Molecular biologist on the dangers of pornoscanners

Discuss

58 Responses to “Molecular biologist on the dangers of pornoscanners”

  1. Joergen Geerds says:

    it is a bit sad how the daily radiation dose gets mixed up with the yearly radiation dose and with the one time dose… radiation adds up over time, and the average yearly dose is about 600 mrem (with 5000mrem the upper limit for nuclear workers). see http://www.new.ans.org/pi/resources/dosechart/

    the “pornoscanners” probably add a small dose (officially 0.025mrem per scan), but the paper makes a good point: is it really “only” 0.025mrem? and where do you deposit the radiation? and who is maintaining the scanners and checking the dose? xray machines in medical facilities have a trained radio technician, checking the dose often enough (and even those are known to fail and give patients way too much radiation), the TSA has, well, TSA trained people… with probably very little scientific/technical education (on average), so the probability for radiation failure at the TSA is just grotesquely higher (especially if you learn how the machines were lobbied and sold).

    I will stay on the side of caution, and go for the hand job instead of a questionable radiation dose.

  2. benher says:

    Well that explains some of the extra growths on my posterior… the growths that appeared prior to the new TSA policy implementations remain a mystery…

  3. MadRat says:

    The questions Jason Bell brings up are not insignificant. Radiation causes damage to your body, but there’s a few things we’re missing here. How far do the x-rays penetrate and how much is absorbed by the body? James Hevezi, chair of the American College of Radiation Medical Physics Commission, says the scanners, unlike X-ray machines in doctor’s offices that penetrate the entire body, use just enough radiation to get through a person’s clothes and bounce off the skin. The other issue is how does the radiation from a scanner compare to the radiation you get from the actual flight? Robert J. Barish, a radiological and health physicist in New York City says, “You’d get as much radiation in a whole-body scanner as you’d get in two minutes at 30,000 feet.” How did I find this out? This article from MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40362683/ns/health-health_care/

  4. ocschwar says:

    All of you, please go and google “Therac 25.” It was a radiotherapy machine that killed 3 people with X ray overdosing on account of a software bug.

    And stay the hell away from the Rapiscan machines.

  5. Anonymous says:

    We’re discussing this topic and making every possible noise we can to resist our masters of travel rather than talking about the core issue:

    “Don’t scan us, it’s not healthy!”
    “Don’t scan us, it’s a privacy violation!”
    “I opt out because I don’t trust the machine to function properly”

    What’s the core issue? Representative democracy fails in the form of enabling legislation for security issues. We have a RIGHT to travel freely inside of and to leave the United States. There is NO DEBATE on the right of freedom to travel. Even the UN agrees on this issue!

    Some fucking bozo or collection of bozos at the TSA decided to buy these devices, force you into the thing, violate the constitution ten ways from Sunday, and now they’re fighting a media war against us all. We have legislation passed as law that allows the TSA to create policies that have the same impact and binding as law. People are being arrested because of a non-democratically elected bureaucrat and their ideas about rules. Please note that my issue isn’t just with these specific rules but that the rules are not from the people. The rules and regulations are from a collection of government agents that profess to know better and _also_ claim to be outside of the realm of criticism.

    We’re doomed if we keep resisting with this cycle. We need to change the dialog. Yes, the scanners are unsafe. Yes, feeling your junk is a nightmare for a myriad of reasons. Yes, violent terrorism is a real problem. Yes, we need to protect air travel. No, we do not have to obey some orders because someone in a uniform told us to do something.

    We need to get rid of enabling legislation without accountability! None of this discussion would be happening if the people impacted were consulted _before_ the actions of the TSA were taken. We would also find everyone in a better position to negotiate. We wouldn’t have millions of dollars worth of scanners sitting around, we wouldn’t have pending sexual assault lawsuits against the TSA – all of these things are expensive and overall negative for the country. They impact each of us in a fiscal manner but also in an important emotional sense.

    We’ve created tons of security checkpoints in a free country as an emergent phenomenon of bureaucratic ass covering. We look like the Stasi more and more every single day. We behave less and less like a free people.

    Here’s a great example: I’m using Tor to post this because it is well known that the FBI monitors popular websites – Reddit’s GPS tracking story being the most recent popular example – for so called ‘extremist’ thought crimes.

