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Rockhounds Going New Age?

One of the annual events our family attended regularly when I was a child was the North Shore Rockhound Club's exhibition. Chunks of amethyst crystal, slabs of fossil fern leaves and the spherical mysteries of uncut geodes drew the eye, along with the multiple colours of tumbled "gems" spilling alongside. It led to a lifelong fascination with geology, even though it was one of the few disciplines I haven't studied formally.

So it was rather disappointing to attend a local version recently and find "healing" crystals and "star crystals" (highly dyed slices of agate) on show. The slick commercialism of the vendors and their well-decorated displays seemed to attract far more attention than the real marvels that time and temperature and pressure produce.

I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised in that case to see similar pseudo-scientific junk in the foyer of Taupo's Volcanic Activity Centre. Inside were great displays on volcanoes and earthquakes and the other aspects of this big science that seem to fascinate us all. Outside they touted over-priced chunks of carnelian as a "highly evolved mineral healer" which "opens the heart", and attempted to foist off amethyst as providing a means of strengthening the endocrine and immune system.

The fellow in charge of taking our entrance money didn't really want to know how this affected his attraction's credibility in the eyes of one bunch of tourists. It wasn't his job to stock the shelves. The same probably goes for the poor Customer Services Manager at Doubleday Books, who recently got my resignation letter when I finally got fed-up with their vast quantities of alien abduction manuals, crystal healing tomes and potentially dangerous natural health books.

It's not that I'm stroppy or obnoxious (at least not often), but there comes a point when it is necessary to take a stand, even if only to meet the prompting of one's own conscience. Maybe if enough rockhounds object to having their hobby and its science misrepresented, we might see more people learning about the forces that produce those beautiful crystals, rather than the fake forces they are supposed to emit.

Vicki Hyde is the editor of New Zealand Science Monthly.