Radioactive decay rates not constant

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Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby The Reaper » Tue Aug 31, 2010 5:38 pm UTC

http://www.physorg.com/news202456660.html
Radioactive decay rates, thought to be unique physical constants and counted on in such fields as medicine and anthropology, may be more variable than once thought.

A team of scientists from Purdue and Stanford universities has found that the decay of radioactive isotopes fluctuates in synch with the rotation of the sun's core.

The fluctuations appear to be very small but could lead to predictive tools for solar flares and may have an impact on medical radiation treatments.

This adds to evidence of swings in decay rates in response to solar activity and the distance between the Earth and the sun that Purdue researchers Ephraim Fischbach, a professor of physics, and Jere Jenkins, a nuclear engineer, have been gathering for the last four years. The Purdue team previously reported observing a drop in the rate of decay that began a day and half before and peaked during the December 2006 solar flare and an annual fluctuation that appeared to be based on the Earth's orbit of, and changing distance from, the sun, Jenkins said.

"If the relationship between solar activity and decay rates proves to be true, it could lead to a method of predicting solar flares, which could help prevent damage to satellites and electric grids, as well as save the lives of astronauts in space," Jenkins said. "Finding that the decay rates fluctuate in a pattern that matches known and theoretical solar frequencies is compelling evidence for a solar influence on decay rates."

Jenkins and Fischbach collaborated with Peter Sturrock, a professor emeritus of applied physics at Stanford University and an expert on the inner workings of the sun, to examine data collected at Brookhaven National Laboratory on the rate of decay of the radioactive isotopes silicon-32 and chlorine-36. The team reported in the journal Astroparticle Physics that the decay rate for both isotopes varies in a 33-day recurring pattern, which they attribute to the rotation rate of the sun's core.

In general, the fluctuations that Jenkins and Fischbach have found are around a tenth of a percent from what is expected, as they've examined available published data and taken some measurements themselves.

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

"The fluctuations we're seeing are fractions of a percent and are not likely to radically alter any major anthropological findings," Fischbach said. "One of our next steps is to look into the isotopes used medically to see if there are any variations that would lead to overdosing or underdosing in radiation treatments, but there is no cause for alarm at this point. What is key here is that what was thought to be a constant actually varies and we've discovered a periodic oscillation where there shouldn't be one."

Jenkins and Fischbach suggest that the changes in the decay rates are due to interactions with solar neutrinos, nearly weightless particles created by nuclear reactions within the sun's core that travel almost at the speed of light.

It is estimated that about 60 billion solar neutrinos pass through a person's fingernail every second, but they are so weakly reactive that they pass right through the body without disturbing or changing anything, Jenkins said.

"We haven't known the solar neutrino to interact significantly with anything, but it fits with the evidence we've gathered as the likely source of these fluctuations," he said. "So, what we're suggesting is that something that can't interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed."

The Purdue team has ruled out the possibility of experimental error or an environmental influence on the detection systems that track the rate of decay as being responsible for the fluctuations and published a series of papers in the journals Astroparticle Physics, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, and Space Science Reviews.

Sturrock said it is an effect that no one yet understands and that if it is not neutrinos that are responsible, then perhaps there is an unknown particle interacting with the atoms.

"It would have to be something we don't know about - an unknown particle that is also emitted by the sun and has this effect - and that would be even more remarkable," he said.

More information: Power spectrum analyses of nuclear decay rates, M.A. Silver et al., Astroparticle Physics, Volume 34, Issue 3, October 2010, Pages 173-178. doi:10.1016/j.astropartphys.2010.06.011
Provided by Purdue University
Science!

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby ++$_ » Tue Aug 31, 2010 5:55 pm UTC

If it's true, isn't this big trouble for the Standard Model?

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby big boss » Tue Aug 31, 2010 5:57 pm UTC

Its always cool when something that you were taught to be absolute truth no matter what is found out to be not so true after all (at least if these findings hold up in further tests and are independently confirmed of course)
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Glmclain » Tue Aug 31, 2010 5:59 pm UTC

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Godskalken » Tue Aug 31, 2010 6:37 pm UTC

Carbon dating is bunk.

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Tue Aug 31, 2010 6:39 pm UTC

I'm not massively supprised, I always figured that something which is occuring at the quantum level might not be as simple as a constant rate...

The interesting questions I have are:
    Is the variablity something which we can easily model?
and
    What implications does this have to the applications of radioactive sources currently employed.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Oregonaut » Tue Aug 31, 2010 6:41 pm UTC

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Dauric » Tue Aug 31, 2010 6:46 pm UTC

TheKrikkitWars wrote:I'm not massively supprised, I always figured that something which is occuring at the quantum level might not be as simple as a constant rate...