    What is the result of posting your thoughts online? For communicating with people that cross some magical threshold? You will be followed, harassed, tracked with embedded electronic devices, detained at airports, equipment seized, and so on. What’s worse is the fear that comes with that kind of treatment – what will happen to you next? Will your house be raided? If you look at some of the stories on Boing Boing lately, we see that this isn’t so far fetched.

    Dear Internet monitors at the FBI/NSAT&T – I know you think that you’re doing the right thing but this isn’t the country I want to live in.

    The issues with the TSA are not limited to the TSA – it’s a problem with the entire US Government. The issue of flaws in enabling legislation are relevant for a whole slew of agencies and for nearly every issue.

  6. vitruvian says:

    @MadRat: Except most of the radiation in flight is cosmic x-rays, not really comparable to x-rays at all in the way they interact with the human body – in fact, they are so high energy that most will pass through without any interaction. It’s a really poor apples to oranges comparison to be making, and the mere fact that TSA and apologists keep repeating that bit like a mantra, presumably because it makes the scanner dose sound so miniscule, strikes me as suspicious in itself.

  7. Anonymous says:

    …”cause they backscatterin’ everybody out here!”

  8. Anonymous says:

    Let’s try to make an analogy here that people might understand.

    Do you want me to put this cigarette out on your arm? Its the same amount of heat you are exposed to by standing in the sun for 5 minutes, sitting in front of the campfire for 10 minutes, or turning up your furnace 1 degree. Ok, I ball parked the numbers, but hopefully you understand.

    How that dose interacts with humans is as important as the size of the dose. The biologist has brought up a number of valid concerns that should be taken seriously. The devices have a X-ray source that is capable of damaging levels of radiation and have moving parts, how that does interacts with the body, and how the devices could be used or abused in the future are all very relevant to the discussion.

  9. dbarak says:

    Apparently Al-Qaeda found it cheaper to outsource to the USA. Our economy really is screwed.

    (Think Catch-22 and Milo Minderbinder.)

  10. dbarak says:

    Apparently Al-Qaeda found it cheaper to outsource to the USA. Our economy really is screwed.

    (Think Catch-22 and Milo Minderbinder.)

  11. jonr says:

    Okay then… whether because it isn’t healthy or you just feel the need to protest, the short-term personal solution is simple: Do not fly.

    Showing up at the airport in speedos or bikinis is cute, but then going ahead and boarding the plane after a quickie interview really kinda defeats the purpose. Doesn’t it?

    Businesspeople deciding not to fly because they have a legitimate fear of the technology that outweighs their fear of being blown up, though, could make an actual difference.

    That’s what it comes down to, really:

    If the overall health risks of this technology being harmful are statistically higher than the risk of being blown up, then our government is harming us more than terrorists ever could and we should ALL stop flying. If not, then the technology is a relative benefit.

    Personally, I’d be a lot more frightened if a private physician or scientist with 20 years of experience (or a hundred of them?) came out and said, “This is dangerous,” than one or two people competing for attention. Seems to me we’ve had just about enough from people wearing tinfoil hats on both sides of LOTS of issues and it might be time to listen to the voice of reason.

  12. jonr says:

    As in department chairs nationwide as opposed to a Ph. D. candidate or two, is all I’m sayin’. Somebody with serious juice.

  13. kenmce says:

    I see a lot of discussion about what these machines are supposed to produce, and what that might do. I’m not seeing the part where an objective third party comes around and checks what the machines are producing in the field. If one of the machines gets out of calibration, who would ever know?

    • Joergen Geerds says:

      that was my point I made above exactly… sure, the default/original setting is only a tiny dose, but I can already see a bored TSA agent playing with the default settings so he can see things more “clearly”, and inadvertently dose the passengers with way more x-rays than necessary … and nobody around to check the levels/settings (ever)…

  14. Anonymous says:

    This is all making me sad: the tempers, the fear, and the health scare. It must be just hilarious to the terrorists who love to make us waste tons of money like on those printer-cartridge bombs that never blew up. They don’t even have to make real bombs anymore. We do need to make our leaders accountable: these issues are over liability, where they can go to the bank knowing the lower chances of a lawsuit over wrongful death by scanning would be happening years after exposure, as opposed to the lawsuits over something actually blowing up in flight. Stop covering your butts, elected officials, and care about the long-term. Listen to the people who do good science. I will never trust a corporation to create enough able technicians to keep these scanners in the safety zone. We just keep adding more and more exposure to what’s acceptable!

