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Use logic and data to run your country December 31, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in politics, science.

There is a blog entry in the nytimes examining how crazy air travel security has become these days. Here is one of many great quotes.

At every concourse checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit.  Now, the assumption has to be that the materials materials in those containers are potentially hazardous.  If not, why were they seized in the first place?  But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash?  They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are simply thrown away.  The agency seems to be saying that it knows these things are harmless.  But it’s going to steal them anyway, and either you accept it or you don’t fly.

To me this is emblematic of the times we line in. First, we react and implement procedures without adequate research. Actually, that is fine when we are in the middle of a panic-as we were after the liquid bomb scare – though I wish we’d react with panic a bit less. But even then there were liquid bomb experts who would have pointed out how crazy the possibility was. Were they even consulted? If so, why was their advice rejected? Other experts gave different advice? Was there accountability when it turned out to be bad advice (are we still listening to them?).

Second, the lack of ability to change course. Now that the panic is over, what are the chances we will see an adjustment of the policy? Little, I’d say.

Grand policy ideas – like how to negotiate with the prickly leader of another country – those are places where intuition and got instinct are needed. The running of the basic services of a country, however, requires a cooler head, real data, and a whole lot of logic. Really similar to engineering or science research, actually!



1. carlbrannen - December 31, 2007

It’s like they don’t even care if someone walks in with a 50 pound bomb in their carry-on luggage and blows the heck out of several hundred people standing in line to get their luggage searched.

I think we’ve avoided terror largely by the FBI and CIA infiltrating terror groups and stopping them, mostly before they even arrive in the US.

2. Mike Procario - January 1, 2008

As the article points out screening for small sharp objects is also now unnecessary. Passengers will take on anyone armed with boxcutters. I stopped carrying my swiss army knife at all since I tended to forget to leave home when I fly.

I am wondering how long people wil put up with this before they start flying less. At that point the airlines will start lobbying to get these silly rules rolled back.

3. Gordon Watts - January 1, 2008

I can’t imagine the airlines lobbying for less security – at least out loud. Just imagine the PR. The only way they could do it is if some trade association did it.

But it would also be nice if the gov’t could elimate the restrictions that just don’t make sense.

BTW — I totally agree with the point that passengers are not going to be willing to sit by while someone tries to take over a plane – at least in the way that we did in the past – I’d also not like to rely on that as a defense mechanism. 🙂

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