Monday, December 11, 2017

18 November 1987: On this day 30 years ago in the radiocarbon dating of the Turin Shroud

© Stephen E. Jones[1]

This is part #7, "18 November 1987," of my series, "On this day 30 years ago in the radiocarbon dating of the Turin Shroud." For more information about this series, see part #1. As explained in part #1, the first significant days 30 years ago in the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud have already passed, but I will catch up and thereafter publish each day's post as near to its 30th anniversary as possible. Emphases are mine unless otherwise indicated.

[Index #1] [Previous: 10Oct87 #6] [Next: 22Jan88 #8]

18 November 1987 In response to the letter of 10 October 1987 [see 10Oct87a], from the Archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero (r. 1977-1989), advising that only three Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) laboratories: Arizona, Zurich and Oxford, would radiocarbon-date the Shroud[2], not five AMS and two small gas counter laboratories as per the 1986 Turin workshop protocol[3], a letter in Italian from the three chosen laboratories: Arizona, Zurich and Oxford, was sent to the Cardinal Ballestrero, requesting that the

[Right[4]: Professor Emeritus Douglas J. Donahue, co-founder of the Arizona radiocarbon dating laboratory, and the principal author of the 18 November 1987 letter (see below).]

1986 Turin workshop protocol which specified seven laboratories, using two different methods[5], be given further consideration[6 ].

But before that, on 20 October, in his response to Cardinal Ballestrero's letter of 10 October, the unofficial leader of the Shroud carbon-dating project, Prof. Harry Gove (1922-2009), proposed that all seven laboratories write an open joint letter to Pope John Paul II (r. 1978-2005), appealing against Cardinal Ballestrero's letter[7]. This was a suggestion to Gove by Dr Vittorio Canuto [see 07Jul17a], an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and a scientific aide of Prof. Carlos Chagas Filho (1910-2000)[see 07Jul17b], the President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences[8], that the seven laboratories send an open letter to the Pope via Prof. Chagas, advising that the 1986 Turin workshop had produced a protocol that specified seven laboratories and that Cardinal Ballestrero "was getting bad advice" from his scientific advisor, Prof. Luigi Gonella (1930–2007)[9]. Initially I thought that it was only Canuto's idea because surely Chagas would have told Canuto and Gove that overturning Ballestrero's letter had no chance of success because, as they all knew, it was sent with the full authority of the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli (1914–98)[see 13Sep17], and surely Chagas would know that it was highly unlikely that the Pope would override his Secretary of State in such a matter (especially since Casaroli had presumably briefed the Pope on it). But on 2 November Canuto told Gove that Chagas thought that the seven laboratories' letter to the Pope "was a good idea"[10]! Which makes me think that it was Chagas' idea as a last-ditch attempt to reverse his now having "no role at all" in the dating of the Shroud[11]. In which case Chagas would have been manipulating the unwitting Gove for Chagas' own ends!

Following Canuto's (which was presumably Chagas' - see above) suggestion, Gove began drafting a letter to the Pope as well as a joint press release about the letter[12]. Gove first phoned Willy Woelfli [Left[13].], Director of the Zurich AMS laboratory, but his being one of the chosen three laboratories, Woelfli was against a press release and wanted to see the draft letter to the Pope before he agreed to add his name to it[14]. Gove next sent a telex message to Jean-Claude Duplessy, Director of the Gif-sur-Yvette AMS laboratory, and he replied that would sign a joint letter to the Pope only if all the other laboratories did, but he did not want to be involved in any press release[15]. Realising that he was not going to get all seven laboratories to sign a joint letter to the Pope, on 29 October Gove sent the following memo to the Directors of the six laboratories other than his own:

