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Follow Up On Solar Neutrinos and Radioactive Decay

timothy posted about 4 years ago | from the blaming-xenu-for-their-misperception dept.

Science 183

An anonymous reader writes "A few days ago, Slashdot carried a story that was making the rounds: a team of physicists claimed to have detected a strange variation in radioactive decay rates, which they attributed to the mysterious influence of solar neutrinos. The findings attracted immediate attention because they seemed to upend two tenets of physics: that radioactive decay is constant, and that neutrinos very, very rarely interact with matter (trillions of the particles are zinging through your body right now). So Discover Magazine's news blog 80beats followed up on the initial burst of news and interviewed several physicists who work on neutrinos. They are decidedly skeptical."

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Kids (-1, Offtopic)

Pojut (1027544) | about 4 years ago | (#33383654)

Wanna make them fly right? Tell them "trillions of particles are zinging through your body right now...and they're in nice mode. Next time you act up, they're gonna switch over to "cutting" mode!"

Re:Kids (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33383702)

Was that supposed to be funny. That was lamer than a Dane Cook bit.

Re:Kids (-1, Offtopic)

Pojut (1027544) | about 4 years ago | (#33383716)

...jesus. You're right. It was pretty lame.

Sorry, everyone... -_-;;

Re:Kids (0, Offtopic)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 years ago | (#33383776)

I would rather have lame then not trying.

Also, I would rather have lame then AC.

Re:Kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33383910)

Also, I would rather have lame then AC.

You're halfway there. You're lame, but not AC yet.

Re:Kids (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33383916)

I would rather have lame then not trying.

Also, I would rather have lame then AC.

I'd much MUCH rather have not trying. A first post that isn't a troll or a racist joke or a sad attempt at cookie-cutter humor would be a drastic improvement.

Re:Kids (0, Offtopic)

spun (1352) | about 4 years ago | (#33383918)

I would rather have lame than Dane Cook. I'd take the dumbest AC here making the lamest joke imaginable over Dane Cook. Unless it was Dane Cook being sodomized by a rhinoceros. That I'd watch.

Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (5, Insightful)

BurningTyger (626316) | about 4 years ago | (#33383710)

Wait till the religious fanatics hear this. I have already heard claim from them years ago that radioactive decay is not constant, and that's why carbon dating can not be trusted. The fossils are not a few million years old. The Earth is only a few thousand years old.

I bet these religious fanatics will now site this article as their proof!

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (5, Insightful)

Antisyzygy (1495469) | about 4 years ago | (#33383750)

The problem is that religious fanatics already got a hold of it and accept the results as fact without considering any further review.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (2, Insightful)

aristotle-dude (626586) | about 4 years ago | (#33384142)

The problem is that religious fanatics already got a hold of it and accept the results as fact without considering any further review.

Sort of like how the internet science fanboys believed in string theory, dark matter, dark energy etc... without any proof?

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (3, Insightful)

Antisyzygy (1495469) | about 4 years ago | (#33384246)

One, its quite a bit different than that. Creationists will blow this "evidence" out of proportion before it has time to be reviewed by experts in the field. Then, when its proven false they either will omit that part or will claim something ridiculous and illogical like "If scientists can't even make their mind up about one little thing then they all must be wrong!". Two, I don't believe dark matter or dark energy exists. Im not sure about string theory simply because I don't know enough about it. I know at one time people thought it was silly because it didn't have observable evidence but I am not sure of the current state of the theory.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

Antisyzygy (1495469) | about 4 years ago | (#33384250)

I should say "if" its proven false.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (5, Insightful)

Orange Crush (934731) | about 4 years ago | (#33384806)

And that's a key difference between science and faith. To steal a little from Steven, scientists shouldn't "believe the same thing on Wednesday that they believed on Monday, regardless of what happened on Tuesday." That's not how science works.
If a researcher discovers something surprising, the next steps are confirming their results and measurements were accurate and are repeatable. Then experiments can be devised to test why this might be so.
Nobody should do much believing in science. String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy aren't things to be believed. They're just potential and incomplete explanations for what might be going on. The next step is trying to devise experiments to detect these things and/or test the implications.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | about 4 years ago | (#33384872)

^Steven Colbert, that is.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

Bemopolis (698691) | about 4 years ago | (#33385940)

^Steven Colbert, that is.

Stephen Colbert, that is.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (5, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 4 years ago | (#33384752)

Except that string theory, dark matter, dark energy, etc, are all theories in that they invite invitation to poke holes in them. Science is an open process that allows anyone to experiment with it and often encourages you to defy the belief in the theory. Most often the giant scientific leaps are when you discover certain properties that don't fit in the theory, or you simply suspend the belief in the theory to find another one that could also be true.

Religion on the other hand, requires your belief, faith in that belief, and shuns any notion that it could be wrong.

