In considering the authenticity of the Shroud, one of the first questions that immediately comes to mind is, “Is the blood real?” Skeptics would have you believe that the scientists involved in the study of the Shroud bloodstains were in way over their heads-big time. That their approach to determining if, in fact, the blood was really blood was way out there, earmarked by inexperience and ineptitude. Sure, they were good scientists, but…
While Dr. Alan Adler’s name is typically invoked whenever the specifics of blood evaluation are discussed, dismissed by some as a mere “porphyrin specialist”, it is worth noting that a (the) major investigator in these studies was Dr. John H. Heller. A narrative of this story is provided in the book “Report on the Shroud of Turin”. Published in 1983, this book is a must read for anyone remotely interested in the Shroud, (or is worth considering a re-read if you already have it). The book is suitable for those with or without a scientific background. As one reviewer writes, “Heller is appropriately skeptical and driven by curiosity. For the readers of any persuasion, this is a fascinating book”. In addition, a lengthy interview with both Drs. Heller and Adler comprises the entire second half of the book “The Shroud of Turin And The C-14 Dating Fiasco: A Scientific Detective Story” by Thomas W. Case (1996). This interview, which covers all aspects of their work, was conducted shortly before Dr. Heller’s death in1995. References to the original Shroud scientific articles published by Heller and Adler may be easily found using the search engine on http://www.shroud.com. Or you can even find the Shroud papers using Google Scholar (they really do pop up there; they should, they were peer-reviewed).
Dr. Heller was no middle of the road scientist. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and did graduate work at both Yale and Cornell. He had a doctorate in medicine from Case Western Reserve and was a professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Physics at Yale University. He was recognized nationally and internationally for his work.
In 1954, Dr. Heller founded the Reticuloendothelial Society, which grew worldwide and still continues to this day. Dr. Heller authored the textbook, “Reticuloendothelial Structure and Function”, in 1960. The reticuloendothelial system functions in both the generation and destruction of red blood cells. Dr. Heller’s expertise was centered in making physical and chemical measurements of this system. He relates in his book that he has tested for the presence of blood in capital cases for both the prosecution and defense. (Re)read the book and Dr Heller’s initial concerns about testing for trace amounts of aged blood are apparent. Importantly, Dr. Heller, together with Adler, does not rely on a single approach. Multiple chemical tests were utilized to diagnose the presence of blood, any one of which, he asserts, is proof of the presence of blood, and is acceptable in a court of law. As an extension of the chemical tests, immunological studies were also conducted by Heller and Adler, which confirmed their previous results. Dr. Heller confidently concludes that it is real blood. He was the right man for the job. He knew what to look for. His experience speaks for itself, as does his choice of Adler as a coworker. Are there still some issues regarding the color and the precise composition of the bloodstains? Of course. There probably always will be. But these don’t invalidate the main conclusion.
It is certainly wise to be skeptical. That’s healthy. But this should also include being skeptical about the skeptics. It is smart to ask to see some I.D. To seek multiple opinions, from other scientists, particularly those outside of the Shroud crowd. For those unfamiliar with certain science search engines, it is good to consult Google Scholar or PubMed, but this shouldn’t be too overhyped. For example, you won’t always get the full range of a scientist’s experience just from Titles or Abstracts. A scientist may have experience in cloning a gene or altering specific DNA sequences in the study of a particular protein, but this won’t necessarily show up in the Title or Abstract of that paper-this is just a starting point. In my opinion Heller and Adler were well suited for the task, but it should be noted that they are not the only scientists to study Shroud fibers and conclude that real blood was present. Also, as described in Heller’s book and the accompanying scientific papers, evaluating for the presence of blood was only part of the story. They also worked diligently to determine if paint or pigment could account for the bloodstains as well. While some may cast doubt on their expertise as “blood chemists”, which becomes even more difficult with Heller’s resume, what is to be said for the rest of their work as lab bench chemists? Heller and Adler were good scientists, willing to take the risk of proving their own conclusions wrong. It’s in the book.
On the last page of the book, preceding the Epilogue, Dr. Heller writes, “No member of the team had worked in a vacuum. When confronted with a problem, he would discuss it with other colleagues at his own or other institutions. Each of the forty STURP members must have consulted at least ten other investigators who were not part of the Shroud team. Thus, at least four hundred scientists had added their input. In addition, all of us had given lectures before meetings of Sigma XI, the scientific society to which most research scientists belong, at chapter meetings of the American Chemical Society, at universities across the country and their alumni groups, such as MIT’s, at meetings of other scientific societies-from physical engineering to the medical sciences. From all of these we had received contributions of knowledge and suggestions.”
Dr. Heller strikes me as an especially intelligent man, one who was smart enough to be confident in what he knew and smart enough to admit that he didn’t know everything. Read the book if you haven’t. Consider reading it again if you already own a copy. Looking for a holiday gift for a friend (or even yourself), for a dyed-in-the-wool-authentic or the most rabid of skeptics? Give ‘em Heller.