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What if Airport Screeners Checked Your Square Root?
Mother Nature Network ^ | November 17, 2010 | Kerry Sheridan

Posted on 11/20/2010 4:27:54 PM PST by Diana in Wisconsin

(A computer scientist argues that racial profiling is less effective than random searches, but says simple math could offer an even better solution.)

What if airport screeners looked at would-be passengers and instead of assessing the color of their skin, asked: "What's the square root of your likelihood of being a terrorist?"

Such is the world imagined by an American computer scientist who argues that racial profiling to root out potential terrorists is actually less effective than random searches, but says some simple math could offer a better solution.

"When you have any profiling at all, it quickly becomes less effective than random sampling," said University of Texas professor William Press, whose paper appears Wednesday in the journal Significance, a publication of Britain's Royal Statistical Society.

Profiling does not work because "you end up screening the same innocent people over and over again, just because they happen to be in a profiled group," Press said.

Previous studies have shown that any apparent rise in success due to racial profiling is actually due to increased levels of law enforcement. More police focusing on one group will catch more criminals since fewer police and resources are focused on other groups.

"It is simply better to do uniform random sampling, which means everyone who shows up at the airport should have the same chance of being screened in the same way," said Press, who has written on the topic before for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But he has come up with an idea that just might be even better.

"It is this thing called square root sampling," he told AFP.

That way, screeners would approach a given group deemed to be, say 100 times more likely to be harmful, and then check them the square root of that number, or 10 times, more often.

"That actually would be better than uniform (random) sampling. The trouble is there is no good way to do that."

Press teaches university-level statistics and uses the example for his students, who do not argue with his mathematical formulas but do puzzle over practical ways to solve the problem in real life.

"One could imagine a system in which people's risk factors are evaluated and as you show up in airport you know, in some computerized automatic way the computer flashes either red or green and does this square root business which would be some form of optimal profiling," he said.

"But I don't know anyone who actually thinks you could make such a system work."

And when it comes to the latest controversy roiling U.S. airport travelers — systems that can peer through clothing and show bodily details — Press has just one hope in mind for any new screening technology.

"That it not slow down the lines," he said.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government
KEYWORDS: computerscience; tsapervs
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1 posted on 11/20/2010 4:27:59 PM PST by Diana in Wisconsin
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Israel profiles and it works. It works because Islam is at the bottom of most of it.


2 posted on 11/20/2010 4:32:40 PM PST by Nateman (If liberals are not screaming you are doing it wrong!)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

And the struggle between theory and practice continues.


3 posted on 11/20/2010 4:34:11 PM PST by Flightdeck (TANSTAAFL!)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Don’t they profile before handing out food stamps?


4 posted on 11/20/2010 4:35:45 PM PST by Hoodat ( Don't touch my junk, Bro !)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Tell Israel that.


5 posted on 11/20/2010 4:36:10 PM PST by freekitty (Give me back my conservative vote; then find me a real conservative to vote for)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Here’s a better idea. Take the money we’re spending on TSA and other useless federal programs and secure the boarders, round up those who over stay their student visas, deport foreigners who preach and teach hate in Mosques, and stop invading the privacy and rights of honest, hard-working Americans.


6 posted on 11/20/2010 4:41:07 PM PST by hometoroost (Protect the change! He spent all the folding money.)
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To: Hoodat
Go into a Food Stamp office wearing a coat and tie and apply for public assistance.

What will be the outcome?

7 posted on 11/20/2010 4:41:16 PM PST by pointsal
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To: Diana in Wisconsin
Profiling does not work because "you end up screening the same innocent people over and over again, just because they happen to be in a profiled group," Press said.

But they're already doing that. They search old people in wheelchairs, nuns, screaming kids, and blonds. Anyone who looks like an Arab is hurried right through.

I think maybe this guy should stick to computers. People are a bit too much for him to understand.

8 posted on 11/20/2010 4:41:30 PM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius.)
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To: pointsal

No food stamps for you.


