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Pointing out what is wrong with a theory can get you into trouble

21 May 2014
Inside science

No. I'm not talking about climate change or global weirding – or even the elusive global warming. At http://malagabay.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/carbon-14-cookbook/ … Tim Cullen is digging holes in C14 methodology and in this post looks at the shoddy treatment history has dished out to Eric Anderson, who worked with Willard Libby, a mainstream big gun and consensus hero of the faithful, and yet Wikipedia describes him as a student when in fact he was a physical chemist (the same as Libby). His sin was to reach the decision that there were problems with C14 methodology that required airing – it was not the perfect dating tool it was cracked up to be. At some point around 1951 he appears to have split from Libby – they fell out (but the story has been expunged). Anderson, with Hilde Levi, went on to publish a paper 'Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating' in a Danish journal. Presumably US and English language journals had ostracised him (or them) – but that is conjecture. Not a lot is known about him after that – was it a promising career that met a blind alley. In real science,if ever such was practised, he would be regarded as more honest and true to the spirit of science than Libby – who went on to sell his soul (and made his methodology acceptable to academics and scientists alike).

What Anderson showed was that C14 could easily be contaminated (which was eventually recognised when the evidence became too great to brush aside). This eventually led to better handling techniques, and protecting sample in transit and at sites etc. Anderson and Levi claimed contamination could be caused by chemical reactions, or by mechanical inclusions/exchange. They were referring mainly to contamination by carbon older or younger than the sample – a problem that has also been acknowledged (when convenient). Mechanical inclusions would include simple things like the penetration of  samples by the rootlets of nearby plants, crystallisation of carbonates, and the deposition of organic compounds such as humic soils … by mixing of strata of different ages (by internal forces or by human and animal activity). In the 1960s, at the height of the frenzy generated by the new C14 methodology, Anderson's point of view was regarded virtually as sacrilege. At this time, esteemed geologists of repute were being vilified if their results contradicted the new C14 way of dating things. They may have been using dating methods such as annual lake varves – which are unmistakeable, but no matter, if they contradicted the new belief system they were outed – and their papers were not published. May be lots of scientists have a proclivity for being herd like creatures – they certainly follow this pattern in the CAGW controversy. Presumably it is a relic of the education system – as somewhat earlier there was that guy Lysenko (just do a Wikipedia on him).

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