"Some of us have been persuaded, as a result of the 10 October letter from the Archdiocese of Turin, that a direct appeal to the pope [sic], preferably through Professor Chagas, is now in order. Such a letter would only have a chance of being effective if it were signed by at least six of the seven laboratories and I would only send it in that circumstance. If, for whatever reason, this proposed appeal fails it is hard to see how this unilateral rejection of the Turin Workshop Protocol by the Cardinal of Turin can be concealed from the world press; hence the proposed press release. Please let me know as quickly as possible whether you would be willing to sign the attached letter to the pope"[16].
Attached was the draft of Gove's letter to the Pope and a press release, the latter only to be sent to media outlets if the appeal to the Pope failed[17]. Gove's draft letter to Pope John Paul II was as follows:
"Your Holiness: Following your specific instructions, representatives of scientific laboratories specializing in the technique of carbon dating small samples met in Turin on 29 September-1 October 1986, to discuss the protocol to follow should you permit the dating of the Holy Shroud of Turin. The workshop was held under the joint sponsorship of His Eminence Cardinal A Ballestrero and of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. At the end of this workshop a detailed protocol was arrived at that was agreed upon by all participants [sic]. The two main guiding principles were: 1. Removal of a minimum amount of Shroud material. A total of 12½ square centimetres (less than 0.03 per cent of the total surface of the Shroud) will suffice for all the laboratories. 2. Absolute scientific credibility. It was unanimously decided that, to improve the statistical credibility of the analysis, a minimum of seven laboratories should perform the dating. It is important to note that they use different techniques. In a letter dated 10 October 1987 to all the workshop participants, Cardinal Ballestrero has ordered substantial modifications to the original protocol. In particular, the number of laboratories is reduced, without any explanation, to three. This change was made in spite of a cable sent on 5 July 1987 to Cardinal Ballestrero with a copy to the Secretary of State, Cardinal A Casaroli, signed by all seven laboratories and the British Museum, in which the dangers of such a change were clearly spelled out. It is our collective impression that Cardinal Ballestrero has received very unwise scientific advice. The proposed modifications will confirm the suspicion of many people around the world that the Church either does not want the Shroud dated or it wants to have it done in an ambiguous way. The procedure that the Cardinal of Turin is suggesting is bound to produce a result that will be questioned in strictly scientific terms by many scientists around the world who will be very skeptical of the arbitrarily small statistical basis when it is well known that a better procedure was recommended. Since there is great world expectation for the date of the Shroud, the publicity resulting from a scientifically dubious result will do great harm to the Church. We respectfully urge Your Holiness to persuade the Cardinal of Turin that the scientific advice being given to him is not shared by the world experts in this field. He should be urged to seek the advice of the eminent scientific organization expressly created to advise you, namely the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that enjoys the respect of the scientific world at large. Rather than following an ill advised procedure that will not generate a reliable date but will rather give rise to world controversy, we suggest that it would be better not to date the Shroud at all"[18].
So the "procedure" that actually was used to date the Shroud: by three AMS laboratories, Gove stated before the dating in a letter to the Directors of the other six laboratories, that it was "ill advised," "will not generate a reliable date" such that, "it would be better not to date the Shroud at all"[19]!

The first reaction to Gove's draft letter to the Pope and press release was on 2 November from Canuto who (as we saw above) said that Chagas thought it "was a good idea"[20], presumably because it was Chagas' idea! Next was from Zurich's Woelfli who said he would sign the joint letter to the Pope if the other two chosen AMS laboratories, Oxford Arizona signed[21]. Zurich had received an invitation from Ballestrero to date the Shroud (and so had Arizona and Oxford)[22]. That same day Donahue of Arizona told Gove he favoured the three chosen AMS laboratories negotiating with Ballestrero and if that were not successful (whatever that meant) they should withdraw, but he thought that the approach to the Pope would be "fruitless" (Donahue is a Roman Catholic[23]) and might mean that the Shroud would not be dated[24]. Harbottle of the non-AMS Brookhaven laboratory, preferred to wait and see what the three chosen laboratories did[25]. On 3 November, Oxford's Prof. Edward Hall (1924–2001) [below right[26].] told Gove that he would not sign the joint letter to the Pope, because Ballestrero would consider it "blackmail" and the project might be cancelled[27]. Hall blamed Gove's antagonism towards Gonella for the reduction of the laboratories from seven to three[28]!

Gove then got back to Donahue[29], presumably to let him know of Hall's refusal to sign the joint letter. Both he and Paul Damon (1921-2005), co-founder with Donahue of the Arizona laboratory, would not sign Gove's joint letter to the Pope[30]. Donahue told Gove that he was composing a letter to be sent jointly with Oxford and Zurich to Ballestrero saying that they were upset with the new procedures, were unwilling to go along with three laboratories and would appeal to him to raise the number of laboratories to five or six[31]. But Damon told Gove that Donahue's preliminary version of the same joint letter of the three laboratories to Ballestrero would only say that "Arizona preferred that the original protocol be followed" but if Ballestrero refused (which he would since his "instructions [were] from the Holy See personally signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State" - see 10Oct87b]), they did not know what they would do[32]!

On 5 November Gove received from Donahue a draft of the letter from the three chosen laboratories to be sent to Cardinal Ballestrero, as follows:

