Morning Links

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
  • What happens to your keys and passwords after you die? Cory Doctorow looks at the various ways of giving loved ones access to your post-mortem online life.
  • On the topic of police dogs, someone in the comments posted this 2007 Grits for Breakfast post, in which a consultant expert on the use of K9s says the dogs are wrong about half the time. No idea how accurate that is, though it’s consistent with what cops from LEAP have told me.
  • Publishers Weekly interviews comic artist Peter Bagge, whose new book is a collection of the editorial comics he has written for Reason over the years.
  • Wired follows up on bCurtis Melvin’s work using Google Maps to annotate North Korea’s geography.
  • WalMart supports an employer health care mandate. Weirdly, this will likely win the company praise from its traditional critics. In truth, this really is an effort to impose expensive, government-enforced burdens on the company’s mom-and-pop competitors. Yet another example of how behemoth companies tend to welcome federal regulation, not shun it. More regs make it more difficult for upstarts to compete.
  • Stock up on Nyquil and Allerest now. The feds may ban them. Ridiculous. When you consider how many people benefit from the acetaminophen’s pain relief properties, 458 deaths per year sounds almost like a rounding error. (MORE: They want to ban Percocet and Vicodin, too.)
  • The Daily Show’s terrific reporting from Iran.
  • Husien Shehada, a 29-year-old unarmed Virginia man, was shot dead while vacationing in Florida this week. Police were apparently investigating reports of a man carrying a gun outside a nightclub. It doesn’t appear that he did anything wrong at all. The police bizarrely then interrogated the man’s brother and girlfriend about whether “they spoke Arabic,” then arrested the man’s brother for beating his girlfriend (he denies the charge). The cop who shot him was back on duty four days later, during which he was involved in a second fatal shooting. He’s now on paid desk duty. More here.
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  • 63 Responses to “Morning Links”

    1. #1 |  Dave Krueger | 

      The reason for the overdoses with percocet and vicodin is because people are taking more of those to get higher doses of the narcotic element. They don’t do that with allergy medicines since there are no narcotics in them. What they ought to do its dispense the drugs separately giving customers the option to take more of the narcotics without the more toxic acetaminophen.

      Of course, that would be too simple. They don’t want anyone getting high illegally. To them the options are either to ban it or just allow people to die. Fuckin’ assholes.

      You will see a lot more behavior control like this as government starts paying people’s medical bills.

    2. #2 |  Lee | 

      I’m not surprised about WalMart at all. I know part of your schitck is government enforced burdens, but I think it is simpler than that.

      I did a stint with WalMart during grad school, they already have their hourly employees apply (and usually get) Medicare/Medicaid.

      They are just making it easier for the government to subsidize their workforce.

    3. #3 |  SJE | 

      So, if they ditch the acetominophen, can we get straight opiates? You know, the stuff that really works, and doesnt mess up your liver

    4. #4 |  SJE | 

      WTF with the Virginia man, killed in Florida on camera, while following police instructions? Do we get a murder charge like in Oakland?

    5. #5 |  David | 

      Of course, that would be too simple. They don’t want anyone getting high illegally. To them the options are either to ban it or just allow people to die. Fuckin’ assholes.

      To paraphrase Mr Bumble, “morality” is a ass.

    6. #6 |  PogueMahone | 

      Strangely, ever since I was a child, acetaminophen has never had an effect on me. Tylenol never worked. It was either aspirin, ibuprofen, and now naproxen that I would take for headaches and other minor pain.

      I take vicodin from time to time for back pain, and I hate the fact that there is also acetaminophen in it as well, as it is a useless and potentially harmful additive for me.

      If – as SJE asks above – that if we are still able to get the hydrocodone etc…

      Some doctors already avoid prescribing pills that combine acetaminophen with narcotics like oxycodone (found in Percocet) and hydrocodone (in Vicodin).

      “It ties the doctor’s hands when you put the two drugs together,” said Dr. Scott M. Fishman, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of California, Davis, and a former president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “There’s no reason you can’t get the same effect by using them separately.”

      Dr. Fisher said the combinations were prescribed so often for the sake of convenience, but added, “When you’re using controlled substances, you want to err on the side of safety rather than convenience.”

      Could this be a good thing?

      Just asking.

    7. #7 |  Eric Hanneken | 

      From the article about drug-sniffing dogs:

      [M]ost drug dogs are only accurate 52% of the time, meaning that 48% of the time dogs wrongfully give police probable cause for a search.

