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Maine Senator Wants Independent Study of TSA's Body Scanners 335

Posted by timothy
from the but-first-this-delicious-barium dept.
OverTheGeicoE writes "U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the homeland security committee, plans to introduce a bill that would require a new health study of the X-ray body scanners used to screen airline passengers nationwide. If the bill becomes law, TSA would be required to choose an 'independent laboratory' to measure the radiation emitted by a scanner currently in use at an airport checkpoint and use the data to produce a peer-reviewed study, to be submitted to Congress, based on its findings. The study would also evaluate the safety mechanisms on the machine and determine 'whether there are any biological signs of cellular damage caused by the scans.' Many Slashdotters are or have been involved in science. Is this a credible experimental protocol? Is it reasonable to expect an organization accused of jeopardizing the health and safety of hundreds of millions of air travelers to pick a truly unbiased lab? Would any lab chosen deliver a critical report and risk future funding? Should the public trust a study of radiology and human health designed by a US Senator whose highest degree is a bachelor's degree in government?"
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Maine Senator Wants Independent Study of TSA's Body Scanners

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  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Monday January 30, 2012 @11:57AM (#38865395)
    Isn't this something our fabulous leaders should of demanded before spending a crap load of money and deploying them all around the nation?
    • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday January 30, 2012 @11:59AM (#38865417) Homepage Journal

      Isn't this something our fabulous leaders should of demanded before spending a crap load of money and deploying them all around the nation?

      Nah, that would require foresight, a quality visibly lacking from our reactive society.

      • by rubycodez (864176) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:03PM (#38865487)
        our lawmakers and executive branch are in the pockets of large corporations. federal government buying tons of equipment increases shareholder value and provides certain benefits to those who greased the skids.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The immense foresight was they made money upon initial sale and now they'll make more money going back and making them more safe. If people continue to complain, they can rinse and repeat. The best part is if the minimize the changes, they can have minimal impact and minimal cost, so its highly profitable and more likely they'll need to circle back around for more safety measures at an even higher cost. Who wouldn't love this deal?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:00PM (#38865439)

      While I agree with you, it's "should have," not "should of."

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by Spritzer (950539) *
        THANK YOU!!! While I try to avoid playing "grammar police" this is an increasingly common mistake which drives me crazy.
        • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:05PM (#38866267) Homepage Journal

          When I see "should of" or such similar alliteracy*, it says to me that whoever wrote it reads very little and is therefore probably not very well educated. What annoys me is when their lack of literacy makes it hard to parse; loose != lose, for example. Did you lose the dogs of war, or did you loose them? OTOH if I see "now" instead if "know" I assume that's just a typo, anybody can make typos no matter how intelligent or educated they are.

          *No, I didn't mean illiteracy. To misquote Twain, an alliterate is no better off than an illiterate.

          • by networkBoy (774728) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:49PM (#38866709) Homepage Journal

            I prefer once more into/unto the breach. But loosing the dogs of war will do fine, thank you.

            I try very hard not to judge people by their misuse of words, but to me there are some mistakes that instantly set my brain into "this person is 13 years old" mode.
            Namely when someone uses there instead of their (or less commonly their instead of they're).
            Now I should know better because I correct my wife's papers and she's got a fistful of degrees and still makes homonym errors galore, but the fact remains it makes you look less skilled.
            Here on /. it is harder to judge. Is the person young, English a second (or third or fourth) language, trolling for Grammar Nazi posts?
            Also, /. is somewhere between blog postings and IM convos, in the former I expect excellent grammar, while in the latter (and on /.) you can not correct errors once you've posted...

            • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:36PM (#38868073) Journal

              English a second (or third or fourth) language

              From personal experience (and I'm not a native English speaker myself), people who learned it as a foreign language tend to make such mistakes much less often. Perhaps this is because they learn grammar and morphology of the language while acquiring vocabulary. Also, it might have to do something with the fact that e.g. in my native language, the difference between "its" and "it's", or "their" and "they're" and "there", is so big there's no mistaking one for the other.

              A few years ago, when I was studying in a university in New Zealand, an old British lady who lectured us on Ethics complained in a personal conversation with me about horrendous grammar and spelling she sees in essays written by local kids, compared to those by foreigners, especially Europeans. She specifically mentioned the correct use "its" vs "it's" as one of the things that stood out in contrast. Judging by how it progresses on the Net, it seems that it only gets worse with every new generation.

          • When I see "should of" or such similar alliteracy*, it says to me that whoever wrote it reads very little and is therefore probably not very well educated.

