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Misidentification (Is that a word?)

Posted by Donald B Peck  
Donald B Peck June 17, 2017 05:53PM
I wonder how many mineral specimens in my micro collection are misidentified? Neil Yedlin once said that we do not identify micro-minerals, we recognize them. Well, I have been involved in a small project lately that makes me question that. My mineral catalog is in MS Access, and I have inserted fields that hold links to: the mindat species page; mindat locality page, and mindat photo (if there is a similar one on which I sort of relied). I have been busily filling the first two fields and the number of "look alikes" is a bit daunting.

I know, when one looks at the list of minerals reported from the location and the chemistry of the different species, a lot of the "looks likes" disappear. But when the list is long, there are often a goodly number of species that I have no idea what they look like. Did I look at the species page and photos of all of them? Maybe. With a long list it is also, maybe not.

There was a time when I was able to resort to chemical tests, but my living conditions have made that impossible. A reaction to HCl is now about the best I can do. Occasionally, I will get out the polarizing scope and try some optical observations.

I guess, though, that at my stage in life (I am a really old codger) that I will happily live with my "misidentifications", hope they are few, and enjoy the huge diversity and beautiful, colorful display of Mother Nature's micro crystals. Whomever gets my collection next can worry about my mistakes.
Don Saathoff June 17, 2017 06:15PM
Don, as one old codger to another, well said!!

Alysson Rowan June 17, 2017 10:07PM
I don't rate as an old codger (yet), but I, too, have to live with the uncertain IDs - including a number of specimens marked UID and mineral on mineral-matrix. A few are recognised after they are accessioned into the collection, but many remain with question marks of various sizes.

One major problem is with material from a previously unremarked location - best guesses and moistened fingers in the air have to be backed up with, at least, a bit of geochemical knowledge and a large amount of head scratching (mind out for the splinters!).

When looking at sites well known for a few minerals, I seem to be forever finding odd crusts and patches of "stuff" that defies easy recognition - and bears no relation to the minerals the site is well known for. Best guess, I suppose, gets it.
Alfred L. Ostrander June 18, 2017 12:33AM
Hello don,

Returning the favor for the times you have checked definitions, misidentification is a word. Remembering all those times way back in school when spelling tests included using the word in a sentence, I looked a bit further and came up with this usage from the Innocence Project.

Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing...

Just play a couple word games and misidentifications of minerals by eyesight may be the contributing factor to the rise of many black box technologies used for mineral ID. And who says it has to be limited to micromounts? And I am quite sure you miss the days when you could do all kinds of testing.

If good science allows for a plus or minus margin of 5%, I am quite sure nobody will have too much to worry about in regards to misidentifications in your collection.I am sure you will be well within that margin. I figure all of us hard core collectors want to go out still pondering one more unknown that we just added to the collection!
Rob Woodside June 18, 2017 06:11PM
You have a single spectacular specimen of something, but finding out what it is destroys the piece. What to do? Personally I used to save the piece and I'll bet that caused me to miss a new mineral. Now I want to know what it was!!!
Uwe Ludwig June 18, 2017 08:31PM
I think it is a problem of all collectors with micro minerals in their collection. I made the experience that sometimes there are not pure minerals and you should be happy if this miro crystal which has been analyzed is realy the main mineral of the specimen. By the way, the purchase of well labeld rare minerals at a show is no guaranty that the mineral is really that which is written on the respective label.

Anyway, I can live with few misidenitficated specimens, determined by eyes only. However, I find it is more important to have an exact documention of the finding location. Which mineral it is can also be determined by your descendents 100 years later - a misssing finding location probably never.

