New Republic publishes my Shroud of Turin piece

Just for the record, The New Republic has published my Shroud of Turin piece—moderately rewritten, touched up, and supplemented with other stuff. They’ve called the piece “Pseudo-scientists are still trying to convince you that the Shroud of turin is real. Don’t believe them.” Thanks to the readers’ suggestions, I’ve added Richard Carrier’s objections to the “earthquake hypothesis” and also linked to Greg Paul’s article noting the unrealistic proportions of the “Jesus” image on the Shroud.  So kudos to those who called this extra stuff to my attention.  I can’t give you part of my stipendiary emolument (which, believe me, is extremely modest), but, as always, I’ll continue writing here for your delectation without remuneration.

And I’m sure The New Republic would appreciate clicking on the link.

And here’s your reward for so doing: a baby bear (yes, I know they’re called “cubs) climbing his first tree (from a tw**t by “Zoo Keeper Dobie!”)

Picture 2


  1. francis
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:49 am | Permalink


    • Diane G.
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink


  2. Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    A very cute little bear.

  3. gravityfly
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    ” I can’t give you part of my stipendiary emolument (which, believe me, is extremely modest), but, as always, I’ll continue writing here for your delectation without remuneration.”

    Fair enough. :)

    And congrats on the latest TNR piece!

    • Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      “my stipendiary emolument”

      I’d ask for money if I were you, Jerry …


      • Pete Moulton
        Posted February 21, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        Or at least some tasty noms…

        • Posted February 21, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          “Will work for food.”


          • Pete Moulton
            Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink


        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted February 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          Should stipendiary emoluments be taken with food, or on an empty stomach?

          • Posted February 21, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

            In an hypothetical situation such as this, I’d say it just might all be suppository.


  4. Matt G
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    I once looked out my ground-floor window in the Finger Lakes to see a mama raccoon at the foot of a tree with her three babies in the same position as that bear, but all three looking right at me.

    That’s the thing about belief: if the evidence supports you (or you think it does), you bleat about it, but when it doesn’t, you ignore it or explain it away. People don’t believe in miracles because they see evidence for them; they see evidence for them because they believe in them.

  5. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    If you draw your conclusion first, and look for your evidence afterward, what you are doing is NOT science.

    Repeat as necessary. L

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Congrats on the shround piece.

    That baby bear looks squirrel sized!

    • John Taylor
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I asked my four year old what kind of animal it was and he said a squirrel. My seven year old guessed fox? In his defense (sort of) he didn’t take his eyes off his video game before responding.

  7. Chris
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    A nice article, definitely. It’s always good to see “this” side of the science/religion/woo fence represented.

    I’m just waiting for the apologists to start piling on your Richard Carrier reference as they *really* don’t like him very much, hehehe!

  8. Posted February 21, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    The phrase, “…Sophisticated Theologians may argue that God is beyond all evidence, being an imperceptible and indefinable spirit that can neither be defined nor seen as interacting with the cosmos…” reminded me of the gold threads spun into fabric then crafted into a garb that even the emperor could not see by a certain pair of tailors, sophisticated ones I suppose.

  9. eric
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Congrats! Good original article and nice touch-up job too.

    Mild complaint about your comment “Although there is evidence that some earthquakes can transitorily release substantial amounts of neutrons into the atmosphere…”

    Earthquakes probably release amounts of radioactive elements into the atmosphere, such as uranium, which then decay normally to produce neutrons. So the measured neutron flux goes up. But a layman reading your sentence may get the impression that earthquakes produce a neutron flux directly, which it doesn’t do and which may gives people a mistaken impression about the amount of energy required to produce nuclear reactions.

    Before I posted this I tried to google neutron increases after earthquakes, to see if I might have missed something. Unfortunately the first umpteen pages of that sort of search is now swamped by Shroud of Turin articles. So I apologize ahead of time if you’re aware of an effect that I’m not familiar with, but to the best of my knowledge, earthquakes do not produce or release neutrons in the sense most people will read into that sentence, i.e., an earthquake does not make a big flash of neutrons.

