Is this assumption correct (for on it hangs the whole validity of the system)?
(Ham et al., page 68.) C ratio in the past, or that this is "the technique's Achilles' heel" is incorrect.
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We feel a responsibility to make sure readers of this site go away with factual, truthful information, and this requires a frank correcting of some prevalent misinformation.
This idea is advanced, for example, in The Young Earth: C ratio was like before the industrial revolution, and all radiocarbon dating is made with this in mind.
How do we know what the ratio was before then, though--say, thousands of years ago?
It is assumed that the ratio has been constant for a very long time before the industrial revolution.
Radiocarbon is a scientific journal devoted to the topic of radiocarbon dating.
It was founded in 1959 as a supplement to the American Journal of Science, and is an important source of data and information about radiocarbon dating.
It publishes many radiocarbon results, and since 1979 it has published the proceedings of the international conferences on radiocarbon dating.
Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation about radiocarbon dating has been circulated by individuals who have neither training nor hands-on experience in this area.
Although no convincing argument for a change in the speed of light over time has been made, the question is irrelevant to the validity of tree-ring calibrated radiocarbon dates.
As with variation in atmospheric radiocarbon concentration, the decay rate of radiocarbon in tree-ring calibration samples would be affected in exactly the same way as the decay rate of radiocarbon in the specimen to be dated.
Calibrated radiocarbon dates are immune to any supposed change in decay rate of radiocarbon. This idea is promoted in The Answers Book and other sources.