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However, the methods must be used with care -- and one should be cautious about investing much confidence in the resulting age...
especially in absence of cross-checks by different methods, or if presented without sufficient information to judge the context in which it was obtained.
Isochron methods avoid the problems which can potentially result from both of the above assumptions.
Isochron dating requires a fourth measurement to be taken, which is the amount of a different isotope of the same element as the daughter product of radioactive decay.
For further information on fitting of lines to data (also known as regression analysis), see: Note that the methods used by isotope geologists (as described by York) are much more complicated than those described by Gonick.
The simplest form of isotopic age computation involves substituting three measurements into an equation of four variables, and solving for the fourth.
The equation is the one which describes radioactive decay: If one of these assumptions has been violated, the simple computation above yields an incorrect age.
This will be discussed in more detail in the section on Gill's paper below.
The "generic" method described by Gonick is easier to understand, but it does not handle such necessities as: (1) varying levels of uncertainty in the X- versus Y-measurements of the data; (2) computing an uncertainty in slope and Y-intercept from the data; and (3) testing whether the "fit" of the data to the line is good enough to imply that the isochron yields a valid age.
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(For brevity's sake, hereafter I will refer to the parent isotope as ).