I’ve bitched and complained about the sorry state of popular science writing for years. Here’s another textbook example from, of all places, National Geographic in an article about a rather amazing 90 million year old dinosaur boneyard:
Judging from the animals present at the site and their ages, as determined by carbon dating, the herd was probably made up of one- to seven-year-olds, said David Varricchio, a Montana State University paleontologist.
I’d be willing to bet that David Varricchio didn’t say that this conclusion was based on carbon dating because David Varricchio, as a paleontologist, would know damn well that you cannot carbon date remains that are 90 million years old and fossilized. I don’t know exactly what he did say, but he surely didn’t say what author Tasha Eichenseher thinks he said.
Nor would radiometric dating be of much use for that particular inference. Radiometric dating can give you the approximate date of the event that buried the dinosaurs, thus telling us that this was about 90 million years ago, but it cannot tell us anything about the ages of the dinosaurs found there. Any conclusions about the individual ages of the dinosaurs must have been derived from anatomical evidence of some sort, but the Eichenseher doesn’t mention any of that because she apparently thinks they carbon dated each one to get their age. This mistake is simply absurd.
And how in the world does that get past an editor? Even if the writer of the article has no concept of what carbon dating is and how it is used, how does an editor at the National Geographic not understand such simple concepts? It’s baffling.