Thursday, March 13, 2014

Were the radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?: My replies to Dr. Timothy Jull and Prof. Christopher Ramsey

Further to my previous posts in this series: "Were the radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?" part 1, part 2, part 3 and Summary.

On Dan Porter's blog he recently posted, under "Comment Promoted: On the Hacking Hypothesis" an email that the Shroud anti-authenticist and Editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud's Newsletter, Hugh Farey received from Dr. Timothy Jull, Director of the University of Arizona's radiocarbon dating laboratory and

[Right: Dr. A.J.T. Jull: Source Hungarian Academy of Sciences]

a signatory to the the 1989 Nature paper, "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin," which claimed that the linen on the Shroud was "mediaeval ... AD 1260-1390. Porter, who himself believes:

"The carbon dating, once seemingly proving it was a medieval fake, is now widely thought of as suspect and meaningless."
nevertheless is against my proposal that the radiocarbon dating laboratories may have been duped by a computer hacker, and promoted Farey's copy of Jull's email with the comment: "Does this put an end to it, once and for all?" evidently hoping that it did.

Here is Dr. Jull's email, as posted on Porter's blog:

"This is impossible. In our case, the software for the calculations is offline. In any case, the calculation does NOT require software, it was done offline and plotted on a graph, as I recall.

Indeed, in 1988 the internet (as we know it today) didn’t exist – there was a pre-existing network run by the US government which was quite restricted.

Anyway, the machine we used at that time couldn’t have been attached to it, and that one still isn’t."

My reply to Dr. Jull's email on Porter's blog, lightly edited, was as follows (emphasis original):

No, Jull’s email does NOT refute my hacking hypothesis, First, it is clear from my quote of Gove, the final calibration was done offline by Donahue: "The ratio was compared with the OX sample and THE RADIOCARBON TIME SCALE CALIBRATION WAS APPLIED BY DOUG DONAHUE."

But it was the computer at the end of the AMS C-14 dating system that supplied the "OX sample"'s raw years which Donahue calibrated.

I allowed for that: "… a KGB agent hacked into the AMS system control console computer at each of the three C-14 labs and inserted a program which, when each test was run, replaced the Shroud’s 1st or early century c-14 date, WITH DATES WHICH WHEN CALIBRATED, would yield years clustering around AD 1325, just before the Shroud’s appearance in undisputed history in the 1350s."

Second, Jull’s "… in 1988 the internet (as we know it today) didn’t exist – there was a pre-existing network run by the US government which was quite restricted." I did not say it was the "Internet". What I said was: "… in the 1980s university computers were all interconnected by ARPANET, THE PRECURSOR TO THE INTERNET …".

Jull’s "quite restricted" does not mention that Arpanet was originally restricted but was expanded to universities, and in particular to "research laboratories in the US":

"ARPANET … was one of the world’s first operational packet switching networks, the first network to implement TCP/IP, and the progenitor of what was to become the global Internet. The network was initially funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later DARPA) within the U.S. Department of Defense for use by its projects at universities and RESEARCH LABORATORIES IN THE US." (ARPANET," Wikipedia, 6 March 2014. Emphasis mine).

A Google search of "Arpanet" and "University of Arizona" shows that Arpanet was at the University of Arizona by 1984.

Jull’s "Anyway, the machine we used at that time couldn’t have been attached to it, and that one still isn’t", is ambiguous. If he means by "machine" the AMS machine itself, I don’t claim that machine was attached to Arpanet. But if Jull means by "machine" the COMPUTER which processed the data coming from the AMS machine, then I doubt that is true, although Jull may believe it to be true. Stoll’s book makes clear that all university computers in the 1980s were connectable to Arpanet, and most were, especially laboratories.

But if it can be proven that Arizona, Zurich and Oxford’s AMS control console computers were not ever connected to Arpanet, then that does not mean that a hacker could not have inserted a program into those computers, as he could have done it manually. Stoll’s book (and he did his PhD at the University of Arizona) makes it clear that physical security at universities in the 1980s was also poor. You and your commenters may scoff at the idea that the KGB would have as one of its goals to discredit the Shroud, but you fail to consider what a perceived threat it would be to the Soviet Union if the Shroud was dated to the first or early centuries.

Dan, your commenters, and you ... are not facing up to the fact that if the Shroud is authentic (as all the evidence apart from the C-14 dating indicates), then it would be "a remarkable coincidence" (to put it mildly) that its C-14 date was 1325 +/- 65 years, just before "the Shroud’s historical debut", as the agnostic Thomas de Wesselow saw clearly:

"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 [of] … 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, T., 2012, "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection," p.170).

