You can’t fight fear with fear

A lot of people are upset about the TSA scanners, and I’m with them. It’s ridiculous how burdensome flying is becoming for no appreciable safety increase. The most dangerous part of flying is driving to the airport. We surely aren’t spending $8b to make that safer.

Unfortunately, a big part of the rallying cry is around “be afraid of the x-rays”. I was surprised how many of my tech friends got wrapped up in this one, even though the available data suggests otherwise. The FDA has a pretty thorough write up about the process and testing for the scanners. I do get that people, in general, aren’t interested in facts, but I was hoping that in a more educated and technical audience that wouldn’t be as true. Running around saying “be afraid of x-rays” is the same kind of scare mongering as the TSA is using to put all these ridiculous enhanced security measures in place.

Fighting fear with fear just generate hysteria and stampedes, and drowns out all the rational conversation, the one that shows just how ineffective and invasive these scanners are.

6 thoughts on “You can’t fight fear with fear”

  1. Sorry, by the context of the blog post, I thought it was to their original “findings” that UCSF was challenging.

    To be honest, though, the FDA’s track record on safety is pretty abysmal. I’m not sure I trust their judgment over anyone else’s.

    My concerns with the units are much more centered on the “electronic strip search” aspect, anyway.


  2. It’s not about trusting their judgement, it’s about deciding if you trust the facts and data. They’ve got all the exposure numbers there, they’ve got multiple sources that found the same results.

    The only judgement the FDA is providing is the consequence of 0.025 mrem exposure. If you think that’s a danger, you should look at all the other sources which provide you with 0.025 mrem. And once you research that fact, you’ll realize how unlikely it is that 0.025 mrem has any health effect.

    I agree that this is a 4th amendment issue at it’s core, and the scanners should be pulled on that account.


  3. The other risk with pinning all this on on health is that politicians may see fit to buy yet another round of new machines for $billions more rather than address the human rights issues.

    Although the Therac-25 incident should teach us a lesson here too. Just that its designed to deliver 0.00nothing+1 mrem doesn’t mean it’ll do that every time. What happens when they’re 7 years past their service date and has been dropped 20 times and supplied the wrong power input?


    1. There is also an assumption that these machines can even produce high levels of radiation, which isn’t a given. A lightbulb can’t necessarily be accidentally turned into a laser, even though they are both visible light.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s