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The Valencia Dawkins Challenge: No Consensus on Consensus

imageGiulio Fanti (pictured) writes:

Dear Dan. . . . You have my permission to inform whoever you want of my position: "I am tired for all the recent diputes on SSD (sic: SSG) . . . I asked David Rolfe to improve the Valencia’s list, but my proposal was not considered, instead I have recently noted a  variation which I don’t approve. For this reason I asked David Rolfe to cancel my name from Valencia’s list."

So much for consensus? Another reader observes:

It is unfortunate that scientists like Ray Rogers and Al Adler are not around to defend their work. They may have passed away but their published scientific findings are still perfectly valid without proof to the contrary. Thanks to careful sleuthing by Yan Clement, we are reminded that McCrone found starch and Rogers confirmed it. Stéphane Mottin had thought that the cloth’s fluorescence was caused by some deposit of pectin. Al Adler tested for and found pectin impurities. Is it any wonder that the Valencia five chose to ignore fluorescence? The consensus of Valencia is as phony as baloney.

Ron, by way of a comment, offers a different perspective:

I see no problem in the change made to the number 1 statement, it mentions the impurity layer and that that may be involved in the image formation and not just the linen fibrels…good enough! The main point is that the image is extremely superficial…point made, case closed.

As for all the opposition to the ‘consensus’, this I believe is not a ‘true’ consensus for any true meaning of the word. We must remember these ‘points’ mentioned on the list were established already by most all scientists involved with the Shroud investigation, so not just decided by a few!. These points were just picked out of an already ‘established’ list of scientific points! It doesn’t matter who you have on the board or how many, there will always be opposition to certain members choosen or to the fact some of the more prominant scientists cannot be included.

One reader writes:

The Valencia Challenge. The team of five. Prize money. The whole thing sounds like a hyped-up pay-per-view sporting event. Forget Dawkins and skeptics. Instead “challenge” all the shroud scientists to arrive at a real comprehensive “consensus”. Be honest. Report out majority and minority opinions and admit it when there is no consensus. The lack of standard citations (AAAS, CSE or MLA) and the lack of specific metrics, where appropriate, makes the whole Valencia thing seem amateurish.

Andy Weiss nets it out nicely:

I would say consensus in science is right when you have a tested, repeatable theory that is correct.  The consensus does not create the right result.  It only reflects that scientists accept what is proven as such.

And daveb of Wellington, New Zealand agrees with Andy and then offers some interesting stuff:

To some extent the debate about (non-)/acceptability of consensus in science is merely semantic, and I think Andy’s comment comes close to the mark.  The sciences in general have frequently been contentious.  I can recommend any of Hal Hellman’s books in his series "Great Feuds in …" (Science / Mathematics / Technology / Medicine).  The feuds were sometimes about priority, sometimes about validity, sometimes about concepts.

Two matters come to mind in connection with this challenge and the debate about consensus.

Around 1900, David Hilbert, president of a prestigious international mathematical association presented a programme of some 23 unsolved problems for the twentieth century.  I think most of them have now all been resolved, a few in quite unexpected ways, e.g. Godel’s undecidability theorem, axiom of choice, and the contiuum hypothesis in transfinite numbers.  Hilbert had not sought consensus for his programme, but his status as president had allowed him alone  to formulate his programme of challenges.

The second matter relates to the Paul Wolfskehl prize of 100,000 marks for the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem   Fermat had formulated his notorious theorem around 1637, and claimed to have had a proof (he hadn’t – it was really a hypothesis).  The problem challenged the best mathematicians for the next few hundred years.  In 1908, Paul Wolfskehl, a Gernan industrialist bequeathed in his will a prize of 100,000 GM to whomever could solve it.  The challenge attracted every amateur mathematician throughout the world, and the math dept in the university of Gottingen was inundated with attempted proofs. In response the dean developed a routine card response "The first error occurs in Line xxx".
The Theorem was finally proved by the English mathematician Andrew Wiles at Princeton U in 1995, who had dedicated much of his professional life to its solution.  Peer review of his first presentation of the "proof" revealed.a serious problem which seemed intractable.  However further work resolved his difficulty, and Wiles eventually collected the prize.

You can find any amount of material on the web about Fermat’s Last Theorem, the Wolfskehl prize and Wiles’ proof of the theorem.  Simon Singh has published an excellent paper-back on the subject.

The example serves to illustrate.how acceptance in the scientific community comes about, certainly in mathematics anyway.  I doubt if the Shroud challenge will attract the same amount of attention as did the Wolfskehl prize.  But it would not surprise me if we have to wait a few more hundred years, before the enigma can be finally resolved.

Cazab disagrees with Crichton:

Crichton is dead wrong: consensus is  not "a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled."

Consensus in science is needed because it tells us where the evidence leads for experts in the field.

For example in history the consensus in scholarship is that Jesus really existed and was not a mythical figure. But a tiny minority of minors scholars disagree. Scholars do not say "our consensus is the ultimate truth" but just this where all the data and our line of reasoning lead.

In science, the consensus in scholarship is that quantum particles do exist. But some major scientists and philosophers of science (van Fraassen for example) disagree. There is a debate the matter is not already settled.

But maybe Crichton just confuses  "consensus" and "paradigm".

But Colin Berry, after promising to leave us “loonies,” returns a few minutes later to challenge us and sour the milk in our morning coffee. This is prompted by Yannick’s discussion of statement 1 in the Valencia challenge. Have we (all of us) done our homework well enough, is how I read this. This is perhaps a taste of what is to come:

"Maillard products are not water soluble, and they do not moved when wetted.” Really? Who decides these matters? Science by consensus is bad enough. Science by ex cathedra pronouncement is even worse…

To set the record straight, and speaking as a previous Head of Nutrition and Food Safety at a food research institute, let me tell you that Maillard reaction products (melanoidins) that are made using reducing sugars and simple amines can most certainly be water-soluble. It is the melanoproteins that tend to be insoluble (see under "Isolation" in that link) but Rogers specifically stated it was, at least according to him, low molecular weight putrefaction amines (cadaverine, putrescine etc) that provided the amino nitrogen for production of the Shroud image.

Henry from San Antonio writes:

I think it is a good idea. I don’t agree that a consensus of a handful of experts is a problem. Go for it.

No consensus on consensus!

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