  15. Anonymous says:

    “Only quick deaths of rich white people would cause the ban of the machine.” – #2 – Spocco

    Rich white people own their own planes and don’t go through the scanners or TSA gropers unleashed at us at mass-transit carrier airports.

  16. waltisfrozen says:

    Of course, according to your serious metric, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were totally acceptable, because they were promoted by serious people.

    Wow. You really don’t know me.

  17. jphilby says:

    It’s not just the x-ray scanners, the millimeter wave machines raise serious questions:

    Los Alamos: http://www.medgadget.com/archives/2010/01/study_looks_into_potential_side_effects_of_terahertz_full_body_scanner_technology.html

    “How terahertz waves tear apart DNA”: http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24331/

  18. Anonymous says:

    One of my coworkers had skin cancer, which they cut out, but it led to him getting liver cancer a couple of years later which killed him. My father also had skin cancer, and later died from pancreatic cancer, but it’s not clear whether they were related.

    So if XRay machines that concentrate their energy in the skin are operated by $12/hour employees of an agency which makes a policy of lying about their policies, and the agency was buying them because their former head sells the things, forgive me if I give them less respect than the agencies that bought electronic voting machines for political reasons.

  19. Mitch says:

    I wonder if you could get ringworm from getting frisked by someone who has been frisking a lot of people.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I almost want to go through one of these scans so I can get in on the class action suits and disability checks 10-30 years from now when these are found to cause grievous cellular injury.
    History shows it’s almost never worth it though… I don’t think any of those thalidomide victims are living their dreams right now.

  21. spocko says:

    If we don’t let ourselves be exposed to a few deadly X-rays, the terrorists win!

    When I was doing research on the safety of the food coming out of the Gulf after the oil gusher I found out that the same issue of exposure to children was being ignored. Adults could eat shrimp more than children and the kids would have a hirer chance of a problem because of the lower body weigh.

    However the FDA dismissed these issues and questions from the senior scientist of the NRDC. The reasons they were dismissed were many but on of the bigger ones was the inability of the scientists to understand how to push a potentially scary issue. Fear of a future death from cancer years down the road (and with out a specific traceable trigger) is hard for them to push and the public to accept.
    If the scanner killed 5000 people a year it probably still would be hard to ban it. Only quick deaths of rich white people would cause the ban of the machine. Or the death of innocent babies and children of the rich media.

  22. pshaffer says:

    <= radiologist, trained in medical radiation issues.

    Anon what the hell are you talking about? "This is particularly relevant because the X-rays emitted for backscatter imaging are substantially longer-wavelength than the X-rays used in medical diagnostics. " The KvP for these machines is around 50 Kev. Typical Kv for mammo is 27-30 and for other exams around 100. Quit spreading misinformation.

    Please read what Arenson had to say: http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2010/11/tsa_scanner_controversy_ucsf_r.php

    Presuming the information made public about these scanners is close to accurate, this is totally trivial dose. The letter from the UCSF non-medical, non-physician PhD's did get one thing right, there should have been some review by an independent group of people.

    One other observation: many of the people who are so incensed over this invasion of privacy seem to be the same who were also interested in passing obamacare, which, I guarantee you, will be a far far greater intrusion into your privacy and private choice than this ever will be. If you do not trust the government to be honest in this issue, please direct your efforts into keeping them away from running and ruining our medical care.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Anon what the hell are you talking about? “This is particularly relevant because the X-rays emitted for backscatter imaging are substantially longer-wavelength than the X-rays used in medical diagnostics. ” The KvP for these machines is around 50 Kev. Typical Kv for mammo is 27-30 and for other exams around 100. Quit spreading misinformation.”

