The Shroud of Turin and Credible Journalism


Joel Achenbach has a column at the Washington Post about the media coverage of that ridiculous claim that the Shroud of Turin is real because a massive earthquake (that never happened) released neutron radiation when Jesus died. His criticisms are spot on.

Good journalism has a subtle feature of reticence. We don’t publish everything we hear. We filter. We curate. The goal of the traditional journalist is to create a reputation for accuracy, fairness, relevance and timeliness, and this requires the willingness to not publish things that are unlikely to be true.

The Shroud of Turin story brings up all the usual issues about click-bait journalism and our current struggle for survival in a highly disrupted news industry. Here’s a basic rule I’d suggest:

The clicks don’t count if the story is wrong…

There’s nothing at stake here except the survival of credible journalism. For those who are trying to figure out a business model for journalism — and I desperately want these folks to be successful — let me suggest that the ultimate killer app is quality. Quality comes in many forms. In the news business, being fast — ideally first — is a form of quality. Packaging the material in a beautiful way visually is another virtue. But the ultimate virtue in this business is getting it right.

But you wouldn’t believe what happens next!

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    But other scientists say this newly proposed premise leaves some major questions unanswered.

    Such as: what the hell were they smoking?

  2. says

    the survival of credible journalism

    The Internet killed it. Which is actually good. Maybe people will realize that they can’t just trust what they are told by someone who can afford a printing press.

  3. Chiroptera says

    I wonder whether there were massive earthquake induced neutron radiation when all those faces of Jesus appeard on those slices of toast?

    And, is “Jesi” the plural of “Jesus”?

  4. says

    There’s an easy test for this earthquake hypothesis. If a supposed earthquake (which aren’t really major sources of neutron radiation) did mess up the carbon-14 dating of the shroud, then the dating would be wrong for every other piece of organic matter from 1st century Jerusalem. Just find a bone or a piece of wood that is already know to be from that same time period and date it.

    Of course believers will just say that the shroud is a special case because, Jesus.

  5. Artor says

    But you wouldn’t believe what happens next!

    Does it involve one weird trick?

    Or will the powers-that-be absolutely HATE it? (insert pic of snarling Dick Cheney)

  6. John Pieret says

    Of course believers will just say that the shroud is a special case because, Jesus.

    But, of course, that is the silly part of all such “studies.” If you find a naturalistic explanation for the Shroud or any other supposed miracle, who needs the miracle? If this was just the natural result of neutrinos released by an earthquake, then the image is much more likely to be that of some common criminal … perhaps a murderer … than it is of a son of a god.

  7. dingojack says

    If this mega-quake didn’t flatten every house in Judea, wouldn’t the burst of neutrons (strong enough to burn an image into cloth) cause massive radiation sickness in the population?
    Yet neither was reported by sources…. I wonder why?
    Dingo

  8. Artor says

    I like the handwaving that allows this mysterious neutron flux to pass unimpeded through a kilometer of rock, yet somehow burn an image of Jebus’s transparent, fleshy body onto linen.

  9. eric says

    I think what disturbs me most about this coverage is the thought of science journalists not understanding the science enough to know right off the bat that its bullflop. No, I’m not a science snob that thinks every english major ought to take 4 years of university physics. But if you are getting paid good money to write about physics, you’d damn well better know enough about it that you can tell the con men from the real thing.

  10. says

    I like the handwaving that allows this mysterious neutron flux to pass unimpeded through a kilometer of rock, yet somehow burn an image of Jebus’s transparent, fleshy body onto linen.

    And without causing any radiation damage to any of the people in the vicinity.

  11. Wylann says

    The clicks don’t count if the story is wrong…

    Unfortunately, the advertisers are not that discriminating.

    It’s not the clicks that count, it’s who counts the clicks.

    …or something like that.

  12. Larry says

    #10 Artor

    I like the handwaving that allows this mysterious neutron flux to pass unimpeded through a kilometer of rock

    That’s because neutron are ultra mega powerful. Almost as much as The Gheyz

  13. raven says

    Not to mention what this neutron burst would do to jesus’s dead but sleeping body.

