Re: [asa] Denver RATE Conference (Thousands...Not Billions)_Part 2

From: Kirk Bertsche <>
Date: Tue Oct 16 2007 - 01:32:28 EDT

On Sep 24, 2007, at 4:01 PM, Steven M Smith wrote:

> **Dr. John Baumgardner – Coal & Diamonds Contain Evidence for Recent
> Formation**
> ...
> _Main Points_
> *  Large amounts of Carbon-14 found in coal and diamonds support a
> young earth and the Biblical account of Noah's Flood
> ...
> Baumgardner continued: There was a "frantic quest in the laboratories
> to find sources of C14 contamination."  This led to all those papers
> in the radiocarbon literature.  After eliminating or accounting for
> all known sources of C14 contamination, the labs attributed the
> remainder of C14 to 'in-situ' contamination; C14 that was actually in
> the sample.  Now the laboratories subtract a "standard background from
> the actual C14 measurement that is equal to about 40,000 years."  The
> laboratories do this to "avoid the embarrassing reality that
> essentially all fossil carbon contains C14.
> ...
> Baumgardner related how they had obtained 10 coal samples from the
> Penn State University Energy Institute Coal Sample Archive that ranged
> in age from Paleozoic to Mesozoic to Cenozoic.  These samples were
> sent to a professional radiocarbon dating laboratory.  Each sample was
> analyzed 4 times.  We were shown a PowerPoint table with the results:
>  All samples were between 44.5-57.x ka and the average age was 49,600
> years.
> ...
> But this wasn't the end of his talk.  In additional to coal, "C14 has
> been found in Precambrian graphite, marble, and calcite."  Therefore
> with their coal samples, RATE included a diamond in their initial
> submission for C14 dating.  Although the lab had trouble analyzing the
> diamond, eventually they returned a date that was just about the same
> as the coal samples.
> ...
> Finally, the conclusions slide for the talk told us ...
> *  Uniformitarianism is highly vulnerable to challenge
> *  Coal proves that there was a 5,000-year-old flood
> *  Diamonds prove 'Accelerated Nuclear Decay' during the Flood
> *  Therefore the Bible is true after all!


I recently posted some general comments about radiocarbon and
contamination. Since then I have gone through the written RATE
radiocarbon claims in detail, read most of the references, and have
spoken with the expert who measured the radiocarbon samples for
them. The following comments are restricted to Baumgardner's
radiocarbon AMS claims, since that is the area where I have the most
direct hands-on experience.

Baumgardner (1) claims to present experimental data showing that all
biological material contains intrinsic radiocarbon, no matter how old
it is claimed to be. He makes additional weaker claims that even
non-biological carbonaceous material contains intrinsic radiocarbon.
He presents two classes of data. Firstly, he re-analyzes radiocarbon
AMS dates published in peer-reviewed scientific literature. Secondly,
he presents results of samples which RATE has collected and sent to a
leading radiocarbon AMS lab to be dated. In both cases, I am convinced
that his “intrinsic radiocarbon” is nothing more than contamination.

Modern radiocarbon dating by AMS is a complex process with numerous
opportunities for contamination. Taylor and Southon break the
contamination into 7 general types, each of which can have multiple
specific sources (2). The largest contamination component is generally
the conversion of the sample to graphite; this introduces a small
amount of modern carbon (typically at least 1 microgram (3)). Thus a
1mg sample of infinitely old carbon would measure at least 0.1 pMC
(percent modern carbon) before background subtraction.  Earlier
techniques and malfunctioning equipment contribute more
contamination. (Baumgardner does not seem to understand this; he wants
to treat the quoted background from one of the leading modern labs as a
constant value applicable to all labs and to all historic