So yes - if you know of internet science fanboys who said that String Theory MUST be true, than its sort of the same. But there are more of internet science fanboys who say that String Theory COULD be true, and that it requires more verification to either justify or nullify it.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | about 4 years ago | (#33384200)

I figured as much. The claimed variance in rate of decay is so miniscule that it doesn't change anything, not that they'd be willing to acknowledge anything that disagrees with their views.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33383796)

It could swing the other however and we could say maybe the earth is more than 4.5 billion years old.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (4, Informative)

muyla (1429487) | about 4 years ago | (#33383898)

Since TFA says that the decay has slowed down, that would be the case

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33384710)

I come up with the opposite conclusion. If decay rates were higher in the past, we would overestimate the earth's age.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 4 years ago | (#33385374)

No, they are not proposing that neutrinos are constantly changing the decay rates, making a neat graph where the rates were higher in the past and can be extrapolated to slower in the future.

They are saying that a flare of neutrinos temporarily slowed the decay rates, and once the even was over, they came back up. Described as "a dip".

So, essentially, what they're saying is that if what they're suggesting is true, certain periods in the past would have had slower decay rates than what we've expected, thus making the Earth older.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 4 years ago | (#33383830)

Luckily the detected difference is somewhere around .0001% so I don't think we'll be rewriting history even if their observation is confirmed. Such a small change really makes me wonder if they've actually done the statistical analysis on the results to make sure that they are significant. I'd bet that they will find some relatively run of the mill explanation the explain the changes; something like the detector's efficiency changing based on humidity or temperature. Although something like that would go a long way to explaining seasonal variations, it might be harder to explain the changes that were detected during solar storms/calms.

Of course, it would be more interesting if this is a real effect. After all, "That's strange" is much more exciting than "We were right".

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (2, Insightful)

causality (777677) | about 4 years ago | (#33383950)

Luckily the detected difference is somewhere around .0001% so I don't think we'll be rewriting history even if their observation is confirmed. Such a small change really makes me wonder if they've actually done the statistical analysis on the results to make sure that they are significant. I'd bet that they will find some relatively run of the mill explanation the explain the changes; something like the detector's efficiency changing based on humidity or temperature. Although something like that would go a long way to explaining seasonal variations, it might be harder to explain the changes that were detected during solar storms/calms.

Of course, it would be more interesting if this is a real effect. After all, "That's strange" is much more exciting than "We were right".

The question is that if the difference is that small now, what guarantees do we have that it was always so small and insignificant in the past? Especially when you consider that the Sun is not the only source of neutrinos and radiation in the galaxy.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (4, Interesting)

zero.kalvin (1231372) | about 4 years ago | (#33384382)

Depends on the energy. (A more detailed energy slicing won't be necessary) Low energy neutrinos order of few KeV, come mostly from the sun. High energy neutrinos Above the few KeV threshold mostly comes from Cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere. As for cosmic neutrinos, well good luck with that! I work in a neutrino experiment (ANTARES) , and I wish that we can detect cosmic neutrinos with abundance, it's just that there isn't enough to influence anything.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (2, Interesting)

causality (777677) | about 4 years ago | (#33384762)

Depends on the energy. (A more detailed energy slicing won't be necessary) Low energy neutrinos order of few KeV, come mostly from the sun. High energy neutrinos Above the few KeV threshold mostly comes from Cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere. As for cosmic neutrinos, well good luck with that! I work in a neutrino experiment (ANTARES) , and I wish that we can detect cosmic neutrinos with abundance, it's just that there isn't enough to influence anything.

What I meant were those caused by transient and relatively nearby events like supernovae or gamma-ray bursts -- things that haven't happened since we had detectors for neutrinos or even knew what neutrinos were. We haven't had a supernova that was visible to the naked eye in Earth's night-time sky in quite a long time, yet when an extremely energetic event like that does happen it may affect the cosmic neutrinos we receive.

Or maybe someone knows a reason why it couldn't possibly do that. My intented point was, once your realize that this set-in-stone constant isn't, it calls into question how steady, uninterrupted and unaltered the current conditions have been throughout geological periods of time. That does tend to raise questions about methods of dating based on nuclear decay, but as other posters have pointed out, the observed difference (as it stands now) would actually tend to make things a little older than we previously thought.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

SomePoorSchmuck (183775) | about 4 years ago | (#33384040)

Luckily the detected difference is somewhere around .0001% so I don't think we'll be rewriting history even if their observation is confirmed.

You don't personally know any anti-science religious folks, do you? The post you're responding to hits the bullseye. The scientific review and conclusions drawn from the data will proceed over the next several months/years. But the meme that "they did a study and found that radioactive decay was affected by many different factors, therefore carbon dating can be tossed out and therefore the book of Genesis as written in my English translation must be accepted verbatim" will circulate via blog and email and word of mouth for a couple decades.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33384348)

Luckily the detected difference is somewhere around .0001% so I don't think we'll be rewriting history even if their observation is confirmed.

So the the Earth is "around" 4,500,000,000 years old and the difference is "around" .0001%? 0.00013% of 4,500,000,000 years is 6000 years! That can't be a coincidence! Earth is 6000 years old!

