Skepchick Quickies 8.27


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. Is it a sign of my age (35) that I find brand new scientific mysteries to be a bit… scary?

    I find joy in telling students about the weirdness of topics like quantum entanglement, photons being both particle and wave, and how there are parts of the universe we can’t see, and will never be able to see.
    Thinking about telling them “radioactive decay rates are constant, oh, except new research shows it varies slightly with previously unknown radiation from the sun” on the other hand freaks me out just a little bit right now.

  2. @Bjornar: Most likely, yes.

    Isn’t that the way it usually goes? What was known before you were born is obvious, what’s learned before you’re 30 is new and exciting, what’s learned after 30 is unsettling.

    But take heart: it happens to everyone.

  3. I am definitely going to try and track down the paper(s) associated with the radioactive decay. I’m curious about how accurate the reporting on the discovery was. But if the discovery is actually real? That’s really exciting!

  4. @angrymonkey: I think the media is jumping to some conclusions. I found this critique of the study. It seems to have some flaws and needs a lot of follow up data before it’ll be accepted.


    What I would like to know is how this will change carbon dating estimates. I have a feeling that the creationists are going to come out of the woodwork for this one and will be hearing about this article for years to come, even if it is overturned.

  5. The dacay rate findings are very, very exciting, (though, as Bjornar pointed out, also unsettling). While we await more research, shall we amuse ourselves listening to the young earth creationists howl that this is proof of a 6,000 year old universe?

  6. The article is Bad Science because it doesn’t give *any* numbers. (BAD REPORTER! BAD REPORTER! SIT!)

    However several of the commenters did some digging and say the effect is about .1% and appears to be cyclical, so it would cause at most a .001 change in various radioactive dates. (If the currently accepted values of decay rates were derived from an average measurement over several years, or were measured in April or October, they would cause NO change in dates.)

    Since the objects being dated are centuries or millennia or millions of years old, the annual variations would average out.

    Sorry, YECs, you are wrong again.

  7. @jogleby: The YEC angle was the first thing that popped into my head when I saw this on MSNBC’s site. They will, of course, ignore the fact that this will end up being a small correction term (assuming further study proves it real) and trumpet it as solid “scientifical” proof of their assertions.

    On the other hand, the idea that solar neutrinos, which have previously been considered essentially “interactionless”, might be behind this would be a huge deal.

    As someone noted:

    “What we’re suggesting is that something that doesn’t really interact with anything is changing something that can’t be changed.”

    Very cool!

  8. @Narvi: At 42, I still find every new discovery amazing and wonderful. Except maybe my personal ongoing bodily deterioration; those discoveries are worrisome.

  9. @Narvi:

    No, I have to disagree. Like Zapski , just above, I find most new discoveries that I hear about to be exciting and fascinating — except of course such disheartening discoveries as new antibiotic-resistant diseases and such like.

    And I’m almost 54.

  10. Anybody else go to the “Science and the Media” panel at Skepchickon last month? My notes on it are at http://gmcdavid.livejournal.com/541613.html. The story on variable radioactive decay rates seems like an excellent example of “Ways in which scientific findings are reported and distorted by the media.”

    I found some other references on this story and posted about them at http://gmcdavid.livejournal.com/558163.html. I am skeptical.

  11. This means, of course, that the core of the Earth is going to heat up and we’re all going to die – unless you have access to an armoured limo and a gigantic Russian plane.

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