      In other words, I’m “wrong” because I’m *exactly right*: exams other than mammograms typically use shorter-wavelength X-rays than backscatter. There’s a reason that X-rays generated at 85-100 kVp (not “KvP”) are referred to as “hard X-rays”, and X-rays generated below 65 kVp are called “soft” X-rays.

      An arbitrarily chosen reference:

      http://books.google.com/books?id=HO5qCgsYmy0C&lpg=PA37&ots=A6E89AYnbP&dq=KvP%20wavelength&pg=PA38#v=onepage&q=KvP%20wavelength&f=false

      I should be “wrong” like that all the time.

      The above link also helpfully explains that soft X-rays produce increased Compton scattering, which results in ionization and the breakage of chemical bonds — a central concern in the original UCSF letter, and one that Arenson, and you, don’t touch on at all. As though you hadn’t bothered to, you know, actually read the relevant documentation.

      But, of course, we can see that you’re not actually interested in technical questions because you immediately muddy the waters by changing the subject to overall “dose”. Which, as has been pointed out by Sedat et al., is *not known*. Because it hasn’t been accurately modeled for the se machines. And neither Arenson, nor you, cast any light (of *any* wavelength) on this question.

      But, sure. Let’s talk about the dose.

      In the best-case scenario (machines operate as advertised, *and* stay within spec, *and* exposure models are correct — the particular concern of Sedat et al. at UCSF —, *and* the backscatter machines prevent *all* acts of terrorism…) we’re dealing with a situation where the nuber of excess cancer deaths might be *the same* as the number of prevented deaths from terrorism.

      At least the one of the above assumptions is overly generous. It is reasonable to ask if *more* than one of them is overly generous, but if even one of these assumptions is overly generous, the scanners are a bad cost-benefit proposition.

      The problem isn’t the dose. The problem is the number of EXPOSURES for a questionable, and not statistically validated, benefit.

      And Arenson, as I stated above, did not address ANY of the specific issues raised by Sedat et al in their letter. Which I’ve actually read and you, apparently, have not.

      Finally, your reference to “obamacare” — whatever the TF *that* is — further suggests that your posts are driven more by agenda than by reason. Perhaps you could tell us about something that you *do* know about. Like, say, what it’s like to collect a paycheck for astroturfing a web site.

    • Anonymous says:

      “The letter from the UCSF non-medical, non-physician PhD’s…”

      This is wrong. One of the four signers is in fact a physician — an oncologist. More evidence of something that was already obvious: that you didn’t actually, you know, RTF letter, that you don’t care what it said, and that you won’t be troubled to find out before spouting off about what it *does* say.

  23. JasonsRobot says:

    This is the best argument against the scanners I’ve seen.

    I don’t care if it’s only a ‘so-and-so’ amount of radiation that’s equal to this other amount you’d get somewhere else. The thing is, It’s yet ANOTHER dose of radiation. It’s not like the backscatter is instead of something else. It’s in addition to all the others.

    I can get over people seeing my junk. I don’t care if someone touches my junk. But I sure as hell don’t want my junk biologically mutated (for the worse).

  24. Anonymous says:

    Please remember that the burden of proof is on the TSA to prove that the scanners are safe and that the dose of radiation they put out is the true dose. Enough concern is out there from credible sources to merit an inquiry into the backscatter x-ray scanners and immediate discontinuation of use, until it is proved safe. People, please don’t assume the FDA or any other agency has cleared or approved these. The FDA has no authority over a security device–this is not being marketed as a medical device which means it is totally outside any regulatory mechanisms we have in the U.S. that protect our safety in a medical X-ray situation. No one should submit to a backscatter x-ray scan in an airport. No matter how unpleasant, everyone who is asked to submit to additional screening should request the pat-down.

  25. Anonymous says:

    You go, Jason!

    @Aloha_Analytics

  26. waltisfrozen says:

    I’ve read quite a few articles from scientists who say that these machines probably aren’t a big deal at all, like this member of the National Academy of Sciences committee on radioactive wastes :

    the effective dose per scan of 25 microrems is really an extremely small dose. It’s roughly your extra exposure to cosmic rays from sleeping on the third floor rather than the first floor for a year. Each time you fly across country, you are getting a dose from cosmic rays that is around 100 times greater. And you get that on every flight, while you only get scanned on a fraction of your flights. So even if the mechanism suggested by the UCSF scientists makes these x-rays 100 times more carcinogenic per unit energy than FDA thinks (and it seems unlikely to me that the number is as big as 100 because the number of photons per unit of energy can only go up so much before the radiation stops being an x-ray), the risk of the scan would still be less than the risk of taking the flight itself.

