHOW the world that the Shroud probably is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus.
    6. This would be a very good thing.

    – If I can get anyone interested, I’ll be happy to go on.

  4. – I still don’t understand this blogging stuff, but apparently SOMEone (I assume Epscopalian?) was interested in what I had to say, so I’ll continue. (I probably would have continued anyway…)

    – Anyway, I think that I know how to set this particular record straight on a world-wide basis, and that that would be a very good thing.
    – I’m not sure that the Shroud is authentic, but I sure THINK that it is, and that the VAST PREPONDERANCE of evidence supports that authenticity. I think that all the skeptics have to offer is highly suspect: Walter McCrone, Joe Nickell, the radio carbon dating and misled elimination of the supernatural. (Not that the supernatural is necessarily involved (or even real), just that the skeptics aren’t taking any chances.)
    – Anyway, what we need in order to set this record straight on a world-wide basis is VERY public and EFFECTIVE debate between 2 leaders of the field.
    – This of course, would be on-going, on-line and written (certainly, not oral).

    – By my calculations, there are two real ‘tricks’ involved in doing this:
    1) Getting a leading skeptic to participate. And even more difficult,
    2) Making the debate EFFECTIVE! (When was the last time you read or listened to an effective debate?)
    – This will sound rather foolish, but … I THINK THAT I HAVE A WAY TO ACCOMPLISH BOTH.

    – I’ll be back.

  5. – However improbable this may sound … I think that I have a way to expose the foolishness of Shroud skeptics to the world.
    – And again, I think that would be a very good thing.
    – Since I think that the vast preponderance of evidence favors Shroud authenticity, I think that all we need do is develop EFFECTIVE and VERY public debate with one (or more) members of the skeptical leadership.
    – But then, actually effective debate hardly ever happens…

    – I claim that there are two basic reasons for the typical ineffectiveness of debate:
    1) We humans are not nearly as smart, as objective or as conscious as we think we are. And,
    2) Controversial issues tend to be “exponential.”
    – Put these together and we humans are almost always given to going in circles when debating.
    – (I’ve written several (unpublished) treatises on this problem. To see one of them, you can go to

    – Luckily, I think that we can ignore the first problem for now, and focus exclusively on how to deal with the complexity of our controversies.

    – By “exponential,” I’m referring to the tendency for
    1) The basic controversial issue to have multiple sub-issues. For,
    2) Each sub-issue to have multiple sub-sub-issues. And,
    3) Etc.
    – And then, human reflexes simply were not designed to deal with this complexity.
    – Once into a debate, we “zone out” and slip into a fight/flight mode, where our awareness and objectivity go to Hell. Consequently, we need to extract debate from our natural reflexive handling of it…
    – In other words, we need to “wake up.” We need to slow down and “zoom in.” We need to muster our patience and keep narrowing our foci.
    – The rest is easy – albeit, possibly quite tedious.

    – If anyone else is still reading this crap (just kidding), I should probably give you a breather.
    – But, I’ll be back.

  6. – That was a long breather.
    – Sorry — it took me awhile to figure out where I could find my last post (above). I’m an old dog and a slow learner.

    – Anyway, the basic idea is to try to get Joe Nickell, or someone else representing the Skeptical Enquirer, to debate with you (and the rest of us) on line, in writing, in real time.
    – If you know of other prominent “shroudoclasts,” we could try them — if Joe and the Enquirer didn’t accept our invitations.
    – We would have just one spokesperson, but a lot of knowledgable consultants. And consequently, out of our antagonist we should knock the crap. (Sorry about my language.)

    – As you know, I think that their side of the story is really very weak, and showing just how weak it is should be a cinch — GIVEN AN ACTUALLY EFFECTIVE DEBATE. Then, whatever website (or blog) would host this debate would soon become where parties interested in hearing both sides of the Shroud controversy would be sent. And soon, the whole world would know the truth (IMO).
    – We could start with just a small piece of the controversy — say, “Is there real blood in all the right places?”

    – Again, I’ve written several unpublished treatises on this debate idea. You can find one of those at
    – Please make a comment, or ask a question.
    – Thanks, again.

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