Friday, November 26, 2010

The TSA Issue and Cancer

About a year ago I wrote a piece on backscatter x-rays and the potential for cancer. Our argument related to melanoma amongst a subset of people with an existing predisposition. Our argument was simply that there exists a small subset of people, Celtic in origin, who have dysplatic nevus syndrome, and thus when exposed to backscatter which penetrates to the melanocyte layer may induce additional genetic changes setting in motion a melanoma. The issue is that backscatter is lower dose but administered to frequent travellers often, and since the danger is most likely during mitotic change or possibly during transcription that it is the frequent low dose that may set off a problem.

We then argued that the TSA is in essence performing a substantial experiment that the FDA would never approve of. In fact we argue that since the x-ray is controlled by the FDA that before TSA can use this it must demonstrate no harm. But alas this is not the issue.

Today Rep King of New York, states that if one objects to this screening that they have "blood on their hands". Perhaps the good Congressman would think of those of us with such predispositions and their blood. One does not object to security that does not endanger the innocent, but the unchecked use of potentially harmful x-rays may endanger a small subset of humans who have done harm to no one.

According to The Hill:

Speaking on Fox News, the ranking Republican also sharply criticized talk of slowing the security system down in a Wednesday "Opt-Out Day," which never materialized.

"I think some of the hysteria that was generated, of people actually saying that they would try and slow the system down yesterday, well then, if you have a plane that had gone down the blood would have been on their hands," he said.

King said there would always be trial-and-error in the TSA evolving and trying to come up with the best systems, but "right now I think the body scanners are the best we think we have."

The problem is simple, use Bayesian statistics. That means profiling. On 12 September 2001 I took a flight from Prague to Paris. The Air France pilot went down the aisle and sent people packing he felt uncomfortable with. Extreme, but it was Bayesian at the time. In my flights on El Al the questions are always penetrating and to the point. Yet with TSA one seems to see that there is a collection of folks going through the routine who were selected on a lowest bidder contract. El Al gets the best, TSA gets the cheapest. What would one expect.

Now I wonder how this would have worked if FDR had been President. He would have had a Fireside Chat saying:

"My fellow Americans, I want to talk with you today about a serious concern we all have, a concern about our safety. I want to ask your help in this problem. We all need to be careful as to our safety and security in the air, and as I am certain you all understand, we need to work together to be certain of that safety. So I am coming to you today to ask you for your help and cooperation, we really need it at this critical time....."

It would be in a tone of leadership, respect, and asking for cooperation and participation in time of a national need. So where is the leadership .... I grew up in a family of New York City police officers, they are not known for their tact...nor is the FBI. This is when leadership is demanded.