Year in Review: Mineralogy Publications

Never one to miss out by more than a week on a good idea, I thought that as 2013 begins it would be a good time to look back at some of the best moments in mineralogy publications in 2012. To do that, I will be looking back to three publications specifically: theĀ Mineralogical Record, Rocks & Minerals, and Rock & Gem. I apologize to readers from abroad for the Americo-centric approach, and invite anyone who has suggestions for mineralogy publications outside of America to send me those journals’ name and contact information, and I’ll subscribe when I can, if the rates are at all reasonable. I also apologize for not reviewing the American Mineralogist, but frankly this is a highly technical journal which has little in it for the amateur (and it’s incredibly expensive to subscribe).

Mineralogical Record, July / August 2012, Volume 43, Number 4

Mineralogical Record, July / August 2012, Volume 43, Number 4

In the Mineralogical Record this year, we had the expected number of quality articles and special issues on particular localities. This year’s specials included the Herodsfoot Mine in England (Volume 43, Number 4), and the fourth issue devoted to localities in China (Volume 43, Number 5). Other stand-out articles included the article on discoveries of crocoite (qv.) in Adelaide (Volume 43, Number 6), and Renato Pagano and Wendell E. Wilson’s article on the sulfur mines of Sicily (Volume 43, Number 2). Despite the continued high quality of the journal’s writing, worryingly, the publication information reproduced in the November / December issue gives the circulation figures show a slight gradual decline in the numbers of subscribers and the issues published. Whether this is due to a declining readership, the cost of the publication, the economic downturn, or other factors, to me is unclear. I hope to do a more comprehensive analysis of those figures soon, so please watch for that. In the meantime, if you can, support mineralogical publishing, and subscribe to any (or all!) of these fine journals. You can subscribe to the Record here.

Rocks & Minerals has weathered yet another year of publication, and like the Record, has produced a number of quality articles on interesting subjects. Under Managing Editor Marie Huizing, it continues to be a worthy complement to the Record (or vice versa, since R&M does have primacy by some forty-plus years). Over the last decade or so, it has morphed from the chatty, sometimes scatty digest founded by Peter Zodac eighty-five years ago into something quite different: a serious publication for the interested amateur mineralogist. This year’s issues have included a special devoted largely Arizona (Volume 87, Number 1), published just in time for the Tucson Show; and an issue featuring copper from Colorado and Michigan (Volume 87, Number 4); and a further issue featuring southern African minerals (Volume 87, Number 5).

Rocks and Minerals, September / October 2012, Volume 87, Number 5

Rocks and Minerals, September / October 2012, Volume 87, Number 5

Unfortunately, Rocks & Minerals also mirrors the Record in terms of publication figures. If anything, the self-reported numbers are slightly lower than the 5200 copies reported printed by the MR. Again, I would urge you to support mineralogical publishing if you are interested and have the cash. At the end of the day, companies don’t understand anything except for the bottom line, and that translates to subscriptions. You can subscribe to Rocks & Minerals here.

Finally, a quick look at Rock & Gem. Something of a different animal from the two previously discussed journals, Rock & Gem tries, and often succeeds, to walk the hybrid line between popular lapidary articles and general-interest mineralogy pieces. Because it is published monthly, but remains cheaper to subscribe to than either the Mineralogical Record or Rocks & Minerals ($27.95 for twelve issues, versus $65 to $70 for six issues of MR or R&M), it could easily be a more popular choice for a general readership. And there have been some good articles in the last year. One short piece on the mineral crocoite (best known as “red lead”) from Siberia and Tasmania from November, 2012 dovetails nicely with a more detailed article in the November / December issue of the Mineralogical Record. Also published were articles which I find useful when planning future travel, featuring various mineralogy-related museums and attractions around the United States. This year, some of those included articles on the Denver Museum of Natural History (August, 2012), and the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum in Houghton, Michigan. Additionally, Rock & Gem is the only one of the “big three” magazines which includes a section for younger readers, “Rock & Gem Kids”, which includes a short article or two, and a quiz with prizes on offer. Again, support is everything, so please consider subscribing to Rock & Gem here.

Rock & Gem, December, 2012

Rock & Gem, December, 2012

The hobby of mineral collecting and the amateur mineralogist have always been a somewhat rarified province, although it’s hard to say why. This rarification is reflected by the magazines that we read. Somewhere along the way, the childhood interest in things like interesting rocks and minerals, like fossils, like digging in the rocks in a pleasant quarry on a warm late spring day, this joy dies in many people, or at least is not sufficiently nutured. Then, it seems, those people who are no longer interested in their collections drift away, to eventually become accountants and telemarketers and double-glazing salesmen. This seems tragic to me, but perhaps it will always be the way of things.

Just for fun, let me know what you read! Here’s a quick poll (if you’re running Ghostery or another script blocker, you may have to turn it off for this site to see the poll!):

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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.