MUST READ: The Shroud of Turin, pseudoscience, and journalism.
Hat tip: Joe Marino

A friend who is a knee-jerk skeptic of the shroud sent me the story from the Huffington Post, Shroud of Turin Formed by an Earthquake? Scientists Say Face of Jesus Image Caused By Neutron Emissions. (Actually, six people sent it to me, another seven people sent me similar stories).

“Aren’t you guys the least bit embarrassed by believing this crap?”, my friend wrote.

Believing this crap? I don’t believe it. And yes it’s crap. The an-earthquake-did-it story, still spilling printers’ ink by the buckets full, is just the latest crap being said about the shroud by mediocre so-called scientific journals and an irresponsible media. It is disappointing to have friends who think we should be embarrassed. 

imageAnd that brings me to Joel Achenbach and his excellent Washington Post blog article, The Shroud of Turin, pseudoscience, and journalism. If you read only one thing about the earthquake crap read Joel Achenbach:

The story seems to have been sparked by a EurekAlert item placed by someone working for the publishing company Springer, which produces the journal, Meccanica, that ran the shroud paper.

I am not familiar with “Meccanica.” I do not know if it is peer-reviewed or is open-access. But this paper is, to put it delicately, unpersuasive. The author cites as an authority on an earthquake in A.D. 33 the writer Dante, who was born more than 12 centuries later. There’s a reference to a hypothetical earthquake that is an 11 on the Richter Scale. Never mind that, as far as I know, seismologists do not use the term “Richter scale” anymore. The question is: ELEVEN on the Richter Scale? The strongest earthquake ever recorded is a 9.5. This sounds to me like “Spinal Tap” science. “This one goes to 11.”

The hypothesis of a connection between an earthquake and the shroud is based on a nuclear process known as piezonuclear fission, but a cursory examination of the process would lead the skeptical reader to conclude that there’s no such thing. A leading advocate for the existence of piezonuclear fission is the very same professor Carpinteri who wrote the Meccanica paper. [ . . . ]

Good journalism has a subtle feature of reticence. We don’t publish everything we hear. We filter. We curate. The goal of the traditional journalist is to create a reputation for accuracy, fairness, relevance and timeliness, and this requires the willingness to not publish things that are unlikely to be true.

The Shroud of Turin story brings up all the usual issues about click-bait journalism and our current struggle for survival in a highly disrupted news industry. [ . . . ]

There’s nothing at stake here except the survival of credible journalism. For those who are trying to figure out a business model for journalism — and I desperately want these folks to be successful — let me suggest that the ultimate killer app is quality. Quality comes in many forms. In the news business, being fast — ideally first — is a form of quality. Packaging the material in a beautiful way visually is another virtue. But the ultimate virtue in this business is getting it right.

And discerning the truth about the shroud’s authenticity, whatever that may be, is also at stake.