            In this case, the similarity in the pronunciation of "have" and "of" - both have "v" sounds - is likely a factor. I could be slack writing or proofreading skills, but I refer to the visual/linguistic experiment loosely entitled, "Count the number of "F" characters." For example: Count the number of F's in the following sentence. [yahoo.com]

            Most people miss the "

            • by dgatwood (11270) on Monday January 30, 2012 @05:26PM (#38869583) Journal

              You're on the right track. The "should of" abuse is largely a side effect of the way we learn English as a primary language. Native English speakers learn English first by speech (from their parents, from TV, whatever) before they learn to read.

              The problem comes because so many speakers use the contracted form of "should have". The words "should've" and "should of" sound nearly identical unless you are deliberately exaggerating the latter. Therefore, by the time kids learn the correct spelling, "should have", they have been hearing "should've" and interpreting it as "should of" for many years. It is already ingrained in their vocabulary, and is thus hard to unlearn.

      • by Tsingi (870990)

        While I agree with you, it's "should have," not "should of."

        Yes, that irritated me too. There is an acceptable excuse, where English a second language of the writer; in which case he would likely welcome a correction. It seems that that is rarely the case. Most people think that it is their prerogative to write however they please and put the burden of deciphering their gibberish on the reader, rather than learn a few simple rules of grammar.

        Write once, irritate hundreds of times.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:01PM (#38865449) Journal
      You sound like an enemy of shareholder value. And America.
      • by jamstar7 (694492)
        Relax, it's an election year. Susan is just trying to act like she really gives a shit to her constituents. They slamdunk this one through, it's damned good sound bytes on their re-election campaign ads: "We thought of the children!!" On Nov 7th, nobody will give a fuck anymore and this will just go away to be resurrected in 2014.
    • by magarity (164372) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:01PM (#38865467)

      Isn't this something our fabulous leaders should of demanded before spending a crap load of money and deploying them all around the nation?

      Isn't this something that's better late than never, considering that it's too late to say it should be done beforehand?

      • Politicians (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:23PM (#38865743)

        Isn't this something our fabulous leaders should of demanded before spending a crap load of money and deploying them all around the nation?

        Isn't this something that's better late than never, considering that it's too late to say it should be done beforehand?

        This. Politicians are not engineers. And even if they were, when they do something right, it makes more sense to praise them for it than it does to point out how foolish they may have been not to have done it earlier. Attacking them only makes sense if you are trying to defeat them in the next election--which is probably not the right thing to do when they do something right. =)

      • The point of complaining that it wasn't done in the first place is to emphasize that the people who put this into place are not qualified to make decisions of this magnitude and should be fired (or voted out).
    • by camperdave (969942) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:08PM (#38865541) Journal
      No. The leaders should not have demanded that the TSA choose an independent laboratory. The leaders should have suggested that the FDA or the AMA or some similar, but unaffiliated to the TSA, agency choose the lab. The TSA may just farm it out to a "Technology/Science Assessors" lab for rubber-stamping.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Do you of any idea how annoying "should of" is?

    • by poetmatt (793785)

      What do you mean?

      It was pushed through by someone who owned part of the companies. He knew what he was doing in pushing to have these deployed.

      As far as neutral third parties, there are plenty - it's just that the process *cannot* with honesty validate any of the devices being used in the field. Each one could be manufactured differently. They'd have to start back at the manufacturing process, and I don't think the gov't is ready for that part of the process. This is why when they tested just one and it sh

    • It was done (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kludge (13653) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:45PM (#38865997)

      As someone who works in radiation safety for the government, I can tell you that studies on these scanners have been done. There is virtually no risk from the scanners. You get far more additional radiation from flying in the airplane than you do from the scanner. The risk from these scanners is not the unknown value.
      The unknown value is the benefit from the scanners. As far as I know, no study has ever shown that these scanners provide any benefit. Therefore even though risk is very small, benefit is even smaller, and the risk-benefit tradeoff is lopsided against the scanners.

      • Re:It was done (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Muad'Dave (255648) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:00PM (#38866229) Homepage

        How much actual science has been done on the effects of THz radiation? Man-made emitters of THz radiation are relatively new and certainly intentional exposure has not been subjected to the same amount of research as IR or microwaves. The current ANSI laser and IEEE RF limits [in the THZ region] are based on extrapolation, not actual measurement. [wikipedia.org] Some LANL research has shown that T-waves can unzip DNA [technologyreview.com] - I'm not comfortable with extrapolated data when the number of people intentionally exposed is so high.