My bottom line is that, since the Shroud IS authentic, there HAD to be some form of fraud to convert a 1st century actual date of the Shroud into the `too good to be true' 1325 ± 65 years date. Harry Grove’s worries before the test that at least one of the AMS labs would return an outlier date, and the 1989 Intercomparison Test in which the AMS labs fared badly, makes it difficult to believe (again to put it mildly) that all three AMS labs independently dated the Shroud "flawlessly," as Gove later assumed they would have to have done, to date the Shroud so accurately, to within 25-30 years of the Shroud’s appearance at Lirey in the 1350s.

My proposal that the labs were duped by a computer hacker fits all the facts (Jull’s ambiguous email notwithstanding), and it allows for Ian Wilson’s assurance that the lab leaders were basically honest. I am hopeful that now my proposal is in the public domain, it will eventually be confirmed by someone in a position to know.

I must say I was surprised that Farey had made Dr. Jull aware of my proposal and that Jull had responded to it. That surprise became even greater when further reading of the comments

[Left: Prof. Christopher Ramsey: Merton College, Oxford]

under Porter's post revealed another comment by Hugh Farey which contained a response from Prof. Christopher Ramsey, Director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Laboratory, and also a signatory to that 1989 Nature paper:

"Yes – I agree with all that Tim says. This would seem to be a suggestion from someone who does not know what computers were like in the 1980s.

In the case of Oxford the AMS had no connection to any network (and indeed even today our AMS control computers have no network connections). The software was very simple just outputting counts of 14C and currents measured. Age calculation was done offline and could just be done with a calculator, or by a simple program into which you typed the numbers from the AMS."

My reply to Prof. Ramsey's email on Porter's blog, with comments from Hugh Farey omitted, but otherwise lightly edited, was as follows (emphasis original):

No. I was one of the first to have a personal computer in 1980. I pioneered the introduction of computers into Health Department of WA hospitals in the mid-to late 1980s and in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I was the Systems Administrator of a network of 7 hospitals' UNIX systems.

And also I have read Clifford Stoll’s 1989 book, "The Cuckoo’s Egg" which relates how easy it was to hack into university computers in the 1980s.

>In the case of Oxford the AMS had no connection to any network (and indeed even today our AMS control computers have no network connections).

Thanks to Prof. Ramsey for this unambiguous statement.

>The software was very simple just outputting counts of 14C and currents measured. Age calculation was done offline and could just be done with a calculator, or by a simple program into which you typed the numbers from the AMS."

Nevertheless, it WAS "software" on each lab’s AMS control computer, which outputted "counts of 14C" which were, according to Gove’s eyewitness account, displayed on the AMS control computer’s screen:

"The first sample run was OX1. Then followed one of the controls. Each run consisted of a 10 second measurement of the carbon-13 current and a 50 second measurement of the carbon-14 counts. This is repeated nine more times and an average carbon-14/carbon-13 ratio calculated. All this was under computer control and THE CALCULATIONS PRODUCED BY THE COMPUTER WERE DISPLAYED ON A CATHODE RAY SCREEN. The age of the control sample could have been calculated on a small pocket calculator but was not-everyone was waiting for the next sample-the Shroud of Turin! At 9:50 am 6 May 1988, Arizona time, the first of the ten measurements appeared on the screen. We all waited breathlessly. The ratio was compared with the OX sample and the radiocarbon time scale calibration was applied by Doug Donahue ... At the end of that one minute we knew the age of the Turin Shroud! The next nine numbers confirmed the first. ... Based on these 10 one minute runs, with the calibration correction applied, the year the flax had been harvested that formed its linen threads was 1350 AD-the shroud was only 640 years old! It was certainly not Christ’s burial cloth but dated from the time its historic record began." (Gove, H.E., 1996, "Relic, Icon or Hoax?: Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud," p.264).

It is those "calculations produced by the computer" which when calibrated, yielded a date of "1350 AD". So all that a hacker would have to do is modify the program which displayed those "counts of 14C", to replace those coming from the Shroud samples, with bogus "counts of 14C" which when calibrated, yielded the TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE date of "1350 AD".

I am now going to post a revised version of my proposal, "Were the radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?: Revised #1," based on the information contained in Dr. Jull's and Prof. Ramsey's emails.

Posted: 13 March 2014. Updated: 12 May 2017.

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