The latest high-tech equipment permits reliable results to be obtained even with microscopic samples.
Radiometric dating is self-checking, because the data (after certain preliminary calculations are made) are fitted to a straight line (an "isochron") by means of standard linear regression methods of statistics.
A recent survey of the rubidium-strontium method found only about 30 cases, out of tens of thousands of published results, where a date determined using the proper procedures was subsequently found to be in error.
One question that sometimes arises here is how can scientists assume that rates of radioactivity have been constant over the great time spans involved.
Whenever possible we design an age study to take advantage of other ways of checking the reliability of the age measurements.
None of these experiments has detected any significant deviation for any isotope used in geologic dating [Dalrymple1991, pg. Note, for instance, that light coming to earth from distant stars (which in some cases emanated billions of years ago) reflects the same patterns of atomic spectra, based in the laws of quantum mechanics, that we see today.
If two or more radiometric clocks based on different elements and running at different rates give the same age, that's powerful evidence that the ages are probably correct.
Along this line, Roger Wiens, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, asks those who are skeptical of radiometric dating to consider the following (quoted in several cases from [Wiens2002]): All of the different dating methods agree--they agree a great majority of the time over millions of years of time.
The slope of the line determines the date, and the closeness of fit is a measure of the statistical reliability of the resulting date.
Technical details on how these dates are calculated are given in Radiometric dating. As with any experimental procedure in any field of science, these measurements are subject to certain "glitches" and "anomalies," as noted in the literature.