      That’s not exactly right. The author is saying is that dogs make a type 1 error (indicating the presence of drugs when there are none) 48% of the time. That doesn’t imply that 52% of the time the dogs are right, because he hasn’t accounted for type 2 errors (failing to indicate the presence of drugs when there are some). Measuring the type 2 error rate is presumably more difficult because suspects aren’t always searched when dogs don’t “alert.”

    8. #8 |  ktc2 | 

      I think a “double blind” peer reviewed study of police dogs is long overdue by a respectable science institution.

      It’s time to put this lame police excuse to rest for good, or in the unlikely event that there are SOME dogs that can actually do this with a high degree of acuracy then we need to find a way to correctly distinguish which ones.

    9. #9 |  Mattocracy | 

      Question 1.

      So if we decide that dogs aren’t very accurate sniffing out drugs, how good are they at sniffing out bombs at airports?

      Question 2.

      Can we still go to Canada to get NyQuil? Any Canucks out there?

    10. #10 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

      “Does blue sound like hut?”

      “The meter was not correct.”

      I needed that levity today……

    11. #11 |  Adolphus | 

      If you missed the Daily Show’s Iran segments, I recommend the one in which Jason Jones interviews three different progressive voices who were arrested between the time they were interviewed and the time the interviews aired. They followed up by interviewing the son of one of the arrestees about his father. After Stewart made one joke that fell flat, he realized this was not the time and it settled into a sane, poignant interview.

      It was easily the best segment on Iran from ANY source so far. Somewhere on the Daily Show site they have collated all the Behind the Veil segments. It’s worth a half hour to watch them all.

    12. #12 |  Chance | 

      “When you consider how many people benefit from the acetaminophen’s pain relief properties, 458 deaths per year sounds almost like a rounding error.”

      Wow, that’s a little cold blooded. Wouldn’t that be a little like saying “but look at all the dogs SWAT teams didn’t shoot last year!”? Besides, it ignores the 26,000 hospitalizations also mentioned in the article. Not insignificant. I also wonder if the 1600 liver failure mentioned are already included in the 26000 or are in addition to? The article is a little unclear on that.

    13. #13 |  Bronwyn | 

      Dave Krueger beat me to it – he always does :) – but the liver toxicity of high doses of acetaminophen are not imaginary.

      The only reason the opioids are paired with acetaminophen in the first place is to force doctors to keep the opioid doses low. Patients who require opioid pain therapy are under enough physiological stress that it’s counterproductive to stress them even more.

      The drugs really ought to be uncoupled.

    14. #14 |  Michael Pack | 

      Seems that even one death is enough to over regulate or produce law.458 deaths is a very low number,I’d have assumed more counting suicide.I’d wager more people drown in pools or choke on food each year.Anything for a risk free society I guess. As for dogs,I’ve trained hunting dogs for upland birds and waterfowl for over 20 years.Even the best make mistakes 15 to 20 % of the time depending on scent conditions.On hot,dry,or windy days they may walk riight by game.I always train my labs for hand signals to point then to the right area from a distance,water makes scenting much harder.I believe the 50% mistake ratio.

    15. #15 |  Someone | 

      I get the feeling that there is information missing from the 29 y/o shooting incident. Just someone out at 4 am after having already gone out partying is going to be a little wasted and his friends said he was a really big guy… Maybe the cops misunderstand an action in the dark as aggressive?

      Hard to know. The police really didn’t give the media their point of view about the entire thing.

    16. #16 |  z | 

      #7 is exactly right, if 1 out of 100 vehicles has drugs in it and the dog alerts twice, being right once and wrong once, then the dog is correct 99% of the time, not 50%.

    17. #17 |  Michael Pack | 

      Chance,it could be a rounding number,the government adds numbers to fit their beliefs.Second hand smoke is a good example.The N.S.T.A admits they add number to ‘alcohol related ‘ traffic deaths they have no prof of.the numbers you gave,20,000,1600,458,are very low for a population of over 300 millions.

    18. #18 |  Nick T | 

      Re: Dogs

      The thing about Dogs is that they are probably a very useful tool for *investigations* but they should never even be mentioned in a court of law.

      As an investigator trying to track a killer, or a missing person, or a bomb, something that will give you a piece of useful information with 50% accuracy (or conceivably higher, wehen you include indications of non-information, as 16 points out) is better than not having that tool at all.

