Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Radioactive Decay and the Earth-Sun Distance

Analog's "The Alternative View" non-fiction column by John G. Cramer

6 months before my 0th birthday, physicist Ephriam Fischbach (of Indiana) proposed a fifth force (in addition to strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravity) based off some reanalysis of old experimental data. He got a bunch of media attention, and then was throughly disproved.

Now based on some reanalysis of other old data, he finds evidence that radioactive decay rates are effected by the varying distance between the Earth and the Sun, or possibly the neutrino impact variation caused by it. They don't really propose a mechanism, and their vague suggestions are dismissed by professor Cramer (a physicist). The observations are statistically significant, but Cramer points out some possibilities in the experimental data collection that would explain them without having to create new physics. Also that NASA should have strong evidence of this effect from some of their probes that has not been reported.

I think it is good that Professor Fischbach and others investigate old experimental data for things other researchers have missed, but it is important to realize that data in old experiments was controlled for factors the original experimenters were worried about, but when you are using that data to look for something else, you need to think about what else you would need to control for when examining your entirely different hypothesis. Experiments should be performed to test this, but I feel that Cramer does a public service by encouraging skepticism and looking for more mundane explanations first.

On the other hand, if this turns out to be true it would provide the mechanism for the artifact in Probability Moon by Nancy Kress, which is a book I definitely recommend.

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