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About the hype over radioactive decay not being constant

  1. Sep 1, 2014 #1
    So I came across something learning about carbon dating because new student in university taking geology. So brushing up more on fossils and obscure things so the year won't be a total shock. I inevitably got interested by what I was reading then I stumbled on the creationist blogosphere pointing to this lot


    (crackpot link deleted)

    I've learned to be scpetical over things the creationists get excited about but I don't have a background in physics (or a significant background in general) so I don't really know what to be suspicious of and how to approach it. I can read the article and find it fairly agreeable which is prompting me to ask here.

    I don't have access to their research papers and funnily enough I don't think I could read them anyway at my education level. Is this real? whats been done to verify or disprove it? and more out of curiosity... what would the implications be for radio carbon dating if it is real?
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 2, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2014 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Implications? In the worst case clock we are using is slightly less accurate than we think it is. Say, what we expect to be 10000±100 years old is 10000±200 years old. It definitely doesn't put everything we know on the head.
  4. Sep 1, 2014 #3
    Is that all it would mean? Seems rather an unspectacular thing to get excited over.
  5. Sep 1, 2014 #4


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    2017 Award

    Hi Hati
    welcome to PF :smile:

    from your first link .... "In general, the fluctuations that Jenkins and Fischbach have found are around a tenth of a percent from what is expected, as they've examined available published data and taken some measurements themselves."

    1/10 of 1 % ... not overly significant huh :wink:

    and skimming through the second article that it wasn't even talking about a natural variation in decay rates but
    rather applying "methods" to forcefully change decay rates

  6. Sep 2, 2014 #5


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    Staff: Mentor

    It would be quite spectacular if we were to detect such a variability in half times, as our current models don't predict that. These models were tested and tested on zillions on occasions and in zillions of papers, so we are sure they are quite right. However, in the immortal words of Richard Feynman - we can be never right, we can be only wrong. We can't prove any model is correct - we can show it to be correct in many cases, but a single experiment can prove us wrong. That would be the case here (if these observations were confirmed, no idea what their status is). Note, that in most cases it just means we have found limits of our current theory - it will still work perfectly correct describing cases tried so far, but in the general case it will be superseded by a new, better theory. That's how science works.

    So - if we were to detect the variability in the half lives of the elements used for dating, it would make error bars on our measurements larger - but it would not falsify them completely. We have not used the radioactive dating methods in isolation from other methods - and each time we compared the measurement results made by different methods we either found them to give the same answer, or, if the answers were different, we used this information to refine our methodology to make more reliable.

    Cries over carbon dating being wrong is a classic strategy of those not liking conclusions of some theory - no matter how well this theory is tried, if there is some new aspect that doesn't fit, they will cry "the theory is wrong" and they will use this fact to negate everything that it predicts, even if it was shown to be correct on many occasion. Cheap trick used by those with an agenda, and a trick that may look right only to those not understanding how the science works.
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