    • eric
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      I guess the TL:DR version of what I’m trying to say is: your article is actually pretty kind to the researchers. Their science is even crappier than your article suggests. :)

    • Greg Esres
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      layman reading your sentence may get the impression that earthquakes produce a neutron flux directly

      That’s the image that went through my head.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I am mildly surprised they didn’t propose the sexy, newest natural neutron (and x-ray, gamma, electron and positron) source, dark lightning. [ ]

      Of course, it doesn’t seem like the neutrons reach the surface. “… flyers are already exposed to 300 times more neutrons per second in the air than they are on the ground. The aviation industry is aware of this normal background, but the bursts of neutrons produced in thunderstorms are not as well understood, Tavani said.”

      But religionists could have had their shroud air delivered. Isn’t that how the catholic pantheon works?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I would have spluttered my coffee all over the screen if I’d had any coffee to splutter.
      Thanks for doing the Googling ; I suspected that it would be a “wading through the swamp experience. But I still can’t think of a mechanism to join the dots between “earthquake” and “increased neutron flux.”
      What do the original authors cite to support this rather critical point? … The link on JAC’s TNR article just throws me into the middle of Springer-world.
      Searching for Carpintieri gets me the info “MeccanicaAn International Journal of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics AIMETAEditor-in-Chief: Alberto Carpinteri ISSN Print: 0025-6455 ISSN Online: 1572-9648 ” And I find the source guph here.
      I suppose I’d better print it and read the damned thing before I knock off for the night.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 23, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        That was not a pleasant experience. I’ve read better formed guph from … well, I’ve rarely read such badly-formed guph, and I’ve read more Creationist guph than I honestly think that I deserve to have read as penance for my many and varied sins.
        There are a number of mixed claims in the paper – a fairly incoherent claim that figures for the change of intensity of cosmic-ray derived neutron flux with altitude is somehow related to earthquake activity (I don’t have access to a library to follow up some of the references, but the paper titles that are cited suggest this ; this cosmic ray flux is then mysteriously compared to neutron fluxes from rocks that are crushed. This latter claim – that crushing can cause rocks to emit neutrons (they call them “piezonuclear neutrons”, or “LERN (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions)” ; and if that latter smells like a term derived from Cold Fusion workers, then our noses are in agreement) appears to be Carpintieri et al’s contribution to the field. They assert that they can get a noticeable – substantial even – neutron flux by crushing some granites. That would be a pretty easy claim to substantiate ; I’ve not heard it substantiated … so I Google “neutron emission from crushing granite”, and get (surprise! hits on the same 3 papers by the same authors … and nothing else until I get to this. Someone thinks it’s bullshit. Let’s see what they say for themselves, in their article posted on Arxiv : (abstract) “These neutron emissions should be caused by nucleolysis or piezonuclear “fissions” that occurred in the granite, but did not occur in the marble:Fe-30 -> 2Al-14 + 2 neutrons.”
        Sorry, guys, but that’s going to be an energy-absorbing reaction, so you’re going to need to transmit your pressure from the bonding electrons somehow to the nucleus. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for these particular laws of physics to get broken.
        Continuing the slice and dice .. “In the present case, we consider a solid containing iron -samples of granite rocks-” Why not use something that gots lots of iron an little aluminium. Say, a nice haematite crystal? It would improve your signal to noise ratio a lot! A weird choice of materials. What are their actual results … that rock samples (marble) which failed in a ductile manner over a period of some minutes didn’t cause a peak in sensor reading, while granites which failed “instantly and with a loud bang, did lead to a brief high reading. In a sensor filled with gas, in close proximity to the catastrophically failing rock. Yes, I too can see why other reviewers would question that part of the experimental procedure.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 23, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

