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Old 11-19-2010, 06:22 PM   #101
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I just finished listening to 'Science Friday' and comments about TSAs assurance of the safety of those machines. Most of you are probably to young to remember the 'safe' shoe fitting machines that used to be in shoe stores in the 40s. Safe? Not!
Err... right. There was an unsafe produce in the 40s using technology X. Therefore, all products using technology X are unsafe. Uh-huh.
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Rad exposure risk is cumulative. I don't think they are safe for anyone who in the course of their employment or health care have exposure.
So, the millions of people worldwide who work with radiation daily are crazy, deluded people? Heaven forfend that they should do anything really dangerous, like driving an automobile.
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The opinion of safety comes from those with a vested interest in the equipment use. Do I have confidence in their opinion? No.
Ah, the motivation fallacy, a great classic. Actually, the radiation from backscatter machines has been measured by independent people without tin foil hats or agendas, and it corresponds roughly to the amount of cosmic rays you'll be subjected to by the evil Universe (can't do much about that guy) within ten minutes of the pilot switching off the Fasten Seat Belts sign.
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Old 11-19-2010, 11:53 PM   #102
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So, the millions of people worldwide who work with radiation daily are crazy, deluded people? Heaven forfend that they should do anything really dangerous, like driving an automobile.

Ah, the motivation fallacy, a great classic. Actually, the radiation from backscatter machines has been measured by independent people without tin foil hats or agendas, and it corresponds roughly to the amount of cosmic rays you'll be subjected to by the evil Universe (can't do much about that guy) within ten minutes of the pilot switching off the Fasten Seat Belts sign.
Well, I guess you could argue that some of us former nukes are crazy deluded people. But... We're pretty good at math, and have a better understanding of health physics and radiation calculations than the TSA appears to have. This is not surprising, as the TSA is just repeating what the manufacturer and their representatives at Chertoff Group. (A security 'consulting' and lobbying firm run by former Homeland Security Director Chertoff, who brought these scanners into the pipeline before he went private)

This bothers me.

The manufacturer for the Rapiscan 1000 claims an exposure level of 3 microREM, which is certainly small. The absorption calculation, though, assumed the dose was absorbed through the entire body, and not in the 1/10 inch of skin that actually is penetrated by the soft X-ray dose.

The actual skin dose is higher, 56 microREM, per FDA & NIST Assessment of the Rapiscan Secure 1000® Body Scanner for Conformance with Radiological Safety Standards - July 21, 2006. Low level radiation exposure studies (BEIR VII report - NAS/NRC 2006) show that each 1 microREM of effective dose received is considered to contribute 5 × 10^–10 (one chance in two billion) to an individual's risk of contracting a fatal cancer during his or her lifetime.

At 56 microREM, each exposure has about a 1 in 35,000,000 chance of producing a fatal cancer over a lifetime. The odds of dying in a terrorist attack on an American commercial plane ran at 1 in 25,000,000 last decade, roughly similar.

Look at some of the videos online of the TSA whole body scanner operators, though. They seem to be making two to four exposures for each person going through the scanner. Conservatively, if you get one of those operators, your exposure is now over 100 microREM for each pass through the TSA checkpoint. That contributes 5 × 10^–8, or 1 chance in 20,000,000 of contracting a fatal cancer during your lifetime. The odds of dying from a cancer induced by the scanner are greater than the odds from dying from a terrorist attack with the weaker security in place the previous decade, including the 9/11 attacks.

If this screening method is 100% effective in blocking all terrorist attacks on American commercial flights, it would appear that people are trading death by cancer for death by terrorist. If the screening method turns out to be less effective, then people are simply adding additional risk. The overall level of risk is small compared to other causes, such as tornado, lightning strike, or the ubiquitous automobile accident.

The risk compared to the risk that is trying to be avoided shows this is not a particularly effective bet, and it is quite expensive. It also remains to be seen if a $10/hour operator can correctly operate and maintain a device whose improper adjustment and use poses a radiation risk to the operator and traveling public. Exposure to low levels of radiation appears to be linearly additive to the lifetime cancer risk, so 'dialing it up' to get a better image might have a negative impact.

The TSA is relying on the innumeracy of the general public.
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Old 11-20-2010, 12:57 AM   #103
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Thank you so much Paqette. You had the data, I had my gut.