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 4 years ago | (#33385846)

Uh yeah, I'm pretty sure they did the statistical analysis. Besides being absolutely required to get a paper published, it's likely the only way you'd ever see anything in the first place. The data isn't going to be a nice straight line that all of a sudden takes a dip, obvious to anyone who looks at the graph.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (2, Interesting)

Anomalyx (1731404) | about 4 years ago | (#33384194)

Actually the constancy of radioactive decay isn't the problem (at least for the relative few "religious fanatics" that have bothered to learn much science. I must admit, most don't have a clue what they're talking about), it's the assumption that absolutely nothing else has influenced the Carbon-14 levels, and that Carbon-14 levels have always been the same (which they actually haven't, but it could theoretically be extrapolated backwards to find the levels at any given date) that creates the problem. Either way, even scientists that eat, sleep, and drink the Millions-of-years-old-evolutionary worldview will agree that carbon dating is BS.

No matter how 'useful' it is, though, the radiocarbon method is still not capable of yeilding accurate and reliable results. There are gross discrepancies, the chronology is uneven and relative, and the accepted dates are acutally selected dates. This whole blessed thing is nothing but 13th century alchemy, and it all depends upon which funny paper you read.
--Robert E. Lee (not the general, but the evolutionist)

And there have been nothing suggesting otherwise since then.

I don't even care to argue who's right overall, anyone can believe whatever they want, just know that Carbon dating is BS.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

abigor (540274) | about 4 years ago | (#33384358)

What's an "evolutionist"? Isn't that kook terminology for "biologist"?

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

Anomalyx (1731404) | about 4 years ago | (#33384834)

Evolutionist
noun
1. a person who believes in or supports a theory of evolution, esp. in biology.

Biologist
noun
1. a specialist in biology.

They both have relations to biology, but are, by definition, not the same thing. Nothing stopping you from being both, but neither implies the other.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33385390)

Except that nothing makes sense in biology except in light of evolution. Therefore all biologists are evolutionists. They're probably also all cell theoryists, germ theoryists, gravitationalists, atomists, plate techtonicists....and I note that your stance on radiocarbon dating is both a) wrong and b) an unsupported assertion. Why don't you read [wikipedia.org] up [c14dating.com] on [pbs.org] it [usgs.gov] before [tim-thompson.com] disparaging something that you are ignorant of?

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33384812)

Probably so, but will they know the difference between cite and site? I wonder.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33385676)

So, we've got a speculative variation that people are still deeply skeptical about, but more importantly it's a variation of much less than 1%, but they're hoping it will affect radiometric dates to the tune of 5 or 6 orders of magnitude??

If so, they're crazy. It's like expecting a steam roller to win a drag race because the wind is blowing down the track during the run instead of against it. While the difference in wind resistance would have an effect and could theoretically be calculated, it would be insignificant to the outcome in any practical sense, and if you timed it you'd probably not be able to perceive it because of all the other variations that would occur.

Even if these claims are right it would mean radiometric decay is amazingly close to constant to a level of better than 1%, which would then be sunk into the realm of other measurement uncertainties when radiometrically dating a sample anyway.

Worse, if the variation is seasonal or otherwise cyclic, the effect is going to average out over thousands or millions of years. It's scientifically interesting stuff that is worth investigating but there is no sign the purported effect will change radiometric dates in a significant way.

To use another analogy, we're haggling about the effect of a few dollars on something that costs millions or billions.

Re:Wait till the religion fanatics hear this. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 4 years ago | (#33385828)

Good luck. The observed variations are way too small to suddenly make the Earth 500 years old or dinosaurs even less.

Head asplodes (5, Funny)

mcgrew (92797) | about 4 years ago | (#33383720)

'What we're suggesting is that something that doesn't really interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed.'"

at least we know the answer (0, Redundant)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 4 years ago | (#33384266)

to the irresistible force paradox

"what happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irresistible_force_paradox [wikipedia.org]

Re:at least we know the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33384420)

A mathematician would just use L'Hopital's rule to deal with the resulting indeterminate form.

Re:at least we know the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33385070)

A mathematician would just use L'Hopital's rule to deal with the resulting indeterminate form.

L'Hospital's rule requires that the nominator and the denominator are differentiable.
That might not be the case when the irresistible force hits the unmovable object.

Slashdot's caption system is smart today - I got "unmoved" :-)

Re:at least we know the answer (2, Funny)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | about 4 years ago | (#33384524)

A friend from college got into considerable trouble as a kid when he asked that question in Catholic school, although he rephrased it slightly. His form was "Can Jesus make a dildo so big He can't shove it up His ass?" The Nuns showed no interest in discussing the philosophical aspects of that question.

Re:Head asplodes (1)

epiphani (254981) | about 4 years ago | (#33384336)

The fact that the scientists who are working on it are quite aware of what they're proposing is comforting.

Obviously, given what we currently think about radioactive decay and neutrinos, skepticism is warranted and I'd be surprised if any scientist came out and said otherwise.

This article says, in effect, "Interesting idea. Doesn't make sense with what we know though. Lets study it more and get more data." Which is exactly what I'd want to see out of the science community. In other words, this is a non-article.

Re:Head asplodes (1)

Tolkien (664315) | about 4 years ago | (#33384442)

But an interesting non-article nonetheless and one I'm glad I was made aware of :P

Good timing (1)

muyla (1429487) | about 4 years ago | (#33383722)

This might be the best season to go on that trip to chernobill that I was planning...

The Neutrino and Radioactivity Source Is (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33383724)

UVB-76 [slashdot.org] , posing as a radio broadcast.