The interesting questions I have are:
    Is the variablity something which we can easily model?
and
    What implications does this have to the applications of radioactive sources currently employed.


The second question they mostly addressed:
"The fluctuations we're seeing are fractions of a percent and are not likely to radically alter any major anthropological findings," Fischbach said. "One of our next steps is to look into the isotopes used medically to see if there are any variations that would lead to overdosing or underdosing in radiation treatments, but there is no cause for alarm at this point. What is key here is that what was thought to be a constant actually varies and we've discovered a periodic oscillation where there shouldn't be one."


As far as the first, they're probably still working on that.

Best line in the article (possibly best serious science quote ever):
"So, what we're suggesting is that something that can't interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed."
Last edited by Dauric on Tue Aug 31, 2010 7:11 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Diadem » Tue Aug 31, 2010 7:05 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:Best line in the article (possibly best serious science quote ever):
"So, what we're suggesting is that something that can't interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed."

That line is sheer epic win, and I now want this to be true just because of that line.

Crackpots of the world, take heed, this is how serious scientists propose revolutionary ideas. Humbly, not claiming it to be true, but suggesting it while fully recognizing the implications of what they are saying, but backed up by 4 years of research. And with a bit of humor.


Anyway, this is rather big. If this is true the Standard Model can go out of the window. Clearly we need more data and independent verification before we can accept something on this scale, but it is very interesting.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Dauric » Tue Aug 31, 2010 7:17 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:Anyway, this is rather big. If this is true the Standard Model can go out of the window. Clearly we need more data and independent verification before we can accept something on this scale, but it is very interesting.


As long as it's not replaced by the SubStandard Model
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby VDOgamez » Tue Aug 31, 2010 7:19 pm UTC

So, what we're suggesting is that something that can't interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed.

This is beginning to sound like an episode of some sci-fi show.

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Vaniver » Tue Aug 31, 2010 7:52 pm UTC

I find it far more likely that their detector is measuring the sun somehow than that the sun is causing the radioactive atoms to decay more quickly or more slowly, but that seems like something they would look into rather early on. The easiest test that comes to mind is comparing the size of the sun-dependent effect and the size of the decaying sample- if they're dependent, then you can suggest the rate isn't changing and it's a sun-specific source of noise.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Dauric » Tue Aug 31, 2010 8:01 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:I find it far more likely that their detector is measuring the sun somehow than that the sun is causing the radioactive atoms to decay more quickly or more slowly, but that seems like something they would look into rather early on. The easiest test that comes to mind is comparing the size of the sun-dependent effect and the size of the decaying sample- if they're dependent, then you can suggest the rate isn't changing and it's a sun-specific source of noise.


From the article;

The Purdue team has ruled out the possibility of experimental error or an environmental influence on the detection systems that track the rate of decay as being responsible for the fluctuations and published a series of papers in the journals Astroparticle Physics, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, and Space Science Reviews.


So, yeah, they already thought of that.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby ++$_ » Tue Aug 31, 2010 8:23 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:
The Purdue team has ruled out the possibility of experimental error or an environmental influence on the detection systems that track the rate of decay as being responsible for the fluctuations and published a series of papers in the journals Astroparticle Physics, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, and Space Science Reviews.


So, yeah, they already thought of that.
However, the paper in which they explain how they ruled out those environmental influences is listed as "in press" in the reflist of their newest paper (P.A. Sturrock et al., "Power spectrum analysis of BNL decay rate data", Astroparticle Physics 34 No. 2, 121-127). So we can't yet read exactly how they did it.

That said, in their previous experiment (J.H. Jenkins et al., "Perturbation of nuclear decay rates during the solar flare of 2006 December 13", Astroparticle Physics 31 No. 6, 407-411), the detector was "shielded on all sides by several inches of lead, except at the end of the PMT [photomultiplier] base where a space was left to accommodate cables." The more recent data comes from a setup at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, so they didn't set it up.

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Vaniver » Tue Aug 31, 2010 8:35 pm UTC

Yeah- I don't take claims that they "ruled out" X on face value unless they explain how and it seems comprehensive. Precautions taken aren't as conclusive as tests run- if you can show that this is independent of other things, then that's more convincing than saying "we were really careful, so the data is going to be good."