This is a fiasco implemented by staff with huge variability in skills and judgement. The latest story is that a breast cancer survivor, an aircraft attendant, who did not want the radiation exposure was told to remover her breast prosthesis for examination by TSA. Where is the common sense in this?
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Old 11-20-2010, 03:36 AM   #104
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The TSA is relying on the innumeracy of the general public.
I totally agree with you.

Let me be clear: I do not think that backscatter scanners are a good idea. I don't think that intimate pat-downs and all the other security theatre is a good idea. I agree with almost all of the sentiments expressed by the majority of the participants in this thread. My views are perfectly captured in this wonderful piece, which shows how the aviation terrorism problem today is several times less severe than 25 years ago, when we managed pretty well.

My comments about the insignificance of the radiation were a parenthesis. If the negligible amount of radiation involved - and really, it is negligible; if you're worried about radiation, don't get in a jet airliner that's going up to 37,000 feet - actually improved anyone's security, I wouldn't mind it. My point is that the fact that the chances of being killed by terrorists are insignificant, doesn't mean that the chances of being hurt by the radiation cannot also be insignificant.

As you point out, both of those chances are widely estimated as being in the one-in-30-million range, but both have error bars of plus or minus at least an error of magnitude. So you can't compare them in any meaningful way. You can just say "they're both about the same as the risk of spending one minute in a moving automobile" and leave it at that.

Actually, I guess I must have some kind of exhibitionistic tendencies. I go through airport security in my kilt, I don't mind getting felt up as long as it doesn't hurt - and as long as the feeler-upper is prepared for the fact that I don't wear anything under the kilt - and I don't think that I mind people looking at my junk on a scanner (we don't have them here yet). Again, though, that doesn't mean that I don't agree with almost everyone here that these measures are unnecessary, stupid, useless, and demeaning to almost everyone who has more shame (in the "self-respect") sense than me. All of that I agree with. It's just that I don't like seeing poor use of numbers and science being brought into an argument.

Indeed, people who are against these measures should choose their arguments carefully. Otherwise the debate risks going like this:

Person against intrusive scanning: "This is morally wrong, makes me feel uncomfortable, violates the constitution, and exposes me to dangerous radiation".
Government person: "Ah, but here is Professor Frink, a frequent critic of the government incidentally, and he says that the radiation is not dangerous. Isn't that the case, Professor Frink?"
Professor Frink: "Yep. I'd love to be able to say that the radiation is dangerous, but I can't, because my scientific colleagues in countries where this stuff is not a political issue, would laugh at me".
Government person: "So, there you have it. This is totally safe. These people who are against this entirely safe technology are playing with the lives of you, the travelling public. How unreasonable of them."
Voters and newspaper op-ed authors: "What a reasonable argument from the government. Of course we need protecting from terrorists. Let's all assume the position. Just one request, Mr TSA guy: please warm your hands, OK?"
Person against intrusive scanning: "Er... guys? OK, I take the radiation thing back. But you forgot about the moral thing, and the uncomfortable thing, and the constitution thing... guys... hello... anyone there?".
Media: "Sorry, that's all we have time for, we'll be back with hilarious footage of people getting hit in the groin by footballs right after these messages".
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Old 11-20-2010, 04:31 AM   #105
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I totally agree with you.

Let me be clear: I do not think that backscatter scanners are a good idea. I don't think that intimate pat-downs and all the other security theatre is a good idea. I agree with almost all of the sentiments expressed by the majority of the participants in this thread. My views are perfectly captured in this wonderful piece, which shows how the aviation terrorism problem today is several times less severe than 25 years ago, when we managed pretty well.

....
You can just say "they're both about the same as the risk of spending one minute in a moving automobile" and leave it at that.
Gosh you take at all of the fun with arguing with you.

I went looking for statistics about how much time we waste standing in line for this Kabuki theater of security. The TSA website has data about the number of screening (780 million/year) and the TSA claims that people wait less than 4 minutes. I am suspicious that data is from 2006, before some of the more intrusive and time consuming procedures were put in place.

I also suspect that TSA is fudging the numbers by calculating the number in some strange way. So I started a thread to see what the average amount of time people spend waiting in the security line.

Superfreakonomics calculates that simply the 1 minute we spending taking our shoes on and off is the equivalent of 14 person lives per year. Even using TSA own statistics, I figure we waste about 80 per lives a day dealing with TSA, and I imagine the real figure is two to three times as large.

