Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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A note on polling

Posted 29 Jun 11 by Tatyana

I just saw a story claiming that TSA agents are developing cancer from working near the body scanner machines and that the TSA is covering it up. Personally, I do wonder about the cost/benefit of the scanners. Of course, cancer "clusters” could be random, and the article didn’t mention anything about statistical testing. It also made the following statement: "Of course, if TSA workers who are merely standing near the scanners are already developing cancer, frequent flyers are also putting themselves in harm’s way by standing directly inside the radiation-firing machines.”

That logic is clearly flawed. It’s not obvious how much exposure TSA workers get by standing next to the scanners. Of course, per unit of time, you get exposed to more radiation inside the scanner. But if you’re there for 40 hours a week, you might get a much larger dose of radiation than even the most active traveler. So this doesn’t prove the scanners are dangerous for travelers. However, we might care about TSA officials’ health too.

The website also had an amusing one-question survey  on the side: "Reports indicate naked body scanners are so dangerous, TSA agents are getting cancer from just being near them. If the TSA continues to use these demonstrably deadly devices, will you fly again?” (Yes/No)

Note the words "naked” and "demonstrably deadly” in there. Someone clearly didn’t read books on the proper way to do surveys or (more likely) decided to ignore good practice. I can just see the headlines: "75% of people say they will never fly again if the TSA continues to use body scanners”.

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