Searching for oil, or, the fallacy of discordant dates

(James McKay) #1

Continuing the discussion from Scientific claims must meet scientific standards:

Hi @johnZ,

I’m replying to your post in a separate thread here, because it veers wildly off-topic from the original discussion.

I keep seeing YECs harping on and on and on about isochron discordances and dates that have to be changed. Nobody is denying that this happens. There are circumstances in which dating methods. can give the wrong result. This is widely acknowledged in the scientific literature. In fact, when discordances are encountered, they generally are published because scientists want to study these discordances, to try and determine why they are discordant so that they can improve the accuracy of their results in the future, explore the limitations of the effectiveness of radiometric dating, and identify warning signs that can indicate when the resultant dates are likely to be in error.

However, you must view these discordances in context. The number of such discordances is tiny compared to the corpus of dating results. There may be a couple of hundred or so such discordances, but you need to bear in mind that the scientific literature contains hundreds of thousands of dates where there is no discordance.

Hundreds. Of. Thousands.

Now here’s another fact about radiometric dating that you may not realise: it is expensive. A single point on an isochron plot can cost five hundred dollars or more. Isochron plots typically require four or more points to establish accuracy. The use of multiple dating methods pushes the cost of dating a single sample into the high thousands. This means that scientists have a huge economic incentive to make sure that their dating methods are reliable. This also means that claims that cherry-picking the results, or systematic bias in the peer review method, could account for the concordance that we see, are totally unrealistic.

Here’s another fact: the largest motivation behind radiometric dating these days is not to prove evolution, but to find oil. In order to do so, scientists must be able to determine not only the ages of rock strata but their thermal history as well. Too young, or too cool, and oil companies will waste a fortune drilling only to find a useless slush of leaves. Too old, or too hot, and they will waste a fortune drilling only to find that all the hydrocarbons have been cooked into oblivion. Take a read of the blog post, “Can Young-Earth Creationists Find Oil?” on the Age of Rocks blog – it explains it in considerable detail. I’ve tried googling for a YEC rebuttal to this article but I’ve drawn a blank.

Again, getting the results of radiometric dating wrong is expensive.

The bottom line: geologists have a lot of incentives to make sure that radiometric dating is reliable. And the motivations for old-earth dating are primarily economic, not ideological.

What standards must scientific claims meet?
(George Brooks) #2

@jammycakes what a GREAT paragraph!!! It even has a good link WITHIN it!

@BradKramer, did you say I should just alert you and you will put this nomination wherever it needs to go?


In reality, you could say that discordances have not yet been discovered. You have to ask what would induce someone to investigate a potential discordance. And if there is a discordance, what will decide the accepted deduced dating for the sediment. Will it be the most reliable method. but how will we know which method is more reliable… the volcanic lava or the tuff. Which mineral in the rock. or the whole rock. Which decay process. Can the methods overrule the fossil, or does the fossil make the final decision.

If there is nothing to induce another test, or a revised method, then we have no certainty of the certainty of the concordance.

And of course I realize that radiometric dating is expensive. The GC, the labor, the sample separation and isolation, etc., etc. You argue that this means that there is a huge incentive to make sure the methods are reliable. Which is true. But this also means that there is a huge incentive to justify the expense.

The methods should be reliable whether expensive or not. And their reliability or unreliability should not be determined by their cost. It cannot be made more reliable merely because it is costly. [quote=“jammycakes, post:1, topic:4858”]

(James McKay) #4

Did you even read what I wrote? I said that discordant results do exist and have been discovered. But I also said that when they are discovered, they are studied to try to determine why they are discordant, so that similar situations can be highlighted and taken into account in the future. The results would also be reported as inconclusive. Trying to conclude a specific date from a discordant result would be scientific fraud.

The whole point that I was making is that when you have hundreds of thousands of results where there is no discordance, and the results concerned come from both radiometric and non-radiometric methods, whose assumptions are independent of each other, the probability that they could all be in error by up to six orders of magnitude, as would be necessary to justify a young earth, or that enough undiscovered discordances could exist to undermine the whole body of data, is a complete fantasy.

Yes, but the only justification for their expense is that they work properly. Especially when they are used for very practical purposes such as finding oil, where getting it wrong will result in huge sums of money being wasted. If they were unreliable enough that they could not distinguish between millions of years and a few thousand, they would simply not be fit for purpose, and this would be widely acknowledged.

(system) #5

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