      For a court of law – especially in criminal matters – when the burden is so high and the presumption so heavy in favor of the defendant, allowing something that produces false positives half the time is unacceptable. And, 16, though your math is correct, once you are dealing with an actual positive indication, the only relevant number becomes the rate of false positives. This is somewhat why lie detector tests are inadmissible in court, because they are only accurate somewhere between 88 and 92 % of the time and that’s just not good enough when their persuasive value would be so high.

    19. #19 |  Nick T | 

      @12

      Chance, I don’t think Radley is saying those deaths don’t matter, but that at some point you have to weigh the costs by looking at how big that number actually is. (I.e. anyone who uses the “if we can save just one life canard” is probably a ragin idiot and clearly a statist.)

      In the case of SWAT teams, the costs may not be incredibly high in terms of deaths, but the benefit is practically zero. It is a definitively unwise policy. Pain-killing drugs bring huge benefits to millions of people from relieving frequent headaches to making life livable.

      We can’t eliminate everything that causes people to die otherwise we’d have to ban those plug-in air-fresheners which somehow kill like 150 people per year.

    20. #20 |  Mattocracy | 

      The FDA shouldn’t ban drugs. They should allow the market to offer them in whatever forms consumers want them in. If people don’t like acetaminophen, they’ll just stop buying drugs containing it. Kind of like we don’t have to ban Walmart. We can just stop shopping at retail stores that support more government regulation.

    21. #21 |  Jim | 

      Clearly, the FDA has no faith in medicine.

    22. #22 |  Zargon | 

      #16
      #7 is exactly right, if 1 out of 100 vehicles has drugs in it and the dog alerts twice, being right once and wrong once, then the dog is correct 99% of the time, not 50%.

      By that measure, I could fashion a magic 8-ball that returns “No” every single time and use it in the same test and also score 99%.

    23. #23 |  Bronwyn | 

      I may be talking out my ass, but I was under the impression that it was government pressure that created the opioid/analgesic combos in the first place.

      Any doctor with half a brain knows it’s stupid to throw more drugs than necessary at a person.

      The number of hospitalizations is not minor – adverse events like these contribute to deaths and to overall decline in health. And the government cares because of course, the government feels the need to insinuate itself into our medicine cabinets.

      The point remains, though, that’s it’s government’s irrational fear of opioids that created the vicodin and percocet monsters in the first place.

    24. #24 |  Mike | 

      #7, I think you are technically correct but I am not sure it actually matters. I don’t think Type 2 errors really matter. Certainly you would like these somewhat minimized but only to the extent that you don’t introduce more Type 1 errors.

      All that really matters is did the dog give sufficient evidence for probable cause for a search. So in that specific situation the 52% number is accurate. I would tend to say that ‘probably’ is a number a little north of 52% if I had to pick I’d say 70% is ‘probably’ with 30-70% being “good chance”. If a search is being based on a single point of evidence and the error rate can be measured then the courts seem like they should set a hard number here.

    25. #25 |  Eric Hanneken | 

      I think z and I are reading the claim differently. To my mind, it meant that when a dog is brought out 100 times, it will incorrectly indicate the presence of drugs 48 times, with the remaining 52 cases divided between alerting correctly and not alerting. I think to z, it meant that out of 100 alerts, the dog will be wrong 48 times.

      Unfortunately, the article that Radley links to is little help. It provides a source, but the link to that is broken. I don’t know what the 48 number really means, or how well-founded it is.

    26. #26 |  Bronwyn | 

      Mattocracy – it’s not a free market now, so saying this ban will inhibit the free market is a fallacy.

      Doctors cannot prescribe straight hydrocodone for you to pick up at your friendly neighborhood pharmacy. At least, not without the DEA busting down their office doors.

      If you want a free market for these drugs, allow the doctors to prescribe them appropriately and with full freedom of judgement.

      Unless you want a free free market in which patients self-diagnose and self-prescribe.

    27. #27 |  Jeff S. | 

      The numbers showing up for the acetaminophen poisonings seem inconsistent. The CNN article says there were 26,000 hospitalizations and 458 deaths in the 1990s. The NYT article says there are 42,000 hospitalizations and over 400 deaths every year. I didn’t see sources for these numbers on either article.

      From the 2008 AAPCC Annual Report (data compiled from poison control centers), there were 208 fatalities with exposure to acetaminophen in combination, and 140 fatalities with exposure from acetaminophen alone in 2007. Since deaths that include exposure to multiple compounds are counted multiple times (e.g., if someone had both alcohol and acetaminophen in his system, it would be counted as exposure to both alcohol and acetaminophen), these numbers are likely an upper bound on the number of deaths attributable to acetaminophen.