Anxiously awaiting Slashbot editors new post about Update On The Follow-Up To The Update On The Solar Neutrinos and so on and so forth.

Yours In Barrow,
Kilgore Trout.

According to TFA (3, Interesting)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about 4 years ago | (#33383780)

According to TFA, neutrinos shouldn't be altered much by solar flares which seems to be an almost slamdunk argument against the solar flare part of the claim. In order for this to make sense we'd need wrong not just about neutrino physics but also about basic star modeling. The point that much of the data examined comes from older labs where they have not gone and looked for possible causes in variations also seems to be a strong one. Right now, I'm pretty skeptical of these claims but it should be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.

Core makes flare (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about 4 years ago | (#33384366)

According to TFA, neutrinos shouldn't be altered much by solar flares which seems to be an almost slamdunk argument against the solar flare part of the claim.

While I am extremely sceptical as well they do provide an argument to explain this: some flares are caused by some event in the sun's core. Of course means the rate change would occur (probably substantially) before the flare since the neutrinos would arrive at almost the speed of light whereas the propagation of material/energy to cause a flare would presumably take a lot longer. Without seeing their data, I don't know if they are in agreement with that nor whether they have accounted for cosmic ray activity that (I would guess) could easily be affected by the change in the sun's magnetic field associated with a flare.

I am also surprised that they have not considered Dark Matter since there are more theoretical possibilities there. There are also the strange, oscillations in rates observed by the DAMA experiment which still have not been explained (although again I am very sceptical about it being DM). Nevertheless it would be interesting to see if the decay rate effect is consistent with the DAMA results: having one unexplained result is better than two!

Re:According to TFA (2, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | about 4 years ago | (#33384452)

The point that much of the data examined comes from older labs where they have not gone and looked for possible causes in variations also seems to be a strong one

Yeah, from here the first step would be to set up experiments to see if the variation in decay rates really exists, followed by experiments to determine the patten in variation. From there, we can decide whether we think the sun is involved or not, and if so whether neutrinos have anything to do with it.

Re:According to TFA (2, Informative)

Abcd1234 (188840) | about 4 years ago | (#33384614)

According to TFA, neutrinos shouldn't be altered much by solar flares

And according to that *very same article*, the researchers responded, pointing out that some flares are caused by core events, and so may correlate with neutrino flux changes.

So, what, did you just stop reading half-way through?

Re:According to TFA (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 years ago | (#33385544)

no. The scientist proposing neutrino's are causing this is ALSO proposing this:
  "We therefore consider it possible that events in the core may influence flares"

It really reads like the believe they fund something and then concoct a chain of events that are counter to what we know; which is fine. It certainly is't enough to draw any conclusions from; which they seem to be doing. That is wrong.

When something comes a long and takes what we know and changes it,. it's a wonderful thing. You do need substantial evidence.

Re:According to TFA (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | about 4 years ago | (#33385866)

no. The scientist proposing neutrino's are causing this is ALSO proposing this

No.

The scientists said, and I quote:

"Jenkins and Fischbach write that we know some flares are tied to events deep inside the sun. "

Assuming they aren't lying, then it's already well-understood that some flares are caused by events deep in the sun. They then conclude that it may be possible that solar flares can affect neutron flux in some cases.

So your original statement:

"According to TFA, neutrinos shouldn't be altered much by solar flares which seems to be an almost slamdunk argument against the solar flare part of the claim"

Is not necessarily true, given current understanding of solar physics.

Sigh. (1)

boneclinkz (1284458) | about 4 years ago | (#33383810)

Maybe we should use the ones we already have before we worry about getting neutrinos.

Ephraim Fischbach (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33383824)

... he of the fifth force infame.

From that alone, I think this theory must be wrong.

Obligatory SciFi reference (1)

dpilot (134227) | about 4 years ago | (#33383850)

"Starburst" by Fred Pohl, except it was a beam of kaons that influenced radioactive decay, not neutrinos. Hilarity ensued.

How human (2, Insightful)

spaceman375 (780812) | about 4 years ago | (#33383888)

Of course the trained experts are reluctant to change their view of how the world works. In proper amounts this skepticism is a good thing. I just hope they are open minded enough to recognize the signal in the data, if there is one. As for it being neutrino flux - that's just conjecture. It may simply be distance to the sun's core rather than a particle. What if the fission or fusion of nuclei has an impact on the stability of nearby, possibly entangled nuclei?

Re:How human (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 4 years ago | (#33383942)

If the views stated are correct, then it appears to be a healthy skepticism. In other words "Show us the money". If the data is significant and cannot be explained by being from studies done on old equipment (in other words, if current techniques and equipment are used) and the noticed effect is still there, then the data will rule out.

It's the way science is always done. But until there's some meaningful verification, these results are inherently unreliable.

Re:How human (1)

aphyr (1130531) | about 4 years ago | (#33384296)

a.) The strength of quantum entanglement is independent of the distance between system components.

b.) The sun is almost certainly not entangled with carbon on the earth. Entanglement is incredibly hard to maintain, because every interaction with the environment tends to diffuse the quantum state. Usually it takes a vacuum, really big refrigerators, and special laser traps to preserve entanglement between hadrons for any appreciable time.