          (Part 2 of several)
          I can’t find any evidence of the work being replicated, until I run into the recent posts triggered by people re-blowebsiting JAC’s article above. I take the silence as a lack of replication, and colour myself deeply unconvinced by this extraordinary claim, lacking the necessary extraordinary evidence.
          Let’s go back to throwing rags onto the fire.
          I’ll pass over the paragraph quoted from Dante – it may mean something relevant in Italian, but in a paper otherwise written in English-ish, without translation it only boosts the page count. The half-page referencing various degrees of (not impressive) historical evidence for a major earthquake in the Jerusalem area at about 33AD can also be glossed over – there is enough earthquake activity in the area to let them have several chunky earthquakes in the area of interest without straining anyone credibility. The credibility hernias come from other parts of their argument. Let them have their earthquakes ; their geology is as bad as the rest of the article and tries to imply earthquakes of the scale of the 2004-12-26 Bandar Ache earthquake (event ID us2004slav) … in the Eastern Med, near the height of the Roman utilisation of “mare nostrum” (“our ocean”), without significant historical record of it. But they do try hard to cloud that claim behind smoke and mirrors, almost as if they anticipate a response like “pull the other one, it’s got bells on!”
          There is around a page of “order of magnitude” arguments that their (dubiously applied) variations in cosmic ray flux combined with their extremely hand-wavey discussion of the neutron capture cross-section of nitrogen-14 and their extremely dubious claims of neutron emission from crushed granites (I went back to write the section above, actually checking out their claim. Then I hosed the besplattered bovine exudate off my boots.) But in between hand-waves and I suspect some numerical prestidigitation they come out with a hint that their (dubious) process could quite easily produce a neutron flux just sufficient. Which would be an interesting result … if it were more clearly presented. And I wonder why the chopped the hand-wavey ball-park figure’s estimation process into three major chunks, so that it’s really quite difficult to follow their chain of logic.
          But that seems to be the core of their claim : one or several earthquakes, in the vicinity of the Dead Sea Transform fault (the also extend their area of discussion to the North and south Anatolian Transform Faults, the Corinth fault ; fortunately they probably forgot the San Andreas’ Fault’s name, or they’d have included that too. They do include Kamchatka for some reason.), could have caused enough neutron emission to lead to misleading C-14 dates.
          At last! A testable claim! Let’s get the Popperian angle-grinder to work, with a cry of “Is it safe?”

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted February 23, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

            (Part 3 of several)
            So … there should be lots of records of organic material from that area – indeed from the Levant in general – which is found in a secure archaeological context, and which has significantly discordant C-14 ages. Indeed, the Dead Sea Scrolls would seem to be an excellent parallel case to examine (buried in a cave for several thousand years ; centre of lots of painstaking archaeological work). and (drum roll please) their C-14 date has been shifted from the Roman period to the Middle Ages.
            Or not. I can’t be bothered to flay much more skin from this deadest of equines, so I’ll just give you Wiki : “Major linguistic analysis by Cross and Avigad dates fragments from 225 BCE to 50 CE.[46] These dates were determined by examining the size, variability, and style of the text.[47] The same fragments were later analyzed using radiocarbon date testing and were dated to an estimated range of 385 BCE to 82 CE with a 68% accuracy rate.[46]”
            So, let’s try another prediction : somewhere in the Levant, there are some organic remains which have been covered by flowstone (stalagmite material) in the Roman period. And if you do U-Th-series dating on the flowstone you’ll get one age, but you’ll have a significantly discordant (i.e. too young) age for the organic material, by this LERN Cousin of Cold Fusion.
            Sorry, I’ve had enough. It’s clap-trap of the soggiest and most-poorly thought-through type. Even if I could bring myself to lie so profusely (including to myself) in public, I like to think that the tattered remains of my intellectual self respect would force me to turn in a better argued and consequences-worked-through piece of work than this. I also hope that, in homage to Douglas Adams again, my large intestine would strangle me before I completed such a travesty.
            I’m off for a fag. I think I’ve earned it.
            And after having WordPress slice and dice me like the Adams-esque mouse that it is, I deserve two fags!

  10. Tim Londergan
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Jerry – I have enjoyed Joe Nickell’s pieces debunking the Shroud of Turin. He works for CSICOP and is an associate dean at the Center for Inquiry Institute. Several years ago he wrote some pieces about the Shroud of Turin for the Skeptical Inquirer.

