Les discusses: What is rare?
I was thinking about this the other day when a spot on the TV news talked about a tragic incident where a boy had been struck by lightning outside his school. Rounding up, they said that this was a very rare incident: there were 12 cases of lightning striking individuals in the UK each year of which 3 usually ended in fatalities. I then compared this with my own condition, MND, which is described as a rare disease. Some 5000 people have MND in the UK, and about 1500 die each year. Sounds a lot less rare than being struck by lightning.
But is it one of these occasions in which the use of English can set the importance we attach to problems and hence the priority with which we attack them. If 1500 people per year were killed by lightning strikes, how much would we be spending in looking for an answer? The latest road casualty fatalities for the UK are not that dissimilar to those dying from MND in a year (1800 in 2010) yet I have never heard the word rare applied to road deaths and injuries. And think of the many hundreds of millions, even billions of pounds that have been spent on road safety by not just the department of transport but by all the car manufacturers as well.
What does this tell us? That the use of the word 'rare' is allowing the focus to be taken away from MND as being something that we can do little about, but which isn’t too big a problem to worry about anyway. I bet if the amounts that had been spent on road safety had been spent on MND we would be a lot closer to an answer by now!