Re:How human (2, Insightful)

mackai (1849630) | about 4 years ago | (#33384738)

Exactly as it should be. Physicists are first, observers. They see something (and like it best when there is some sort of measure that they can put to it). Then next, they are curious; what could this mean?, how could this happen?, what could cause this? Sometimes simultaneous with that, sometimes after, comes; is this real?, are there other causes for this observation or set of observations? Meanwhile, the reporting takes an avenue of speculation; sometimes one possible explanation of several gets the most attention because it is the easiest to express verbally, and most of us reading the reports take it as if true, or at least likely, if there is any credibility to it in our minds. But the community overall keeps looking to see if another (better?) explanation comes to mind or if there is some test that can be examined to strengthen or weaken any such conclusion. Over time, the explanation with the most credibility to the scientific community becomes the one generally accepted.

Re:How human (1)

Quirkz (1206400) | about 4 years ago | (#33385024)

My money is that it's an increase in the number of gravitons as we're closer to the sun. This will eventually be looked back on as the first indication that those particles actually exist. You heard it here first!

Re:How human (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 years ago | (#33385568)

They are, and they even talk about why they are skeptical and what it takes to change that. Just like 99% of all scientists when discussing things in the field of expertise.

Re:How human (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33385834)

I'm quite happy to change my view. Besides, it was already known that decay rates can vary. For example, if an isotope decays by only the electron capture mode (where an electron is absorbed into the nucleus), and you ionize the relevant material, then decay slows down or stops. If you take an isotope that decays by electron capture mode and put it under *enormous* pressures (comparable to the core of the Earth -- not merely in the crust, but fantastically deeper), then you can increase the decay rate. But scale matters. It's fractions of a percent (I remember reading a paper for a boron isotope that amounts to 0.6% or something). And both of those are only for electron capture mode. The other decay modes -- alpha, beta, gamma -- show none of these effects and are constant to within measurement uncertainties. Furthermore, of the various isotopic systems used for radiometric dating -- K/Ar, Rb/Sr, U/Pb, etc. -- some involve electron capture modes and some don't, meaning you can check for the possibility that the known variation in electron capture mode has changed one dating method but not the others. Nothing significant shows up.

It's not like people have failed to look for the *possibility* that radiometric decay can vary enough to affect radiometric dates significantly. People have diligently looked for such effects over many decades. It would be fantastically interesting. But nothing significant has been found.

Likewise for this newer discovery -- even if it turns out to be real (it looks dubious to me), the scale of the effect is so tiny that it won't matter to radiometric dating methods. Show me something grand, that would affect things by tens of percent to a few orders of magnitude, then we can talk about radical changes to my "view of how the world works".

There's no hint of anything justifying that even if these extraordinary and as-yet unverified claims are correct.

Sagan responds - (5, Insightful)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about 4 years ago | (#33383922)

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Re:Sagan responds - (1)

Shimmer (3036) | about 4 years ago | (#33383986)

Exactly. Nothing more needs to be said.

Re:Sagan responds - (1)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about 4 years ago | (#33384120)

That wasn't to say that definitively their claims are false - but that given the outsize implications of their theories, a very lot of clearly supportive experiments are going to need to be done before people really start believing them.

Re:Sagan responds - (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 years ago | (#33385618)

Yes there is.. You will need to define what constitutes extraordinary evidence. Just saying the platitude doesn't do it.

Re:Sagan responds - (2, Insightful)

Abcd1234 (188840) | about 4 years ago | (#33384652)

Absolutely! Which is why more experiments need to be done.

I don't think the original article came across as definitive. They've noticed a potential something that's very *very* interesting. Skepticism is absolutely warranted, and more work needs to be done, but its interesting nonetheless.

Re:Sagan responds - (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 4 years ago | (#33384690)

But isn't the claim that decay rates are constant and unaffected by anything else extraordinary in itself? Nothing else we know about works that way.

Re:Sagan responds - (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 years ago | (#33385596)

and extraordinary responsibility.

Now if you excuse me, I have to take my bratty nephew to the 'library'. We'll talk later.

Re:Sagan responds - (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33385974)

To put it lightly, the Universe is a wierd freaking place that demands furthur study and observation.

How anyone can immediately discredit an entire field of study, simply because we haven't 'figured it out' yet, shouldn't probably be trusted to do much more than look after the family dog.

This just in: things might not be what they seem. More at 11.

Data is data (2, Interesting)

Mike Van Pelt (32582) | about 4 years ago | (#33383970)

I don't care who might abuse the data in what way -- As Doctor Gregory Sullivan (a skeptic of these results) said in the Discover article, "Data is data. That’s the final arbiter." If nuclear decay rates are varying, I very strongly doubt neutrinos are doing it.

I think it was Isaac Asimov who said that major scientific revolutions generally don't come with a scientist shouting "Eureka!" They generally start with a scientist looking at the data and saying "That's funny..." If other researches look at the nuclear decay rates, and also see this sort of variability... That would be really, really funny -- something Really Really Big that we are, at the moment, completely clueless about.

I'm quite confident that the effect, if any, won't much change the dating of fossils, which is what the 4004 BC type creationists want.

