6

Here is a sentence from Cambridge Dictionary:

They used carbon dating tests to authenticate the claim that the skeleton was 2 million years old.

Does the sentence imply that the authentication was successful and the claim was true? Or does it just tell us that the authentication was attempted without telling us if it was successful?

According to dictionaries, "authenticate" means to prove that something is true/real. So, if I say "we need to authenticate the claim about the skeleton", it should mean the claim is true but we need to prove that it's so. We can't prove that something, that isn't true, is true. But according to you all, "authenticate" can mean to check if something is true, which is a slightly different meaning. So, according to you all, the claim may or may not be true, and we need to authenticate (check) the claim. This is why I'm confused. What do you think?

2
  • 5
    A quibble: The limit of carbon dating is about 60,000 years, so they could not have been successful. :-)
    – Wastrel
    Jul 31, 2023 at 14:56
  • But a speaker can assert a thing, implying it was true, and be wrong. If I say "I did some research that invalidated Wastrel's claim about the limits of carbon dating", I am certainly implying that my research "successfully" disproved your statement, even though I would surely be wrong and my "research" screwy and invalid... OP asks what the speaker "implies".
    – BadZen
    Jul 31, 2023 at 19:14

5 Answers 5

5

They used carbon dating tests to authenticate the claim that the skeleton was 2 million years old.

You are correct, this implies that the "authentication" was successful. If the action of authenticating were possibly not successful, the author would have written "They tried to use carbon dating tests to authenticate...", or would need to indicate this in some other way.

On the other hand,

They were authenticating that.

This use does not imply that the authentication was successful, and it does not even mean that the subjects' action was even completed. For example, it is possible "they were authenticating that, but get interrupted by other work..."

This is because of the difference in tense in the two examples.

The first example uses the simple past tense - so an action in the past was completed. "They authenticated (and finished doing so)."

The second example is in past continuous - so an action in the past was at some point ongoing. "They were authenticating (at that time, and were not yet finished). "

6
  • "Each of these signatures must be authenticated by a lawyer." Does the sentence imply that all the signatures are authentic or that some of them may not be authentic?
    – Vova
    Jul 31, 2023 at 14:13
  • 1
    In that sentence, the "signatures" have not yet be authenticated, so some of them may not be authentic. On the other hand, if I say "Each of these signatures has been authenticated by a lawyer", I mean that the authentication has already happened, and that according to "the lawyer", (and to the speaker, as a default), the signatures are authentic.
    – BadZen
    Jul 31, 2023 at 15:30
  • Confirm has the same potential ambiguity.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 31, 2023 at 18:46
  • @ColinFine, as well as verify.
    – Vova
    Jul 31, 2023 at 20:13
  • 1
    "If it were possibly not successful, the author would have written "They tried to use carbon dating tests to authenticate..."" Be careful about "not successful". This phrasing implies that their process failed, not that they conclusively disproved the authenticity. It suggests (but does not outright state) that the authenticity is still unconfirmed.
    – Flater
    Aug 1, 2023 at 0:22
1

In the sentence you posted "They used carbon dating tests to authenticate the claim that the skeleton was 2 million years old."

We can start by noting this sentence is using the infinitive "to authenticate," which in this case appears to be an adjective modifying "the claim".

Since, a claim WAS MADE that it was 2 million years old, the authentication must have been performed since "used" was used. (BadZen pointed out my error)

Also, the form of 'authenticate' has the ability to control its outcome, it would seem the original writer is unconvinced of the results, especially since they indicate the authentication as a "claim". Otherwise, the sentence would have been written, "The skeleton carbon dating tests authenticated it to be 2 million years." - This however is not the case.

This sentence merely states a step in the process, but not the outcome.

The claim happens first, then the authentication.

Since the word "used" appears, this indicates "the claim" happened, and now "to authenticate" has been performed on "the claim". (This should have been up where BadZen pointed out my error)

If we were to imagine ourselves in a lab, and the tests were being performed on the sample, the results would be "authenticating" not "authenticated", in this case "used" determines that authentication happened, otherwise it would read, "They are using carbon dating tests", so in this case the answer is true, it has indeed been authenticated.

