The latest Scientists Say bulletin is that the x-ray machines in your nearest airport are not-to-worry. Yes, x-rays cause cancer, but no, our company that makes these machines, and the Government that has signed off on them, free of course of any vested interest, says these are 'safe'. What that means is safe for their jobs, because at this stage someone who tells some truth will lose his or her job. Today the NYTimes has a story on risks of dental x-ray machines.
The problem is that even when the machines work, and the tech operating them actually knows what s/he's doing, they expose people to one of the world's best-known carcinogens. When a scan (including a CT scan, not just something called 'x-rays', by the way) is done for therapeutic or truly diagnostic reasons, then the risk-benefit trade-off seems clear. But dentists and docs often just want to 'take a look', or add to your bill, or play with toys that make them feel important and intelligent. Or they themselves have little understanding of the risks of radiation carcinogenesis.
Of course, government bureaucrats will always deny that they've allowed us to be exposed to risks. Remember dismissals of HIV (only our social scum get it, if you recall....plus Africans (who cares about them?)). Or mad cow disease in the UK. Or from Canadian beef? Or the possibility that New Orleans would flood. Or many others like these examples. Or climate change...ever heard of that?
The point is that scientists and governments cannot automatically be trusted. They (we) have all sorts of clear and covert, known and perhaps unaware, vested interests. Some do indeed state warnings, and not all of them (us) are perfect in that. But the typical story, it seems, is that over-worry is discouraged because the interests often lie more heavily in the drill-baby-drill contingent than the cautious one. There's usually little profit in being cautious.
There are no easy answers that we know of in regard to airport security. We don't travel by air much because it has become a frequently miserable experience. And it's clear that if we staunch one vulnerable point, terrorists will search for another. Unfortunately, however, the 'facts' seem to be elusive in just the cases in which these issues are most important. The problem is, of course, when risks are so small, as in the case of airport x-rays, as to be basically immeasurable, but we have biological reason of decades' standing to know that they are not zero. And they are greatest to the youngest, to premenopausal women, and so on.
What we're witnessing, unfortunately, is a huge victory for the bin Ladens of this world. One looney-toon puts some explosive in a shoe, and tens of millions of people have to take their shoes off in airports. One sad case loads up his undies with something, and we're all going to get a scan or a pat where the sun don't shine.
Meanwhile, we all learned recently that cargo is many times more vulnerable than passengers to being loaded. Again, while we have no answers, it is clear that the current x-ray approach is too good for business to be denied.