The Innumeracy Behind Airline Security


There’s a purely mathematical reason why we should not have to suffer patently illegal and unconstitutional indignities at the hands of TSA agents.

We want our President to protect us – at least presidents keep telling us that. There are many ways a president could keep us safe. A smart move would be to allocate protective resources according to the numbers.

A nation that was truly concerned about preventing avoidable deaths would ban smoking tomorrow. It kills 440,000 people each year, according to the CDC, which works out at 50 per hour. Unlike full body scanners and intrusive “pat downs” (and yes, I’ve had one), banning smoking, while unpopular in some quarters and a threat to the livelihood of some (not a factor to take lightly), would not ride roughshod over a constitutional right.

Or how about the president getting serious about eliminating drunk driving, which kills 15,000 people in the U.S. every year, with roughly eight drunk driving fatalities involving teenagers every day.

And don’t let me start about diet, exercise, and obesity. Over 80M people in the United States have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease and over 150,000 Americans under 65 are killed by it each year; 73M have high blood pressure; 17M have coronary heart disease; over 6M suffer a stroke; and 6M have heart failure.

I’m not preaching or talking morals here. In our society we are free to make our own lifestyle decisions. It’s about the math. Spending $85M to buy 500 full body scanners at $170,000 each, and turning the simple act of boarding an airplane into a circus, to try to eliminate a risk that is orders of magnitude less than many other risks people accept in their daily lives is a total waste of public funds, and is possible only because large numbers of people apparently don’t do – or don’t understand – the math.

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