Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Evidence-based antiterror tactics, please.

Via tristero, CNN reports that plenty of Constitutionally-questionable antiterror strategies adopted by the United States are also of questionable utility in defending against or preventing terrorism. For a drug or particular use of a drug to be approved by the FDA, it needs to be proven safe, and effective. If you're taking a drug that doesn't fix the problem it's intended to, you're exposing yourself to potentially dangerous side-effects and still paying for the pills. It is with this attitude that the FDA has been casting a skeptical eye on the use of cold medicines in children two and under, for whom the meds are not proven to work, and are known to be misused frequently enough to send thousands of children to the ER every year, and a handful to actually die.

It was more than a handful of Americans who lost their lives on 9/11, and until we have good data on whether or not behavior detection or data mining actually do anything to keep us safe, we're risking a lot more than living with a sick kid staying up all night coughing and miserable. Making sure your child gets plenty of fluids and rest and comfort during a cold is effective at beating the cold, if not immediately so. Popping a blue pill out of a blister pack and giving it to your toddler might convince her that she's going to feel better soon, but the psychological effect is not without a cost.

Terrorism wasn't invented in 2001, and the US has been trying to prevent it for years, so we don't have to start from scratch looking at tactics that can satisfy the Constitution and a frightened public. To listen to the "Everything changed on 9/11," crowd, you'd think absolutely no one had worried about it before, so all we've got to base decisions on is our hunches.

Just like I would rather not be in the placebo group in a study of a drug that is eventually found to be effective and safe, I can understand why there are some who believe we don't have time for double-blind controlled studies on the efficacy of antiterror tactics. There are would-be Osama bin Ladens out there. I personally prefer being lucky to being crafty when all is said and done. September 11, 2001 was not when American defense was born. A terrorist attack is a bigger deal than me succumbing to a disease I already have and there is no known cure for. And if I have a headache, I can take an aspirin, even if my more serious condition is going to get me in the end.

A TSA spokesman said Tuesday the report "is not any kind of indictment of our program," adding that the TSA's behavior-detection officers do not claim to be adept at finding people with terrorist intent.
An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure when it comes to terrorism, but for all we know, we're getting an ounce of magic beans.
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