Another big factor is an increasing number of people switch from flying to driving for medium length trips. Since driving is an order of magnitude or so more dangerous and flying, and I seen estimates that 5-15% more people are now driving than fly due to increased security I am sure that TSA kills more people than it saves every year by a large margin.

Of course the real cost is the opportunity cost of the money we spend, and the shear frustration, and the pissing-off tens of millions of Americans by so called public servants.

The most amazing thing to me is this is truly a bipartisan issue, practically no one outside the TSA or a few politicians , thinks the TSA is doing a good job, feels these measure are appropriate, or has defended the newest procedures. So why are they doing it?
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Old 11-20-2010, 07:49 AM   #106
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TSA Checkpoint.JPG

Found at olegvolk: Achtung, TSA! where is found "10 Ways How TSA Is Making The World A Better Place."

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5) TSA has finally provided an indisputable proof that an alien spaceship really crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 by incorporating in their procedures the most advanced and effective alien technology known to humans – the anal probe.

6) Female travelers will be able to opt out of the annual breast exam in favor of the pat-down, while males will be able to forgo the testicular examinations. And with the TSA success record you can be rest assured that they will not find anything dangerous there. Also, you would get a free massage.
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Old 11-20-2010, 09:28 AM   #107
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You might want to check your furnace for a CO leak.
Since 911 the Speaker of the House has a plane available to fly from DC to SF nonstop. As requested by The Sargent at Arms.

Be it a 757 or what ever it seems like a waste of money.
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Old 11-20-2010, 09:40 AM   #108
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M Paquette: excellent post.

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At 56 microREM, each exposure has about a 1 in 35,000,000 chance of producing a fatal cancer over a lifetime. The odds of dying in a terrorist attack on an American commercial plane ran at 1 in 25,000,000 last decade, roughly similar.
How is this affected by a lifetime of dental and lung xrays, cat scans and other human generated exposure to radiation? Add to that excessive exposure to UV rays for fair skinned people living in the southern hemisphere.

The declaration by TSA that these scans are safe may mean they have been thoroughly tested and proven safe. It may also mean they have been tested and not (yet) proven unsafe. Which is it?

The entire TSA operation has always come across as “busy work”. That is, there is a critical issue, it must be solved, someone has been charged with leading solution effort, they don’t have one, but they must do something until they do have one. So, in the meantime, they do this – which shows they are doing something. And they develop measurements to demonstrate their effectiveness – which by definition will be self-reinforcing because they are measuring themselves.

The lack of attention to other aspects of air travel security, the general lack of focus on other aspects of transportation security, the absence of security measures of similar scale elsewhere and the unwillingness to view this in a broader context of how we are dealing with costs and trade offs of risk, security and individual rights are troubling.

BigNick, I though the comment on tinfoil was a bit much.
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Old 11-20-2010, 10:21 AM   #109
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They were still using them in the Buster Brown shoe stores when I was a kid, in the early 50's.
Yes, I remember those "machines" well (that's why my feet glow in the dark to this very day, and I don't need a flashlight when I take the puppies for a walk, after dark )...
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Old 11-20-2010, 02:38 PM   #110
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How is this affected by a lifetime of dental and lung xrays, cat scans and other human generated exposure to radiation? Add to that excessive exposure to UV rays for fair skinned people living in the southern hemisphere.
Current best practice is to estimate risk from low level radiation exposure as being linear, accumulative over time, and with no minimum threshold. (linear no-threshold hypothesis, or LNT).

There are other hypothesis which claim there may be a threshold effect, below which some mechanism in the body acts to prevent cancer. (Radiation hormesis or radiation homeostatis) The idea is controversial, and there is a need for good quality research in this area. Perhaps frequent fliers could be used for a lifetime test group, controlled against non-fliers?

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The declaration by TSA that these scans are safe may mean they have been thoroughly tested and proven safe. It may also mean they have been tested and not (yet) proven unsafe. Which is it?
The machines have ben tested, and fall well within the current guidelines for whole body exposure to ionizing radiation for the general population. There's a fair amount of slack in those guidelines.
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Old 11-20-2010, 06:47 PM   #111
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There's a fair amount of slack in those guidelines.
Remember in nuke power school where they taught us about the "quality factors" for the damage caused by different types of radioactive particles and radiation? At the time it only made enough of an impression on me to pass the test.

A decade later it made a different sort of impression. I remember in the early 1990s when the medical radiation community said "Ya know, we might need to tinker with these QFs a little"-- and then raised them by a factor of 3x.