    I don’t have the expertise to full digest the arguments that surround these scanners, but I find it odd that you guys are posting negative articles with the most explosive headlines possible. It’s not very scientific to exclude the word “potential” when writing about “the dangers” of scanners, especially when the quote is all about questions that haven’t been answered, not definitive proof that scanners are bad for your heath.

    Then again, since you’ve adopted the term “pornoscanners”, I’m guessing you’ve dropped any pretense at trying to look at this issue in an evenhanded way and try to discern the truth. Fearmongering really helps drive traffic, but it makes for bullshit science.

    • sgnp says:

      A few important lines from the article you were quoting:

      “The point about proper operation of the machines is very real. The recent series in the NY Times about medical x-rays was scary.

      I, as an occasional flyer, won’t worry about being scanned if the machine is operating properly.”

      The points from Jason Bell that Cory quoted above specifically call the proper operation of the machines into question.

    • arikol says:

      There are serious privacy concerns, serious human rights concerns (over te way the TSA handles itself), and serious health concerns (no real research to state this is safe and an attempt to make a potentially hazardous machine mandatory).
      Potentially dangerous is dangerous enough here. It shows the blatant disregard held by authorities for safety and human rights (irradiate my kids or I, no. FONDLE MY KID’S PRIVATES? HELL NO!)

      “It’s not very scientific to exclude the word “potential” when..”
      I answered this above. Mandatory, and not shown safe. Means a KNOWN potential danger which is forced on people who most definitely should not be forced through this.

      1984 just called, they state they were not meant as a manual.

      Who am I to argue about this?
      7 years airport FBO Assistant Manager (flight ops), including security management/coordination for people and organisations up to the US secret service (admittedly mostly airport side and coordination of handoff of services between the different organisations).
      Currently finishing a cognitive science degree (that includes brain stuff, scanning stuff and a bunch of science stuff)
      And some other stuff which would make it look like I was making this shit up. My background just fits TOO interestingly to the subject matter at hand.

      Those are my credentials, anyway.

    • haileris says:

      waltisfrozen: Please, PLEASE, do not further spread misinformation. The person you are citing is NOT a medical doctor or a specialist in medical x-ray technologies. The UCSF professors are. They are also are leading researchers in their respective fields (including cancer research as well as medical imaging experts), part of an institution that is widely regraded as best-in-class (#3 recipient in NIH funding).

      The majority of radiation does not penetrate all the way through the body, therefore a greater porition of it focused on a small area of the body. This means there is significantly higher risk of cancer as a result. The person you are quoting waved away this fact, ignoring the high risk for skin cancer, breast cancer, and testicular cancer.

      Further that person DOES NOT specify his affiliations, and there is no proof that he/she is part of the NAS (like the UCSF researchers), as he/she is anonymous. It’s relevant because people like the U Arizona person that often gets cited have a conflict of interest (many are physics researchers that work/consult in the defense industry, the U Arizona professor has been involved with projects at Los Alamos).

      • Cowicide says:

        waltisfrozen: Please, PLEASE, do not further spread misinformation.

        I’m not sure that’s possible for him. Some people seem almost born to wallow within and spread about as much apologist FUD as possible (and act indignant at the rest of us, of course, while they do it).

    • Anonymous says:

      The referenced statement is from a participant on a National Academy PANEL, and it’s someone who works on radioactive WASTE. Of the four signers of the UCSF letter, three are MEMBERS of the National Academy, three of them specialize in the interactions of X-rays with biological macromolecules, and one is an oncologist. And his comments don’t substantively engage the core criticisms raised by the UCSF group.

  27. psuliin says:

    I see the point about the possibility of a scanner failing and exposing a specific area to a concentrated dose. However I’m still left puzzled by claims like this:

    “Furthermore, when making this comparison, the TSA and FDA are calculating that the dose is absorbed throughout the body. According the simulations performed by NIST, the relative absorption of the radiation is ~20-35-fold higher in the skin, breast, testes and thymus than the brain, or 7-12-fold higher than bone marrow. So a total body dose is misleading, because there is differential absorption in some tissues.”

