Communications and Shroud Research
My personal observations of Shroud research began in late 1976, when I became the Official Documenting Photographer for the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP). As a member of the team, I was directly involved in the two years of planning and meetings that culminated in STURP's participation in the 120-hour examination of the Shroud in October 1978.
The STURP team spent over two years planning their experiments. This period was often frustrating because the team was comprised of small groups of researchers located in many different cities across the United States. The only available means of communications between the various groups was either telephone or written correspondence. This limited our efficiency and added considerable time to the planning process. The first time the entire team actually met was not until thirty days before their departure for Turin.
In the years following the testing, while the collected data was being reduced and evaluated, the intensity of Shroud research increased worldwide. During this period, as I worked closely with the STURP scientists and provided them with the Shroud photographs that they required for their work, the need for increased interaction and communications in Shroud research became even more apparent. I attended every team meeting, documenting each, and in 1981, I completed the photo-documentation paper I was responsible for1.
One of the more obvious problems I observed during this period was the lack of communications that existed, not only within the project, but between our team and researchers from other groups. In part, it was due to the limits of 1970's communications technology. There were no fax machines or e-mail and the researchers were truly scattered around the world. But other times it appeared strictly personal. I observed apparent friction between some of the scientists as early as the first hour of the first day of our 120-hour examination. I was beginning to see a pattern develop that eventually resulted in each scientific group working within itself, with little or no sharing of information with other groups. Although new Shroud groups were being formed in the United States and in Europe, few were in active cooperation with each other. Lack of funding, nationalism, individual egos and the very nature of the subject matter all seemed to contribute to a rather uncooperative and even adversarial attitude. At a time when increased cooperation and communication was an obvious and important necessity, it seemed that just the opposite was occurring.
In all fairness, the STURP team was bound, not only by a written agreement amongst themselves, but also by an agreement with the Turin authorities. They were legally obligated to maintain silence about their conclusions until they published their final report, in order to prevent incomplete data from being released piecemeal and consequently, being misinterpreted2. On the other hand, the Shroud of Turin is a very public object, and no one was completely immune from the pressures being encountered due to increased worldwide interest. At times, it seemed as though the world of Shroud research was acting like children on a playground, arguing over a ball that didn't even belong to them.
Throughout this same period, researchers around the world frequently discussed the establishment of an International Center for Shroud study. Although several groups incorporated the word "international" into their names, there was very little actual international activity. It was clear to everyone that there was a need for a truly global organization or center, but concerns over costs, location, language and administration made it nothing more than a distant dream.
Like many others, my continued involvement in Shroud research was cut short in 1988 when the results of the radiocarbon 14 dating were made public. In the following years, I noticed items still appearing in the commercial press and media, but most of these were just attempts to explain how the so-called "forgery" of the Shroud was perpetrated. Many claimed to have "solved the mystery" of the image, although often these were written by people with apparently little first-hand knowledge of the subject matter. Yet the media attention they garnered made them seem credible to the public.
In effect, after the release of the carbon dating results, many serious scientists disengaged from Shroud research, leaving a vacuum that was quickly filled with theorists driven by what appeared to be other than scientific motives. This had the unfortunate side effect of clouding the waters even more and blending Shroud fact with fiction. After all the hours of serious, scientific research that had been performed on the Shroud of Turin, the science wound up hidden away in journals available only from research libraries while the public continued to be misinformed by the popular and tabloid press. It seemed as if no progress had been made at all and that so much effort by so many people had been wasted.
A Solution Is Found
In the early 1990's, new information about the Shroud started to filter out to the public. My own interest was renewed at this time and I began to consider the best means possible to make my 1978 materials available to a larger segment of the public. I started thinking about the Internet as a possibility and found myself online for the first time in October 1995.
It was immediately obvious that the Internet provided something that no other medium before it could offer: universal access to instant global communications. I decided this was a great way to make Shroud information available and began designing the Shroud of Turin Website3. On January 21, 1996, the website went online.