        • by blueg3 (192743)

          Backscatter dosage effects are extrapolated, too -- toward zero. There isn't sufficient data on the carcinogenic effects of ionizing radiation at very low dosages. (It would be a difficult experiment, as the doses are well below that of natural radiation.) So in general they assume a linear-to-zero model because it's a good safe choice. (There's no reason to suspect that low doses would produce cancer at higher-than-linear rates. They could be less-than-linear, but it's good to assume the more conservative

      • Ah excellent, just the person I need to talk to, have you looked into the safety of those scanning trucks that can look through container walls, dumpsters, and entire cars?

        • by blueg3 (192743)

          The power they use varies substantially, but quite a few of them are not safe for humans. (If I remember correctly, if it uses X-rays and can look through metal, you shouldn't be in the vicinity.)

      • Re:It was done (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tragedy (27079) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:55PM (#38866777)

        Agree with you on the lack of benefits of the scanners. As far as the safety. As someone who works in radiation safety, can you elaborate some more. Conventional wisdom on radiation safety is that the dangers are cumulative, but that's clearly not really the case. Maybe for long term risks like cancer, but clearly in the short term, higher intensity is more dangerous. For an extreme example, consider em radiation in the 560 to 490 nm wavelengths. Exposure is, as far as anyone has ever studied, virtually harmless. An entire lifetime's exposure adds 0% to cancer risk as far as I know. However, take a person's average exposure over the course of a month and give it to them in a tenth of a second. The cancer risk is still 0%, but that's only because the person has just been utterly vaporized. Maybe try instead taking a person's exposure to those frequencies in full sunlight over their whole body and concentrate it for 30 seconds on just one square centimeter of their body. No instant death this time, but that square centimeter will be completely and permanently destroyed. Also, cancer risk from that is now no longer 0% because of all of the byproducts from the burn.

        So, yes you get more radiation from the flight than you do from the body scanner. People forget that visible light is radiation too, of course. So, technically, you get far more radiation from the lights in the plane than you do from either of them. Radiation safety obviously has to take these things into account, and it gets technical. Maybe many of us here won't understand the deeper issues involved in a full technical explanation of the relative safety of the body scanners versus the flight. We're a pretty technical crowd, however, I'm pretty sure just about all of us can withstand a lot more detail than you gave. So, if it's your field, by all means educate us on _why_ the scanners are so safe.

      • Re:It was done (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gstrickler (920733) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:20PM (#38867017)

        You post ignores these facts:

        1. The TSA is solely accountable for testing, calibrating, and maintaining these machines.
        2. An audit of the tests found that machines were mis-calibrated by up to a factor of 10 (misplaced decimal point), that the testing and calibration procedures were unclear, and that the technicians had inadequate training.
        3. TSOa are standing near these machines 8 hours per shift without wearing any protective clothing and they are prohibited from wearing dosimeters.
        4. That the studies that were performed have been contested because the methodology has not been shown to adequately account for the tact that 100% of the radiation dose of the back-scatter machines is deposited within 3mm of the skin.
        5. The type of radiation received while flying is different than the type of received from the scanners, so a direct comparison of levels is meaningless.

        • by blueg3 (192743)

          The type of radiation received while flying is different than the type of received from the scanners, so a direct comparison of levels is meaningless.

          This is why we convert radiation dosage measures (which are directly measured in rad or something similar) into rem, which are adjusted for the effectiveness of the particular "type" of radiation in damaging a human.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      They did. It might have been insufficiently independent, depending on how much you buy into a Massive Government Conspiracy to pump a few million dollars into two companies and secretly irradiate you.

      The general technology has been studied extensively. Third-party labs test the specific equipment used by the TSA. I think the most comprehensive reports are done by the U.S. Army Public Health Command and available on the TSA's website.

    • by gambino21 (809810)

      At least as important, in my opinion, is an independent study to determine whether the body scanners and other security changes are effective at reducing terrorism and other criminal activity. If they are not effective at their stated goal, then we should just get rid of them regardless of whether they are safe or not.

    • by King_TJ (85913) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:37PM (#38866571) Journal

      The obvious answer to the question is, as usual; "Follow the money!"

      http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2010-11-22-scanner-lobby_N.htm [usatoday.com]

      http://www.infowars.com/chertoff-linked-to-body-scanner-manufacturer/ [infowars.com]

      IMO, the *real* question we should be asking is why we believed this costly new technology, coupled with a whole new govt. agency to operate it, was going to accomplish anything substantial in the first place? The argument over the cost is tough to make without somebody insisting that either A) it created so many new jobs for American citizens that it added a lot of value, and/or B) if it saves even ONE human life, how can you put a price on that? So IMO, we can probably just ignore the "cost" angle, and simply ask if the TSA screening procedure we've implemented is a net positive, or a net negative for everyone?