Re:Data is data (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 4 years ago | (#33385252)

...major scientific revolutions generally don't come with a scientist shouting "Eureka!" They generally start with a scientist looking at the data and saying "That's funny..."

Actually, many seem to be preceded by the often paradoxical exclamation, "Good news everyone!" [wikipedia.org]

Re:Data is data (1)

Mike Van Pelt (32582) | about 4 years ago | (#33385478)

Actually, that doesn't generally precede a scientific discovery. It generally precedes getting handed a near-suicidal delivery mission.

Now, about those Carbon-14 dating numbers... (0, Troll)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33383998)

Maybe be earth really is only 6,000 years old, and the Carbon-14 dating has been seriously skewed by solar flares!

Re:Now, about those Carbon-14 dating numbers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33384482)

You have been seriously skrewed by solar flares!

Re:Now, about those Carbon-14 dating numbers... (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 years ago | (#33385644)

That would make it older, not younger.If true(I doubt it) It SLOWED decay rates.

Paper, gold - (3, Interesting)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about 4 years ago | (#33384074)

There are several papers posted on the arXiv.org by Jenkins and Fischbach, this one [arxiv.org] is my favorite. It's about measurements done on samples of a radioactive isotope of gold - the samples are shaped differently and this alters, presumably, some aspect of their interaction with neutrinos.

Occam's Razor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33384118)

Sturrock got old, went crackpot. Happens all the time, even to Nobel-prize winners. Check out Josephson [wikipedia.org] or Weber [wikipedia.org] .

You've got a job that you can't lose or don't care about any more. You're desperate to discover something Earth-shattering, to leave a mark on the world. You just stop looking so hard for systematic errors. Everybody sees blips and wiggles in their data. Normal people put a grad student on the job, and she spends thankless months finding out the janitor puts his mop bucket near the detector and jiggles it or some equally ridiculous and meaningless effect. But people who have gone crackpot think their blips and wiggles have overturned all the other data in the world. They don't look so hard for those stupid down-to-earth effects, and go ahead with foolish press releases. The slashdot community ought to be sophisticated enough not to fall for it every time.

Re:Occam's Razor (3, Funny)

Red Flayer (890720) | about 4 years ago | (#33385298)

Sturrock got old, went crackpot. Happens all the time, even to Nobel-prize winners. Check out Josephson or Weber.

I think what you mean to say is that you have observed an unexplained increase in the rate of mental decay in those scientists, and that further study is warranted.

Re:Occam's Razor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33385576)

It doesn't even take age as LSD will suffice; google Nobel laureate/fruitloop Kary Mullis for example. Religion too can have deleterious effects, for instance turning fair to middling biochemist Michael Behe into an infamous pseudoscientist. It doesn't even take a total crackpot conversion either. Linus Pauling remained intellectually robust in his old age, but fell under the spell of vitamin-C woo.

Radioactive decay is not constant (1, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | about 4 years ago | (#33384128)

Radioactive decay is not constant, it's random. What's constant is the probability that any given radionuclide will decay in a given unit of time. We only see constants like the half life come up because statistical effects smooth out the quantum randomness.

Re:Radioactive decay is not constant (-1, Troll)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 4 years ago | (#33384768)

Everything you've said here is hypothetical and unprovable. Quantum randomness is a hypotheses, not a theory.

Re:Radioactive decay is not constant (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 years ago | (#33385710)

No, it's pretty much proven. I'm not sure why you think otherwise. Unless you posting from 1940.

Re:Radioactive decay is not constant (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 4 years ago | (#33385980)

Everything is hypothetical and unproven. But you can accumulate evidence until it's really, really, really improbable that something isn't true. Everything he said falls into that category. Except possibly the constant part.

Re:Radioactive decay is not constant (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | about 4 years ago | (#33385352)

Sure, but why would we observe changes in the quantum randomness based on season, solar flares, etc?

Yes, statistical effects smooth out quantum randomness -- but they do not smooth out non-random variation (when done properly).

Data is information interpreted by a human (1)

aristotle-dude (626586) | about 4 years ago | (#33384212)

Information is what is occurring and data in the interpretation of the phenomenon. That is why you can have two observers both with "DATA" to back up their finding coming to a different conclusion. Data is not an absolute.

Re:Data is information interpreted by a human (1)

Shotgun (30919) | about 4 years ago | (#33384620)

I think you have that exactly backwards. Data would be a list of numbers. It only becomes information when it is analyzed and means something, such as the company grew 23% over the past year. You are not necessarily informed when handed a list of numbers, unless you know how to interpret the them. If these scientist added me their raw data, I most likely wouldn't have a clue what they meant.

Re:Data is information interpreted by a human (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 years ago | (#33385728)

Data is absolute, interpretation is not necessarily absolute but can gt pretty damn close to 1.

Lots of Data (1)

orn (34773) | about 4 years ago | (#33384230)

IceCube and Amanda (among many other experiments) have been running for many years collecting data on neutrino flux. Archeological digs have been dating many objects over the same period of time. With the sheer amount of data available, it seems like it should be straightforward (perhaps not easy) to answer this question.