I wonder how much slack the VA has in their disability-screening guidelines...
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Old 11-20-2010, 07:24 PM   #112
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Remember in nuke power school where they taught us about the "quality factors" for the damage caused by different types of radioactive particles and radiation? At the time it only made enough of an impression on me to pass the test.

A decade later it made a different sort of impression. I remember in the early 1990s when the medical radiation community said "Ya know, we might need to tinker with these QFs a little"-- and then raised them by a factor of 3x.

I wonder how much slack the VA has in their disability-screening guidelines...
Heh. I recall that little revision. I was 'borderline' for fast neutron exposure after the discovery of a little shielding design flaw in a place I worked for 2 1/2 years. After the revision, I recall getting a notice of reassessment on workplace exposure. I filed that one away...

One of the exposure parameters that the Rapiscan 1000 manufacturer glossed over was that their figure of 3 microREM was for a whole body exposure. The 'soft X-rays' they are using are absorbed or scattered in the skin. Good news for internal organs, but bad news for the faster multiplying (and so more radiation-sensitive) skin cells. There's a quality factor for different tissues, the 'Nominal Risk Coefficient (cases per 10,000 persons per Sv)'. Guess what organ or tissue has the highest coefficient? (Hint: skin, at 1000. Runner-ip is the colon at 121, and lungs at 101.)
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Old 11-20-2010, 07:39 PM   #113
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Oh, and for the folks putting up with my gobbledygook, all that means is that it's pretty darn safe, but not quite as pretty darn safe as the TSA (repeating the manufacturer's claims) says, and less safe than not getting scanned. Flying is also pretty darn safe.

The biggest health hazard in the new screening process is the spike in blood pressure when the highly skilled $10/hour employee inventories your junk right after he checked BigNick, and you realize he never changes his gloves.

Hmm. Something itches down there... Uh oh...

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Old 11-20-2010, 08:45 PM   #114
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Oh, and for the folks putting up with my gobbledygook, all that means is that it's pretty darn safe, but not quite as pretty darn safe as the TSA (repeating the manufacturer's claims) says, and less safe than not getting scanned. Flying is also pretty darn safe.
Perhaps it would also be accurate to generalize that there's less radiation exposure from the scan than from the cosmic-ray exposure absorbed during the flight.

If I was a pilot or on the flight crew then I'd be a little annoyed at having to be repeatedly patted down during the workday. Of course if I was smuggling explosives or drugs then I'd be even more concerned about having the pilot's and flight crew's unions protect my employment rights...
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Old 11-20-2010, 10:16 PM   #115
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I will note that a certain Austrian corporal did not do it all by himself.

I will also note that former camp guards are being prosecuted to this very day.

I can only hope that the appropriate people read history books.
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Old 11-20-2010, 11:09 PM   #116
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"The biggest risk reduction, admittedly based on anecdotal evidence, would appear to be from the use of armored, locked cockpit doors, combined with increased passenger awareness and willingness to intervene in suspicious on-board behavior. This would appear to be far more effective than spending hundreds of millions of dollars to embarrass and inconvenience air travelers further using methods of questionable usefulness. "

Many of us sitting in the pointy end of the plane agree with that assessment.
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Old 11-20-2010, 11:34 PM   #117
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These procedures will induce many travelers to think long and hard about their travel plans. Air travel will be an option only when there are no other options. Adding up the way travelers are treated by the airlines, now TSA, who needs this grief?

The USPO is being killed by e-mail. With this people will attend meetings via internet whenever possible.
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Old 11-20-2010, 11:54 PM   #118
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If I was a pilot or on the flight crew then I'd be a little annoyed at having to be repeatedly patted down during the workday.

Consider that they go through screening +20 times a month, most are by the time they reach the cockpit for the first flight of the day.

Btw, the new TSA screening procedures for pilots does not mean they are exempt. They still must go through a metal detector and can be padded down but less intrusively.
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Old 11-21-2010, 12:02 AM   #119
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Btw, the new TSA screening procedures for pilots does not mean they are exempt. They still must go through a metal detector and can be padded down but less intrusively.
Darn right! If a pilot gets on board with a pen knife, or nail clippers, or a pair of scissors, why, they might use that to take over the aircraft and force their way into... the... cockpit...

Never mind.
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Old 11-21-2010, 09:03 AM   #120
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