    Our eyewitness reports don’t mention that the resurrected jesus was a crispy critter.

  14. Phillip IV says

    dingojack @ #8:

    If this mega-quake didn’t flatten every house in Judea, wouldn’t the burst of neutrons (strong enough to burn an image into cloth) cause massive radiation sickness in the population?
    Yet neither was reported by sources…. I wonder why?

    Well, it happened during Pesach – and since everybody always feels sick after the seder, the extra radiation sickness just wasn’t that noticeable.

  15. macallan says

    Huh, wouldn’t neutron radiation that has that effect on some cloth ( let alone even get there ) do a whole lot of damage to things like living cells?

  16. oranje says

    (multiple above):
    But you wouldn’t believe what happens next!
    Does it involve one weird trick?
    Or will the powers-that-be absolutely HATE it? (insert pic of snarling Dick Cheney)

    All I know is, according to my web browser, it’s a new rule in my city that has people shocked and outraged.

  17. says

    “But other scientists say this newly proposed premise leaves some major questions unanswered.”

    GODbotwingnutKKKreationist glossary of terms:

    Science = the serpent

    What comports with my feelings = TRUTH

  18. eric says

    @8, @10,@12, @18

    I can explain the lack of neutron damage to everything and everyone else at the time! You folks are thinking that the neutron flux was really high, when in fact it was not.

    You see, I have it on good authority that about a week before the cruxifiction, the Shroude Shoppe in Olde Jerusalem had just gotten a shipment in of the fabled Flax of Super High Cross-Section. In fact there was a glut of it, so that they put the linen from it on sale for half price, which is why the disciples ended up with that particular cloth. Unfortunately there was so much left over, that the Shoppe had to store the rest of it in a megabarn. :)

  19. John Pieret says

    (multiple above):
    But you wouldn’t believe what happens next!
    Does it involve one weird trick?
    Or will the powers-that-be absolutely HATE it? (insert pic of snarling Dick Cheney)

    All I know is, according to my web browser, it’s a new rule in my city that has people shocked and outraged.

    None of the above. It’s “What happens when you take a testosterone supplement.”

    Come to think of it, THAT could explain the Shroud! After all, we all know that certain brownish stains on cloth sheets are associated with testosterone. Maybe Jesus just overdid it a bit.

  20. Lofty says

    The frizzled Shroud is just evidence that jesus’s daddy was snorting a line of radioactive minerals at the time.
    “Aachoo!”
    “Sorry, Son, that’ll wash out.”

  21. caseloweraz says

    I believe what happens next is that there’s this one food that, if journalists eat it, they’ll never submit erroneous copy again. Or have to diet.

    Get some to Limbaugh, stat!

  22. Doc Bill says

    This kind of stuff used to be headlines on the National Inquirer, something to laugh at while waiting to check out at the grocery store.

    Now, it’s mainstream credible news!

    That said, if “further analysis” had shown the image not to be Jesus but Bat Boy, then I’d be interested!

  23. eric says

    This kind of stuff used to be headlines on the National Inquirer, something to laugh at while waiting to check out at the grocery store.

    You’re thinking of the Weekly World News, which was awesome for a laugh. Sadly it did not survive the (ongoing) downsizing of journalism that came with the web.

    But in some wierd “conservation of stupid,” when it died other papers started to cover crap that only the WWN would have covered before.

  24. Nick Gotts says

    If this mega-quake didn’t flatten every house in Judea, wouldn’t the burst of neutrons (strong enough to burn an image into cloth) cause massive radiation sickness in the population?
    Yet neither was reported by sources…. I wonder why? – dingojack

    They were all busy not noticing the zombie invasion of Jerusalem (Matthew 27: 52-53).

  25. kevinalexander says

    Achenbach says

    But the ultimate virtue in this business is getting it right.

    .
    Rupert Murdoch put paid to that nonsense. The news is a product that you sell and you catch more flies with shit than with sugar.

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