Colin Berry wants your opinion on his draft of a letter to Sir Paul Nurse (pictured), President of the Royal Society (the British academy of science).
WHAT IS NOT TO LIKE about these three concluding paragraphs?
It cannot be good for the reputation of science that such an impasse still exists, some 30 years after the STURP investigators worked and reported on Shroud specimens. It cannot be good for the reputation of science that there is still an air of mystery, of ‘enduring enigma’ given the accumulated data on that artefact. Is there something that has been overlooked, or perhaps prematurely discounted? Or should we be discarding ALL present theories and looking for entirely new explanations as to how this puzzling and/or challenging artefact came into existence?
Would it be presumptuous of me to suggest that perhaps the time has come to put these questions to the general membership of the Royal Society, for the UK’s premier learned society with its 350 years of distinguished research and scholarship, to examine the issues and controversies, to issue a call for clarification and expansion where deemed necessary, to invite submissions from those (like this retired scientist) who may have views they wish to express and receive wider circulation, especially among his more illustrious peers?
No, Shroud research is not in the same league as more urgent matters such as climate change etc where the RS has recently become involved over the use/misuse of science. But there is a sense in which this piece of cloth with its bloodstains has come to symbolise in many people’s minds the limitations of the scientific method, and even raised doubts as to the competence or objectivity of the scientists on one or other side of present controversies. Might this not be a good moment to “call in the umpire”? Who better to serve that role than the formidable collective brainpower of Britain’s Royal Society, the heirs to Newton, Hooke, Pepys, Faraday, Darwin, Rutherford and a host of other luminaries?
I would love see it. This could be even better than David Rolfe’s Dawkins Challenge. Shall I hold my breath?
Colin’s most significant contribution is not his scorching hypothesis. He, who claims to be “the voice crying in the sindonological wilderness camp,” is not winning that argument. Rather, it is his constant reminder that “there is still an air of mystery, of ‘enduring enigma’.”
Colin, defines himself as a scientist. Ok, then start by adopting the protocols of science and if your scorching experiments are succesful, send a paper to a peer-review journal. Please, don`t try to involve a prestigious institution to do the science that you haven’t already done. Are you suggesting that this institution should -instead of yourself- carry out the experiments, send results to a peer-review journal and eventually say “Colin was right from the beginning”?
Good luck, but my friend, this is not how science works and in my view, with this letter you are trying to get the attention from the media instead of from academic journals. Just like previous challenges, and reports we see a new (anti)Shroud emerging. Too bad.
typo error:Just like previous challenges, and reports we see a new (anti)Shroud star emerging. Too bad.
After making due allowance for Colin’s inevitable quirky writing style, his full text is quite a well-written letter. It is directed at what he calls “pseudo-science” in the various attempts to understand the processes that may have been involved in forming the image on the Shroud of Turin. His own particular disciplinary bias is of course Chemistry, as is also that of Sir Paul Maxime Nurse, President of the Royal Society of London. Important as Chemistry is in coming to an understanding of the image, there is rather more to it than this single discipline is competent to pronounce on, and of course there have been a number of forensic studies to this end. Indeed being an historic object, it even transcends the limits of the conventional hard sciences, and the discipline of Historians also needs to be called into play. Furthermore the Shroud is also seen as an important religious object of devotion, displaying with good reason what is seen to be the image of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion and death, whether or not it is indeed his true likeness.
So whether a prestigious Society dedicated to the pursuit of Natural Knowledge only, can bring down a decision on the Shroud’s authenticity may be arguable, although it might be able to make a useful contribution. Such Societies are of course comprised of persons the product of their own particular culture of time and place. This is no better illustrated than the case of when Yves Delage, Sorbonne professor of comparative anatomy presented his forensic findings on the Shroud image to the Paris Acadamy of Sciences in 1905. Although Delage’s findings were well reasoned and scientific, and found a positive response in the medical journal The Lancet, the Academy was so dominated by “freethinkers” and “rationalists” that the dominance of this culture produced an opposition that outweighed the evidence. Delage had compromised his distinguished scientific career as a result and he turned his attention towards other matters.
Colin’s letter makes much of the 1988 Carbon dating, perhaps itself a model of pseudo-science, in that carefully designed protocols were ignored, and fundamental principles of representative sampling were set aside. Nevertheless the laboratories involved proceeded with their testing, asserting that their results had 95% confidence limits. The Royal Society may also like to address this issue as an attempt at pseudo-science.
The provenance of the Shroud itself can only be reliably proven to around the year of 1350. Sceptics make much of the D’Arcis memorandum, based on Chevalier’s 1900 study and its English translation by Thurston in 1903. Both men were hostile to the Shroud’s authenticity, and appear to have set out on a deliberate misrepresentation of the value of the memorandum, one writer asserting that Chevalier & Thurston deliberately set out to deceive.
Nevertheless various attempts have been made in the quest for an earlier provenance, many of them however questioned by various scholars in Byzantine history, who appeared to have succumbed to the peril of paying too much attention of heeding “received wisdom” in their discipline, yet another example of a cultural bias and atagonism to authenticity of the relic.
Whether an objective response might be expected from the Royal Society is moot. It is no doubt not less susceptible to the personal biases of its members than any other human institution, as was the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1905. The following extract on Sir Paul Nurse may be of interest.
“Nurse criticized the potential Republican candidates for the US presidential nomination for opposing the teaching of natural selection, stem cell research on cell lines from human embryos, and anthropogenic climate change; he blamed scientists in part for not speaking up. He was alarmed that this could happen in the U.S., a world leader in science, “the home of Benjamin Franklin, Richard Feynman and Jim Watson.”
“One problem, Nurse said, was “treating scientific discussion as if it were political debate,” using rhetorical tricks rather than logic. Another problem was science teaching in the schools, which does not teach citizens how to discuss science, and is compromised by religious schools, even in the United Kingdom.”
“We need to emphasize why the scientific process is such a reliable generator of knowledge with its respect for evidence, for skepticism, for consistency of approach, for the constant testing of ideas,” wrote Nurse.
“Finally, scientific leaders “have a responsibility to expose the bunkum,” said Nurse. They should take on politicians, and expose nonsense during elections”
Seems like the Shroud of Turin really keeps Colin Berry up at night.
Tony; “Seems like the Shroud of Turin really keeps Colin Berry up at night.”
…OR probably because the wifey has him sleeping on the couch, for scorching-up all her fine linen ;-)
I think he might be in a war with his heart.
While I would never cal Darwin a “luminary”, his idea is very interesting.
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