Tag Archives: fear

Cell Phone Cancer Scare Refuses to Die

Some people are scared that cell phones cause brain tumors. There are enough of these bedwetters that San Francisco just passed a new law to “require all retailers to display the amount of radiation each phone emits.”

For most phones, that’s roughly one watt; the legal limit in the U.S. is 1.6 watts.

Studies have yet to find a link between cell phones and brain cancer. The main reason is that it is physically impossible; one watt of radiation just isn’t enough to cause any tissue damage.

The human body naturally generates about 100 times as much energy at rest, and 1000 times as much during exercise. One measly watt isn’t enough to affect anything.

One wonders why the bed-wetters are only worried about brain cancer; cell phones are held in the hand. And unlike the brain, which is shielded by hair, scalp, and skull, the hand is completely unprotected from cell phone radiation. If cell phones did cause cancer, activists should be at least as worried about skin and bone cancers in the hand.

But they aren’t. One reason is that those cancers don’t sound as scary as brain tumors do; it’s harder to get people worked up and frightened.

The other reason is that cell phones don’t cause cancer. Not in the hand. Not in the brain. Not in the face, the, jaw, or any other body part might take the brunt of the single watt of energy our cell phones emit.


How to Stand up to Terrorists

Fear of terrorism is literally irrational. You are 20 times more likely to be struck by lightning than fall victim to a terrorist attack. 200 times more Americans are killed by car wrecks than by terrorists. Yet people seem to be at least 200 times more scared of terrorists than of cars. This makes no logical sense.

In an article in the new issue of the CEI Planet (on page 7), I make the case that this is due to black swan bias, an inborn cognitive bias in the human brain that makes us pay undue attention to rare, catastrophic events and ignore everyday dangers.

Terrorism thrives on black swan bias. Terrorists are so few in number that fear is their only weapon. Every time people submit to new security theater measures, every time we trade away our freedom for the illusion of security, the terrorists win. The way to fight back is to not be scared. Fortunately, the facts give us plenty of reasons to drop our irrational fears.

Regulation of the Day 124: Kissing Your Girlfriend Good-Bye

How do we know the terrorists are winning? When a man kissing his girlfriend good-bye at Newark Liberty International Airport results in the evacuation of an entire terminal, 200 delayed or canceled flights, and re-screening for thousands of passengers.

There is a word for this: overreaction. If this how the government reacts to a threat that is 20 times scarcer than being struck by lightning, we are doing something wrong.

Yes, the criminal kisser was wrong to sneak under a security rope to get one last peck from his girlfriend. But closing down an entire terminal at a major airport for six hours is overdoing it. Just take a look at the offender.

His name is Haisong Jiang. He is 28 years old and very much in love. He emigrated to the U.S. from China in 2004, and met his girlfriend at Rutgers University. She recently moved to California, though they remain together. Mr. Jiang is still in the New York area, pursuing a biology Ph.D. When he receives his degree later this year, he plans to move to California to be with her. He is clearly not a terrorist.

Mr. Jiang’s forbidden kiss was recorded by surveillance cameras. It was clear that he was sneaking a kiss, not a bomb. Even so, a five-day manhunt ensued. Mr. Jiang was arrested and tried. Fortunately, his sentence is a light one: “a $500 fine and $158 in costs and fees,” plus 100 hours of community service.

I was a bit worried that he would have been shipped to Guantanamo Bay, frankly. Hopefully retired Maj. Gen. Robert Harding, the new head of the TSA, will take steps to make airport security more rational and less driven by fear.

This Is How Terrorists Win

Fear is a terrorist’s only effective weapon. There are so few of them, and their attacks are so rare, that fear is all they have. Yet they win victory after victory. People and governments have an irrational tendency to over-react to rare but conspicuous threats. Here’s our latest loss:

[Washington, DC] Metro Transit Police will hold a “major anti-terrorism show of force” Tuesday during rush hour at one of the agency’s “busiest Metrorail station,” according to a media advisory released by the agency…

Metro said about 50 officers from several Metro Transit Police units will participate in the exercise, including anti-terrorism and K-9 explosives detection teams, bomb technicians, mobile and foot patrols.

As a daily user of the DC Metro, here’s hoping this security theater production happens as far away from my commute as possible.

Terrorism Is Rare

Radley Balko points to an article that shows exactly how rare terrorism is.

The figure that caught my eye was the last one. There were 647 deaths due to airborne terrorism over the last last ten years. There were 7,015,630,000 passengers over the same period. Yes, that figure is higher than current world population. That’s because each time someone flies, they count as one passenger. You take ten trips, you’re counted ten times. That represents each opportunity to become a terrorist victim, and is therefore the correct measure to use.

Each time you board a plane, your odds of being a victim of terrorism are about  1 in 10,408,947 (my own calculations yielded 1 in 10,843,323, but the point holds either way). Your odds of being struck by lighting are over twenty times higher!

Terrorists are so rare that they can’t win by killing people. There are too many of us and too few of them. Terrorists can only win by scaring people. Making them overreact. Making them trade away their freedom for for the illusion of security. The TSA, which is based on exactly that, represents the terrorists’ greatest victory yet.

That’s why people need to know just how safe we really are, even with all of the terrorists out there. The more we know, the less scary they become. And fear is their only effective weapon. If we take it away, the terrorists lose.