CNN Suggests Parents Can Prevent a Syndrome

James Harbeck jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA
Mon Dec 22 02:11:32 UTC 2008

>A CNN headline today: "How can parents prevent SIDS?"
>While parents may be able to prevent an infant death,
>preventing a syndrome would be a lofty goal indeed,
>or so it seems to me.

A syndrome is not a statistical entity comprising a large number of
cases; it is a group of symptoms identified as a single condition and
occurring in a given individual. As Cancerweb's online medical
dictionary puts it (,
a syndrome is "A set of signs or a series of events occurring
together that often point to a single disease or condition as the

So if one can prevent the common cold, which means not preventing the
very existence of the entity called "the common cold" and its
existence anywhere at any time, but rather preventing an individual
from being affected by it, one can prevent SIDS, by which is meant
preventing an individual occurrence of the syndrome. (Infant death is
not always SIDS; there are many other causes of infant death. The
diagnosis of SIDS means that the general details of the case match
other cases of SIDS and no other cause has been identified -- it's a
diagnosis of exclusion.)

There are quite a few other syndromes out there. There's fetal
alcohol syndrome, which pregnant women prevent by avoiding drinking.
There's metabolic syndrome, which is a precursor to diabetes and can
be avoided with lifestyle management. There's Down syndrome, which
can't be prevented, just screened for. And on and on... Each syndrome
is a condition, identified as a unitary phenomenon and affecting
individuals, and prevention means preventing an individual from
developing that syndrome.

James Harbeck.

The American Dialect Society -

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