2
  • You argue "Since, a claim WAS MADE that it was 2 million years old, the authentication must have been performed." Consider the sentence "I am about to authenticate the claim that the skeleton is 2 million years old." Applying your argument, the authentication must have been performed. Is this correct and valid?
    – BadZen
    Jul 31, 2023 at 19:08
  • Totally correct, I did note it below, but definitely needed to be noted above.
    – Rempler
    Jul 31, 2023 at 19:48
0

For your first example: It depends what you mean by "successful". It does not necessarily mean that the claim was true. It does mean that the method "worked". But it sometimes happens that different groups of people, sometimes using slightly different methods, get different estimates of the age of things. Also, since the estimates are estimates I'm hesitant to say "true" or "false" but would say "accurate within XXXX years."

For your second: This means that the process is ongoing. It's not known whether (or how) successful it will be.

4
  • 3
    strictly speaking authenticate means "prove to be genuine", so it does actually mean prove (broadly) true in context. If something is authemticated it has been proved to be true. Colloquially, though, this is not generally understood and so is commonly used as in "They were authenticating ..." which a dictionary would tell you is predicting a positive result. Jul 31, 2023 at 13:00
  • The claim "colloquially, though, this is not generally understood" requires support, especially as there is a lot of usage which seems to contradict it.
    – BadZen
    Jul 31, 2023 at 22:29
  • According to dictionaries, "authenticate" means to prove that something is true/real. So, if I say "we need to authenticate the claim about the skeleton", it should mean the claim is true but we need to prove that it's so. We can't prove that something, that isn't true, is true. But according to you all, "authenticate" can mean to check if something is true, which is a slightly different meaning. So, according to you all, the claim may or may not be true, and we need to authenticate (check) the claim. This is why I'm confused. What do you think?
    – Vova
    Aug 1, 2023 at 10:53
  • I think "authenticate" can be used loosely (like so many words) and "prove" (as in your answer) can also be used a bit loosely. When carbon dating is used, the results are estimates. They can be off by a little bit (that's expected) but they can also be totally wrong (e.g. the researchers got a bad bit of bone, or messed up the procedure, or missed a decimal point, or whatever).
    – Peter Flom
    Aug 1, 2023 at 10:59
0

That sentence is just wrong.

They can use carbon dating to prove the claim, or to support the claim, or to add credibility to the claim, or to add supporting evidence to the claim.

They can also use carbon dating to authenticate the skeleton.

But they cannot use carbon dating to authenticate the claim.

The only situation where they'll want to authenticate the claim is if they doubt that the claim was made in the first place.

For instance, if the claim is handwritten and signed with the name of a renown scientist, then they might hire a graphology expert to authenticate the written message, i.e. to make sure that it really was written by this renown scientist.

7
  • You may not be familiar with this use of "authenticate", but that does not make it "wrong". See for example items.ssrc.org/beyond-disinformation/… (or other uses of the word in the context of journalism), which has this denotation throughout. Note especially where a definition is given: "Processes of authentication, that is, social methods to judge the veracity of information...."
    – BadZen
    Jul 31, 2023 at 20:19
  • (I'll add that this is certainly not a technical term specific to journalism, in the same way that the sense of "authenticate" you seem to be more familiar with is not exclusive to computer science or cryptography...)
    – BadZen
    Jul 31, 2023 at 20:22
  • @BadZen I did check with dictionaries before writing my answer, and couldn't find a definition corresponding to the use you appear to be referring to. As for the link you gave, it appears to refer to the use I'm familiar with.
    – Stef
    Jul 31, 2023 at 21:01
  • MW gives "to prove or serve to prove to be real, true, or genuine". And of course, you have the definition in the piece above. Are you claiming that "methods to judge the veracity of information" cannot possible determine the truth of a claim, but only "if the claim was made in the first place"?
    – BadZen
    Jul 31, 2023 at 21:14
  • @BadZen Yes, this definition is one I'm familiar with. I don't know what it is that you think that I am claiming.
    – Stef
    Jul 31, 2023 at 22:26
0

Does the sentence imply that the authentication was successful and the claim was true?

Yes. The problem here is that it only implies it.

A definitive statement would be:

They used carbon dating tests to successfully authenticate the claim that the skeleton was 2 million years old.

They were authenticating that.

States only that they were working on authentication but the result is unknown.

2
  • OP was merely asking if or not their language made the implication.
    – BadZen
    Aug 1, 2023 at 0:40
  • @BadZen And I said Yes....you're point? Oh, and you forgot to downvote.
    – DTRT
    Aug 1, 2023 at 0:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .