Topics: Radiometric dating?
Many people assume that the dates scientists quote of millions of years are as reliable as our knowledge of the structure of the atom or nuclear power. And radioactive dating is so shrouded with mystery that many don’t even try to understand how the method works; they just believe it must be right.
But the basic concept of radioactive dating, sometimes called radiometric dating, is not difficult, especially since all of us regularly calculate how much time has passed: for example, since our birth, or since we started on a walk. A swimming race is a familiar situation that illustrates the simple principles involved in measuring time. Once we understand what we actually need to do we can apply the same principles to radioactive dating, and see if the methods do what they are claimed to do.
Picture a swimmer competing in a 1,500 metre race and an observer with an accurate wristwatch. We note that at the instant the swimmer touches the end of the pool our wristwatch reads 7:41 and 53 seconds. How long has the competitor taken to swim the race?