      Personally, I think you've got to be drinking some serious govt. kool-aid if you REALLY believe this nonsense of putting anyone on a secret "watch list" (based on the discretion of agents hired from the general public at hourly pay starting at around $11/hr.), and making everyone walk through body scanners before boarding commercial planes is going to save you from terrorist acts. As one of my friends pointed out, you can go to most airports in the U.S. and find that the only thing keeping you from wandering out to the hangars and runways is a chain-link fence around their perimeter. If someone REALLY wanted to sabotage a plane, they could throw on a mechanics' outfit or something, run out onto the tarmac, and do whatever they wanted to do with a parked jet, or even quickly insert something into some luggage on one of the transports, waiting to be loaded onto a flight. Trying to secure the plane from the terminal's boarding gate so heavily ignores all the other possibilities. Meanwhile, we've created a situation where EVERYONE is inconvenienced and put at risk of being falsely labeled a "potential terrorist" for transgressions as simple as wearing a t-shirt with a counter-culture political message printed on it, or making the wrong comment while standing in line.

      Freedom = 0, Terrorists = 1 by my score-card

  • You Fools! (Score:5, Funny)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:00PM (#38865427) Journal
    As a public health measure, we specifically designed our scanners to operate 95% on faith beams and only 5% on ionizing radiation(the fact that this also allowed the sleazy contractor not-at-all-definitely-not connected to our former leader, who definitely isn't a lich [wikimedia.org] save on BOM costs was unconnected with this decision...)

    If you allow skeptics to get near the machines, they'll jam the faith rays and force us to either face further terrorist attacks or turn up the radiation!
  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:01PM (#38865447)

    ...where whathername insisted on "designing the study".

    As opposed, of course, for calling for a study to be done - not the same at all.

  • by masternerdguy (2468142) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:01PM (#38865457)
    A bachelor's in government, is that like a minor in plant psychology?
    • by MollyB (162595)

      Cute snark, but following your thought don't you imply that we the electorate can be effectively dealt with as if we were potted palms?
      If true, I shiver down to my roots...

  • Too late... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SengirV (203400) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:01PM (#38865459)

    TSA must have gotten their marching orders recently. They have been pretty strict about pushing as many people through those radiation machines as possible for that last couple of months. Prior, you could pony up to the metal detectors without much hassle. Now, you are told to stand in the long imaging line. And this is the case at several airports I travel through.

    • Re:Too late... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lazycam (1007621) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:09PM (#38865551)

      TSA must have gotten their marching orders recently. They have been pretty strict about pushing as many people through those radiation machines as possible for that last couple of months. Prior, you could pony up to the metal detectors without much hassle. Now, you are told to stand in the long imaging line. And this is the case at several airports I travel through.

      You know, you can still decline to go though the scanners. In recent months I have traveled through many busy airports. I watched as TSA agents push people (including myself) x-ray 'branding' line. No matter how busy (or how light) the travel loads have been, I have and always will opted out. Until they pass federal rules suggesting we no long have the right to opt out, I will be standing safely outside of the range of any body scanner for the foreseeable future.

      In this country it's still legal not to do something if you feel uncomfortable. Get a pat down and move on with your travel day...

      • Re:Too late... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:32PM (#38865819)

        The problem is that opting out of the radiation dosing machines means opting into the government authorized groping line. And if you don't like that option, you are either kicked out of the airport (if you are a politician) or arrested for not cooperating with the TSA (for everyone else).

        But at least all of these TSA measures have caught tons of terrorists right. *checks the Terrorists Caught By The TSA counter* *sees it reading zero* Oh, wait... Never mind.

        • by willaien (2494962)

          Ahh, yes, but in the groping line, you can make them feel just as uncomfortable as you are. Just do so subtly, so that you don't get to experience the billy club for a 'perceived threat'.

        • Re:Too late... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by NiteMair (309303) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:58PM (#38866185)

          I too always opt out of the body scanner - I'd rather have the temporary psychological stress of another guy putting his gloved hands on my thighs than permanent damage to my physical body from a machine that some "security company" lobbied to have placed in every airport in the U.S. under the guise that it miraculously makes us safer.

          I wouldn't be surprised if the stress of dealing with the TSA and other privacy violations in a post-9/11 world has killed more people than terrorism ever did.

