Forensic Chemistry Handbook, edited by Lawrence Kobilinsky (John Wiley & Sons, 2012, 528 pages; List $125.00, $94.99 at Amazon, ebook version by Google, $99.99) is described as a concise, robust introduction to the various topics covered by the discipline of forensic chemistry. That may be. But one section in a chapter entitled, “Analysis of Paint Evidence,” by Scott G. Ryland and Edward M. Suzuki stands out as embarrassingly unscientific.  Here is the passage from the book:

The Shroud of Turin  There has probably never been an object analyzed by a forensic science laboratory that has generated more controversy than the Shroud of Turin. The shroud is a linen cloth that appears to bear the image of a man. It is believed by some to be the cloth that was placed on Jesus Christ prior to his burial, with the image formed by blood, secretions, or other means. The shroud is kept at the Cathedral or Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy.

In 1977, a team or scientists was selected to study the shroud, with this investigation given the designation Shroud or Turin Research Project (STURP). One of the STURP team members was Walter McCrone (1916—2002), a leading microscopist and founder of the McCrone Research Institute and McCrone Associates in Chicago. McCrone’s main tool for this investigation was polarized light microscopy, although he confirmed his findings using a variety of other analytical methods. In 1979, based on his analyses, McCrone concluded that there is no blood on the shroud and that the image is produced by a paint consisting of a collagen tempera binder pigmented with red ochre (mainly ferric oxide) and vermilion (mercuric sulfide) (McCrone and Skirius, 1980; McCrone, 1980. 1981). This was a common paint composition during the fourteenth century and McCrone stated that “the Shroud is a beautiful painting by an inspired medieval artist."

McCrone was the only STURP team member to reach this conclusion, and when other members learned that he disagreed with them, his samples were confiscated and he was removed from the team. when his conclusions became public. he received hate mail and death threats. In 1989, three independent radiocarbon studies of the shroud were conducted at the University of Arizona. Oxford University, and the Swiss Federal Institute or Technology. The data from all three laboratories were consistent and indicated that the shroud originated from the time Period 1260 to 1390 (Damon et al.. 1989), confirming McCrone’s earlier claim. More details of this case are described in Judgement (sic) Day for the Shroud of Turin (McCrone. 1999b). In 2000. the American Chemical Society acknowledged McCrone for his contributions to chemical microscopy—specifically citing his studies on the shroud—by honoring him with the American Chemical Society Award in Analytical Chemistry.

If the shroud generated so much controversy, as Ryland and Suzuki contend, you would think that these authors would have looked at and addressed material from the other side of the controversy and not merely relied on McCrone, as they seem to have done. They might have done some simple fact checking. The names of everyone who was part of STURP is a matter of public record. It would be easy enough to contact some of them, examine what they wrote and ask, in a scholarly fashion, why there was so much controversy. Let’s look at it, briefly.

Was McCrone a member of STURP?  No! Despite the fact that McCrone claimed that he was a member, he never was. He wrote that he had been "drummed out" of the group because they did not like his conclusions. It is true that they did not like his conclusions. They were absurd in light of all the evidence gathered in Turin. But McCrone had refused to agree to STURP’s professional standards agreement including non-disclosure. He was thus not accepted as part of STURP. He never joined STURP. McCrone also claimed that STURP, upon learning of his findings, confiscated his samples and that STURP brought in other scientists to replace him. None of this is true. They were not his samples.

Raymond Rogers, who was a member of STURP, had collected 32 sample tapes that included thousands of particles of matter taken from the Shroud’s surface. On his way back to Los Alamos from Turin, he stopped in Chicago and loaned the samples to McCrone (even though McCrone was not a member of STURP). As protocol, two stipulations that were agreed to:

  1. The samples were to be studied by microscope in situ. Particles were not to be removed from the tapes.
  2. The samples were to be returned as soon as McCrone had examined them.

McCrone violated the protocol. He also damaged some of the sample tapes by pressing them into glass slides. He then he refused to return them. Finally, Rogers had to fly to Chicago to retrieve them, not confiscate them.

Why did every scientist in STURP disagree with McCrone? That is best answered in two brief articles written by Rogers as well as specific material from Rogers’ book, “A Chemist’s Perspective on the Shroud of Turin.”  One would have thought that Ryland and Suzuki, would have considered other materials by real members of STURP. Here are two articles:

Here is a quote from Rogers’ book:

Raman spectrometry is much like IR spectrometry: however, it sees different motions of the chemical functional groups. It provides a good complement to IR Unfortunately. we could not make the observations in Turin, but fibers from the tape samples could be analyzed in the US.

Joan Rogers identified suitable fibers on the tape samples and prepared them for analysis. She took tapes, fibers from non-image areas, and fibers from image areas to Instruments SA, Inc., in Metuchen, N.J. in December 1979, The samples were analyzed by Dr. Fran Adar. Similar samples were analyzed by Mark Anderson, McCrone’s MOLE expert in January 1980.

Anderson observed that most of the red flecks on the Shroud “bubbled up and turned black" when he hit them with the laser beam. This was an entirely different response than he got from authentic hematite crystals. He said it “acted like an organic phase" (21 January 1980). Walter McCrone refused to accept those observations. If he wanted the image to be painted with hematite, no conflicting observations would be allowed. (emphasis mine)

It was easy for the microprobes to detect the Mylar backing on the sampling tapes. But no quantitatively significant Raman spectra could be obtained from any of the samples. There was no evidence for any chemical products from Saponaria officinalis or any other coating on image fibers.

UV and visible spectrometry would not see significant differences among the carbohydrates. The -Oil vibrational slates of all of the carbohydrates and water are very broad and intense, and neither JR nor Raman spectrometry could distinguish among them. we were not looking for trace carbohydrate impurities, we were looking for painting-type impurities on the cloth.

All of the observational methods agreed that no pigments. normal painting vehicles, or natural exudations (other than the blood) had been added to the cloth after its production. The image on the Shroud of Turin is not a painting. No foreign materials were added to the cloth in image areas.’

And then there was Ryland’s and Suzuki’s blind acceptance of the carbon dating results. Forget the facts that this has been challenged by numerous scientists. Forget the fact that Christopher Ramsey, the director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Laboratory, thinks more testing is needed. Forget the fact that chemical analysis, all nicely peer-reviewed in scientific journals and subsequently confirmed by numerous chemists, shows that samples tested are chemically unlike the whole cloth.

Philip Ball, the former physical science editor for Nature when the carbon dating results were published, recently wrote: “It’s fair to say that, despite the seemingly definitive tests in 1988, the status of the Shroud of Turin is murkier than ever.”

If we wish to be scientific we must admit we do not know how old the cloth is. That is honest forensic chemistry. We cannot do as Ryland and Suzuki do: confirming bad science with bad science. That is just not scientific. It makes one wonder about the rest of the book.