Regular bloggers include: Brian Dunning, Daniel Loxton, Donald Prothero, Mark Edward, Michael Shermer, and Steven Novella. READ the introductory post READ the comment policy aliens alternative medicine atheism autism belief bigfoot Brian Dunning CAM Carl Sagan climate change conspiracy theories Creation creationism critical thinking cryptozoology denialism dinosaurs Dr.Kiki earthquakes economics education environment ethics evolution fossils geology Ghost Hunting ghosts global warming God homeopathy intelligent design james randi journalism media medicine michael shermer morality nasa paleontology paranormal politics pseudoscience Psychics psychology religion science science denialism scope SETI Shermer skeptical history skepticism skeptoid Skeptologists TV ufo ufos vaccines video I am leaving for The Amazing Meeting this morning (I speak at on Sunday, if you’re attending), but I had dinner with Bill Nye last night (who is a keynote speaker at TAM).We got to talking about his victory over Ken Ham in the debate last February 4.
Let's say I have a bunch of, let's say these are all atoms. And let's say we're talking about the type of decay where an atom turns into another atom. Or maybe positron emission turning protons into neutrons. And we've talked about moles and, you know, one gram of carbon-12-- I'm sorry, 12 grams-- 12 grams of carbon-12 has one mole of carbon-12 in it.
In such a short coaching session, it was not possible to explain to him about every creationist distortion of radiometric dating.
SAL: In the last video we saw all sorts of different types of isotopes of atoms experiencing radioactive decay and turning into other atoms or releasing different types of particles.
Now you could say, OK, what's the probability of any given molecule reacting in one second? But we're used to dealing with things on the macro level, on dealing with, you know, huge amounts of atoms. So I have a description, and we're going to hopefully get an intuition of what half-life means. And how does this half know that it must stay as carbon? So if you go back after a half-life, half of the atoms will now be nitrogen. Then all of a sudden you can use the law of large numbers and say, OK, on average, if each of those atoms must have had a 50% chance, and if I have gazillions of them, half of them will have turned into nitrogen. How much time, you know, x is decaying the whole time, how much time has passed?
I mean, maybe if we really got in detail on the configurations of the nucleus, maybe we could get a little bit better in terms of our probabilities, but we don't know what's going on inside of the nucleus, so all we can do is ascribe some probabilities to something reacting. And it does that by releasing an electron, which is also call a beta particle. And I've actually seen this drawn this way in some chemistry classes or physics classes, and my immediate question is how does this half know that it must turn into nitrogen? So that after 5,740 years, the half-life of carbon, a 50% chance that any of the guys that are carbon will turn to nitrogen. But we'll always have an infinitesimal amount of carbon. Let's say I'm just staring at one carbon atom. You know, I've got its nucleus, with its c-14. I mean, if you start approaching, you know, Avogadro's number or anything larger-- I erased that. After two years, how much are we going to have left? And then after two more years, I'll only have half of that left again.
Do you honestly think that no one has done anything about it? By making thousands (if not millions) of these adjustments we get a very good idea of how old a piece of unknown material can be. The 2009 calibration set extends the ‘well calibrated range’ to 50,000 years using the varves in a Japanese lake. This is unlike the creationists which think it happened, but can’t be bothered to check.