9 posted on 11/20/2010 4:44:55 PM PST by Hoodat ( Don't touch my junk, Bro !)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

I am a HUGE believer in profiling, however, El Al has between thirty and fourty flights a day. Compare that to American Airlines that has over 2400 flights per day. The biggest issue with instituting profiling here in the USA is the personnel working for the TSA are, collectively, as intelligent as a box of breakfast cereal-Corn Flakes at best.

Where can we find GOOD people to train for profiling several million people a day? Perhaps ex-military types?


10 posted on 11/20/2010 4:46:04 PM PST by GRRRRR (He'll NEVER be my President, FUBO!)
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To: freekitty

The argument is against racial profiling which is not the type of profiling Israel does.


11 posted on 11/20/2010 4:46:15 PM PST by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Statistics is the math you use when you don’t have a real mathematical solution to a problem. And statistically speaking statisticians are attracted to solutions involving randomness. :o)

If this guy were a game theorist he’d approach the problem as a two person non-zero-sum game and would probably come to the conclusion that you should profile about 80% of the time and throw in a 20% random sample just to keep everyone honest.


12 posted on 11/20/2010 4:46:25 PM PST by InABunkerUnderSF (Anyone who has read Roman history knows a barbarian invasion when they see one.)
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To: Cicero

He raises an interesting question. What’s the overall outcome? If the outcome is efficiency, he’s probably right that searching to the square root of the likelihood is more effective, in that you search 10x fewer people, but at a greater risk of missing the correct person.

If your overall goal is to minimize the total risk, then profiling is the best way to go.


13 posted on 11/20/2010 4:46:50 PM PST by BenKenobi (Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.)
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To: Cicero

Exactly. Not counting muslims in burkas being excused to pat themselves down.


14 posted on 11/20/2010 4:48:54 PM PST by rlmorel (TSA's new motto: "You don't get on, Until we get off.")
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To: Diana in Wisconsin
Simply show everyone the cartoon of Mad Mo' with the pyrotechnic Turban.

Don't let those who go postal fly.

15 posted on 11/20/2010 4:50:08 PM PST by Paladin2
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To: BenKenobi

Few Muslims are terrorists. But nearly all terrorists are Muslims.


16 posted on 11/20/2010 4:50:34 PM PST by mkmensinger
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

I’d like to see the assumptions he makes about the population to be screened.


17 posted on 11/20/2010 4:50:46 PM PST by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Look, let’s stop using the cover-up word ‘terrorist.’ IT’S MUSLIMS THAT ARE EVIL. MUSLIMS WHO ARE KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE, BOMBING AIRPLANES, FLYING AIRPLANES INTO BUILDINGS, BEHEADING INNOCENT PEOPLE, STONING WOMEN TO DEATH. MUSLIMS ARE DANGEROUS PSYCHOTIC MURDERERS WHOSE FANATICAL ZEALOT GOAL IS TO KILL EVERY MAN, WOMAN, AND CHILD INFIDEL (that would be you!!).

Christians aren’t trying to kill me. Jews aren’t trying to kill me. Buddhists aren’t trying to kill me. MUSLIMS ARE TRYING TO KILL ME! Stop calling them terrorists and making sure you caveat that there are good muslims. THERE ARE NO GOOD MUSLIMS. PERIOD!


18 posted on 11/20/2010 4:51:31 PM PST by Doc Savage (Stay Thirsty My Friend!!)
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To: Paladin2
Another solution:

Offer folks the opportunity to get X-rayed, fondled or eat a delicious ham and swiss on rye.

19 posted on 11/20/2010 4:51:44 PM PST by Paladin2
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To: Diana in Wisconsin
Profiling does not work because "you end up screening the same innocent people over and over again, just because they happen to be in a profiled group," Press said.

Previous studies have shown that any apparent rise in success due to racial profiling is actually due to increased levels of law enforcement. More police focusing on one group will catch more criminals since fewer police and resources are focused on other groups.

The people responsible for the threats on the airplanes in question tend to be from a particular group. I fail to see the problem with focusing resources on them when the threat from other groups is next to nonexistent. Americans tend not to hijack and/or blow up American aircraft.

Stop searching Americans without due cause and start focusing on searching foreign enemies. They are the ones trying to kill us.

20 posted on 11/20/2010 4:52:51 PM PST by MWS
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