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

Philosophy of Science (forthcoming)
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Abstract
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 all its boundaries moved in a prima facie puzzling, widespread revision of radiometric dates. In this paper I show how recent work in the philosophy of metrology can help us understand this episode, and in turn how a careful consideration of this case elucidates the distinct, but related, notions of calibration, coherence, and consilience. In particular, I argue that coherence testing should be recognized as a distinct activity that precedes both calibration and consilience arguments, and I highlight the tradeoffs scientists often face between intercalibrating two measurement methods or keeping them independent for arguments of consilience. Finally, I show how the iterative nature of calibration leads to the problem of legacy data, which has been inadequately appreciated.
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Archival date: 2019-08-23
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