Over authors’ objections, PLOS ONE retracts paper claiming Shroud of Turin showed evidence of trauma

A year ago, PLOS ONE published a study claiming that there was strong evidence that a person wrapped in the Shroud of Turin — according to lore, the burial shroud of Jesus Christ — had suffered “strong polytrauma.”

Today, they retracted it.

According to the retraction notice for “Atomic resolution studies detect new biologic evidences on the Turin Shroud,”

Concerns have been raised that the data presented in this article [1] are not sufficient to support the conclusions drawn; the provenance, integrity and availability of the material used for the study have also been questioned.

The editors, it continued,

are concerned that there are not sufficient controls to support conclusions referring to human blood or physical trauma. For example, period ink and animal blood controls were not included in diffraction and STEM analyses, as would be needed to rule out alternate interpretations regarding the material on the fiber, and the creatinine findings do not provide definitive evidence of trauma or violence. Thus, we consider that the main conclusions of the article, including the following statements, are not sufficiently supported:

  • “On the basis of the experimental evidences of our atomic resolution TEM studies, the man wrapped in the TS suffered a strong polytrauma”

  • “the fiber was soaked with a blood serum typical of a human organism that suffered a strong trauma”

  • “at the nanoscale it is encoded a scenario of great suffering recorded on the nanoparticles attached to the linen fibers”

There’s more:

In addition, the results of this article were based on analysis of a single fiber (approximately 1mm in length and 15μm in diameter) from the Turin Shroud. The reliance on a single small fiber taken from the Turin Shroud in 1978 calls into question the validity of statements in the Results and Conclusions sections which compare the new findings to those reported in previous studies of the Turin Shroud. It has not been demonstrated that findings from the fiber used in the PLOS ONE article can be generalized as applying to other samples taken from the Turin Shroud, or that contamination of the sample can be ruled out.

Oh, and the article didn’t disclose that

the sample was provided by the Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association Inc. (STERA).

None of the authors agreed to the retraction. Corresponding author Elvio Carlino, of the Italian National Research Council, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Retraction Watch.

Early criticism

The study earned some press coverage when it was published last year. But less than two weeks after it appeared, The Skeptical Zone published a detailed criticism:

It is a pity that an article which was published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, has presented such a one-sided picture of the arguments for and against the Shroud’s authenticity and antiquity. And it is an even greater pity that the editors of PLOS One did not spot the bias.

Of note, this was not PLOS ONE’s only retraction today. The journal also retracted a comparison of acupuncture and drugs for constipation. Like that for the Shroud of Turin paper, the notice is very detailed, in keeping with recent moves by the journal.

Update, 7/23/18, 1200 UTC: First author Carlino tells Retraction Watch that criticism “should be based on scientific evidences and not carried on as a Crusade:”

We object to the retraction as the motivations are not correct, as we answered in details in our rebuttal letter to the editor, but it seems that this was not considered. In the retraction statement, as an example, they write that the possibility of ink was not considered by us. This is not true, as we report in the paper with the relevant references. This is just an example among many. For your convenience I report below the letter I sent to the editor of Plos One after their decision, where the criticisms raised were, once more, considered and rejected with a scientific motivation giving also the scenario in which the data were obtained and analyzed. Once more, our results exclude an artwork relatively to the creatinine bound to iron oxide, also because the eventual author had not the knowledge at that time to use the blood serum of a tortured person or animal to create the perfect fake for the future scientists capable to disclose the structure of the matter at the atomic level. The scientific results would need evidences correlated by logic. This does not mean that in the centuries somebody could have not added blood or ink to the veil, but our investigation was performed away from spots visible by optical microscopy where nobody could reveal the presence of the nano particles without an atomic resolution method. These evidences are before of any eventual artifacts. This is the main result of the methodology we used.  Our results again cannot say any about when the veil wrapped the dead person and who he was. The results say that the nanoparticles found on the veil are compatible with the blood serum of a person after a strong polytrauma. It is quite evident that this result is strongly disturbing for someone even if, honestly, I cannot understand why. Our paper was published after a long (about 3 months, other papers I submitted to Plos One received a positive answer after few weeks) analysis from many referees of Plos One and after publication nobody has shown scientific results capable to contradict our paper. The decision to retract a paper, accepted after a careful referral process, cannot happen on the basis of vague ideas but should need of clear scientific evidences, as usually happens in the Science. Other researchers should eventually study this subject and the arguments should be based on scientific evidences and not carried on as a Crusade.

Carlino also provided us with the letter he sent to PLOS ONE.

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2 thoughts on “Over authors’ objections, PLOS ONE retracts paper claiming Shroud of Turin showed evidence of trauma”

  1. By coincidence, the retraction comes very shortly after Borrini and Garlaschelli published “A BPA Approach to the Shroud of Turin” (pointing out the non-realistic nature of the blood patterns portrayed on the holy tea-towel), and after the authors of the retracted article sent out a press-release calling Borrini Garlaschelli incompetent and ill-informed and criticising the journalists who reported their work.

    Apparently Borrini & Garlaschelli (2018) is ‘a typical example of “goal oriented” research, aimed at the prefixed objective, and therefore without true scientific value’.
    https://www.unipd.it/sites/unipd.it/files/20180718.pdf

    (h/t Sylvie Cotaud)

  2. Chemical analysis via tentative ‘nanoparticle’ identification? No thanks. I prefer analytical chemistry to be done via established methodology – chromatography, mass spectrometry and the like – not via New Age electron microscopy/X-ray diffraction, claiming to give reliable data on “ferritin” and “creatinine” allegedly deposited on a minute (2mm) linen fibre, and imagining those so-called ‘data’ give insights into trauma and torture inflicted on the founder of Christianity some 2000 or so years ago….

    Bravo to PLOS ONE for retracting the paper – as I said yesterday on my own ‘Shroudie’ site.

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