Letter to the Editor

My original intention with this post was to just post a quick, informational link to the current issue of Rock & Gem magazine. Then, however, I was distracted. So distracted, in fact, that a letter seemed warranted. It will explain everything:


To the Editors,

I have subscribed to Rock & Gem for roughly two years now. As a science writer, avid mineral collector, and sometimes geology educator, I have found your magazine’s more conversational tone and more generalist stance to strike a good balance between publications obviously inclined toward professionals in the geosciences and the community of interested amateurs.


One of the features which I have generally been pleased with has been the ‘Rock & Gem Kids’ section, which I have shared with my own children. Obviously, interesting and educating the potential next generation of amateur lapidaries, mineralogists, and geologists is an important task. Kids are naturally interested in these things, as I always find when I give talks to school-aged children (which, in fact, I did just yesterday). They are often hungry for knowledge that they simply don’t get in school.


That is why I was frankly appalled to read the current ‘Rock & Gem Kids’ section discussing ‘Kansas Pop Rocks’ (February, 2011). No, it was not author Greg Sweatt’s line about throwing them into the fire until they exploded, although that was certainly questionable. Nor was it even the remark about how the pyrites are believes to have formed around fossil shell, bone, or tooth (I could find no citations for this, but it would be conceivable in some cases). Rather, what I am referring to is this:

“Rare, perfect pop rocks sell for big dollars as metaphysical stones, as they do emmanate energy, and people sensitive to that energy value them as healing stones.”


Who, precisely, proof-read this article? If you hold to any pretense of being even a remotely scientific publication, they merit a stern talking-to, if not outright sacking. And your author, Mr Sweatt, should be cautioned against putting nonsense like this in his articles.


Claims of “energy emmanation” are often made by those with more metaphysics than science in mind, without any clear understanding of what that “energy” might be, or how it is “emmanated”. Funnily enough, when materials which do “emmanate energy”, such as uranium and thorium-based minerals, or fluorescent minerals exposed to UV radiation, are discussed, these same people are often strangely silent.


Pyrite Concretion, Niobrara Chalk Member, Western Kansas

A pyrite concretion. Watch it closely. Did it move? Wait – did it wink at me just then? No, it didn’t. Photo Credit: Personal Collection.

Let’s be clear: these pyrites don’t emit energy. Not at all. Not one iota. I have one sitting on my desk right now. It is roughly ovoid, about three centimetres in diametre, and a sort of dark bronze colour. It doesn’t glow in the dark. It doesn’t trigger a Geiger counter. It refuses stubbornly to fluoresce. It is not magnetic. It is neither unexpectedly warm nor unexpectedly cold to the touch. It interferes with neither my computer, my mobile, nor my landline telephone. In short, it emmanates no energy whatsoever in any expected sense. If you want to claim that there is an “energy emmanation” from one of these stones, then you’d better be prepared with your data. Show me your experimental method. Demonstrate your hypothesis, quantify and qualify the “energy” being emitted. Why? Because that is how science works.


Why does this bother me? Simply this: because as a publication dealing with rocks, minerals, and gemstones, Rock & Gem sets itself up as a trusted source for science information. And in that single statement cited above, your editorial stance has been shown not to be scientific. That makes it very difficult for me to be confident in your publication as a trusted source. Remarks like the one above about “energies”, even if they are just meant as “a bit of fun”, have no place in discussions of the real world.


I would point readers interested in further clarification to the recently revised Second Edition of Rex Buchanan’s Kansas Geology (University of Kansas Press, 2010) and to D.E. Hattins 1982 paper ‘Stratigraphy and depositional environment of the Smoky Hill Chalk Member, Niobrara Chalk (Upper Cretaceous) of the type area, western Kansas”, Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 225 (which sadly doesn’t appear to be available online at this time). Kansas County Bulletins published by the KGS can be found here, and Gove County, as well as other counties where the Niobrara chalk is in evidence, is represented in past publications which are free for all to read.


Sincerely yours,
Hexagonal Dipyramidal
So that’s how I spent my morning. Nothing like a letter to the editor to make one hungry for a bit of breakfast and the wine of the vanquished.