Baumgardner’s first class of data is previously-published radiocarbon
AMS dates which he has re-analyzed. He has divided the samples into two
groups: Paleozoic geological samples, and Phanerozoic biological
samples. He claims that the geological samples have a mean radiocarbon
content of 0.06pMC and the biological have a content of 0.29 +/- 0.16
pMC (1). But he fails to note that all of their geological samples are
actually of geological graphite, so did not undergo the graphitization
process which was required for the biological samples. In fact, two
geological samples (entries 21 and 40 in his Table 1) were omitted from
Baumgardner’s geological data histogram; these were identical to other
geological graphite samples (entries 62 and 79 respectively) but were
re-graphitized in the lab as controlled measurements of contamination
from the graphitization process. These tests yielded characterizations
of 0.25 and 0.14 pMC contamination from the graphitization
process. Entry 10 in Baumgardner’s Table 1 compares radiocarbon AMS
with the older radiocarbon decay counting, giving a roughly 0.4 pMC
contamination level for AMS, mostly from graphitization. In fact, many
of Baumgardner’s references include systematic tests for contamination,
with the graphitization process typically adding from 0.1 to 0.7 pMC
(highly dependent on sample size and procedure). It is quite clear that
the differences he sees between geological and biological samples is
simply the contamination introduced by the graphitization
process. Further, the radiocarbon content of his plotted geological
samples of <0.1 pMC is in excellent agreement with the instrument
backgrounds characterized in many of his references. Thus, the
geological samples give no evidence of intrinsic radiocarbon.

Baumgardner’s second class of data consists of samples which the RATE
team has collected and sent to be analyzed. This includes a set of 10
coal samples (0.25 +/- 0.11 pMC) and a number of diamond samples
(1). Both materials are problematic in general, and even more
problematic in the specifics of the RATE samples. 

The expert who prepared and measured the RATE samples is convinced that
the RATE coal samples were contaminated in situ (4). He says that coal
is “notorious” for contamination. This is due to uranium which is often
in or near the coal (especially a problem for N. Australian coals) and
from humic acids which are quite mobile. The RATE coal samples had
greasy surfaces, indicating high humic acid content. The best coal
dates reportedly come from anthracites with glassy surfaces, which have
given dates as old as 70k years, or about 0.02 pMC.

It is also possible that the coal samples were contaminated while in
storage for an indeterminate time in a DOE geology lab refrigerator
(1). Geology labs often have elevated levels of radiocarbon due to
tracer studies, neutron activation studies, or dust from
uranium-bearing rocks. Carbon is highly mobile and contamination can
spread through an entire lab and persist for decades (5). (I have seen
a badly contaminated sample which was traced to storage in a geology
lab refrigerator.)

The diamond samples were difficult to graphitize, and apparently
required some modifications to the normal procedure (1). This likely
increased the contamination. In addition, the samples themselves were
reportedly pitted and appeared to have been subjected to previous
analyses of some sort (4). Nevertheless, the 5 deep-mine diamond
samples were only slightly above background levels (0.01 to 0.07 pMC
after background subtraction), while the 7 alluvial samples ranged from
0.03 to 0.31 pMC after background subtraction. Subsequently, this lab
has inserted diamond directly into an ion source, eliminating the
graphitization process, and has measured much older dates
(unpublished). Taylor and Southon have measured 0.005 to 0.03 pMC by
the same technique, which they interpret as their instrument background
(2). This gives strong evidence that the RATE diamond samples were
contaminated, either by previous testing or by graphitization.

Thus it is clear that the previous peer-reviewed radiocarbon AMS
measurements can be explained by contamination, mostly in the
graphitization process. The recent RATE coal samples were probably
contaminated in situ, and the diamond samples were either contaminated
in the graphitization process or by previous analyses. In any case,
other coal and diamond samples have been measured at essentially the
instrument background levels, giving no evidence for intrinsic
radiocarbon. RATE’s claim that all carbonaceous material contains
intrinsic radiocarbon is not supported by the data.

Kirk Bertsche


1) Baumgardner, Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, vol. II, ch.
8. Everything except the diamond data is contained in this earlier
2) Taylor & Southon, NIM-B 259(2007)282ff.
3) Kirner et al, Radiocarbon 37(1995)697ff; Brown & Southon, NIM-B
123(1997)208ff; Mueller & Muzikar, Radiocarbon 44(2002)591ff; Southon,
NIM-B 259(2007)288ff.
4) Radiocarbon expert in charge of measuring RATE samples, personal
communication, Oct 11, 2007.
5) Zermeno et al, NIM-B 223-224(2004)293ff.

Note: Radiocarbon articles are available here:
and NIM-B abstracts are available here:

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Received on Tue Oct 16 01:33:20 2007

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