        • by lazycam (1007621) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:04PM (#38866251)

          The problem is that opting out of the radiation dosing machines means opting into the government authorized groping line. And if you don't like that option, you are either kicked out of the airport (if you are a politician) or arrested for not cooperating with the TSA (for everyone else).

          But at least all of these TSA measures have caught tons of terrorists right. *checks the Terrorists Caught By The TSA counter* *sees it reading zero* Oh, wait... Never mind.

          Buddy, believe me, I know what you mean. I few months back I requested my pat-down before realizing I had *cough* morning wood. Lets just say that was the most uncomfortable/entertaining pat-down for the spectators standing in line for their x-ray scans. Poor me. Poor TSA agent...

          Moral to the story: Still radiation free.

      • by Mitreya (579078)
        I have and always will opted out. Until they pass federal rules suggesting we no long have the right to opt out, I will be standing safely outside of the range of any body scanner for the foreseeable future.

        Have you had to travel with a laptop though? Last time I opted out, I had to wait next to the moving line for 5-7 minutes while they found a patter-down for me. At the same time my brand-new (out of the bag) laptop was sitting on the other side, somewhat outside of my view. It's a miracle no one st

      • Re:Too late... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:53PM (#38866103) Journal

        In this country it's still legal not to do something if you feel uncomfortable. Get a pat down and move on with your travel day...

        What if the pat down makes you feel uncomfortable? This is like saying you don't have to get punched in the face, you could get kicked in the balls instead. Your choice...

      • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:50PM (#38867381) Homepage Journal

        Decline going through scanners? I decline going through airports. Air travel was bad enough before the TSA, I'd have to be in one hell of a hurry to take a commercial plane these days.

        In this country it's still legal not to do something if you feel uncomfortable. Get a pat down and move on with your travel day...

        What if you're uncomfortable with both? "Here son, you have a choice -- drink this vomit or eat this cow patty. It's a free country, you have choices!"

        How about we get rid of the scanners, the patdowns, the metal detectors, and the TSA itself? None of those things have caught ONE SINGLE TERRORIST. However, the shoe bomber made it through security and was stopped by the passengers.

        The TSA is a waste of time, money, and freedom. It should be abolished, and go to highway safety whare some lives actually WILL be saved.

    • Re:Too late... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:12PM (#38865587)

      Magic words - "Opt Out".

      I've done this about 15 times now and have yet to be pushed through one of these microwaves. It's amazing to see the others around you marvel at the fact that you do not HAVE to go through these things - most don't know. Sure, it takes more time and in one instance I had to let the TSA agent doing the search know that they skipped part of the procedure (I've done it THAT many times!) but it's not that bad and it's more thorough than the machine is anyway IMO. It annoys my travel companions that I do this and slow them down but oh well, I need more radiation like a hole in the head. Radiation is cumulative, the less the better for me given a choice...

  • How independent? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pirulo (621010) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:02PM (#38865471)
    <quote>TSA would be required to choose an 'independent laboratory'</quote>

    How independent if the TSA has to choose it?

    • by Atomus (2500840)

      How independent if the TSA has to choose it?

      I was thinking the same thing. Don't get me wrong, it's a step better than taking TSA's word for it, but I can see this turning into a "confidential" study and TSA stating this study will not be publicly availabe due to "national security" reasons UNLESS it states that the machines are safe, which therefore would be made available to the public. My bet is that this study will never make it to the public....

    • by gstrickler (920733) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:32PM (#38867173)

      The TSA should not get to choose the agency, machines to be tested, nor the time for the tests. An independent lab should show up at an airport and test any machines they wish to test (one or few at a time to have little or no impact on passenger screening), including making the TSA stop using an in use machine (and switch to another) so it can be tested. They should test at least 100 machines at no less than 25 different airports, all randomly selected by the testing agency. All with no more than 1 hour notice to the TSA (preferably with less than 30 minutes notice or no notice). One viable way to do it "without notice" would be to show up, identify yourselves and immediately identify machines for testing. The TSA can spend 15-30 minutes verifying that they are indeed from the testing agency. In the mean-time, no one touches the machines to be tested. Any any use machines to be tested shall stop being used as soon as another machine can be made ready and passengers redirected to the other machine.

  • by sir_eccles (1235902) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:03PM (#38865479)

    The real investigation should be who got rich from all this.

  • by SydShamino (547793) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:07PM (#38865525)

    Can't we judge the experiment on its merits (good or bad)? What does the educational background of the person proposing it have to do with anything? The scientific method doesn't break just because someone without a PHD proposes the experiment.

  • TSA should not chose (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tharsman (1364603) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:07PM (#38865527)

    Each state should be entitled to pick their own lab to conduct the study on the scanners. Yes, that means 50 independent studies by local labs. More if we go counting DC and other territories.

    Also, should they find any negative effects; any citizen of the state that has been exposed to the scanners should be entitled to an exponential sum for each exposure (since any additional exposure would not just additively increase cancer risks.)

    THAT would be a responsible law to go for. But who am I kidding, the TSA now controls too much money, enough to lobby its way into doing anything they want.

  • Education (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ljhiller (40044) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:14PM (#38865609)
    This nation worked very hard to elect a vice-president whose highest degree was a bachelor's degree in communications, and she had to transfer 4 times to get it. I don't think the people really care.
    • This nation worked very hard...

      Well, to be fair, only about a third of Americans are Republicans (the only ones likely to "work hard" to make this person VP) and I would venture that less than 5% of them did any actual campaign work at all.

      As for your latter observation (i.e., people caring)? Yeah, that's about right.

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:19PM (#38865671) Homepage

    The single most significant missing component in all our security efforts is a cost analysis. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount? Some say that measuring that is hard, and it is. But measurement is inherently approximation (there is no such thing as a ruler that is exactly twelve inches long). Once you accept that, it becomes much easier to measure lots of things (see also: How to Measure Anything).

    Can we begin with a very rough boundary estimate? I think we can. Here's one I did in my head while driving through the desert recently:

    I am willing to accept having two of my one thousand closest lifetime United States citizen acquaintances die in terrorist attacks. That is an acceptable risk level. If we can get there, I feel we have done all we need to do. By the same token, if we are spending any significant amount of money to go beyond that level, I am less supportive. I don't think it is worthwhile to catch every terrorist any more than it is worthwhile to catch every speeder or jaywalker. Two in one thousand, lifetime, sounds like about the right number.

    OK, so, how does that work out as an annualized US death toll? (please note: I did this in my head, and am mostly just regurgitating it here -- please correct me if the math is off)

    Desired Death Rate: 0.002 per lifetime
    Lifetime Length: 80 years
    Annualized Rate: 0.00002 risk per-annum per-person (equals 0.998 chance each person will reach 80 before dying from terrorism)
    United States Population: 300,000,000
    My Maximum Acceptable Annual U.S. Terrorism Deaths: 6,000

    I think we should be trying to stay under 6,000 United States citizens dying from terrorism every year. It is the acceptable rate, to me, in terms of the risk of my acquaintances dying. Any significant spending we do to get under that number is -- to me -- emotionalism, not rationalism. Given we haven't reached 6,000 in the past 20 years, I suspect we are spending too much.

    • by rickb928 (945187)

      Would your "My Maximum Acceptable Annual U.S. Terrorism Deaths" be less if one of those deaths were yours?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:19PM (#38865685)

    I keep seeing these things that seem to be attempting to show that these naked scanners are unhealthy. But is that really a distraction from what we should be considering?

    1. Doesn't human dignity require that we treat travellers as people and not the same way that we treat convicts?

    2. Don't these security measures do more harm than good by forcing people to accept a microcosm of "police state" for no discernable benefit?

  • Living in Maine... (Score:5, Informative)

    by rinoid (451982) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:22PM (#38865721)

    I have never supported Susan Collins for other issues.

    But I have to ask why the OP decided to belittle the Senator's formal educational credentials? This seems like a distraction for the real question here: are these full body scanners actually safe, and, that's the question the Senator has introduced to be studied.

    The Senator has asked a good question here. I praise her for asking a question in a time when the knee jerk response has been a resounding YES to police state control. The OP has held up a straw man in questioning her education.

  • by Koreantoast (527520) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:25PM (#38865753)
    I think it's unfair to dismiss a suggestion by a member of Congress just because their educational and experience background doesn't match up with every possible legislative issue that could possibly cross their desk. This is why Congressmen have staffs with more diverse educational backgrounds, and I'm 99% certain that whatever he proposes is going to have been written by one of his staffers. Of course, if you're a cynic, then it was written by a lobbyist, vetted by a staffer then proposed by the Representative from Maine, but hey, I don't think what he's proposing is all that unreasonable.
    • If it were a democratic senator proposing the same, the submitter would have praised it as forward-looking and thoughtful, defending the people's right to know what they're being exposed to.

      The submitter, and the editor who approved and posted it, are leftist hacks, and are using any platform they can get to belittle republicans. This is because they are so cock-sure of their position that this sort of behavoir seems legitimate.

      Unfortunately, they pushed it a little too far this time, as their blind partisa

  • Use the GAO!!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:26PM (#38865765)

    Letting the TSA pick an organization to do this is ridiculous, the GAO should be the one in charge of figuring out if this is harmful. You need a completely unbiased third party, not the guys who fouled up the "evaluation" in the first place.

  • It were better to assemble a comity of international experts.
  • Is this a credible experimental protocol?

    Probably not, but I would say it depends on the details of how the study will be performed and interpreted: i.e. there can be a perpetual debate as to whether what we see actually 'is' cellular damage, or 15 more years are needed for verification --see the fudge factors on those never-ending ever-inconclusive cellphone tower 'studies' and the whole 'carbon neutral' and 'global warming' hype. And see how little consequence they have had (excluding "green" marketing) because all humans need to move around and

  • by mbone (558574) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:45PM (#38865993)

    You can't tell from a press release if what they are planning to do is credible, but the basic outline is, and long overdue. There are certainly enough labs who do, e.g., medical or nuclear power radiology who would not be tied to the TSA's purse strings, so finding an independent lab shouldn't be hard if they want to.

    If I was running this study, I would know is going to get attacked every-which-way, so I would do my best to make
    sure it was credible. Anything less would be a waste of time. But, maybe that's just me.

  • by JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:55PM (#38866137)

    TSA would be required to choose an 'independent laboratory'

    They should not have a choice in the matter. They're just going to pick the cheapest "laboratory" that gives them a green light.

  • by metrometro (1092237) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:58PM (#38866187)

    We already have a government agency tasked with evaluating workplace hazards. It doen't need to be independent of government itself. Just TSA. Inter-agency conflict can be useful here, in that OSHA might be happy to bust TSA for radiating their employees.

    Also, the issue we should be worried about is not whether the claimed dose is dangerous. The more urgent issue is whether these things, as deployed, are dosing people at the correct level, which is easy to evaluate, and no one currently is doing so.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      OSHA would be in charge of evaluating the safety of the machines from the perspective of the TSA and other airline/airport workers. Other agencies, like the FDA, are responsible for the safety to passengers.

      There's so much focus on the passenger safety, though, that danger to the workers is the more likely problem, particularly because of how often and how long they are in proximity of the machines.

      And yes, it's likely that OSHA would have no qualms about busting them for poor workplace safety.

      The more urgent issue is whether these things, as deployed, are dosing people at the correct level, which is easy to evaluate, and no one currently is doing so.

      They've condu

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:21PM (#38866417)

    Oh dear flying spaghetti monster, quit trying to be sensational. It takes away from the genuine problem.

    (1) Experiment design. The senator won't "design" the study. I don't know how you got such a stupid idea. The senator is requesting (demanding, commissioning) the study. The bill is her effort to pin down what questions the study should answer. It's a darn sight better than just handing the scanner over to some folks and saying, "Take a look at this here doohickey and tell me what you think." She isn't going to come up with any actual science processes.

    Think of it in programming terms - the senator is the boss, and she tells the programmer (scientist) what the program (science study) is supposed to output (what question the study is supposed to answer). She doesn't tell the programmer how to write the program, step-by-step. If, against all odds, she does stand there and try to tell you how to code each detail, you politely get her requirements again and shoo her off to do her actual job instead of yours (or you turn down the project). Nothing fancy to get so upset about, and a darn sight better than doing nothing and hoping for the best.

    (2) Picking an unbiased lab. Of course the TSA will try to pick someone who will give them the results they want. The question is, how many labs (or scientists) do you think the TSA can influence? The TSA is not in the science business or the nuclear business or the detector business. They are in the business of training people with the IQs of dogs to bark when they see something gun-shaped and to sniff your crotch for dangerous materials.

    In this I can at least claim some level of insider knowledge. I am a grad student at a nuclear physics lab. Nobody here has any special regard for the TSA - not the director, not the scientists, not the grad students. Now, we certainly aren't immune from political pressures, but in the end, no one is. However, most of the scientists here would rather be at odds with the TSA than have their professional reputation ruined by certifying a device as safe that can be demonstrated to be dangerous. Professional reputation is everything in science. If the TSA gets pissy at a scientist, then that scientist can go work in Germany, or France, or Great Britain, or India, or the various Arab countries with an interest in nuclear physics. If the scientific community gets angry at a scientist for endorsing something that kills folks, then there is nowhere in the world that the scientist can hide his damaged reputation.

