Monday, July 06, 2015

Vernon Cupps Part 2

Part 2.
Concentric radiation halos in biotite mica considered by Gentry to be caused by polonium isotope decay (Gentry, 1992)

Vernon R. Cupps (2014) now at the Institute for Creation Research, makes the false assertion that so-called “polonium halos” are “the best indirect observational evidence, measured at today’s rates of decay, supporting millions of years of radioisotope decay.” He goes on to claim that these are actually caused by, “primordial Po (polonium), rather than Po in the form of daughter isotopes from U decay.” In support he cited young earth creationist Andrew Snelling (2000).

There are many problems with those few sentences that will take some untangling. The first thing to notice is that Cupp has not given the readers any references to the original literature, which as an “expert” he surely must know. Instead he gave a citation to the ICR “RATE project” that is a pure creationist effort to discredit real physical research. The first RATE chapter he cited was written by geologist Andrew Snelling. The reality is that the YEC “polonium halo” phantasy he is trying to resurrect has a long history, and is definitively debunked (Baillieul 2005). The idea that the microscopic damage to mineral crystals called “halos” were caused by the newly discovered phenomena of radioactive elements I have read was first published over a century ago (Joly 1907). The notion that these radiohalos could show that the Earth was ancient was published by Joly in 1917. The analysis of this phenomena, and the systematic idea they indicated an ancient formation of the Earth’s crust waited until the late 1930s (Henderson 1939). The important discoveries in the intervening ~20 years were that atoms were real, and that the nucleus was composed of 2 particles; neutrons and protons. It was Henderson who proposed that these radiohalos indicated that the Earth’s crust was ancient, and that precise ages could be assigned to crustal rocks by the number and kinds of radiohalos. This is because the crystal damage seen under a microscope as a “halo” had light and dark rings. The rings reflected the energy of the radioactive particles that formed them, and this was the result of different isotopes. Henderson predicted that some “halos” would be still active, and that some were the result of Uranium decaying all the way to Lead. It turned out he was totally correct about the basics. However, it did not prove to be a good way to directly measure the age of the Earth, or Solar System because the Earth’s crust is constantly being reformed, and recycled (Dalrymple 1991). Any radiohalo that has the characteristic size, number of rings, and a trace concentration of Lead at its center shows that the Earth was ancient, but not how old in absolute age.

Robert Gentry is a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) and Seventh Day Adventist. He has an earned M.A. in physics. He held a visiting research appointment at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to explore his claim that he had discovered a “new type” of radiation. He is the primary source of creationist claims that radiohalo studies were proof of a young Earth. He started quietly in 1968 with the publication of his article in Science magazine (Gentry 1968) although he cited earlier related papers he had published at conferences. But it was in his 1968 paper that Gentry first claimed that the production of radio halos by Polonium was not from the well established Uranium decay series. His critical conclusion (later proved wrong) was, “Thus, as far as the experimental analysis is concerned, I cannot confirm Henderson's model for the secondary origin of the polonium halos. To the question of what mode of origin is consistent with the relatively short halflives of the polonium isotopes (or their /-decaying precursors), I can say only that other mechanisms are under study.” To appreciate what Gentry thought he had discovered you must know that the longest half-life for radioactive Polonium is 138.4 days. If Gentry had been correct that Polonium was somehow injected into granite by means not from radioactive decay, then granites would have formed in that amount of time, or less. He imagined that the mystery Polonium was created by God from thin air.

He was wrong, but has never admitted it.

Gentry was persistently writing and published in valid scientific journals for the next 15 years. However as a pro-creationism witness in the famous 1981 trial McLean v. Arkansas he admitted under oath that, "My understanding is that all the assertions in the Bible which pertain to science would be true." (Robert V. Gentry, Cross-examination in McLean v. Arkansas, 1981). So like most creationists, his personal opinions about the Bible overrule any fact based results. The creationists lost the trial like they have every other one. Gentry became a darling of the creationist movement who repeated his claim of persecution for his young earth assertion. He was falsely “promoted” to doctorate status and his visiting research associate was promoted to a “professorship” in creationist literature (e.g. Goette, B. (1989). Is There Evidence For a Young Earth?. Bible and Spade, 2(1), 4-6). Gentry summarized his evidence in a self-published book in 1992.

The scientific journals had given Gentry more that enough rope, and he hung himself by not being able to respond to the mass of evidence against him. Interestingly, by the time major scientific publications were tired of publishing the repetitive claims of Gentry’s, they also lost interest in publishing valid counter arguments. Readers particularly interested in the detailed scientific examination of why the YEC radiohalo argument failed should read Collins 1997, Collins and Collins 2010, Baillieul 2005, 2010. The latter refutations also address the ICR RATE rehash.

So why did the “expert” Vernon Cupps (2014) not give any citation to the real “polonium halo” story? Why not cite Gentry, and the multiple refutations of his failed YEC theory? Readers could ask him directly. I suspect that he wants to avoid any citation that easily exposed the failure of the argument, and at the same time helped promote the publications of his new bosses.

Baillieul, Thomas A. (professional geologist MA 1976, DoE, migration of radionuclides in the natural environment.
2005 reprinted 2010, "Polonium Haloes" Refuted: A Review of "Radioactive Halos in a Radio-Chronological and Cosmological Perspective" by Robert V. Gentry” NCSE Reports, VOL 30, NR 5: 17-26. Retrieved April, 2015.

Collins, L. G.
1997 “Polonium halos and myrmekite in pegmatite and granite”

Collins, Lorence G & Barbara J Collins
2010 “Origin of Polonium Halos” NCSE Reports Vol: 30 (5), 11–16

Cupps, Vernon R.
2014 “Clocks in Rocks? Radioactive Dating, Part 1” Acts & Facts. 43 (10)

Dalrymple, G. Brent
1991 “The Age of the Earth” Stanford University Press

Gentry, R. V.
1968 “Fossil alpha-recoil analysis of certain variant radioactive halos” Science, 160(3833), 1228-1230

Gentry, R. V.,
1992 “Creation’s Tiny Mystery, 3rd ed.” Knoxville (TN): Earth Science Associates

HENDERSON, G.H., A quantitative study of pleochroic haloes V. The genesis of haloes, PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF LONDON SERIES A-MATHEMATICAL AND PHYSICAL SCIENCES 173: 250 (1939)

Joly, J. (1907) “Pleochroic halos” The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 13(75), 381-383.

Joly, John,
1917 “The genesis of pleochroic halos” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series A 217: 51


Robert Dekko said...

Well written, good job of untangling this one. Will use as a reference, thanks.

Gary S. Hurd said...

I am glad you liked it.