Fact, Opinion and Annoyance


A Hypothetical Experiment
August 5, 2010, 4:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m studying radiometric dating and running into some snags. So I propose this hypothetical experiment:

My baby is getting heavy – I want to know how heavy. So I proceed to weigh her using a spring scale, a strain gauge scale, and a balance. I get weights of 25 lbs, 50 lbs, and 60 lbs respectively. What do I do?

A) Average (or take the median of) the weights and assume the average (or median) is correct.
B) Use the weight that lines up best with other known information (such as age and height).
C) Decide that one or more of my scales are inaccurate, and therefore realize that my scales should be calibrated before making any more measurements.

There are two big problems (as I see it) with radiometric dating. The first is that dating a rock sample using standard methods can produce radically different dates depending on which radioactive isotopes are being measured. The second is that rocks of known age (typically those produced by volcanic eruption within the last 200 years) have been dated as very old using these methods (up to millions of years).

It seems these things should call the accuracy of radiometric dating, and the continued use of it as “proof” of the old age of the earth into question. I would think that scientists would want to do rigorous testing of these methods and their underlying assumptions, while in the meantime telling people that the ages are only “gross estimates”, pending more standardization of results. At least that’s how I was taught to do science.

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