    My issue is that this applies to ANY ionizing radiation exposure – including the exposure that air travelers necessarily get from being high above the thicker layers of the atmosphere. Such radiation may likewise be selectively absorbed by certain tissues, and must necessarily penetrate (and thus expose) the skin before affecting anything else.

    I just don’t see any way around this.

    • Anonymous says:

      “My issue is that this applies to ANY ionizing radiation exposure – including the exposure that air travelers necessarily get from being high above the thicker layers of the atmosphere. Such radiation may likewise be selectively absorbed by certain tissues, and must necessarily penetrate (and thus expose) the skin before affecting anything else”

      Nope.

      For penetrating radiation, like the cosmic rays that you’re subjected to at increased intensity while at altitude, absorption or scattering occur with roughly equivalent likelihood over the entire volume of your body. This is not to say that all tissues show the same *biological* responses to radiation, but the *exposure* does not substantially vary from surface to center (especially with cosmic rays).

      With soft X-rays (as in backscatter machines), the photons are absorbed or scattered predominantly near the surface of your body: scalp, testicles, etc. Thus, some tissues will get relatively higher exposure, while other tissues will get almost none.

  28. Michael Smith says:

    I wonder if I could get my hands on a radiation badge or a dosimeter? This bit looks interesting. I smell a market opportunity.

    • headfoo says:

      I smell a severe beating followed by an airport evacuation if anyone tried to wear an electronic device through one of those x-ray machines.

    • waltisfrozen says:

      It would probably be easier to just fill your pockets with various “speeds” of radiographic film and then have them developed to discern approximate radiation level. Seems like an experiment a chemistry geek could pull off pretty quickly if they had access to all of the necessary materials.

  29. waltisfrozen says:

    I’m not sure that’s possible for him. Some people seem almost born to wallow within and spread about as much apologist FUD as possible (and act indignant at the rest of us, of course, while they do it).

    You seem to know everything about me. God forbid somebody questions one of the authors of this blog.

    I wasn’t trying to be an apologist for the TSA (who seem to be a bunch of poorly-trained, unprofessional thugs whose role is questionable at best). I have no idea whether these machines cause cancer and NEITHER DO YOU. There are a lot of questions that deserve to be answered about these machines, but they’re just that. Questions. Not answers.

    So when you go around posting a bunch of unresolved concerns followed by dire, worst-case-scenario predictions, you aren’t making anyone smarter, you’re just scaring the shit out of people. And it doesn’t get you any closer to finding the truth.

    And, sorry, but the term “pornoscanner” is shamefully unserious.

    • DWittSF says:

      Re: pornoscanner is shamefully unserious

      Ummm, are you serious? You know who’s really serious, don’t you? Michael Cherthoff.

      http://www.nowpublic.com/world/full-body-scanner-lobby-michael-chertoff-rapiscan-2552674.html

      So, according to your metric, Mr. Cherthoff is much more believable, due to his seriousness, while we should ignore the serious fact that he is making serious money off these seriously ill-conceived and executed machines.

      Of course, according to your serious metric, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were totally acceptable, because they were promoted by serious people.

      And, moving on to your ‘let’s not jump to conclusions’ argument: yes, indeed, let’s not rush to judgment and spread misinformation about these machines that somehow got approved, even though it is obvious that no definitive testing has been done. Furthermore, you take the government’s word at face value. Gee, when have they ever lied to the people to get what they want?

      Seriously?

    • Cowicide says:

      I have no idea whether these machines cause cancer and NEITHER DO YOU

      YOU should seriously read my second reply within my post here, homeslice.

      So when you go around posting a bunch of unresolved concerns followed by dire, worst-case-scenario predictions, you aren’t making anyone smarter, you’re just scaring the shit out of people. And it doesn’t get you any closer to finding the truth.

      Where did I do that? Blindly lashing out at me for doing things you only hallucinated… doesn’t get you any closer to the truth.