Uwe Ludwig
Gregg Little June 18, 2017 08:47PM
I would just like to second Uwe's sentiments. Almost without exception after all is said and done everything can be determined by the specimen except LOCATION, earth or otherwise. Regarding the many unknowns in all our collections, "Where there is beauty there is science and where there is science there is beauty".
Doug Daniels June 18, 2017 11:43PM
I'd like to add a third to Uwe's thought. With all of our specimens, the ID is actually the second-most in importance. Where it was found (and the more detailed the location, the better) is first, in my opinion. As said, the ID can always be verified later. The location, if lost, well......
Alfredo Petrov June 19, 2017 12:09AM
Another vote of support for what Uwe, Gregg, and Doug wrote. On a micromount box, writing the locality is far more important than the mineral ID. With improving technologies, the ID can always be rediscussed in future, but a dubious locality makes a specimen quite worthless.
Donald B Peck June 19, 2017 03:26AM
I agree that the locality information is paramount. But as a collector, it is a matter of pride that the ID also be correct; and I suspect that there are more than a few in my collection where the ID is highly suspect. With many of the associated minerals, the problem is compounded. I will live with it and I know it is unavoidable, but the mistaken identifications do offend my sense of scientific accuracy.
Joseph Taggart June 19, 2017 07:51PM
This topic of "misidentification" has turned into what can best be described as "location, location, location", -- and no I am not talking real estate! Recently the museum where I volunteer (CSM) had a micromount collection donated. Over 500 of the mounts did not have any location information. Sure, if there was a super rare mineral you might be confident where it came from, but a common mineral with little or no location is essentially worthless to a museum, except to give to kids. In addition to the 500 with NO LOCATION there were an even larger number with inadequate location information. What do I mean by inadequate? How about, for example, "Calcite, Florida" or "Quartz, Canada". Better that the boxes had been donated empty!
Dana Morong June 19, 2017 08:26PM
A large micromount collection (meaning lots of tiny specimens) stored for years at a college in New England area, lost some of its locality information because of what happened years after the original collector quite responsibly wrote down locality data on file cards. The specimens themselves were mounted on blackened corks, in turned glued to little black squares of cardboard, mounted in old-fashioned 'photo corners' in trays. The numbers were written in white ink on the bottoms of the black squares. The only way to get the location was by the file cards. I used to visit the college and view the specimens, and had to search for the local ones (separate file card index box), where I found the file card box under a coffee machine in another room. There was also a student who said that he used the file cards as scrap, throwing them away afterward (handy to clean crumbs off the table). At the time I thought this a poor joke, but then decided to remove the file card box from his reach and put it with the collection. Years later, when I got curation of the collection, I found that the student had not been joking - there were quite a few missing, just as if someone had yanked the drawer open, grabbed some file cards from the front (easier to reach). Most of these missing cards related to samples of micro eosphorite (or childrenite) crystals.
If only the collector had put some form of locality ID on the little squares along with the number! What can one do with specimens without any locality ID? They are way too small to give to kids. Then there are the 3 trays missing, but with file cards. I suspect that someone viewed certain species (it was arranged by species) and did not put the tray back - possibly a student said "oh, I'll put it away later" and never did, or it got into the trash can. One tray was borrowed by a grad student doing a 'study' on that species (I wonder if he even checked the file cards to see whether they were all from the same locality, or just assumed they were); I know because he once told me. That tray was once of the 3 missing trays. I suspect, like some grad students, that he never cleaned his office after he left, and the stuff was not recognized and tossed. At least extra file cards are easier to store than specimens without any locality.
D Mike Reinke June 20, 2017 12:59AM
If you are an old codger lumper rather than an old codger splitter you will have fewer misidentifieds (probably not a word) I'm sure. It's just a day in the life of a Micromounter.
William Moats June 20, 2017 02:10AM
Again, a common issue for micromounters. I estimate there are only a few percent of my specimens that are misidentified. And I can live with this. All are properly labeled as to locality. My current concerns are labels -- some of my older mounted specimens have locality data that do not meet my current standards for specificity. Also, I'm concerned about misspelled words, especially for foreign localities. Fortunately, Mindat locality data will be helpful for a long-term goal of mine to review all locality labels for errors and making corrections and improvements.
Donald B Peck June 20, 2017 03:02AM
When I wrote the first entry in this thread, I meant it more as a philosophical piece than a statement of reality. And I agree that it has become a discussion , as Joseph said, of "location, location, location". That is OK. I really believe that the locality is more important than the species name. A few years ago Steve Chamberlain (Rochester Symposium) and Rock Currier got through to me. Steve's collection suffered a fire in which labels and specimens were completely jumbled. Rock wrote a piece about labeling. As a result I changed my practices. I use black paper liners in my micro boxes and I print a label with species, complete location, and catalog number in 5pt. type that is stuck to the underside of the liner. I call it my "Fail safe" label. (My cabinet pieces have similar small labels glued in inconspicuous places). And mindat has become my authority for spelling and geography for locality. Further, mindat has made cataloging simple . . . it is mostly copy and paste. Perhaps it is my training in the sciences, but to me, an aggregation of rocks/minerals without good labeling and a catalog is not a collection.
Alysson Rowan June 20, 2017 10:10AM
Dana Morong Wrote:
> A large micromount collection (meaning lots of tiny specimens) stored for years at a college in
> New England area, lost some of its locality information because of what happened years after
> the original collector quite responsibly wrote down locality data on file cards. ... The only way
> to get the location was by the file cards.

This is one of my big nightmares. The original collector would have done well to attach a label to the underside of the cards.

I am in the process of converting my entirely electronic database to cards as well as electronic.

While my specimens are all numbered, a part of the review of my collection is to attach small, informative labels, similar to the ones I put on the underside of my micros/thumbnails boxes. I gave up looking for a non-drying self-adhesive label, and have taken to attaching an un-gummed laser printed label (just on white paper) using wood glue (it can be peeled of, at a pinch).

Of course, a lot of my early (purchased) specimens arrived without a good point of origin.
Alysson Rowan June 20, 2017 10:21AM
Donald B Peck Wrote:
> ... Perhaps it is my training in the sciences, but to me, an
> aggregation of rocks/minerals without good labeling and a
> catalog is not a collection.

I would have said a collection of curios (or a work in progress).

Labelling is, for me, a part of the accession process - though it
does begin at the point of collection. Unfortunately, my early
decisions on labels (45 years back) were based on what resources
I had available as a teenager - unintelligable handwriting

Applying retroactive labels is a long and tedious task - happily, most
of my early collection was more about aesthetic than scientific, and
is really not that high a priority for better labels (they are just numbered).

I find that I look at my early attempts at labelling, and I cringe. Thank
goodness for computers and laser printers.
John Collins June 20, 2017 12:56PM
Hi All,

Re https://www.mindat.org/photo-800956.html
My massive millerite specimen obtained in 2015 from the Sudbury region had worried me early on as I had learned in my mineralogy course (thanks to Digger Gorman) of the usual acicular appearance of this sulphide. I was thinking that my big crystal chunk might actually be pentlandite. But thanks to the numerous excellent photos of millerite in mindat similar to mine, I am now confident that my specimen is correctly identified. Millerite does occur as large cleavable masses as well as in its common form. I am lucky to have the one I purchased.


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