To: All Jan0394 10:49AM Subject: Re: Tree Rings, Ice Cores, and 14C (was: Re: Age of the E
To: All Jan-03-94 10:49AM
Subject: Re: Tree Rings, Ice Cores, and 14C (was: Re: Age of the Earth)
Organization: University of California, Davis
From: firstname.lastname@example.org ()
:*The wackiest Creationist claim I have ever heard dealt with 14C dating. I
:once had a Creationist tell me (with a straight face) that lightning strikes
:can cause false 14C dates. Putting aside the ludicrous nature of this claim
:in a practical sense (everything that has been 14C dated to be more than
:6,000 years old or so would have to have been hit by lightning) can anyone
:provide a mechanism where lightning strikes could actually cause an object
:to date older than it was? Has anyone else ever heard this claim?
There is a paper written by John Lynde Anderson (J.Chem.Phys, Vol
76, #24, 1972) where it is reported that the decay rate of carbon
14 monolayers were changed when placed in an electrical field.
The most famous quote from this paper reads,
"The mean during the 90V+ conditions is therefore more
than nine standard deviations lower than was observed
It is a fact that Anderson observed the decay rate of carbon 14
to change when voltages were applied across a carbon 14
monolayer. This is not in dispute. What IS in dispute is the
meaning of the nine standard deviations. Anderson ran three
tests. He measured the rate of decay of a monolayer of 14C with
90V+, 90V-, and then back to 90V+. The decay rates for each
trial were given as averages of 580 (or so) individual
measurements. In the end he had the following set of data.
90V+ = 1713 decays
90V- = 1728 decays
90V+ = 1707 decays
Anderson then analyzed these data and found that the standard
deviation for the 90V- data was 1.73 (sigma = sqrt(1728/580 =
1.73)). This since the difference between the 90V+ and 90V- data
was 15 decays (1728-1713 = 15), it would take about 9 standard
deviations to move from 1728 to 1713 (9 x 1.73 = 15). Thus he
makes his oft quoted remark above.
What does this mean? Actually very little. Anderson saw the
effect reverse itself when the voltage was changed and the decay
rate returned to normal after the voltage was removed. The error
involved turns out to be small, even though the standard
deviation difference is large. The rate of decay changed by a
small percent (less than a percent) overall which introduces a
small error in dating. And remember that the effect only
persists as long as the voltage is applied. Lightning flashes
could not significantly change the overall decay rate of 14C,
although it could change it for a brief second.
P.S. - The claim is not "wacky." The data and evidence are real,
it just can't be used to justify errors in carbon dating.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank