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    Airport Body Scanner Won't Give You Cancer
    By Michael White | November 19th 2010 09:50 AM | 70 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Michael

    Welcome to Adaptive Complexity, where I write about genomics, systems biology, evolution, and the connection between science and literature,

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    With the big holidays just around the corner, thousands of folks are about to get their first taste of the TSA's new virtual strip search machines - X-ray body scanners. Privacy issues may be the main concern for most people, but the safety of these things has some people worried.

    Back in April, a group of UCSF professors with a range of expertise in x-rays and biology wrote a letter to White House advisor John Holdren (PDF) raising some potential safety concerns about the TSA's X-ray scanners. The gist of the letter was not to make accusations, but to raise key questions about safety that should be answered before these things went into wide use. The questions certainly had me a little worried, in part because of the government's history of safety screw-ups. As the UCSF professors wrote:
    We would like to put our current concerns into perspective. As longstanding UCSF scientists and physicians, we have witnessed critical errors in decisions that have seriously affected the health of thousands of people in the United States. These unfortunate errors were made because of the failure to recognize potential adverse outcomes of decisions made at the federal level. Crises create a sense of urgency that frequently leads to hasty decisions where unintended consequences are not recognized. Examples include the failure of the CDC to recognize the risk of blood transfusions in the early stages of the AIDS epidemic, approval of drugs and devices by the FDA without sufficient review, and improper standards set by the EPA, to name a few. Similarly, there has not been sufficient review of the intermediate and long-term effects of radiation exposure associated with airport scanners. There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations. We are unanimous in believing that the potential health consequences need to be rigorously studied before these scanners are adopted. Modifications that reduce radiation exposure need to be explored as soon as possible.

    Back in October, the FDA responded to the concerns raised in the letter. Their response was essentially this:

    1. X-ray body scanners for security purposes are not new, and the FDA has been on this issue for nearly two decades. Manufacturers of these devices are regulated by the FDA. A variety of independent, outside committees have examined the safety issues.

    2. The specific safety concerns raised in the UCSF letter have been addressed:

    - The X-ray output of these machines and the effective dose to the skin and other organs has been measured/estimated/modeled, and they fall within long-established safety guidelines.

    - The machines have safety features to prevent a stalled scan from zapping one small part of your body with a massive dose of radiation.

    - TSA screeners can't control the speed of the scan, and therefore can't cause the scanner to go over your groin more slowly, for example. Your future children are likely safe.

    Here's the FDA's conclusion:
    This technology has been available for nearly two decades and we have based our evaluation on scientific evidence and on the recommendations of recognized experts. Public meetings were held to discuss these products with FDA’s advisory panel (TEPRSSC), and the American national radiation safety standard was available for public comment both before its initial publication and before its recently published revision. There are numerous publications regarding the biological effects of radiation and the appropriate protection limits for the general public that apply to these products. As a result of these evidence-based, responsible actions, we are confident that full-body x-ray security products and practices do not pose a significant risk to the public health.

    Strangely, ARS Technica claims that this response is merely a brush-off:
    But, in the FDA's response, the agency gave the issues little more than a data-driven brush off. They cite five studies in response to the professors' request for independent verification of the safety of these X-rays; however, three are more than a decade old, and none of them deal specifically with the low-energy X-rays the professors are concerned about. The letter also doesn't mention the FDA's own classification of X-rays as carcinogens in 2005.

    I can't agree. I find the FDA convincing in this case. First, the FDA does not just cite older studies; they also cite later reports from the assessment committees mentioned in the FDA's letter. But they are justified in citing the older studies. Here's why: radiation biology (not to mention the physics of x-rays) is an old and well understood science. Since the beginning of the Manhattan Project (at least), the biological effects of radiation have been a subject of intense scrutiny. We know how to measure exposure, what the likely effects of various doses are, etc. You don't need new studies to reinvent the wheel.

    Second, the FDA provided a detailed response to all of the hardware/software/device concerns raised in the letter, and basically stated that it's been regulating machines like these for decades. Maybe you don't believe the FDA and think the standards it sets are incorrect/unenforced/whatever, but that's a different argument.

    Third, why should the FDA have to mention in the letter that X-rays are classified as a carcinogen? Isn't that why it's regulating these devices in the first place?

    The FDA's response is thorough and convincing, with the appropriate references to where you can go for more details. Next time you get screened at the airport, worry about the privacy aspect of this virtual strip search, but not about the safety. Read the feed:

    Comments

    Michael,
    This discussion refers to the backscatter x-ray airport scanners coming into use. I worry more about the other type, the terahertz scanners. Terahertz technology is not two decades old, it is brand new, and its effects have not been adequately studied.

    So, the FDA deems that the additional radiation from these scanners is below the threshold of causing cancer, despite the amount cellular damage you've accrued throughout your life. I'm sorry, this is ludicrous. Radiation damage is cumulative and while they levels of radiation exposure from these scans may be low, they will add (unnecessary) cellular damage. The FDA statement misleads people into thinking that the risk is either non-existent or too small to consider, and it isn't. There is no safe dose of radiation and one should avoid it when possible.

    I'm not even convinced these scans are sufficient to do the job intended (since the next step is for the terrorist to carry contraband inside the body, which would require different, and more powerful scans). I don't give terrorists a lot of credit for intellect, but the logical step for beating these scans is pretty obvious and they WILL adjust their approach as they have shown in the past.

    Rick

    Please read another very informed viewpoint about the "dangers" of terahertz scanners. The truth is that the world is awash in natural terahertz radiation, and the artificial terahertz in scanners is many times weaker than what you already experience. Here are the comments of Dr. Daniel Mittleman, professor and pioneer of THz, at Rice University on my blog.

    Dr. Mittleman at Rice University, provides a further discussion on the health effects of THz radiation

    Hi Randy,
    I'd be happy to write a short comment on the topic of the health effects of THz radiation. I'm certainly not the expert on this topic, as it has not been a focus of my own research in recent years. But I've kept up on it and can speak somewhat knowledgeably about what's known.

    The key question here is whether irradiation by low-frequency electromagnetic waves can induce biologically significant effects in living cells, other than merely by heating them up. It should be pointed out that this question (and probably the answer) are just as relevant for microwaves as for terahertz radiation. All of these low-frequency waves are strongly absorbed by water. Since all biology happens in water, it's clear that we can affect cells (or even cook them) by putting enough energy into the surrounding water.

    The hard part is determining if anything happens to the cells that is NOT merely the result of the water heating up. And that's the important question, from the standpoint of setting safety standards. If the only cell damage mechanism is thermal, then the minimum exposure limit for THz radiation would be set in the same way that it has been set for microwaves - we just avoid cooking people. On the other hand, if cell damage can occur at a lower power density via some other mechanism, then the exposure limits would have to be correspondingly lower.

    The conventional wisdom in the physics community is that there simply cannot be non-thermal effects. The energy necessary to break a chemical bond is hundreds or thousands of times larger than the energy of a single terahertz photon. Thus, ultraviolet or x-ray radiation can lead to genetic mutations (think: too much sun exposure leads to melanoma), but radiation at lower frequencies (with lower photon energies) does not. If that conventional wisdom is correct, then the only danger from T-rays (or microwaves or radio waves or infrared radiation) is that it can induce thermal effects.

    There have been a couple of proposals for mechanisms that would permit non-thermal effects from low-frequency radiation, most notably the recent paper by Alexandrov and co-workers (from Physics Letters A in 2010). This paper got a lot of press when it came out. It's a wonderfully inflamatory subject, after all. But there are many reasons to believe that the analysis in that article (which, after all, contains no experimental evidence) is woefully over-simplified, and therefore completely inapplicable to the real world. Most glaringly, the description neglects the absorption of THz radiation by the water bath in which the DNA chain resides. That's like being worried about the effects of sunlight on your brain tissue - if you ignore the opaque skull that entirely surrounds your brain then you might actually need to consider that question, but for those of us with skulls it isn't exactly a pressing concern. In my view, there is still no feasible proposal for a non-thermal mechanism.

    Having said that, I do think that there is some experimental work that needs mentioning. I refer specifically to the recent work from the lab of Dr. Peter Siegel at CalTech (more precisely, NASA JPL). In these experiments, a collection of cells were irradiated with millimeter waves (not quite THz radiation), and certain changes were observed (e.g., induced cell poration, modulation of neuronal activity, etc.) These folks were as careful as possible to monitor local temperatures and eliminate the possibility of thermally induced effects. I would not call these results conclusive (neither would the authors), but they are suggestive that more work is needed.

    If these experimental results are correct, then the burden will still remain upon the researchers to come up with an explanation of how it's possible. As far as I know, they've not even tried to explain anything yet, merely to observe and see what's going on. I have great respect for Peter, but I remain skeptical simply because there is no plausible mechanism to explain non-thermal effects.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------
    Dr. Daniel Mittleman
    Rice University
    ECE Dept., MS-366
    6100 Main St.
    Houston, TX 77005
    URL: www-ece.rice.edu/~daniel/Mittleman.html
    Biographical InformationDr. Mittleman received his B.S. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988, and his M.S. in 1990 and Ph.D. in 1994, both in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Dr. Charles Shank. His thesis work involved the spectroscopy of semiconductor nanocrystals using laser pulses with durations of less than 20 femtoseconds, at wavelengths from 480 nm to 670 nm. He then joined AT&T Bell Laboratories as a post-doctoral member of the technical staff, working first for Dr. Richard Freeman on a terawatt laser system, and then for Dr. Martin Nuss on terahertz spectroscopy and imaging. Dr. Mittleman joined the ECE Department at Rice University in September 1996, where he is a Professor. At Rice, his research interests involve various aspects of spectroscopy, sensing, and imaging using terahertz radiation. Dr. Mittleman is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America.
    http://terahertztechnology.blogspot.com/2010/12/dr-mittleman-at-rice-uni...

    The effects have been studied and our bodys evolved seeing at Terahertz is a natural form of radiation and essentially a form of heat emitted by all warm objects including your own body. Most of the terahertz scannners are passive (ie they emit nothing and only see this radiation like an infra red camera). The ones that emit are only in the lab and 5-10 years away and they will emit 1000 times less than a human. Its not the radiation of terahertz thats new its the detection of it.

    F.D.A. to Reconsider Plastic Bottle Risk. Need I say more?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/24/dining/24chem.html

    Michael, what are your qualifications for judging the evidence?

    And the FDA's record on medical devices...
    Is the FDA doing it's job?
    http://www.sott.net/articles/show/217462-Is-the-FDA-doing-its-job-

    Hank
    Bring on the 'gate rape' because I am not going through it.   'long-established safety guidelines' did not factor in repeated exposure for frequent fliers and I generally think that, if Israel can have the safest airport in the world despite millions of fanatics who won't even put that country on their world maps because they intend to obliterate it, and they can do it without exposing people to x-rays, so can we.
    Gerhard Adam
    It isn't just about frequent fliers, but also repeated trips through airport security.  Despite the fact that smokers are considered the spawn of Satan, the reality is that one typically has to leave security to have a cigarette.  Therefore a repeat trip through security is involved which can automatically double the amount of exposure for the same number of trips.  If this occurs through several layovers, then the exposure is dramatically higher than that accounted for simply by the trip itself.

    The problem is ultimately that these things are always touted as "safe" with well established guidelines until someone finds the exception.  Then suddenly everyone will back-pedal and indicate how no one could've known that such a situation existed.  We don't need x-rays at airports.

    For the truly ridiculous aspect of it, it appears that it's OK to pack a nuclear warhead as long as it is in checked luggage (since not even half of that is scanned or examined), but for the passengers, we want to microscopically scan them.  Personally, I'm sick of what passes for airport security and this doesn't increase my confidence.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    TSA (and Mike) got me to see the ACLU blog tagline "because freedom can't blog itself" so that is a bonus.   I would likely feel better if I knew it was a radio wave machine rather than x-rays.   Half are that, though I have no way to know unless I hold up a crowded line making them find out.

    When even the ACLU says more CIA is needed and not more state-sponsored sexual harassment, that has to be cause for concern.
    Yes, the FDA has set standards, and normal operation of the x-ray backscatter machines fall well below those standards.

    What are those standards and what risk do they entail for the entire population?

    Lets suppose that the risk of cancer from a single exposure is 5.6x10^-9 (1 in 175 million). That's not a bad estimate given the exposure stated in the report (http://www.tsa.gov/research/reading/index.shtm), and the EPA report on mortality from cancer rates per level of exposure (http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/docs/federal/402-r-99-001.pdf) assuming that the entire exposure is deposited in the skin and not distributed throughout the body.)

    Given 700,000,000 screenings in the US population, there will be 4 deaths from cancer, and a probably a morbidity rate of another 4.

    Alternatively, lets suppose that he risk of death from cancer is 5x10^-10 from a single exposure is quoted in the response to UCSF, and the order of magnitude difference I think has to do with the difference between ways of calculating dose. The report produced by Johns Hopkins either failed to report flux, or did report flux and the number was redacted when the document was released, so it's hard to tell.

    Yes, people are exposed to radiation when they live their normal life. Yes, people are exposed to radiation when they fly. Yes, people are exposed to higher doses of radiation when they have a medical X-ray or CT scan. However, if utilized correctly, that medical X-ray or CT scan will do more to prolong a patients life than to end it. We know how to do that math.

    What these statistics tell you however, are the additional deaths and illness that will occur due these new security procedures when those procedures are functioning the way they are intended. If the backscatter saves more than 4 lives a year that wouldn't have been saved any other way, maybe it's worth it, but I don't know how to do that math.

    Given that alternative screening methods are available that don't use radiation, the use of x-ray backscatter machines should be limited to situations that would have traditionally called for a strip-search.

    So yes, the backscatter machines won't give YOU cancer, and I can say that with 99.999999% certainty, but, if fully deployed, they will give 1-10 random people a year cancer.

    Remember when the EPA said the air around Ground Zero was fine shortly after 9/11?

    I would like to ask everyone who is complaining about airport security, WHAT are they trying to stop, the ANSWER terrorism. Last Christmas, some one got on a plane with explosives in there underwear. I don't say that to be funny, its reality. People if another terror attack takes place involviong airplanes, the same peolple complaining would be asking why wasn't more done to stop it. American people need to stop whining about some x-ray machines, nobody cares about American fat bodies, who cares, but you will if someone sneaks a bomb onboard. And don't give me, it will never happen, it has happened. Get over it, I rather be safe, I walk through he entire airport naked if i have too. American people sure should not have to go through with it, but we should also not be hunted by a relentless enemy too. Until the enemy stops, stop your whining America, and step up to protect the country.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but granting the TSA free reign to continue to engage in ineffective methods does NOT stop terrorism and I'm not prepared to jump on that bandwagon.  Too many people are too forgiving simply because someone invokes the word "terrorism" as if that's a free pass from incompetence.

    The complaints about why more wasn't done are still legitimate despite all the scurrying around we see today.  On 9/11 it was legitimate to ask why we were so cavalier about cockpit doors despite having had planes hijacked in the past.  It is certainly reasonable to ask why no one is watching the "watch lists".  It is certainly reasonable to ask how dull and unimaginative one has to be to suggest that "no one could imagine planes being used as weapons" (despite the obvious use of them in WW II during kamikazee flights).

    The point is that when economics is involved (such as shipping) then suddenly we don't have the means to scan packages or crates.  However, when it comes to passengers (who are already scrutinized) we want to keep piling more and more on without any explanation as to what we think we're improving on.  All the while putting those same passengers on planes where the majority of the luggage and cargo haven't been inspected or even scanned.
    Get over it, I rather be safe, I walk through he entire airport naked if i have too. American people sure should not have to go through with it, but we should also not be hunted by a relentless enemy too. Until the enemy stops, stop your whining America, and step up to protect the country.
    Well, I can see that you've certainly drank the Kool-Aid, so if you think these half-way measures improve your safety, then that's fine.  Personally, the entire process is far too filled with silliness to ever provide real security, and I've never been particularly impressed by people who's only rationalization for supporting a dumb idea is their own fear.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Wow...just wow. For those of you who believe everything your TV says, this argument makes sense. For the rest of us who think for ourselves, let's just be thankful people like this are willing to do anything the TV tells them to do in the name of public safety. It's people like this who fight our wars. People like this work for us. Thanks to people like this, many of us are able to work our way to the top without much resistance. Makes us feel better about ourselves. : )

    Gerhard,
    What would you have America do, not try to protect the country. What kool-aid was i drinking on 9/11. people complain about interogating terrorist. People complain about being searched at the airport. Whats dumb is thinking your rights are being invaded, there not. You do bring up a point about the luggage, there needs to more scanning of cargo. These half measures do make me safer, whether you like or not they make you safer too. I suppose you want eqaul rights for terrorist to, Gerhard, treat them with respect right. No one has to bring up the word "terrorism", just ask the 1000's of people who lost there lives on 9/11, ask the people who was sitting next to the terrorist who explosives in his underwear. Gerhard I'm pretty sure your are type who be would calling for someones head if another successful terror attack took place. I'm not impressed by fake, "I'm for rights" Americans like you, one minute you want our government to protect us, the next minute you want to claim "individual rights". You can't have it both ways. Lets get rid of everything that impedes on yours rights, for example, sex offenders list, how about that Gerhard lets let all the perverts go unchecked because you think people rights are being infringed upon. Lets get rid of all airport security, just show up and get on the plane, so Gerhard can feel American again.

    What Kool-Aid were you drinking, Wayne? Kill your TV. You'll do anything that supposedly fights terrorism, you say. I'm gonna get on your TV and start telling you how to fight terrorism. Funny thing is, you will believe me when I show up as a contributor on CNN and start babbling about terrorism. You will believe anything I say after I put the holy fear of the catch-word "terror" on your mind. Maybe it would be a good idea to lay off the drugs and practice thought; your spelling and grammar suck. If you want to be taken seriously, use logic. Thank you for fighting our wars, though. I do appreciate your willingness to follow.

    The full body scanners (your expalnation Gerhard), are used to detect things metal detectors can't. Like devices hidden on the body that contain explosives (like PETN), the kind used last X-mas in the bombers underwear, the only reason that was unsuccessful is because of user error. Its funny how a Congressman in florida wants the TSA out of airports, so private companies can come in and do the samething.

    "The full body scanners (your expalnation Gerhard), are used to detect things metal detectors can't. Like devices hidden on the body that contain explosives (like PETN), the kind used last X-mas in the bombers underwear, the only reason that was unsuccessful is because of user error. Its funny how a Congressman in florida wants the TSA out of airports, so private companies can come in and do the samething."
    ************************
    The main reason given for the Radioactive Nude Body Scanners and Sexual Molestation Grope is the underwear bomber on Dec. 25, 2009.

    Remember the sharped dressed man who escorted Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab through Security without a Visa in Holland with witnesses? Witnesses who have testified under oath this Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab was taken through the airport and ordered NOT to have gone through security. Umar had no passport, no luggage, not even a jacket! Rapiscan Systems who makes the scanner, is represented by the Chertoff Group. The Chertoff Group is Michael Chertoff, a dual Israeli/US citizen, ex Homeland Security head who lobbied to have these scanners put in airports across the U.S. and more. The Patriot Act was also due to expire 12/31/09 they have extended it due to the above incidence. The government relies on people not doing their own due-diligence, not connecting the dots and only remembering the fear based incidents reported over and over by the state owned media.

    What's wrong with this picture people, come on you're intelligent.

    Gerhard,
    And for as nobody can imagine using airplanes as weapons. Thats exactly what GW did, when he ignored a memo containing threats to fly planes into the WTC's. I sure you know what that outcome was.

    Hank
    This is how we know a thread is officially over.   The assertion that any president is line item vetoing each security threat on some daily basis is idiotic.   It can just as easily be said the prior administration's gutting of the CIA in their "peace dividend" made it impossible for a president in office eight months to have restored it.   It can go back farther than that since the experts in positions of CIA leadership regarding the mid-east were the same people who never heard of the Ayotollah until he took power in 1979.   Basically if you want to find a person to blame, it is possible.  It's no less stupid.
    Gerhard Adam
    I agree.  My personal beef comes from the agencies that are squandering billions of dollars on gathering/analyzing intelligence and come up with nothing better than what we see everyday on CNN or FoxNews.  To add insult to injury, those same agencies then want to absolve themselves by claiming that no one could've thought of the event that happened (despite that being the reason for their existence.)
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Hmm ... where to begin.

    First, I don't know why people with such extremist views always insist that if you don't agree with them that somehow you either love terrorists, hate your country, or don't want to protect it.  Stop the B.S.  You don't get to dictate the terms of what I believe and getting hysterical doesn't make it right.

    I absolutely want to protect my rights, and if you can't imprison a terrorist unless you yourself become one, then you're a fool.  I don't have to torture nor violate terrorist rights to convict them.

    One HUGE mistake you're making is in simply declaring people to be terrorists so that you can violate their rights.  You cannot claim someone is a terrorist until you have found them guilty in a court of law.  Anything else is wrong and can never be justified under any circumstances.  You cannot simply declare that you know someone is guilty.;  If that's the basis you want to operate on, then you're no better than the Gestapo or Soviet KGB, where you just pick people up and imprison them or execute them because you can.

    Whether you like it or not, your safety is not the fundamental purpose of rights and safety is NOT a right.  We are either a country that lives on its principles or you might as well use the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as kindling.

    Also, don't presume that you can speak for me regarding governmental protection.  Most assuredly I don't count on the government to protect me (in that simplistic way).  Do I expect people that are charged with the responsibility to provide security to be minimally competent?  Yes!  Do I expect people that are responsible for law enforcement and monitoring terroists, etc. to be competent?  Yes!  Do I think I should give up my rights and freedoms to make their jobs easier?  NO!

    The point here is that you're simply parroting back a bunch of silly rhetoric that has never worked and won't work.  It is simple fear-mongering and I will not be bullied by people that thrive on living in fear.  I despise the fact that our current "War on Terror" is just as silly as our "War on Drugs".  These may be entertaining catch-phrases, but they lack substance.  Instead of focusing on the flow of money and law-enforcement regarding terrorism, we used the military to engage in an untenable conflict from which there can be no victory.  We've abused our troops and squandered our good will (internationally) simply because we're too lazy to do the hard work necessary to actually win against terrorism.

    As for your other comment ...
    ...for example, sex offenders list, how about that Gerhard lets let all the perverts go unchecked because you think people rights are being infringed upon...
    This is just stupid.  You happen to be correct that I am opposed to the sex offender lists.  Let me list the reasons why, and then perhaps you can explain why you think they're so great.

    1.  Government institutions cannot ensure accuracy of addresses, locations, or compel compliance.
    2.  There is no standard of what constitutes an offense.
    3.  There is the violation of rights in that people do NOT have a right to continue infringing on someone's life after they've served a legal court sentence.

    However, let me state the most important reason:

    IT DOESN'T WORK and the most obvious solution is that you don't release people from prison that are a danger to the society you're releasing them into.  So, YES, I am opposed to sex offender lists because the sensible thing to do would be to keep them in prison and stop being so wishy-washy about such convictions. 




    Mundus vult decipi
    Aitch
    IT DOESN'T WORK and the most obvious solution is that you don't release people from prison that are a danger to the society you're releasing them into. So, YES, I am opposed to sex offender lists because the sensible thing to do would be to keep them in prison and stop being so wishy-washy about such convictions.
    I, too, am opposed to these lists, but equally I am opposed to straight prison sentences, as I think these particular types of offenders need treatment in order to be released back to society, else I can see little point in merely putting them away...unless it is until senility, which to me is just vengeful cruelty
    Ideally, you don't release people from prison that are a danger back into society - yet this IS what is happening
    In fact, I think there needs to be a complete re-think of treatment of offenders of all types, so that we work towards this ideal, by treatment, with proper reward/punishment social skills being part of the essence of prison, not mere isolation

    Aitch
    Admittedly out of left field here, but.. And I'm going to try to make this as short as possible..

    22 years ago and at the age of 16, a former acquaintance of mine (based on what we found out later) raped and molested, to the point of damage, a 12 year old girl. Went to a 3 year long, supposedly intensive, treatment center, was delcared "just fine!" and was gloriously released out into society. Two years ago, at the age 38, he engaged in a "consensual" sexual relationship with a 13 year old. During that time, we found out that the last 12ish years of his life he's been stalking little girls. He's back in prison.

    My point is: it's really easy to talk about sex offenders until you watch a family crumble because of it. Same goes for being killed by terrorists or molested by TSA. The conjecture is unequivocally abstract.

    I just wish people would keep a little perspective when arguing giant social obstacles that we are facing. It's not.. It can't always be about *me* and what *I*, sometimes we have to understand that there are just things we will have to accept as, well, acceptable.

    Gerhard Adam
    That's fine, so long as it isn't just a waste of time and money for the sake of showmanship.  I expect that problems should be addressed and, if possible, ultimately solved.  I'm not particularly interested in half-way measures that have little or no chance of working.

    That's the basis for my comment about sex offender lists.  I don't think sex offenders should be released from prison, but instead of focusing on those issues, people allow themselves to be distracted with lists and internet sex offender sites.  If that was even remotely reasonable, then why not simply let murderers and rapists out and just put them on a list?  If people are not fit to operate in society then they shouldn't be released and no number of lists is going to make anyone safer.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Aitch
    Seems like the TSA might get privatised

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/11/19/airports-consider-congressmans-ditc...

    I seem to remember something similar in UK with Prisoner Transports.....yes, you guessed it, Prisoners escaped...I wonder why  ;-)

    What Prisoners can do, Terrorists moreso

    The whole concept of security is flawed....they're just breeding fear....for the next 'big surprise' oh we never saw that coming, piece of legislation

    I personally think X rays should be replaced with ultrasonography

    People are far less fearful, rightly so, of soundwaves passing through themselves than microwaves

    We all have some kind of sound system we regularly sit in front of, but not many climb in the microwave for pleasure

    It's the same essentials

    Aitch
    adaptivecomplexity
    A few responses:
    1. Yes, the government has fucked up on safety issues before so maybe you think that all of this evidence the FDA cites is unreliable.  However, that's not the same thing as arguing that the FDA is simply ignoring safety issues. They've put their best evidence out there, and that evidence suggests these things are safe, and now the burden of evidence is on critics to show why one shouldn't believe the FDA evidence.

    2. My qualifications, which are a PhD in biochemistry (from a department that has a long history in radiation biology, dating back to the Manhattan Project), and training in radiation safety and exposure measurements, don't make me an expert.  I'm not an expert, but I'm not clueless either.
    Mike
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually I think the concerns are less extreme than that.  What are the guidelines for safe operation and maintenance on these machines?  The more there are, the more things can go wrong.  After all, it's not as if there haven't been radiation accidents before (albeit they aren't common), but they invariably involve a problem with maintenance or changes to the equipment.

    Mundus vult decipi
    adaptivecomplexity
    I agree; that was one of the questions I had after reading the UCSF letter.  If you believe the FDA's claims, then I think the answer is reassuring: they state that TSA staff don't really have much freedom when it comes to operating the machines, e.g., they can't do an extra long scan on some people, or scan some part of the body more slowly.  The operation of the scan has to be programmed in ahead of time.
    Mike
    Gerhard Adam
    That's really my point though, is that radiation accidents have occurred by certified technicians in environments where the equipment malfunctioned, or there were programming errors that provided (in some cases) lethal doses.  I agree, that it's not common, but obviously the risks increase with the proliferation of equipment. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    There is another point that hasn't been mentioned which is the radiation dose one is exposed to just by the act of flying.  Interestingly, this isn't regulated (except for flight crews) because it is viewed as a voluntary act.

    So for a frequent flier, they may already be approaching their annual limit from the flights themselves, without the additional exposure of the x-ray screening.

    http://www.hps.org/publicinformation/ate/faqs/commercialflights.html
    Mundus vult decipi
    dorigo
    Good point Gerhard. In fact, I believe that with some increase in the expended fuel, airplanes could fly a little lower, significantly decreasing the radiation dose to the population. The difference in radiation from cosmic rays by flying at 8000 meters wrt 12000 is quite large.

    Cheers,
    T.
    In what court, Americas courts, they are enemy combatants, not gangbangers from LA. They deserve to be killed as fast and as often they are trying to kill us. How am I living in fear, you are living in denial. You think people are being "overly scrutinized" at airports because you think TSA is doing it for there kicks. You are in LA LA land to think people's rights aren't fringed upon when they get out of jail, they can't get jobs, can't vote. And futher more they are not rehabilitated to any level of decency.

    Gerhard Adam
    In what court, Americas courts, they are enemy combatants, not gangbangers from LA. They deserve to be killed as fast and as often they are trying to kill us.
    ... and you know this how?  Because someone told you?  Because if they're there they must've done something wrong, so therefore we can behave in any way we like?  That simple statement is about as un-American as it gets.

    ... also why call them enemy combatants since that would entail Geneva convention rights, but you don't want that, you want an excuse to brutalize people and demonstrate how you can be just like them.

    It is interesting that you think there's a difference between "terrorists" and "gangbangers".  The reality is that there is little statistical chance that you will be killed by a terrorist so you can put a lid on the hysteria.

    Without rights, there is nothing worth protecting and becoming hysterical about terrorism (in the U.S.) is simply silly. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    The difference, you want to give American rights to foreign nationals bent on destruction of your country. You are right about not having rights there is nothing worth protecting. The problem is you don't want to protect anything, you want to "wait and lets see if they will stop trying to destroy us, because its what jesus would do or something". There is little chance "I" will be killed by terrorism, but the chance is very high that more felloew countrymen and women will be killed by terrorist.

    Gerhard Adam
    Are you suggesting that our rights don't work?  Are you suggesting that our concept of rights should only apply to Americans, so that we can treat anyone else with impunity?

    Please stop telling me what I believe or want.  You have no concept and I never indicated a "wait and see" attitude.  It is clear that you aren't particularly keen on examining the topic but instead want to keep shouting the hysterical hype that is being advanced around the country.

    I have no problem fighting terrorist, but I have a real problem with showboating and nonsense that is ineffective.  In my world, fighting terrorists doesn't mean becoming one just to advance my own agenda.  If a jury can't be convinced that someone is a terrorist, then perhaps the problem lies with those making the accusation and presents even more reason why their word shouldn't be trusted.
    Mundus vult decipi
    If we don't unify as a nation and realize we are all in the same boat, this country is doomed. We all want our families to be safe, we want our freedom of speech and all that apple pie BS too. But if you think one minute that we our not in a "unique " battle your mistaken. 9/11 wasn't the end it was the start. You know it was eight years between the original WTC bombing and 9/11. The first bombing didn't work so well (for the enemy), so what did they do, they showed relentless patience and the in the next eight years, efficiently performed the biggest terror attack in history on American soil. What was a staple of the Middle East, is now on your front lawn Gerhard.

    Gerhard Adam
    Please stop the hysteria. 
    ...they showed relentless patience and the in the next eight years, efficiently performed the biggest terror attack in history on American soil.
    I'll give you the patience bit, but the rest ... come on.  They succeeded because the people that were paid to pay attention weren't.  People on watch lists were allowed to enter and leave the country without regard.  Even something as simple as securing cockpit doors was viewed as an unnecessary expense because we couldn't be bothered (as if only terrorists represented a threat to flight).  We didn't even take the idea of a hijacking seriously which is why the prevailing attitude was to cooperate.

    We could obviously go on regarding policies about terrorism, but despite your shrill cries of war and the "enemy" you haven't done much to demonstrate why x-rays in airports are going to make a difference.  You've only indicated that you're willing to do anything and sacrifice anything (including the freedoms of this country) for the illusion of safety.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Ahh, well you want to continue to do the same ignoring of the obvious. The 9/11 attackers simulated into our culture, they trained at flight schools in florida. "We didn't take the idea of hijacking seriously", well we are trying to take things seriosuly now. What freedoms are being taken away from you. Full body scanners view items that can be used to perform harm and can't be detected by metal detectors. They don't have to get a full functioning bomb onboard, they can just get the "components onboard", thats why liquids are not allowed onboard. Yeah, I know what you think, how can a "bottle" of water hurt me. But an explosive liquid can be combined with detonating materials brought onboard by some one else, etc. 9/11 happened because of "soft" policies like the ones you endorse. The images are digital, and no one can see you "naked".

    Go to the airport get on the plane, go where you are flying, and then live your life, and use as many rights as you want. Because, if the terrorist, get one more successful opportunity, you might not have an airline industry anyway.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...you might not have an airline industry anyway.
    .. and why is that?  Because Americans want to live in a Pollyanna world where they can believe that Mother Government tells them everything will be OK.

    So perhaps I should ask you, is the issue the risk of a terrorist attack, or the economic collapse of an industry?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    I've mentioned before ... don't tell me what I think.

    However, your point is flawed, since I can easily put a timed bomb in my checked luggage and it will likely get through.  Why?  Because we're wasting time and money scanning people that have already been scanned because of ONE possible condition. 

    In truth, they can't even detect whether anyone's equipment (i.e. external hard drives, flash drives, etc.) aren't explosive, but a scan of my body is going to make everyone safer.  Such nonsense.

    The problem is that these agencies do what they've always done, which is develop "target fixation".  They find a particular problem and suddenly want to throw every available resource at that one possibility.  With such a marked lack of imagination, it's little wonder that they are so unprepared.  Being serious about terrorism doesn't mean accepting every ridiculous idea and fad as a solution.  It means doing what's necessary instead of merely what plays well in the media.

    That's not to say that there aren't good, legitimate methods being used, but they are rarely discussed because they're not flashy.  Americans want to pretend like they're living in a Hollywood movie, so the mundane task of actually being successful tends to get ignored.
    Mundus vult decipi
    The methods being used that are rarely discussed, work because they were not discussed. When everyday Americans learned how intelligence was gathered from terrorist, that had there arms up in the air. Then our President had to take heat, because he says the US will not torture, then our Presdient gets accused of being soft on terrorism. When our President attempts to make our country lead the world again, he gets accused of apologizing to much. I believe our gov't has to work in covert ways to protect the country, how our country is protected does not have to be on the evening news. The only news I want to hear is when we kill Al-qaida members, i don't care how we do it. If we do it effective enough, no one will care.

    Gerhard Adam
    All you've indicated is that the government should be allowed to do anything they like just so we can "feel" safe.  Apparently it doesn't matter if they impose on our rights, or if they deny rights to others.  It doesn't matter if they operate in secret, nor does it matter if they engage in all manner of unscrupulous behavior, just so long as you "feel" safe.

    Nobody's arguing that there aren't legitimate covert operations that are necessary, and yet this is still possible without granting the government carte blanche to do whatever they like.  In case you've forgotten, the U.S. Constitution begins with "We the People".  This means that the government is accountable to us and for the actions it takes in our name.  It is not an independent entity that can operate without control regardless of how many people are willing to give it.

    I don't expect to be informed of every decision that occurs, nor do I expect veto power over every decision.  However, I do expect accountability and as for your comment regarding the criticism of the President .... well ... that goes with the territory.  He doesn't get paid to be popular, he gets paid to make executive decisions that are necessary.  This doesn't give him the right to simply decide which laws he likes or dislikes, nor does it allow him to operate with impunity with respect to what this nation is supposed to represent.

    Your comment regarding Al-Qaida shows just how myopic your perspective is.  Do you really think that this is the only organization that presents a risk?  Do you really believe that defeating Al-Qaida (whatever that means) will end terrorism? 

    I hate to break it to you, but there have been terrorist and criminal organizations long before Al-Qaida and they'll be here long after today's ultra-villain Usama Bin Laden is dead and buried.  Is there a possibility that I could be killed by terrorists?  Sure ... but on my list of things to worry about, it doesn't even rank up there with looking both ways before I cross the street.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard,
    You speak of "Mother Gov't" . Well the "rights" you think we have are giving to us by the gov't. And (in most cases) enforced by the gov't. To have rights you need gov't.

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, if you believe that, then you must also believe that the government can take them away.  That says it all for me.
    Mundus vult decipi
    What rights are you talking about that being taken away. You think freedom of speech is a right, right to bear arms is a right, etc. Do you need the gov't to give you freedom of speec h?

    Gerhard Adam
    You don't get it, do you?  The TSA can invoke these intrusive procedures and if I say anything or even request a "pat down" I could be "flagged" as a problem.  It could even go so far as to have someone placed on a 'no-fly" list for no better reason than a disgruntled TSA employee that chose to ignore your rights.

    This type of authority over private citizens is no trivial matter, and while you may be prepared to give up your rights, I am not.  I don't expect TSA agents to be abused by private citizens, but I also don't expect TSA agents to be able to operate against private citizens without due process.  The idea of the "no-fly" list is ridiculous and should only be updated with a court order.

    What you fail to grasp, is that every action you want to allow the government to commit against terrorists can just as readily be directed to you.  Without those strict controls, the government (or any agency) can simply decide that you're behaving suspiciously, or that you're a terrorist and you have no more rights. 

    Despite the hysterical rhetoric, you still have a greater likelihood of being shot by someone in law enforcement than to be killed by a terrorist.
    http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/09/71743
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gov't is the gov't, It does not matter left or right, democrat or republican.. Big gov't vs limited gov't its all just a bunch of labels depending on what side of the spectrum you are on.

    The gov't thrives on keeping us separate by the parties. We think we have control, just because we elected more republicans than democrats. Behing closed doors do you think members of congress are really that different. No but they fight and argue in front of the american people to give the perception of indifference, hence we have this illusioned change of power every two years.

    Congress holds the purse. Stimulus, wars, less taxes/high taxes. Are money isbeing spent regardless of what label you put on it.

    There is not a payday I look at my check and wish I could have "all my money". I don't need the "tea party to tell me that". I believe a woman should have the right to choose whether she has an abortion, I don't need a democrat telling me that. I believe we need to aggresively fight the "war on terror", I don't need a republican to tell me that.

    Gerhard Adam
    Not quite sure what you're ranting about, but the government does NOT have the right to arbitrarily infringe on my privacy (of which total scans are an invasion).  The government has already lied about the ability to store images since 100 were recently leaked from machines operated by the U.S. Marshal service.
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/08/05/body-scanners-in-courthouses-have-stored-thousands-of-rather-personal-images/

    Since they don't operate under the control of TSA, I suppose that makes a difference, after all, the TSA wouldn't lie.

    I suppose it doesn't matter that the x-ray machines don't actually detect most of the materials that have been attempted for bombings (i.e. underwear, water). 

    However, what is fascinating is that the underwear bomber has been mentioned a few times, especially in conjunction with these new TSA procedures.  Could someone please explain how this would work on a flight coming in from Amsterdam, like the actual bomber did?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Wayne Turner
    I feel compelled to post at this point that I am not associated with the poster WAYNE above, and that despite the repeated occurrence of serial killers with the middle name Wayne, not all people with that name are raving lunatics.
    Hank
    I think we would only be nervous if you had the name "Wayne" and it was one of three names you use to introduce yourself.
    Craig Dillon
    Wayne, thank you for that factoid that serial killers are often named Wayne. Then you correctly point out that not all people named Wayne are raving lunatics. However, you seem to purposely avoid saying whether you are a raving lunatic or not. You seem to want us to jump to the conclusion that you are sane and normal, despite the overwhelming evidence that you are named "Wayne".
    I'd be just as concerned. Not everyone is as tolerant of X-rays as everyone else, and some people have to avoid them as much as possible.

    A friend of mine has a daughter who is suffering from neurofibromatosis, which I'm interested in because my son has a condition that is associated with it and it was unknown whether he had it or not for his first 2-3 years. (He doesn't thankfully.) My friends daughter has been warned off X-rays just about altogether because apparently they exacerbate the disease.

    Warned off by the Mayo Clinic no less, where they sought diagnosis, treatment and advice last year.

    Now my friends daughter is pretty young, and I don't think I'd like her being subject to a pat-down if I were her parent.

    Craig Dillon
    When the TSA was first created and airport screenings became mandatory, and was considered intrusive, I talked about it with some friends. Jokingly, I suggested that the problem could be solved if everyone flew naked. I had no idea that the government was listening. Sorry about that.
    Wayne Turner, Hank

    Meaning? Why the dissociation? Its nice to meet you to!

    Your future children are "LIKELY" safe? Come on. Plus what happens to those people who are extra vulnerable to the radiation? On top of it, we all know about problems with the FDA in the past but the author was right, that is a different argument entirely.

    Aitch
    Ha, Michael

    Now that your piece has got a picture on the home page, it reminds me that most women that age, couldn't hide a gun in the back of their trousers, because it would cover their exposed thong, and they'd lose the tease factor

    No x ray needed

    Aitch
    Gerhard Adam
    However, before someone gets all excited about it, it should be told that this is a fake picture and is not from one of the scanners.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Hmmm, I thought that was pretty obvious but we all have gotten tired of seeing that same fat guy's junk.
    Aitch
    Here's a more spark inducing pic and storyline from a 'good media site'



    http://www.good.is/post/the-tsa-s-new-security-procedures-touch-a-nerve/

    and a good reason for more care

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40291856/ns/travel-news


    Aitch
    People with metallic false hips, like my dad, are often made to repeatedly go back and through the scanner at airports again and again. These tend to be older sicker people who could do without this extra exercise, stress and radiation.

    Anyone believing a single word these government morons spout is as certifiably insane as the losers from TSA.

    They told us they couldn't save images, they lied, they lie about everything.

    Anyone supporting the PORNO scanners is a lemming and deserves to be sterilized by radiation.

    FDA stands for Federal Dumb Asses... they haven't got much right since they were setup, why would they start now?

    Amateur Astronomer
    Birth defects are the greatest risk of full body x-rays. Mental retardation in the next generation is the most common defect from radiation damage. No one mentioned that, so I guess there isn’t much expertise on this page. I have professional experience and training with radiation devices, sufficient to say that this program falls short of health and safety standards that are practiced elsewhere in USA and over seas. Failure to measure or control the accumulated dosage for each individual is sufficient to discredit the program and any of the assurances that have been given. Radiation occurs naturally and is more intense in high altitude air travel, but none of those permissible exposures come close to producing a full body scan with back scatter or otherwise. How often does a medical doctor recommend x-rays of the reproductive areas even once in a life time? I vote with my feet.
    Hank
    If I get selected for the magic carpet ride I intend to decline just so I can undergo the groping and have something to write about.
    Gerhard Adam
    - The X-ray output of these machines and the effective dose to the skin and other organs has been measured/estimated/modeled, and they fall within long-established safety guidelines.
    This is one of those statements that warrant extra consideration.  The problem here, is that this statement is only relevant within the strict definition of a single dose or exposure.  Without knowing exactly how many sources of radiation one is exposed to in a given year, it is impossible to state that any particular exposure isn't enough to create significant risks.

    The mere fact that the TSA intends to make this a regular experience should be enough to raise serious concerns since there is no demonstrably safe level for radiation, to use it gratuitously (as it is here) is simply incurring a risk with a highly questionable benefit.
    Mundus vult decipi