The response was almost immediate. E-mails began arriving from many veteran Shroud researchers and from others who were new to sindonology. All were excited at the prospect of a dedicated Shroud website and several offered to allow their work to be reprinted online. Soon I was corresponding with hundreds of people and everyone agreed that the website could become the perfect international center for Shroud studies. In addition to dedicated Shroud researchers, many other scientists were viewing the site and writing me with ideas or comments. And the lay public was visiting as well. Many wrote just to tell me how happy they were to find Shroud science finally available to everyone. It quickly became clear that my original idea of a small website to share some of my Shroud materials was growing into something much larger and more important than I ever imagined. It appeared that this new technology could finally provide the mechanism to make Shroud research a truly international effort.
Now, little more than two years later, with over 200,000 visitors from 117 countries, my little experiment has grown into the largest Shroud website on the Internet. It has succeeded only because of the cooperation I have received from many in the world involved directly or indirectly with the Shroud. More than that, it has shown that the Internet can in fact be used to enhance and further the goals of sindonologists everywhere.
A Blueprint For The Future
One of the most important requirements for Shroud researchers is the need for peer review of their work. Unfortunately, at times it has been difficult to find a scientific journal willing to accept work on the subject due to its highly controversial nature. Sindonologists often find themselves submitting their work to smaller, more obscure journals, or not submitting it for peer review at all. Sadly, this also limits the credibility of any conclusions drawn by the researchers and provides substantial grist for the skeptics' mill.
Over the years, a number of peer reviewed journals were published that were dedicated to sindonology. Most notable are "Sindon," published in Italy by the Centro Internazionale di Sindonologia and "Shroud Spectrum International," published in the United States from 1981 to 1993 by Dorothy Crispino4. These excellent journals gave sindonologists a proper forum for presenting their work, but brought with them their own set of limitations. "Sindon" is published only in Italian, limiting international access to those who speak the language. "Shroud Spectrum" provided an excellent solution to the problem by reprinting English translations of papers that originally appeared in "Sindon," as well as new papers, but sadly, it ceased publication in 1993.
The Internet can provide an ideal solution by presenting articles in multiple languages and permitting the viewer to select the language of his choice. With closer cooperation between major Shroud organizations worldwide, the Shroud of Turin Website, currently published only in English, could easily be expanded to include articles in any number of languages. The only requirement would be the delivery of qualified translations in digital form. And the elimination of printing and postage costs makes publishing such an electronic journal far more economically practical. Another advantage of the Internet is the simplicity of making corrections or additions to an article when necessary, a virtual impossibility with conventional printed journals. In addition, with such increased international cooperation, a multidisciplinary panel of experts could eventually be established to serve as a peer review board for any new papers submitted for publication without the typical physical restrictions of a printed journal.
Over the past two years, with the cooperation of the Collegamento pro Sindone, a number of articles previously available only in Italian have already been translated into English and reprinted on the Shroud of Turin Website5. In addition, through the cooperation of the Centro Mexicano de Sindonologia, a Spanish language version of the "1997 Fire" article has also been included6.
Non-reviewed articles can also be reprinted for the benefit of researchers and the lay public alike. The "Scientific Papers & Articles" page of the website already includes many of these7.
One of the greatest challenges to modern Shroud research is finding and accessing previously published work. Even with access to a sophisticated research library, many references are very hard to find. Through the cooperation of all of the world's largest Shroud collections, a massive bibliography of books and articles is currently being compiled and a substantial list is already found on the "Shroud Booklist" page of the website, with many more soon to be included8. Finally, an easily accessible, centrally located bibliography is available to everyone.
Along these same lines, even when a reference is determined, it is often impossible to find the actual paper or journal. Many important references are out of print and more than twenty years old. Over the last two years, rights have been obtained to reprint a number of these on the website and more are being added constantly9. This will be continued and in time, the website could become the central repository and primary resource of Shroud data for sindonologists worldwide.