The article lists a reason for mistrusting the data as "the researches didn't take the data themselves." That's often the case in science!

I do agree though, with great changes in physics comes great responsibility to collect a lot of data. Of course, everyone has the same data available to them... if you're pretty damn confident, then it makes sense to get the results out there so that you can get a lot more eyes looking at the data.

(I'll be over here in my corner trying other permutations of "with great ___ comes great ___." I'll report back soon.)

I don't see the problem. (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | about 4 years ago | (#33384282)

We already know that some radioactive decay results in the release of a neutrino or anti-neutrino. The release of a neutrino is the same as the absorption of an anti-neutrino and vice versa. Ergo, it should be expected that variations in total numbers of neutrinos of the specific energy linked to that specific type of decay event would result in a change in the number of decay events recorded. I simply do not see where this impossibility claim comes from, unless they are claiming that neutrinos of the wrong type/energy are involved.

We also already know that what appears random is often the result of never being able to have enough data and never being able to make the step sizes infinitely small in the calculations; that randomness, per-se, is actually pretty rare in nature. (Indeed, randomness would seem to violate the requirement that information cannot be created or destroyed. An event is information and physics prohibits information simply "happening".)

It then follows that radioactive decay almost certainly cannot be a totally random event and therefore almost certainly cannot be absolutely invariate.

(Indeed, plenty of other people claim to have altered radioactive decay rates, so the claim itself isn't that revolutionary. I'm shocked that the scientific community is so ignorant as to what it itself has been saying for decades. If publishing papers is that important, then reading them must be just as important.)

Re:I don't see the problem. (4, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | about 4 years ago | (#33384516)

The release of a neutrino is the same as the absorption of an anti-neutrino and vice versa. Ergo, it should be expected that variations in total numbers of neutrinos of the specific energy linked to that specific type of decay event would result in a change in the number of decay events recorded

The chances of a neutron encountering an electron and a neutrino of exactly the proper energy at exactly the same time are vanishingly small.

We also already know that what appears random is often the result of never being able to have enough data and never being able to make the step sizes infinitely small in the calculations; that randomness, per-se, is actually pretty rare in nature.

Bell's theorem [wikipedia.org] tells us that quantum randomness cannot be explained by a lack of information (hidden variables).

Indeed, randomness would seem to violate the requirement that information cannot be created or destroyed.

Where do you get that idea? There is no law of conservation of information. We know that the entropy of the universe always increases. Therefore the information in the universe also increases.

If you don't see the problem and highly trained theoretical physicists do, you'd be better off asking them where the problem is rather than declaring them wrong.

Re:I don't see the problem. (1)

jd (1658) | about 4 years ago | (#33386084)

Since it seems that highly trained physicists are divided over whether a problem exists or not, and since it is well-known that the neutrino flux is bloody hard to observe, let alone measure with any accuracy, you might want to ask those highly trained physicists what they think rather than assuming you know.

Re:I don't see the problem. (2, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | about 4 years ago | (#33384592)

I simply do not see where this impossibility claim comes from

From the article: "'They’re looking for something with a very much larger effect than the force of neutrinos, but that doesn’t show up any other way,' he says."

That is, your inability to see is a result of your innumeracy. You have said "X effects Y" without any reference to the quantitative, numerical size of the effect.

The people who actually work on these things for a living have an excellent sense of the magnitudes without having to do a detailed calculation, and know that if the variation in neutrino flux caused by a 3% change in orbital distance was such a big deal then there would almost certainly be all kinds of other evidence for very large effects due to small variations in neutrino fluxes.

Those effects are not seen, ergo the odds of this effect being due to neutrinos is very small.

Your post looks like nothing so much as an argument by a medieval, pre-scientific philosopher. It is time to stop trying to pass off innumerate argument as reasoning and enter the modern age.

Re:I don't see the problem. (1)

jd (1658) | about 4 years ago | (#33386178)

The modern age is way too primitive, filled with small-minded bigots who prefer to make snide remarks than answer a perfectly good question. I did not say the physicists were wrong, I did not state that neutrinos were the cause of the effect they observed, I merely noted that neutrinos must cause a non-zero effect (no matter how close to zero that is, it is still non-zero) and therefore the decay rate CANNOT be an absolute, universal, unalterable constant. It is neither rocket science to understand that not-zero does not imply anything about magnitude, nor is it rocket science to understand that when I say I do not understand where they get their conclusion that they do not understand where they get their conclusion. Your stupidity and grandiosity are at once offensive and obscene. It's no bloody wonder that science gets a bad name with religious freaks like you (and, yes, someone who is religiously devout to what they call science is still religious).

If you cannot understand clear communication, if you will not spend the time to listen, then you have nothing that I can consider worthy of time to listen to. If you want to make your opinions heard, you can only do so by unclogging those lugholes of yours and learning to listen first.