That said, it's very possible they *did* run these tests and they ruled out the error that way. We won't know until the paper comes out.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Dauric » Tue Aug 31, 2010 8:37 pm UTC

++$_ wrote:
Dauric wrote:
The Purdue team has ruled out the possibility of experimental error or an environmental influence on the detection systems that track the rate of decay as being responsible for the fluctuations and published a series of papers in the journals Astroparticle Physics, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, and Space Science Reviews.


So, yeah, they already thought of that.
However, the paper in which they explain how they ruled out those environmental influences is listed as "in press" in the reflist of their newest paper (P.A. Sturrock et al., "Power spectrum analysis of BNL decay rate data", Astroparticle Physics 34 No. 2, 121-127). So we can't yet read exactly how they did it.

That said, in their previous experiment (J.H. Jenkins et al., "Perturbation of nuclear decay rates during the solar flare of 2006 December 13", Astroparticle Physics 31 No. 6, 407-411), the detector was "shielded on all sides by several inches of lead, except at the end of the PMT [photomultiplier] base where a space was left to accommodate cables." The more recent data comes from a setup at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, so they didn't set it up.


Given their paper is "in-press", we have to be able to assume a certain degree of competency by where these people work at. We're talking about scientists from Stanford, Purdue, and the Brookhaven National Laboratory, not Hickville's Technical Institute for the Terminally Inbred. Either we assume that the people in these -three- institutions have a clue and know what they're doing to within a certain reasonable degree of error, or we should 1) just stop talking about anything since we're incapable of verifying most of what we talk about on these boards to that degree of technicality and 2) weep for the state of science as a whole if we can't take a press release from a collection of the top scientific institutions as being reasonably accurate to discuss for ultimately shits and giggles on a webcomic forum.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Godskalken » Tue Aug 31, 2010 9:06 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:[..] not Hickville's Technical Institute for the Terminally Inbred.

You dare insult my university?

Anyway, even if it's the instruments that are messing with their heads, I suppose that would still mean that at least half of "something that can't interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed" is apt.

Anyway, I'm certainly no expert (few of us here in Hickville are), but I can't believe that this would upset the standard model that much. I mean, there must already be lots of stuff it doesn't explain, what would otherwise be the use of string theory*?

*Yeah, I know, but still...

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Dauric » Tue Aug 31, 2010 9:21 pm UTC

Godskalken wrote:
Dauric wrote:[..] not Hickville's Technical Institute for the Terminally Inbred.

You dare insult my university?

I'm an equal-opportunity asshole, I'll insult everyone's university, and my own falls in to that category as well.

Actually check that, I'm not quite equal opportunity, given the opportunity I've got a lot more venom to spit about my university than anyone else's.
Anyway, I'm certainly no expert (few of us here in Hickville are), but I can't believe that this would upset the standard model that much. I mean, there must already be lots of stuff it doesn't explain, what would otherwise be the use of string theory*?

*Yeah, I know, but still...


Ultimately I agree, but then again their statements in the article are more about this being useful for predicting solar activity than about massively changing Everything We Know, although if you work on satellite systems (like the satellites we rely on for our GPS and communications) or space station habitats being able to predict solar flares is Big News.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby ++$_ » Tue Aug 31, 2010 10:44 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:Either we assume that the people in these -three- institutions have a clue and know what they're doing to within a certain reasonable degree of error, or we should 1) just stop talking about anything since we're incapable of verifying most of what we talk about on these boards to that degree of technicality and 2) weep for the state of science as a whole if we can't take a press release from a collection of the top scientific institutions as being reasonably accurate to discuss for ultimately shits and giggles on a webcomic forum.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby jestingrabbit » Wed Sep 01, 2010 12:15 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:I find it far more likely that their detector is measuring the sun somehow than that the sun is causing the radioactive atoms to decay more quickly or more slowly, but that seems like something they would look into rather early on. The easiest test that comes to mind is comparing the size of the sun-dependent effect and the size of the decaying sample- if they're dependent, then you can suggest the rate isn't changing and it's a sun-specific source of noise.


The thing is, the people who wrote this paper weren't running the equipment. They've cludged together a bunch of data sets from a variety of places and claimed significant fluctuation. Moreover, they're claiming things like solar flares, stuff that happens on the surface of the sun, are correlated to a change in neutrino production, when neutrino production is believed to happen in the centre of the star.

A much better article here

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80bea ... th-matter/

This is likely bullshit.

++$_ wrote:If it's true, isn't this big trouble for the Standard Model?


The standard model already has plenty of problems.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby TheSkyMovesSideways » Wed Sep 01, 2010 2:37 am UTC

"So, what we're suggesting is that something that can't interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed."

Awesome.

