Thursday, February 20, 2014

Were the radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker? (2)

Continuing from part 1 of "Were the radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?" with this part 2.

[Right: Broad & Wade's ground-breaking work on scientific fraud, which was on the required reading list of the Philosophy of Science unit in my Biology degree.]

As we saw in part 1:

• The evidence is overwhelming that the Shroud of Turin is the burial sheet of Jesus Christ;

• However three laboratories, Arizona, Zurich and Oxford, in 1988, radiocarbon dated a "very small sample" of the Shroud as "medieval ... AD 1260-1390" (Nature, 337:1989:611. My emphasis);

• The midpoint of that date range is 1325 +/- 65 years, which `just happens' to be a mere ~25-30 years before, as the Nature paper noted, "The Shroud of Turin ... was first displayed at Lirey in France in the 1350s"

• But even the current Director of the Oxford laboratory, Prof. Christopher Bronk Ramsey, who was a signatory to that Nature paper, has admitted: "There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the Shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow";

• Before the dating, Prof. Harry Grove, the co-inventor of the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS), method used to date the Shroud, when he learned that Turin had cut the number of laboratories from 7 to 3, and the number of methods from 2 to 1, he was so concerned that at least one of the 3 labs would give a markedly incorrect date, that he drafted a letter to the Pope requesting him, "not to date the Shroud at all";

• After the tests Prof. Grove was relieved that: "The three laboratories performed their measurements flawlessly" (Archaeometry, 31:2:1988:237. My emphasis)

• But that is most unlikely considering that a year after the tests, in 1989, in an intercomparison test of 38 radiocarbon dating laboratories (including Arizona and Zurich, with Oxford abstaining) dating artifacts of known age, but unknown to them, only 7 laboratories reported a satisfactory date, with those using the AMS method faring the worst.

The problem is that, as Prof. Gove has pointed out, if the Shroud is authentic (as the preponderance of the evidence points to), and therefore its actual age is first century or earlier, the chance that it would radiocarbon date to the 13th-14th century, is "about one in a thousand trillion":

"The other question that has been asked is: if the statistical probability that the shroud dates between 1260 and 1390 is 95%, what is the probability that it could date to the first century? The answer is about one in a thousand trillion, i.e. vanishingly small." (Gove, H.E., 1996, "Relic, Icon or Hoax?: Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud," p.303. My emphasis).
Given that the preponderance of the evidence is strongly in favour of the Shroud's authenticity, and it is unlikely that the three laboratories performed their tests flawlessly, then clearly it is easier to believe that a fraud was committed, even if it was only "making results appear just a little crisper or more definitive than they really are, or selecting just the `best' data for publication and ignoring those that don't fit":
"The term `scientific fraud' is often assumed to mean the wholesale invention of data. But this is almost certainly the rarest kind of fabrication. Those who falsify scientific data probably start and succeed with the much lesser crime of improving upon existing results. Minor and seemingly trivial instances of data manipulation-such as making results appear just a little crisper or more definitive than they really are, or selecting just the `best' data for publication and ignoring those that don't fit the case-are probably far from unusual in science. But there is only a difference in degree between `cooking' the data and inventing a whole experiment out of thin air." (Broad, W.A. & Wade, N.J., 1982, "Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science," p.20).
than to believe that by a "one in a thousand trillion" chance the three radiocarbon dating laboratories `just happened' to independently converge on the 1260-1390 date range, the midpoint of which, 1325 +/- 65 years, is a mere ~25-30 years (surely unheard of accuracy for carbon dating!) before the Shroud first appeared in the undisputed historical record at Lirey, France in the 1350s.

Which date the laboratories were well aware of. Indeed, one leading Shroud sceptic, philosopher Denis Dutton (1944–2010), had publicly predicted in a journal two years before the 1988 tests, that if the Shroud was radiocarbon dated it would date to "A.D. 1335, plus or minus 30 years":

"Postscript, 2005: In 1986, reviewing Ian Wilson's Evidence of the Shroud for the Christchurch Press, I predicted that if the cloth ever were to be carbon-dated it would come in at A.D. 1335, plus or minus 30 years. When the Shroud was finally dated and the results came back from the participating laboratories, the collated result was A.D. 1325, plus or minus 65 years. I was ten years off ... The carbon-dating results from three different internationally known laboratories agreed well with his date: ... 1325 by C-14 dating." (Dutton, D., "Requiem for the Shroud of Turin." Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. 23, 1984, pp.243-255.)
So a fraudster would know what date to aim for!

Agnostic art historian Thomas de Wesselow, who believes the Shroud is authentic but Jesus did not rise from the dead, on the basis of the art history evidence considers that the fourteenth-century radiocarbon date of the Shroud to be the equivalent of claiming that "the Shroud was deposited in medieval France by aliens":

"Given credence, the carbon-dating result effectively raises the Shroud to the status of a miracle, an object that defies, if not a law of nature, a law of culture. All artefacts are linked to the art and technology of the society in which they originate. Something that cannot be explained in terms of its (presumed) cultural context invites a supernatural explanation. As far as I am aware, no one has yet argued that the Shroud was deposited in medieval France by aliens ... There is no better explanation, though, for a fourteenth-century Shroud." (de Wesselow, T., 2012, "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection," pp.167-168. My emphasis).
Therefore de Wesselow considers fraud to be a real possibility for the Shroud's "1325 ± 65 years" radiocarbon date, and indeed because of it:
"The third possibility is that a fraud was perpetrated ... Most sindonologists regard these fraud theories as plainly incredible. Some, like Ian Wilson, refuse to contemplate such `unworthy' accusations. However, scientific fraud is by no means unknown, as the editors of science journals are well aware. ... One important consideration weighs in favour of the possibility of deception. If the carbon-dating error was accidental, then it is a remarkable coincidence that the result tallies so well with the date always claimed by sceptics as the Shroud's historical debut. But if fraud was involved, then it wouldn't be a coincidence at all. Had anyone wished to discredit the Shroud, '1325 ± 65 years' is precisely the sort of date they would have looked to achieve." (de Wesselow, 2012, p.170. My emphasis).
Continued in: "Were the radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker? (3)".

Posted: 20 February 2014. Updated: 9 March 2017.

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