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Calibration, Coherence, and Consilience in Radiometric Measures of Geologic Time

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


In 2012, the Geological Time Scale, which sets the temporal framework for studying the timing and tempo of all major geological, biological, and climatic events in Earth’s history, had one-quarter of its boundaries moved in a widespread revision of radiometric dates. The philosophy of metrology helps us understand this episode, and it, in turn, elucidates the notions of calibration, coherence, and consilience. I argue that coherence testing is a distinct activity preceding calibration and consilience, and I highlight the value of discordant evidence and trade-offs scientists face in calibration. The iterative nature of calibration, moreover, raises the problem of legacy data.

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This article was written while I was a visiting researcher in the Earth and Ocean Sciences Division at Duke University. I would like to express my deep gratitude to Brad Murray and the other researchers there for providing such a stimulating and welcoming environment in which to explore these questions. I am also grateful to Blair Schoene for reading over the penultimate version of the article and to the anonymous referees, whose probing questions led to a much improved article.


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