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Plasma Man » Wed Sep 01, 2010 8:43 am UTC

The thing is that neutrinos do interact with things. That's why there are neutrino detection experiments running. So I'm sceptical about the paper given that one of the authors is quoted as saying something that any physics graduate would know is wrong; the flip side of that is that if this effect turns out to be real, it could shed some more light on neutrinos.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby JoeKhol » Wed Sep 01, 2010 8:58 am UTC

VDOgamez wrote:
So, what we're suggesting is that something that can't interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed.

This is beginning to sound like an episode of some sci-fi show.

We should probably realign the deflector dish to emit a tachyon burst. That solves everything we don't understand.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby SlyReaper » Wed Sep 01, 2010 9:09 am UTC

Plasma Man wrote:The thing is that neutrinos do interact with things. That's why there are neutrino detection experiments running. So I'm sceptical about the paper given that one of the authors is quoted as saying something that any physics graduate would know is wrong; the flip side of that is that if this effect turns out to be real, it could shed some more light on neutrinos.


Neutrinos do interact with things, but very very weakly. If it does turn out that neutrinos are the cluprit for accelerated radioactive decay, it could lead to the development of better neutrino detectors. The question then becomes why do neutrinos interact with radioactive isotopes more strongly than other materials.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Wed Sep 01, 2010 9:11 am UTC

Plasma Man wrote:The thing is that neutrinos do interact with things. That's why there are neutrino detection experiments running. So I'm sceptical about the paper given that one of the authors is quoted as saying something that any physics graduate would know is wrong; the flip side of that is that if this effect turns out to be real, it could shed some more light on neutrinos.


I suspect that alarming quote is more to do with dramatic licence, than the researchers' understanding of the science involved.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby nopacman » Wed Sep 01, 2010 10:50 am UTC

Hah, nice. Aren't the neutrinos detected by using radioactive isotopes already? Or was it that when hitting a certain molecule it would change it into a radioactive one, then decaying? It's funny, I've got an Quantum Physics exam this afternoon, but my source is a book from Asimov (Sun shines bright, I believe). We'll see when they publish.

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby jestingrabbit » Wed Sep 01, 2010 11:15 am UTC

nopacman wrote:Or was it that when hitting a certain molecule it would change it into a radioactive one, then decaying?


This is what they do. The LSND, for instance, used 167 tons of mineral oil and some other stuff to make it pop, and photomultipliers to detect cherenkov radiation that was emitted when there were interactions. Its results are generally interpreted as implying the existence of more than three kinds of neutrinos, contradicting the standard model.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Simius » Wed Sep 01, 2010 12:47 pm UTC

jestingrabbit wrote:
nopacman wrote:Or was it that when hitting a certain molecule it would change it into a radioactive one, then decaying?


This is what they do. The LSND, for instance, used 167 tons of mineral oil and some other stuff to make it pop, and photomultipliers to detect cherenkov radiation that was emitted when there were interactions. Its results are generally interpreted as implying the existence of more than three kinds of neutrinos, contradicting the standard model.


And it would directly contradict measurements of Z-boson decay, which have indicated that there are just 3 types of neutrinos.

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Calorus » Wed Sep 01, 2010 6:03 pm UTC

Godskalken wrote:Carbon dating is bunk.


No, this wouldn't result in that, at all, what it would say is that it's less accurate.

But it's already far less precise than the variation in accuracy that this would imply so, no issues.

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Godskalken » Wed Sep 01, 2010 8:44 pm UTC

Calorus wrote:
Godskalken wrote:Carbon dating is bunk.


No, this wouldn't result in that, at all, what it would say is that it's less accurate.

But it's already far less precise than the variation in accuracy that this would imply so, no issues.


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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Dauric » Wed Sep 01, 2010 8:47 pm UTC

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby SummerGlauFan » Wed Sep 01, 2010 9:01 pm UTC

I was thinking about people who'd be jumping all over carbon dating with this, but the article does say that the effect is a fraction of a percent. In other words, if you carbon dated that T-Rex bone, you may be off by a century.

Then again, all arguments I have heard against carbon dating blame fluctuations in the ozone layer, but maybe I don't get out enough.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby jestingrabbit » Wed Sep 01, 2010 9:06 pm UTC

Simius wrote:And it would directly contradict measurements of Z-boson decay, which have indicated that there are just 3 types of neutrinos.


