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Answering Charges of Pseudoscience, Bias and More

June 8, 2014

imageIn Answering a Skeptic, Barrie Schwortz effectively punches back hard on charges of pseudoscience . . .

With all due respect, I believe the extent and diversity of STURP’s research clearly demonstrates the indepth nature and relevance of their testing. Referring to their work as pseudoscience is rather demeaning and petty, considering the time and care they put into planning their experiments, the qualifications of the team members themselves and the respected organizations they represented. Because of the truly unique and controversial nature of the subject matter and its importance to nearly a billion people around the world, they also understood there would be intense public scrutiny, so they had to execute even greater care in every facet of their work. In the end, they also had to break new ground as nothing like this had ever been attempted before.

and bias . . .

As for bias, I am assuming you really mean religious bias, since that is the commonest claim made by skeptics. Never mind that our team included three Jewish members (Al Adler, Don Devan and me), one Mormon, one Evangelical, several Catholics, several Protestants and some avowed atheists and agnostics. Had religion ever been a criterion for membership, most of the STURP team members would never have agreed to participate. Even the Church custodians and the emissary of King Umberto (the owner of the Shroud in 1978) did nothing to interfere with or influence our work. They did not want it to even appear that that might be the case and consequently gave us complete autonomy. The only bias I perceive is your dismissing a wealth of credible scientific data because it disagrees with your friend’s conclusions. No one is infallible, not even Walter McCrone. As I stated before, the bulk of the credible scientific evidence disputes his conclusions. Of course, you are free to dismiss that evidence on any grounds you wish, but I assure you there were no hidden motives or any agenda, other than to honestly try to answer the questions about the Shroud’s image.

I couldn’t agree more with what Barrie said. I might have preferred another title, though: answering an Uninformed Skeptic, perhaps; or, maybe a Naïve Skeptic or a Befuddled Skeptic. It is not that the letter writer to whom Barrie is responding is a skeptic that matters. Most skeptics in the world of shroud studies are not so poorly informed. Many, in fact, contribute greatly. Let’s remember that the editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud is a skeptic sceptic of the shroud’s authenticity. You won’t hear such unsubstantiated blanket statements from him. Hugh Farey’s contributions on this blog are immeasurably important.  So are those of Charles Freeman and Colin Berry, to name two more. Other skeptics, like me, believe the shroud is authentic but by nature are skeptical. Initially, I was an all around skeptic of the shroud, as was Barrie, himself. I am still skeptical of much that is claimed about the shroud. I’m skeptical about the claims of coins and flowers in the images, about the reliability of some of the historical documents and about some of scientific claims like the Blue Quad Mosaics. Enough said. I get to get on my high horse every now and then, even with my good friend Barrie.

Categories: News & Views
  1. Tom Devins
    June 8, 2014 at 8:44 am

    I find Barrie Schwortz’s defense against religious bias incredulous. Mentioning the religious representation on the team he says, “Never mind that our team included three Jewish members (Al Adler, Don Devan and me), one Mormon, one Evangelical, several Catholics, several Protestants and some avowed atheists and agnostics.” Notably absent on the team is the Buddhist Master. No matter, I guess, that Buddhists (and Hindu’s) have been vanishing from planet earth in a blast of radiation, all well documented, for thousands of years. It is a foundational article of their beliefs. The last incident occurred in September, 1998 and was thoroughly investigated and found authentic by the Catholic Church.

    The Buddhists have much to add in the matter of image formation yet the “team” steadfastly avoids soliciting their input. What is wrong with this picture?

  2. Hugh Farey
    June 8, 2014 at 8:46 am

    “The last incident occurred in September, 1998 and was thoroughly investigated and found authentic by the Catholic Church.” No, of course it wasn’t. Check your sources more carefully.

  3. daveb of wellington nz
    June 8, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Clearly the point that Barrie was making is that religious affiliation had noting to do with the selection of STURP scientists, it was just not a criterion, only an adequate reputation and known expertise in the particular scientific disciplines considered necessary at the time. If any of the scientists selected happened to have had an affiliation to Buddhism, that would merely have been incidental to his/her selection. There was no steadfastly avoiding soliciting Buddhist input at all, and furthermore there was no steadfastly soliciting a breadth of any kind of other religious affiliation, it just happened that way!

  4. Louis
    June 8, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    There was obviously no pseudoscience involved in STURP research, the team members did the best they could.
    So now the complaint is that no Buddhists were involved? Why has nothing about their output been posted here? We must see what difference it will make.

  5. Charles Freeman
    June 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    There are issues involved with STURP. They took vital evidence in their samples from the Shroud, vital above all because these samples were taken from a number of different areas of the cloth. Ideally they should have been returned to Turin after analysis so that they remained there for future research. If not they should have been kept as an archive in museum conditions with controlled access for scholars but never dispersed as they appear to have been. I have shown one or two ‘expert’ friends parts of STURP reports and have been told that some of the problems of the Shroud reported by STURP could be quickly resolved by a 2014 lab.
    It is not difficult to relate the Shroud to the various ancient and medieval looms of which we have evidence. Some,for instance, would not have been able to weave a cloth of this length but as STURP had no ancient textile expert in their team this was never considered.
    Again there was no expert on medieval linen painting and the STURP physics and chemistry report specifically says that this area was not considered. Whether there are brush strokes on a printed linen depends on how liquid the paint mix was when applied, the more liquid the more likely it would settle without marks before it dried. In fact, conservation labs learn about the paint on a linen by seeing whether there are brush marks or not and from this they understand the formulation of the original mix. So absence of brush marks does not mean that the linen was not originally painted ( but, of course, it does not mean that it was!) -again an expert would have known this.
    So let’s give STURP credit where it is due but note that science does not stand still and reports from 1978 have diminishing value. The team missed a lot of opportunities by not having a full range of experts in weaving and painted medieval linens. These do exist and could well provide valuable comparative material. Again one cannot give STURP many good marks if they have not preserved their valuable samples intact and together somewhere so that more sophisticated technology can be applied to them. Whatever McCrone’s problems he was able to make a comparative study of samples – is this still possible?

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