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As you might guess, radioactive carbon (C) is quite rare.
Only one out of every trillion carbon atoms is C14. The C14 created in the upper atmosphere reacts with oxygen to become carbon dioxide.
When they strike ordinary atoms in the upper atmosphere, the cosmic rays smash them apart. Some of these neutrons then collide with nitrogen atoms.
This collision is less destructive than the initial collision that produced them.
Their results were 'two to three times less accurate than implied by the range of error they stated.' They thought the variations might have been caused by poor laboratory standards allowing contamination of the samples.
Some scientists believe the problem runs far deeper than this, as the following quote shows: In the light of what is known about the radiocarbon method and the way it is used, it is truly astonishing that many authors will cite agreeable determinations as "proof" for their beliefs...
They found large variations in the radiocarbon 'dates' of objects of known age sent to 38 radiocarbon 'dating' laboratories around the world.
Thirty-one of the labs gave results that the British group called unsatisfactory.
Such enthusiasts continue to claim, incredible though it may seem, that "no gross discrepancies are apparent".It is the supposed accuracy of the new method that allows measurements sensitive enough to date objects claimed to be more than twenty or thirty thousand years old.A recent test by the British Science and Engineering Research Council has shown that the accuracy of the new technique is greatly overrated.But in actual practice, we know neither the original ratios nor if the specimen has been contaminated and are forced to make what we hope are reasonable assumptions.The tiny initial amount of C14, the relatively rapid rate of decay (the half-life of C14 is currently about 5700 years) and the ease with which samples can become contaminated make radiocarbon dating results for samples "older" than about 50,000 years effectively meaningless.