Sunday, May 29, 2011

Coverage of the second UCSF letter

Here's a round-up of some of the press given to Sedat, et al's letter to Obama's science advisor:
"Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a UCSF radiologist who also was not involved in the letter, told ProPublica: 'There's really unnecessary fear related to these scans," she said. 
"'What I'm not as comfortable with is that there has not been access to these machines. They are not being tested on the same regulatory basis that we see on medical equipment.'"

How can you say the fear is unnecessary when, at the same time, there is basically zero information about them? Dr. Smith-Bindman is going on faith and expects the rest of the public to go on faith as well. But this is precisely the point of the Sedat letter: scientists don't go on faith; they go on evidence, but the scientific community has not been given any evidence on the public health risks of these scanners.
(As an aside, the Daily Mail article is mistaken on the official story on the TSA tests that showed ten-times the radiation. While the report decreases confidence in TSA self-monitoring, the story was not that passengers were getting more radiation, but rather that the report had a math error.)
  •  The story was on NPR's blog.
  • A air travel-specific website briefly recounts the story, but includes at least one mistake. (The original letter from Sedat, et al was from spring 2010, not November.)
  • A consumer advocacy site has there post. It is a little too forgiving for the TSA, but has some good summaries of the science on this issue and some comments from relevant scientists. Notably, the aforementioned Dr. Smith-Bindman is mentioned as having asked the TSA to give her a scanner to test and they invoked state secrets. In a post-Wikileaks era, a reasonable government agency would realize that they need to stop classifying every little detail. Really, how does knowing how a scanner works help a terrorist? (One comment on this article, though: It perpetuates the box-cutter myth. I'm seeing a trend here of poor fact-checking in these articles...)