In 2010, Purdue University published a research paper[1] stating that their researchers had detected slight fluctuations in radioactive isotope decay rates "in synch with the rotation of the sun's core." The article also stated:

The team has not yet examined isotopes used in medical radiation treatments or for dating of ancient artifacts.

Has there been any further research on this, and has it been found to affect carbon dating techniques or other archeological dating methods? Are the fluctuations large enough to call into question currently accepted geological dates?

  1. http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2010/100830FischbachJenkinsDec.html

First off, the purported variations were reported to be cyclical. So the net effect on archeological dating would be null even if these variations existed.

Secondly, these purported variations are very dubious. Scientists are not immune from "crackpot syndrome". If anything, scientists are more susceptible to this than the average public. There's a bit of a crackpot lurking in every good scientist. Their job, their very being, is tied up in pushing the boundary of human knowledge. Very good scientists listen to their inner crackpot but keep it inside until they are very sure that their inner crackpot has revealed something new. Not so good scientists regularly expose their inner crackpot for the whole world to see.

What this means is that when you read some extraordinary claim you should be extraordinarily suspicious, at least at first. They might have found something, then again, they might just be exposing themselves.

In this case, I suspect the latter. What I suggest in the case of extraordinary claims: Go to a site such as scholar.google.com and search for the journal article in question. Scholar gives a citation count (oftentimes inflated, but that's a different story). Click on it and you'll get a new page that lists the articles that cited the article in question. In this case, you'll see that there have been a paltry 25 citations in the 8 years since the article was published. That alone is very noteworthy. This article that you think is significant is anything but.

If you dig deeper, you'll see that almost all of those 25 citations are self-citations, subsequent articles by one or more of the original authors who have cited their own work. That makes this article even more suspicious. If you filter out the self-citations, you'll see that the original list of 25 citations dwindles down to two or three, and most of those say "There's nothing to see here. Move along, move along."

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, even a year later the citations list has only increased by 1 or 2 more. $\endgroup$ – Chris Bloom Aug 10 '15 at 15:15

I've never heard of this exact type of variations, but there are many other variables that are considered by the scientists making radiocarbon dating, such as:

  • C-14/C-12 ratio - this leads to calibration of the dates

  • isotopic fractionation - living organisms have slightly less C-13 and C-14 ratio in comparison to the atmosphere; this ratio my vary during the year for animals eating food with different ratio of these isotopes in different seasons

And many others. All these effects are taken into account, and even if this discovery is not just a measurement artifact (I tend to believe David Hammen that it is), it wouldn't affect the dating much.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.