  11. Georges Melki
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    One last thing: do you know what the pseudo-scientists(“the apologists” as Chris says) who work on the Turin Shroud call themselves? Sindonologists! The word comes from the Greek word “sindon”, meaning shroud…I heard an Italian sindonologist(a woman, I forgot her name) explaining to an audience that the blood group of Jesus was definitely AB, because the blood which appeared in a “transsubstantiation miracle” happened to be of the same type!!! Can you beat that for scientific accuracy?

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Miracle of Lanciano

      The work done on this is about the same quality as the current shroud paper.

    • cornbread_r2
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      When believers start going off on the similarities of the alleged blood on the shroud with the blood of eucharistic miracles and how that proves something about Jesus, I like to point them to Thomas of Aquinas’s opinion that while aucharistic miracles may indeed be miraculous, the blood and flesh of those miracles wasn’t Jesus’s.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Cute cub!

    But, curious. I can try too google this, but since it is WEIT’s website it may be a good question for it:

    Why does bears start out as such small cubs? What decides size at birth in animals with few progeny, and possibly hibernation around time of birth? (I assume bears have 1-3 cubs, as that is what typically is shown in images.)

    • eric
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Bear cubs are small for placental mammals, but pretty much any marsupial on the planet will beat them in the “small size at birth” sweepstakes.

      I bring that up because the marsupial-placental difference in birth size points to survivability in the external environment being a factor. Bear cubs may be small because they can survive outdoors (with momma’s help) at that small size; there is simply no selective pressure on bears to have longer gestation periods.

      At least that’s my guess.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 21, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        Seems like a good guess. Thanks!

  13. Posted February 21, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Great article.

    Timely too, I’m going to see some local crank talk about the science behind the shroud tomorrow.

    This has been scheduled before the earthquake paper came out, so I wonder if he’ll comment on it.

  14. Posted February 21, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I can’t give you part of my stipendiary emolument (which, believe me, is extremely modest), but, as always, I’ll continue writing here for your delectation without remuneration.

    I tell you what: slip Hili a tablespoon (but no more and only one) of cream when nobody’s looking next time you see her, and we’ll call it even.



  15. cornbread_r2
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    In my limited experience, Greg Paul’s observations give shroud supporters the most trouble. I think that may be because the observer doesn’t have to be a scientist of any kind to notice the obvious disproportions — especially of the head and arm. And once those are pointed out, it seems it’s difficult for anyone to view the entire image ever again without having the eyes drawn to those disproportions and the need for an explanation.

    A side note: I’ve been monitoring an on-going discussion by shroud supporters and there hasn’t been the slightest peep from any of them on the earthquake hypothesis. It seems unlikely that they haven’t heard about it, so maybe there’s a limit to even their credulity.

  16. Adam M.
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t know bear cubs came in such small sizes! That’s very cute.

  17. Posted February 21, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Oh what a cute bearlet! And you are very right about that last bit–Christian literalists want it both ways. They want to believe their faith is supported by science, because we live in a modern age and irrational beliefs are not considered ideal anymore even by literalist Christians, but since nothing they claim can be supported that way, they’ll either totally ignore or deny any science that refutes or contradicts their various faith claims–and distort and exaggerate (or flat make up) stuff that sounds kinda science-y if need be to get there. And if all else fails and they get thoroughly debunked, they still get to sniff disdainfully about not needing proof when they have faith. Win/win.

  18. jerrold12
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink


    You could have used historical evidence as well. At the time when the Shroud made its first appearance in history, in the 14th C., the local bishop conducted a full investigation. He declared it to be a forgery, citing, among other things, the confession of the man who painted it! He forbade it from being used as a source of “miracles”, such as medical cures. That didn’t stop the local aristocratic family, who owned it, from using it for exactly that purpose, to generate a large income from the religious and afflicted.

  19. Larry Esser
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    As someone who has been battered by angry remarks from a chiropractic/homeopathic/vaccine-avoiding brother when it is pointed out all those things are pseudosciences or based on pseudoscience, this “Shroud of Turin” article was a pure delight. Thanks!


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