Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A Rare Case where a Misnomer Might be Good Thing

The "rare earth" elements are not. Rare that is. The name is a misnomer arising from a bad translation of an ancient term. I can't be sure [*] but I'll bet that a number of congress people thought that because they are "rare" (again, they aren't) that it was easy to drum up support for a bill designed to reduce the US's dependency on China for these materials. The bill passed the house 324 - 92 so that clearly says that this is far more than a party platform issue.
"The US was once the world's leading supplier of rare earths, but it has produced little since its only rare earths mine closed in 2002. The nation now relies on access to supplies from China, which controls approximately 97 per cent of the world's rare earths.

China has achieved dominance in this area in part by imposing export quotas in 2006, which have steadily grown stricter. It has also encouraged rare earth dependant industries, like wind turbine manufacturing, to establish operations in China. The country reportedly cut its rare earths exports for the second half of this year by 72 per cent."

I just still have this nagging thought though that the misnomer probably helped the cause.

[*] There is no way that I am going to look up the transcripts of the subcommittee hearings and such to find out what our distinguished representatives in Congress thought of the term "rare earth". I'd rather read the "Journal of Heuristics" cover-to-cover than do that.

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