"Your Eminence: We have received your letter of 10 October 1987, and we are honoured to have been selected to participate in the determination of the age of the cloth of the Shroud of Turin. However, we are concerned to learn that a decision has been made to limit the number of participating laboratories to three. We are in agreement with the conclusions reached at the workshop held in Turin in September-October 1986, that is: 'a minimum amount of cloth will be removed which is sufficient to (a) insure a result that is scientifically rigorous and (b) to maximize the credibility of the enterprise to the public. For these reasons, a decision was made that seven laboratories will carry out the experiment ... We believe that reducing the number of laboratories to three will seriously reduce 'the credibility of the enterprise' which we are also anxious to achieve. As you are aware, there are many critics in the world who will scrutinize these measurements in great detail. The abandonment of the original protocol and the decision to proceed with only three laboratories will certainly enhance the skepticism of these critics. While we understand your desire to use a minimum amount of material from the Shroud, we believe that the increased confidence which would result in the inclusion of more than three laboratories in the programme would justify the additional expenditure of material. Although improvements in statistical errors resulting from including more measurements might not be great, the possibility of the occurrence of unrecognized non-statistical errors would be substantially reduced. For example, if only three laboratories participate, and one of them obtains a divergent non-understandable result, the entire project could be jeopardized, but if results from a larger number of laboratories are available, a divergent result could be more easily recognized as such and can be treated appropriately in a statistically accepted manner. Clearly it is the reduction of unrecognized non-statistical errors in measurements that leads to increased confidence in the final result. We would very much like to take part in the programme to determine the age of the cloth in the Shroud, but we are hesitant to proceed under the arrangement in which only three laboratories would participate in the measurements. We urge that the decision to change the protocol of the Turin workshop and to limit participation to only three laboratories be given further consideration. Respectfully..."[33]
But as Gonella had pointed out in the Turin Workshop, this argument that seven laboratories were needed to date the Shroud was not scientific but "political"[34]. That is, despite Gove's Rochester laboratory being where radiocarbon dating was invented[35], Gove admitted in the Turin Workshop that Rochester had the least experience of radiocarbon dating[36]. Therefore, unless seven laboratories dated the Shroud, Gove would have no part in it. Moreover, as Gonella pointed out, if seven laboratories were required to date an archaeological sample, then most radiocarbon dates would be unreliable[37], since the vast majority of carbon dating is of only one sample by one laboratory. Archaeologist William Meacham said in the workshop that in his experience, he knew of only one example in which as many as five laboratories had been involved and that was testing ten thousand kilograms of charcoal from the site of a Chinese emperor[38]!

On 17 November Donahue told Gove that Canuto's Italian translation of the three laboratories' joint letter to Ballestrero had been completed and would the next day, 18 November 1987 (see above), be express mailed to Cardinal Ballestrero, with copies to Hall and Woelfli[39].

Continued in the next part #8 of this series.

1. This post is copyright. I grant permission to quote from any part of it (but not the whole post), provided it includes a reference citing my name, its subject heading, its date, and a hyperlink back to this page. [return]
2. Sox, H.D., 1988, "The Shroud Unmasked: Uncovering the Greatest Forgery of All Time," Lamp Press: Basingstoke UK, pp.115-116; Gove, H.E., 1996, "Relic, Icon or Hoax?: Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud," Institute of Physics Publishing: Bristol UK, pp.213-214; Petrosillo, O. & Marinelli, E., 1996, "The Enigma of the Shroud: A Challenge to Science," Scerri, L.J., transl., Publishers Enterprises Group: Malta, pp.40-41; Wilson, I., 1998, "The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence that the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real," Simon & Schuster: New York NY, pp.183, 307; Wilson, I., 2010, "The Shroud: The 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved," Bantam Press: London, pp.87, 281; de Wesselow, T., 2012, "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection," Viking: London, p.166. [return]
3. Gove, 1996, pp.9, 174; de Wesselow, 2012, p.165. [return]
4. University of Arizona, Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory: Staff: Douglas J. Donahue (no longer online). [return]
5. Gove, 1996, pp.9, 174. [return]
6. Gove, 1996, pp.222-223. [return]
7. Gove, 1996, p.217. [return]
8. Gove, 1996, p.84. [return]
9. Gove, 1996, p.216. [return]
10. Gove, 1996, p.220. [return]
11. Gove, 1996, p.215. [return]
12. Gove, 1996, p.217. [return]
13. "Historical Restrospect [sic]," Ion Beam Physics, ETH Zurich, 2017. [return]
14. Gove, 1996, p.220. [return]
15. Ibid. [return]
16. Gove, 1996, pp.217-218. [return]
17. Gove, 1996, p.218. [return]
18. Gove, 1996, pp.218-219. [return]
19. Antonacci, M., 2000, "Resurrection of the Shroud: New Scientific, Medical, and Archeological Evidence," M. Evans & Co: New York NY, p.179. [return]
20. Gove, 1996, p.220. [return]
21. Ibid. [return]
22. Ibid. [return]
23. Wilson, 1998, p.11. [return]
24. Gove, 1996, p.220. [return]
25. Ibid. [return]
26. Wilson, 1998, pp.6-7 & pl.3b. [return]
27. Gove, 1996, pp.220-221. [return]
28. Gove, 1996, pp.220, 221. [return]
29. Gove, 1996, p.221. [return]
30. Ibid. [return]
31. Ibid. [return]
32. Ibid. [return]
33. Gove, 1996, pp.221-223. [return]
34. Gove, 1996, p.151. [return]
35. Gove, 1996, p.7. [return]
36. Gove, 1996, p.156. [return]
37. Gove, 1996, p.158. [return]
38. Gove, 1996, p.153. [return]
39. Gove, 1996, p.223. [return]

Posted: 11 December 2017. Updated: 30 March 2018.

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