    (3) Lab funding. Labs are funded on fairly long cycles. Ours is funded on a five year cycle. So, any lab like ours would be fairly immune to a temporary temper tantrum by some government official. We're not completely immune, but our funding is mostly determined by the President's office, the DOE, and the NSF. Note how there is no mention of the TSA in there. The TSA doesn't fund a darned thing in science, and so we couldn't care less about offending the TSA. As I said, we aren't completely immune from political pressures - if a senator got really angry at us over such a thing, the study might be squelched and our funding might get reduced or cut. That's very uncommon, though. Usually, senators don't want their name next to a study that erroneously says something is safe if it actually kills people. It's bad for the senator's re-election efforts. It's especially bad if the word "nuclear" is involved anywhere - nothing scares the public (and thus, the politicians) like the word "nuclear."

    (4) My professional opinion: You've completely got the wrong take on this. You probably didn't read the article at all. If anything, Collins is trying to use politics to squelch the scanners, not to cover up defects in the scanner's design. If there is any political pressure on the scientists involved in this study, it will be pressure to declare the devices unsafe and unsuitable for use. And, while I don't agree with playing politics with science, I do agree with squelching these scanners.

    By the way, as a nuclear physi

  • by blueg3 (192743) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:35PM (#38866553)

    Should the public trust a study of radiology and human health designed by a US Senator whose highest degree is a bachelor's degree in government?

    No, but it doesn't seem like she's designing the study. I suppose the text of the proposed bill would be relevant here. (Perhaps the poster was simply avoiding hypocracy here -- just as it's reasonable for someone with no real scientific background to commission a study, it's reasonable for someone with little understanding of the Internet to draft regulations for it. The latter doesn't seem to be a popular opinion, though. What matters, of course, is the extent to which they use information from experts to guide their decisions.)

    Is it reasonable to expect an organization accused of jeopardizing the health and safety of hundreds of millions of air travelers to pick a truly unbiased lab?

    Yes. As people like to point out, accusation is not conviction and people (and agencies) can be accused of just about anything. Provided that it's publicly-known what independent lab they pick -- which has been the case for previous studies -- it's easy enough for others to evaluate whether they're unbiased. That's not to say it will necessarily satisfy all critics -- there are many people who will claim that the chosen lab is biased, regardless of what lab is chosen.

    Is this a credible experimental protocol?

    I don't see an experimental protocol described. I do see an intent to commission a third-party study, which is common and quite credible. The only part that's questionable is determining "whether there are any biological signs of cellular damage caused by the scans." For one, "any" isn't necessarily a good safety cutoff, particularly if you're not being specific about what kind of cellular damage. For another, with the power that's used, you're well into the very-rare-event range for carcinogenic effects. You shouldn't anticipate scanning a test piece of flesh and looking for signs of cellular damage -- it would be easy to get a false negative. This is a part (admittedly, probably a small part) of why the health effects are disputed. At these power levels, you have to measure the dosing and then use a mathematical model to estimate the probability of causing cancer. It's easy to dispute the details of such models. (Is cancer incidence from ionizing radiation really linear and independent of other sources all the way to zero? Does weighting toward skin deposition matter?)

    Would any lab chosen deliver a critical report and risk future funding?

    Funding from whom? The TSA? Apparently they're not getting business from them now, so that seems like a pretty reasonable risk to take. Plenty of labs aren't government-funded. Even for those that are, releasing a report that's negative about one government organization only risks funding from a completely different organization if you assume some Massive Government Conspiracy. The NIH won't deny your grant because you discovered that backscatter machines really aren't safe.

  • Let's count how many times per year a person in an area represented by a member of congress goes through one of these machines. Then, for each of these occasions, let's have the congressman also go through it. So, if, for example, we calculate that people in a representative's district will go through one of these 10,000 times in 2012, let's have that congressman be subject to this radiation 10,000 times.

    We can have it do it while the congressman sleeps and position them where a congressman often walks, such as outside their bedroom door, so it will not present any inconvenience to our representatives. We can also increase the radiation by a multiple to decrease the number of times they need to be radiated, further decreasing the time they need to sleep or walk through one of these machines.

    Of course, we can make sure that only people within that congressman's district can view the images, because we want to respect his/her privacy.

    What do you think?

  • by somarilnos (2532726) on Monday January 30, 2012 @04:17PM (#38868727)
    ...before there was a cancer cluster amongst TSA workers in Boston, and before the frequently flying public was exposed to that much danger. Yes, it's good that it's being looked at now, but it was absolutely irresponsible to deploy these in the first place.

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