Scan(t) Evidence

Remember when you got that flatbed scanner and the first thing you did was scan your ass or your lips or your breasts and post them to your GeoCities site (and don’t even think about asking, I’m not going to repost them)?  Well now TSA  can do the same thing and zap you with a bunch of radiation at the same time which does not make me feel safer, in fact it scares the crap out of me.

What scares me a whole lot more though is just how fast the Gotta Have Scanners cheer went up after the Is That A Big Stick In Your Pocket Or Are You Glad To See Me bomber wannabe totally messed up his chance to please all the awaiting virgins in heaven.  If you recall, so barely 24 hours after September 11, 2001, we already knew who piloted the planes, where they were based and who sent them, a few weeks later, we mysteriously had a large enough supply of flags and decals for every car in America.  If  we were good enough to figure it out so quickly afterwords, lets face it, we knew ahead of time.  And it is pretty damned clear that just happened again.

If that isn’t enough to make you a tad cynical, the fact that Michael Chertoff is a big scanner cheerleader ought to.  As James Ridgeway points out, it’s all about the money, honey:

(T)he rush toward full-body scans already seems unstoppable. They were mandated today as part of the “enhanced” screening for travelers from selected countries, and hundreds of the machines are already on order, at a cost of about $150,000 apiece. Within days of the bombing attempt, Reuters was reporting that the “greater U.S. government shift toward using the high-tech devices could create a boom for makers of security imaging products, and it has already created a speculative spike in share prices in some companies.”

Which brings us to the money shot. The body scanner is sure to get a go-ahead because of the illustrious personages hawking them. Chief among them is former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, who now heads the Chertoff Group, which represents one of the leading manufacturers of whole-body-imaging machines, Rapiscan Systems. For days after the attack, Chertoff made the rounds on the media promoting the scanners, calling the bombing attempt “a very vivid lesson in the value of that machinery”—all without disclosing his relationship to Rapiscan.

Want some swamp land in Florida too?  Meanwhile…there is now a new, new, new recommendation regarding mammograms:

This new advice, which is published in the January issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology, comes from the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) and the American College of Radiology (ACR). And these groups suggest just the opposite – that the screening does save lives.

The latest recommendations seem to be based primarily on bad-mouthing the earlier new recommendations to get less mammograms and dogged insistence that finding more cancers and finding them earlier saves lives.  This is the mantra that we have been made pepto aware of for years now, despite the questionable evidence to support it.  For more on this, see here, here and here.

I’m not a scientist, but what I do know is this:  No other country suggests that women have as many mammograms as we  do in the U.S.  And other developed countries where women start getting mammograms at a later age and less frequently have comparable or better survival and incidence rates.  But again, as with the airport scanners, we need to look at the money angle–if women don’t get mammograms on a regular basis before the age of 50 and then get them every few years, radiologists and imaging centers are going to lose a lot of money.  But that is not a justification for zapping our breasts unnecessarily.

Of course as a convenience for the busy traveler, maybe now we can just get mammograms at the airport.  But in all fairness since we now know you can hide explosives between your balls, how about we squish those too as a matter of national security.

But what really is key here is that our national security policy is a bad joke.  Scanners aren’t the answer (and lets be very clear here–any amount of radiation adds to our body load and is a risk).  Nor is stoking the fear of ‘terrorism’.  Nor is militarism. And like breast cancer, detection isn’t a cure-all.  If you want to end breast cancer, you need to find what causes it and eradicate the cause.  The same is true for global security. Real security comes from enabling people, not from disabling them.  Food, health, jobs.  For far less money, we would  reap far greater results.  But where’s the profit in that?

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  1. […] indeed. As I pointed out last week, if you want to cure something, be it breast cancer or terrorism, you need to know what the cause […]