    28. #28 |  bobzbob | 

      THe bit about K-9 dogs being wrong half the time is badly misleading and reflects a deep and dangerous misunderstanding of statistics. THe report at face value only says that the dogs have a false positive rate of 50%. I.e. half the time they alert there are no drugs found. This is not the error rate, the error rate is the combination of the false positive and the false negative rate. A false negative would be when the dog fails to alert when drugs are present.
      Lets say there are 100 bags at the airport, 2 have contraband in them. The dog inspects all 100 bags and alerts on 2, one with contraband and one without. The false positive rate (% of errors when the dog alerts) is 1/2 or 50%, the false negative rate (% of errors when the dog doesn’t alert but should have is 1/99 or 0.99%) the total error rate is 2% (1 false positive + 1 false negative) out of 100 inspections. That is much better than flipping a coin, note how that 50% of the contraband is intradicted, much better than if 2 bags had been pulled at random from the stack for inspection. The math works even if the false negative rate is higher.

    29. #29 |  Bronwyn | 

      Clicky the link for the ADRES – the ADR electronic database.

    30. #30 |  MDGuy | 

      The article about the police shooting is completely engineered to garner support for the police. It mentions the “armed suspect” four times before it finally tells you that the video shows he was unarmed. The fucking headline says “A Miami-Dade detective shot and killed an armed robbery suspect Friday.” Your average reader stops right there – “Oh he was armed, of course the police shot him!” I hate how they can just stick the word “allegedly” or “suspected” in front of an allegation that’s directly at odds with reality and call it “reporting.” The headline should be “Police gun down unarmed man for no reason.”

    31. #31 |  Mike | 

      No doubt the K9s are better than flipping a coin, the issue in my mind is really one of probable cause. In the situation where you are at the airport and the dog has alerted on you, It is a true statement to say there is a 50% chance the dog is wrong.

      So 50% does not really equate to “probable” and shouldn’t get you stripsearched and locked in a cell for a few hours.

      As a tool it is still very useful if other evidence is also used to bump that 50% chance higher.

    32. #32 |  MDGuy | 

      #12 | Chance | July 1st, 2009 at 9:13 am
      Wow, that’s a little cold blooded. Wouldn’t that be a little like saying “but look at all the dogs SWAT teams didn’t shoot last year!”?

      The difference there is when I take acetaminophen, I take it willingly and I am aware that there may be health risks associate with it. Some people may be unaware of the risks, but I think it’s your own responsibility to know what you’re putting in your body. When the police break down my door and shoot me or my dog because they had the wrong address, I don’t have much choice there – the situation is forced on me. 458 deaths from acetaminophen is just the price we have to pay to have the freedom to take pain relievers. 458 deaths (or any, in my mind) from mistaken S.W.A.T. raids constitutes an assault on freedom.

    33. #33 |  Bob | 

      Apparently, there is no standard by which all dogs are measured. You could have a professionally trained drug dog, that achieved a 90% hit rate in a controlled test (A test so controlled it should be 100%, IMO) or one that gets 71 false positives out of 72 alerts:

      http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/05/60minutes/main591477.shtml

      Look at the last case in that one… the dog had a rate exceeding 90% in controlled tests, but only 35% in the real world. Hmm. Crooked handler?

      Here’s a guy that got the detection om meth tossed out on appeal because the dog had iffy training and the handler didn’t bother to maintain records anyway.

      http://rexcurry.net/drugdogs.html

    34. #34 |  Nick T | 

      @28

      Your a statistics wiz, congrats, but again the only relevant thing is the likelihood of false positives. We are talking about situations where a dog alerts to drugs. What is the accuracy of THAT particular reading.

      It’s like a piss test for drugs, they are accurate 99% of the time, but they also yield many false positives for, say, marijuana. When I’m staring at a positive screen for marijuana I don’t care about the stone sober nuns who took tests that came back clean, I care about the odds that this particular test might be wrong.

      In other words, when you have a reading in hand why would you examine the general accuracy of the test/device in lieu of the specific accuracy of that actual read out?

      Moreover, are we seriously debating whether evidence from dogs should actually be used as evidence in court or are we just hashing out mathematical technicalities?

    35. #35 |  Zeb | 

      The article about the pain killers does not indicate that anyone is proposing banning over the counter apap products. Just reducing the recommended dose. This sounds like a good decision to me. There really is no need to have it in the prescription opiate preparations.

      This could turn out badly because people like to get hysterical about drugs, but on its own merits, this seems like a good decision.

