X-Rays: A naive celebration on Google’s front page graphic


Image via Wikipedia

Have you seen the graphic du jour at Google today? It is a whimsical collage of x-ray images, with the note “115th Anniversary of the Discovery of X-rays”.

X-rays are one of those scientific inventions which have been used with more celebration, and much less caution, than needed.

It is ironic that Google is celebrating the x-ray, since there is currently a lawsuit against the US Department for Homeland Security for using x-ray technology in full body scans at airport security checkpoints. EPIC, Electronic Privacy Information Center, contends that there were not proper hearings before these scanners were implemented.*

The ACLU is collecting information for a possible lawsuit. They have a page with more information, and a way to report problems to them: here. The national Libertarian Party has come out with a statement saying they “oppose abusive TSA strip-search machines”.

One would hope that the medical or scientific community will soon come to their wits and defend the American people against this public health travesty. How dare the government expose people to a few extra doses of radiation, when radiation is something that harms us depending on each new increment applied. Recent research published in Harvard Health Publications has just noted a need to slow down with overuse of x-rays and radiation for medical testing and cancer prevention. And, yet our government is adding small doses of x-rays and radiation to the field of airport screening. Some difference in the regard for human life, and in the desire to move slowly when using new technology.

With a little help from radiation, doctors can examine the heart and even clear clogged arteries without ever opening the chest. But there can be a price to pay for these advances, reports the April 2009 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter. Exposure to radiation can damage DNA and lead to uncontrolled cell division, the hallmark of cancer. The delicate balance between benefit and risk demands the judicious use of radiation for diagnosing and treating disease… – Harvard Health Publications

The history of x-rays has shown that they are not something to be taken lightly. Many of the scientists who have studied x-rays and radiation have had consequences. There is even a book “American Martyr to Radiology“.It is probably debatable whether it was worth it for these folks to lose their limbs and/or life to x-rays and radiation as the scientific community discovered this invention that can be a help to doctors seeking answers about disease. Though, I do not believe that we need to make “Homeland Security Martyrs” over tourists trying to get to Disneyland, and coerced or surprised into being irradiated by the security officers in the airport.

One of the definite martyrs to radiation was Clarence Madison Dally. Dally was an assistant to Thomas Edison. Dally used his own hands to study x-ray tubes, until he “acquired a cancer in them so tenacious that both arms were amputated in a futile attempt to save his life.” (Wikipedia) More about the Edison and Dally story is at the American Newspaper Repository, in a 1903 of Edison giving up on x-ray research due to his assistant’s death. Another reference to Dally’s death due to s-x-rays can be found at Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias: here.

The technology of x-rays should not to be taken — or delivered — lightly.

In studying the situation of exposing airplane passengers to radiation, I have learned more about flying and radiation. It appears that anytime someone flies, they are exposed to extra amounts of radiation, anyway. Though, radiation is a cumulative occurrence. So, it violates a person’s rights to be forced to receive extra doses of it by a pre-screening, government security measure. In addition, since the scientific community has struggled and made mistakes with the amount of radiation safe for human beings, I cannot have faith in security companies, security contractors, or government scientists to be sure they are measuring all the different kinds of radiation being presented in a full body scanner.

My previous article criticizing the use of full body scanners, also known as naked scanners or backscatter x-rays, by the TSA at airports is: here.


*More about the EPIC lawsuit from the EPIC website:

EPIC has filed a lawsuit to suspend the deployment of body scanners at US airports, pending an independent review. On July 2, 2010, EPIC filed a petition for review and motion for an emergency stay, urging the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to suspend the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) full body scanner program. EPIC said that the program is “unlawful, invasive, and ineffective.” EPIC argued that the federal agency has violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the Privacy Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Fourth Amendment. EPIC cited the invasive nature of the devices, the TSA’s disregard of public opinion, and the impact on religious freedom.

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