The Up side (4, Interesting)

Artifakt (700173) | about 4 years ago | (#33384726)

Variability in half life/decay rates is unlikely, and this data is not nearly enough to prove a significant effect. Because of the massive amount of research done on radioactive decay as part of various nations bomb making projects, looking for ways to get a hyper-fast reaction with less material or get criticality at all from some borderline case substances, this data would have to be supported by a quality new major research project to be taken at all seriously. Probably, the study would have to get a similar 33 day cycle for the same isotopes as these reports, AND find the same cycle for a bunch of others, AND rule out some of the possible alternate causes by doubleblind testing.
        If that's done by some place such as MIT or one of the national labs, and the data glitch persists, then it starts counting as very significant. For just one reason, Supersymetry theories predict short lived supersymetric particles such as the Selectron and the Sneutrino. The supersymetric versions of particles have substantially more rest mass than the regular versions. Neutrinos that couple more strongly to neutron cross section of a nucleus could arguably actually be Sneutrinos. To live long enough to cross the 8 light minute gap between Earth and Sun, they would have to be moving at incredibly close to the speed of light, much more so than for regular neutrinos, which are already very close (around 99.0%). Somewhere around 99.97% of C, you get enough time dilation on Sneutrinos that they could routinely make it across the gap.
        So, solar emission models for this effect could be predicting both a way to experimentally validate Supersymetry AND the existence of a reaction deep inside the solar core that produces such incredibly energetic particles. Furthermore, you could derive the energy of the initial solar reaction by sending a space probe outward towards Mars and perhaps beyond, and having it run constant testing on a radioactive isotope sample on-board to see if/when the effect falls off. Such an experiment could be incorporated into an existing planned mission, say another Mars Observer or Cassini to Saturn style probe.
        That's why this is interesting - it may be a 10,000 to 1 longshot, but a. If it's true, it's a major step for both subatomic physics and astrophysics, and b. if it's true, it makes some predictions where we can do further experiments and refine the theories, and some of these should be in a reasonable cost range compared to alternates (such as building a particle accelerator from the Earth to the Moon to possibly get a little closer to proving/disproving Supersymetry).

You know what. . . (1)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | about 4 years ago | (#33384782)

When I first saw the original article earlier this week, my immediate reaction was, "Bait & Switch. Better to sit this one out." -This seems like another small scale version of the Fake Moon Landing; innocently presented to invite curiosity, and then behead those foolish enough to stick their necks out and question conventional wisdom and authority. A great way to remind people that they will be punished for thinking without permission.

We'll have to see how this unfolds, but I'm getting a witch-hunt feel off this. I wouldn't be surprised if the authors of the original study are revealed later on to be the academic equivalent of child molesters or something.

The only fools, though, will be the people who allow this kind of tactic to throw them off the scent. The universe works in weird ways, and you can't be put off by this kind of silliness if you want to explore. You will NEVER have permission or approval to explore outside the box. Never. You just have to ignore the protests and get on with educating yourself. The TV talking head people can scowl all they want. Only cowards are prevented by laughter and the hairy eyeball!

-FL

Re:You know what. . . (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 years ago | (#33385858)

Wow, you are really, really, just looking for things to back you pet conspiracy way of thinking, aren't you.

Lets look, shall we:
First off, there is you violent innocence approach to the subject. That tells people right there you are looking for thing to fit your predisposed beliefs
Secondly, The people being Skeptical list why there are being skeptical and what needs to be done to remove their skepticism on this matter.
Thirdly, Science only progress by finding out new things and challenging existing ideas and view. With out this we would all be sitting under a tree wondering what to do with all these sticks.
Educating yourself means understanding how to do so. In this case it means doing good tests with reliable and repeatable results.
No one is scowling. No one is giving anyone the hairy eyeball, one is denying 'permission'*. They got some data. They prose a series of step, each one changing the fundamental understanding of there respective fields, they assume it's the physic thats wrong, not 30 year old data tested by people no longer around, with device these scientist didn't operate.

In short: There idea about what's happening is based no unreliable data.

The people are saying 'Do better experiments'.
I don't know a single working scientist that wouldn't be excited if this turns out to be true.

*I don't really understand why you think people need permission, or why you think science is some unchanging thing.

Perhaps you have a pet belief you can't prove, so you assume proof, tests and data don't matter?

It's probably because you're a moron.

It's a Testable Hypothesis (1)

kgeiger (1339271) | about 4 years ago | (#33385130)

We just need to collect some neutrinos to try it. We'll have to sneak Chekov aboard that aircraft carrier to get some first.

Perhaps this is why (1)

snookerhog (1835110) | about 4 years ago | (#33385208)

my smoke detector keeps going off in the middle of the night?

Upholds One Tenet of the Media (4, Insightful)

michaelwv (1371157) | about 4 years ago | (#33385280)

Upholds the one tenet of press releases about science: The extreme bias toward "revolutionary" things means an extreme bias toward reporting about the things least likely to be true.

Maybe it's something we don't know about yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33385292)

Maybe this is the clue about a vast realm of natural physics we haven't yet considered because we never saw a phenomenon we could measure. Not Heaven. Not angels. Not ghosts. It just happens that neutrinos and solar flares coincide with this change in radioactive decay. The neutrinos don't change the decay. Something we haven't been able to measure yet is causing it. Just a maybe. Someone needs to do an experiment.

could be so sick (1)

Tobortaf1 (1883190) | about 4 years ago | (#33386076)

very cool, but bummer that they're so skeptical. would have been a sweet scientific breakthrough
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