      I think maybe you’re freaking out because you are guilty of what you are accusing me of as haileris kindly pointed out to you here.

      Project much?

  30. futnuh says:

    The question of “what happens if the machine gets stuck” is better addressed by electrical and systems engineers than PhDs (most professional engineers don’t have a PhD) or MDs. Further, if the documents have “no author credits”, it is possible that they are, in fact, authored by engineers or scientists and not “lab technicians”. Of course, the onus is on both the scanner vendor and the government to demonstrate safety – or at least it should be. (I was ready to opt out of a scan last weekend on a return Vancouver/San Francisco flight.)

  31. Aloisius says:

    What’s hilarious is there is a group of UCSF physicists in the radiology department that are calling the work by these other UCSF scientists bunk.

    The radiation scientists told SF Weekly that the warnings about the scanners in a letter written by top U.C. San Francisco scientists earlier this year were plain “wrong,” and written by people who “are totally unrelated to radiation,” in the words of Professor Ronald Arenson. Robert Gould, a physicist in the UCSF radiology department and member of the Radiation Safety Committee in the university’s Office of Research, contends that the amount of background radiation a person is exposed to in a normal day is the equivalent of 85 screenings in a TSA scanner.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Totally unrelated to radiation?” Hello? WTF?

      Three of the four signers are X-ray crystallographers, and National Academy members. They have to know a *hell* of a lot more about how X-rays interact with living matter than the typical radiologist does. Stroud, one of the signers, has a dual appointment at Lawrence Berkeley and UCSF. These guys deal with the safety of X-ray sources on a daily basis, ranging from smaller lab-based sources to synchrotron sources (Stroud is in charge of X-ray beam line 8.3.1, at the Advanced Light Source at LBL). What’s more, the people quoted in the SFBG article address *none* of the specific issues raised in the original letter. None of them. As in, not *one* of the major issues raised.

      I think someone’s toes got stepped on. That’s what I think.

  32. PJG says:

    One news report stated it would take 500 scans to equal one chest x-ray (that is of course if the machine is properly calibrated and running as it should be), but something I notice every time they show these machines on TV, they’re open sided, and a TSO stands right next to the entrance as the scans are taken. That officer is not shielded by a wall or protective clothing, he or she is just standing there giving directions to the person inside. Now if a dentist has to get behind a shield just to take a small x-ray of a person’s jaw, how is it these TSOs can stand right there day in and day out and not get any exposure at all? How many scans do they oversee in a week? In a month? We know they’re exempt from getting scanned ‘for health reasons’, but somehow standing next to the scanner doesn’t count?

  33. Anonymous says:

    Back in the 70s I worked for a microwave components mfg. We were told the Russians had radiation exposure standards 100 times lower than the US.

    And we always wondered why none of us had kids – 100+ of us were 18-40 and most were married…my first didn’t come until 4 years after I left.

    Maybe just coincidental, but remember L3 is the millimeter wave backer. They owned Narda Microwave for years – yet another low birthrate company.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Ah.

    Now that I’ve looked at pschaffer’s posting history, his perspective becomes clearer. He is (or claims to be) a radiologist who specializes in tit-squeezing (breast radiology).

    This line of work does offer some opportunity to acquire expertise about soft X-rays (or, at least, to use them regularly in his work), but unfortunately his profession’s mainstay procedure, the mammogram, appears to lie somewhere between less effective than hoped (according to the more optimistic studies) and totally useless as a mass screening tool (according to what are widely regarded as the two best-designed and best-executed studies).

    I can see where a person in that position would have a problem with balancing population-averaged measures of radiation exposure versus a small and perhaps nonexistent reduction in risk due to mass screening. I can *especially* see where such a person might have a bone to pick in a system that is fee-for-service, and is increasingly moving toward (whether private- or public-sector) evidence-based approaches.

    It would suck to be in a helping profession, and to learn that much of what you’ve been doing is generating type I and type II errors at high enough rates that you’re not actually saving lives.

    What I can’t understand — or, at least, forgive — is a person with that level of professional responsibility who is willing to comment on scientific issues in his field WITHOUT HAVING READ THE DOCUMENTS IN QUESTION, as pschaffer manifestly has not done.