Without question, the Shroud of Turin stimulates heated debates. These often take the form of personal correspondence between individual researchers. The website has already been host to a number of such debates through the good graces of the researchers who have made their correspondence available for publication10. This feature could easily be expanded and provide a true open international forum for continued discussion and would allow other interested parties to enter the debate.
Also available via the Internet is a written forum known as a newsgroup, where viewers read posted comments and then add their own comments to the page. Such a newsgroup already exists on the subject of the Shroud, created by William Meacham of Hong Kong11.
In addition to such published debates, live discussion forums are now very practical on the Internet. With advanced planning, the technology allows live forums to become a regular feature on the website. Such live "net meetings" or conferences would certainly enhance the interchange of ideas. Not only verbal exchange, but video and audio teleconferences could be scheduled from time to time to allow researchers to share their ideas and discuss the details of their work.
Symposiums such as this one would also greatly benefit from using the Internet. A "call for papers" could be posted on the Internet to inform sindonologists of upcoming conferences, including deadline dates, fees and schedules. Abstracts could be easily submitted via e-mail, as could acceptance notices to prospective speakers from the conference organizers. Conference schedules could be posted and modified quickly if necessary. And of course, the final papers could eventually be published on the Internet to supplement the production of the written acts or proceedings.
In recent years, one of the greatest difficulties for many researchers has been gaining access to certain materials necessary for their work. This includes the need for photographs, copies of out of print or hard-to-find references and other types of data. Already in place on the Shroud of Turin Website is the "Research Registry" page, where many researchers have already "advertised" for materials they needed12. These have included blood and linen samples, access to special facilities and even some seeking new colleagues in specific disciplines to assist them in their research. And in some cases, organizations or individuals with resources to offer for Shroud research have posted them on the site to make them available to those who might need them.
With the continued worldwide interest in the Shroud, many researchers are often called upon by lay and professional groups to make presentations and give lectures. A new service planned for the website is an international Shroud Speakers Bureau. This will give organizations looking for such speakers a central source of qualified experts to select from. Participating researchers will be listed by discipline, physical location and availability. Along these same lines, an E-mail Directory of Shroud Researchers will also be included. This will make it even easier for sindonologists to contact each other.
Another useful function of the website is the gathering of statistical information and data. Researchers can design a questionnaire that will be converted to a form that website viewers fill out and send directly over the Internet. The researchers will receive the information immediately via e-mail and can integrate the responses directly into their analyses.
Finally, a search capability will be added in the near future that will allow website viewers to enter key words and quickly search through all of the website materials to find information specific to their needs. This will be particularly useful as the quantity of materials on the website increases.
Interaction and communication between Shroud researchers worldwide has historically been limited by the state of existing communication technologies and the inability or unwillingness of some researchers to cooperate with each other and openly share their data. Although the value of a globally accessible international center for Shroud studies has long been accepted, little if any progress has been made in realizing this goal.
Recent developments in communication technology have provided us with powerful new methods for instant global communications. With the advent of these new technologies, one of the major obstacles to creating an international Shroud center has been eliminated. The value of these advances has been clearly demonstrated by the Shroud of Turin Website, which has gained the confidence and cooperation of many researchers simply by creating an unbiased and fair atmosphere for presenting ideas of every point of view.
Only one major obstacle remains in taking Shroud research into the 21st century with renewed vigor and success, and that is a willingness on the part of sindonologists worldwide to share their information and cooperate with each other. As Archbishop Saldarini pointed out in his opening remarks, this will require us to forget our national boundaries, the languages we speak, the groups we belong to or the positions we take on authenticity and remember the common thread that binds us all together. We have an obligation to do the best science possible. That can only happen if we all work together so that true progress can be made. The tools are now available. The rest is up to us.
Note: I have chosen to include my references as Internet addresses rather than in the conventional form since they all can be found on or via the Shroud of Turin Website. If you are reading this paper on the Internet, just click on the reference and you will go directly to the specific page. If you are reading this in a printed proceedings, just open your Internet browser, select the File Menu, Open Location, type in the address and hit the Enter key.