From the second paragraph there

The possibility of sterile neutrinos—relatively light neutrinos which do not participate in the weak interaction but which could be created through flavor oscillation (see below)—is unaffected by these Z-boson-based measurements


Its not necessarily the case that sterile neutrinos exist, but its not clear at the moment one way or the other.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Calorus » Wed Sep 01, 2010 9:15 pm UTC

Godskalken wrote:
Calorus wrote:
Godskalken wrote:Carbon dating is bunk.


No, this wouldn't result in that, at all, what it would say is that it's less accurate.

But it's already far less precise than the variation in accuracy that this would imply so, no issues.


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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Me321 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 3:49 am UTC

So are these rates causing solar rotation, or is the solar rotation causing these rates, and how would we know without studying other stars up close?

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Sep 08, 2010 3:59 am UTC

Dauric wrote:Either we assume that the people in these -three- institutions have a clue and know what they're doing to within a certain reasonable degree of error, or we should 1) just stop talking about anything since we're incapable of verifying most of what we talk about on these boards to that degree of technicality and 2) weep for the state of science as a whole if we can't take a press release from a collection of the top scientific institutions as being reasonably accurate to discuss for ultimately shits and giggles on a webcomic forum.
Wow, really? We should either take them at their word or throw out science?

Nope. Sorry. Science does not work that way.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and so far we've got nothing other than their vague assertions to suggest that more likely causes for the observed variations have been adequately ruled out.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Dauric » Wed Sep 08, 2010 2:16 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Dauric wrote:Either we assume that the people in these -three- institutions have a clue and know what they're doing to within a certain reasonable degree of error, or we should 1) just stop talking about anything since we're incapable of verifying most of what we talk about on these boards to that degree of technicality and 2) weep for the state of science as a whole if we can't take a press release from a collection of the top scientific institutions as being reasonably accurate to discuss for ultimately shits and giggles on a webcomic forum.
Wow, really? We should either take them at their word or throw out science?

Nope. Sorry. Science does not work that way.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and so far we've got nothing other than their vague assertions to suggest that more likely causes for the observed variations have been adequately ruled out.


For the purposes of the discussion about what it all could mean you can either assume they have some competency, or say it's bull and end the discussion until the paper is published. We're not a peer review board, nor a science journal, we're a bunch of random jackasses on teh internetz shooting the bull about stuff we see in the news.

I know "how science works", and "How Science Works" is that serious discussion about the findings of studies don't happen, in the positive or negative, until the findings have been peer reviewed and independently confirmed by people with the right equipment replicating the experiment.

Again, we can either discuss what they had to say assuming a certain degree of veracity on their part, or just end the whole thread, and a lot of other discussion threads, for lack of rigorous published confirmation. Sure we can talk about having doubts about their results, fine, but outright dismissal of the article means there's nothing to talk about.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Sep 08, 2010 3:47 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:Sure we can talk about having doubts about their results, fine, but outright dismissal of the article means there's nothing to talk about.
Who was outright dismissing it? And in any case, I disagree. There are dozens of threads in N&A where a good deal of discussion has happened about just how wrong the original article is. Saying, "Wow, those 'scientists' sure are idiots," might be dismissive, but it's patently false to claim that ends discussion.
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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby userxp » Wed Sep 08, 2010 4:01 pm UTC

Did they calculate the probability that it is just a coincidence? That's the first thing you should do when you find a correlation between two variables.

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Re: Radioactive decay rates not constant

Postby Antimony-120 » Mon Sep 13, 2010 10:49 pm UTC

userxp wrote:Did they calculate the probability that it is just a coincidence? That's the first thing you should do when you find a correlation between two variables.


Actually they did, they also ruled out most environmental factors (including temperature and humidity) but acknowledge that one would have to run a dedicated experiment to be certain these had been eliminated.

It is also worth noting that in the original paper they never use that quote (something that can't interact changing something that can't be changed) so unless somebody knows in what context that quote was given, it seems likely to me that they said that in some form of interview or press release, and it was simply meant to emphasize the findings for the public, who probably don't want to deal with "something that interacts very weakly seems to be affecting a process known to be caused by the same force that weak interaction takes place in, but a process in which is was highly unexpected for this to occur".

In any case this doesn't sound the death knell for the Standard model. It may need one more kludge around neutrinos, but frankly the standard model is like an old pair of jeans, it's pretty much just a bunch of patches sewn together anyways.

All in all I'm inclined to rate this similarly to how the researchers did, interesting, perhaps worth a dedicated experiment if the time and funding can be found, but not something that changes everything we know. The fact that they've shown considerable restraint in their conclusions leads me to believe that it's likely not a crackpot project, but just the investigation of some researchers, likely started by somebody looking at data and going "Huh, that's funny".
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