  35. Aloisius says:

    Three of the four signers are X-ray crystallographers, and National Academy members.

    You can’t extrapolate what happens to the human body through knowledge of x-ray crystallography since it has nothing to do with measuring the negative effects of x-rays themselves. It is used to determine the structure of very small molecules.

    They have to know a *hell* of a lot more about how X-rays interact with living matter than the typical radiologist does

    Really? Explain to me how someone who studies the structure of molecules on the nanometer scale using a device that happens to employ an x-ray emitter knows more about the macro effects of radiation on the human body more than people who actually study the effects of radiation on the human body all day.

    I don’t care for these scanners, but the confirmation bias people are exhibiting bothers me. This letter nor the letter I posted were actually published in a peer-reviewed journal. Until such time that they do, I will regard all reports by scientists with a healthy dose of skepticism.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Really? Explain to me how someone who studies the structure of molecules on the nanometer scale using a device that happens to employ an x-ray emitter knows more about the macro effects of radiation on the human body more than people who actually study the effects of radiation on the human body all day.”

      For example: the crystallographers routinely use a broad spectrum of different wavelengths of radiation within the X-ray band, and they are *acutely* aware — in quantitative terms — that these different wavelengths interact with matter in very different ways (e.g., Compton scattering, anomolous dispersion). Most physicians using X-ray sources don’t have to think about these issues nearly as much.

      This is particularly relevant because the X-rays emitted for backscatter imaging are substantially longer-wavelength than the X-rays used in medical diagnostics. In short, the crystallographers are *extremely* likely to have specialized, *relevant* expertise that the physicians lack.

  36. asuffield says:

    the term “pornoscanner” is shamefully unserious.

    On multiple occasions, TSA employees have been caught using the scanners (or the images of the people scanned that the machines save) for pornographic purposes.

    I think the name is fair.

    • pmhparis says:

      asuffield thinks that because a few people used the scanners to peek below someones clothing to arouse themselves that pornoscanner is an apt term.

      I think that if he is serious that he should apply the same rule to everything around him. Indeed he should use his pornocomputer to write a pornoletter to his pornocongressman asking for a pornomeeting. During this pornomeeting over pornocoffe he can make his case for banning all the threats he sees to his liberty: pornocarrots, pornozucchini, pornoyams, pornodogs, pornocats & lest we forget: pornogerbils.

      • floraldeoderant says:

        “During this pornomeeting over pornocoffe he can make his case for banning all the threats he sees to his liberty: pornocarrots, pornozucchini, pornoyams, pornodogs, pornocats & lest we forget: pornogerbils.”

        Over my pornodead body!

    • Anonymous says:

      On multiple occasions, TSA employees have been caught using the scanners (or the images of the people scanned that the machines save) for pornographic purposes.

      [citation needed]

  37. Anonymous says:

    ok, so to review the available data:

    The grad-student blogger read the report from an independent test of these machines and is skeptical:
    http://www.tsa.gov/assets/pdf/nist_rapiscan_secure_1000.pdf

    Four senior UCSF PhDs who work in a field using high-energy xrays for research criticized the oversight and regulation of hte machines here:
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/ucsf-jph-letter.pdf

    A few UCSF doctors were pissed off by the fact that the UCSF researchers study proteins and not humans, so they talked to a local newspaper here:
    http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2010/11/tsa_scanner_controversy_ucsf_r.php

    The FDA rebuttal to the UCSF PhDs can be found here:
    http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/SecuritySystems/ucm231857.htm

    Am I missing anything?

    *note*, I am a PhD biologist who uses x-ray sources on mice, and regularly interacts with both the physicists and MDs who apply X-rays to humans and PhD x-ray crystollographers. From this experience I’m inclined to side with the arguments made by the MDs/FDA, however I still don’t trust TSA to actually run these machines properly.

  38. Bloodboiler says:

    What are the chances that hardware and software quality in these scanners is comparable to quality in medical and aviation technology? As opposed to something closer to the “quality” of electronic voting machines.

    What are the chances that the pornscanner operators are highly trained professionals who would notice a hazardous malfunction?

    As a SW/HCI engineer, I strongly recommend: Open your legs, take the TSA hand job and think of US foreign policy.

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