    36. #36 |  Eric | 

      Regarding the dogs and statistics. Its not the false negatives that land people in prison. Its the false positives that are the prosecution’s sole evidence that land people in jail. That’s why false negatives don’t matter. False positives are the real issue.

    37. #37 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

      “A Miami-Dade detective shot and killed an armed robbery suspect Friday.”
      Yeah, Florida media are bought and sold by weenie corporations.
      And they lawyers are beaten down too.
      I couldn’t get a Palm Beach lawyer to touch a case that
      would have ben pretty clear cut in any other place I
      travel to.

    38. #38 |  Hamburglar007 | 

      Bronwyn,

      I’m afraid you are talking out your ass. Opiates mixed with nsaids provides has a synergistic effect. Hydrocodone is available with tylenon (aka vicodin), as well as with other painkillers such as ibuprofen (aka vicoprofen). With that said I think the US requirement that hydrocodone be mixed with a nsaid is stupid.

    39. #39 |  Michael Chaney | 

      ”I support him 100 percent and I’m confident that once the investigation is complete he’ll be exonerated and found to have used force appropriate to what was used against him,” Bello said.

      Did this guy watch the video? They were nowhere near the officer, he had to be 15+ feet away when he fired his weapon, meaning that there’s no way an unarmed person could have even been using force against him (unless it’s some psychic powers).

      When I read this stuff, and similar comments from Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago (“we couldn’t read the street numbers because the sky was overcast”) it’s obvious that these guys are simply making up what would otherwise be considered humorous and obviously fake excuses because they know they won’t be called out on it.

      Watching this video from Miami, it can be nothing other than murder. Likely not 1st degree, but it was intentional taking of life with no valid reason.

      I’m going to knock Miami off my list for future vacations unless this is taken care of properly, I’d hope others would do the same.

    40. #40 |  Jim Collins | 

      When I was in the Navy in San Diego, you sometimes had a drug dog at the gate to give you a once over when you returned from off base. One night as I was coming in the dog alerted on the package that I was carying. It tore the package from my hands and tore it open. It was the cheeseburger that I was bringing back for my room mate, who had duty that weekend. Since the dog ate the burger and there was no proof that there wasn’t something in the burger, I was subjected to piss tests every week for two months.

    41. #41 |  Brock | 

      I hate to be overly critical, but without Nyquil how will we beat the SARS?

    42. #42 |  Bronwyn | 

      Yes, I know it has a synergistic effect. That’s not what I was talking about. I was talking about the pressure to combine the two into one pill to reduce (in government addled-brain theory) abuse.

      Prescribing the drugs in combination is not – and should not – mean one-pill-fits-all. One pill does not fit all, and the combo pills force the bad fit.

      When people need to be titrated to a higher opioid dosage, the combo drugs mean they also wind up at a higher APAP or NSAID dosage.

      In most cases (genetics of course determine this), a higher opioid dosage will lead to toxicity more slowly than increased APAP and NSAID dosages.

      If they were uncoupled, a physician could maintain the APAP dosage and titrate the opioid as needed. Or titrate them individually to minimize risk.

      All I’m saying is that the pressure to combine the drugs into one pill was misguided from the start.

      I’m not supporting bannination, mind you. Not in the least. I’m supporting the freedom to dispense drugs properly with respect to individual patient needs, absent pressure from federal intervention.

    43. #43 |  Bob | 

      So, apparently, police in Florida are so bored with the Drug War that they have started hunting people in the streets for sport.

    44. #44 |  Bronwyn | 

      Pharmacokinetically and pharmacodynamically speaking, opioids are hands-down safer pain relievers than NSAIDs, aspirin or APAP.

    45. #45 |  Chance | 

      MDGuy, I think you’re taking my analogy a little too seriously. The point is that low numbers of human deaths do not neccessarily tell the whole story of potential drug problems, the same way low numbers of pet deaths don’t tell the whole story of police militarization. The panel reccommends lower doses and more explicit warnings. More information for consumers is a good thing. The talk is of banning some specific combinations of drugs that, as has been discussed above, arguably shouldn’t be paired together in the first place. If these are heinous examples of a government run amok, well then I guess I’ll just never see eye to eye with a lot of you guys.

    46. #46 |  cliff | 

      Regarding drug dogs, it’s not their error as much as the untrustworthness of their human counterpart that I worry about.

    47. #47 |  MacK | 

      From what I’m reading posted here, and the lack of my math skills, I’m in disagreement with the dogs 52% to 48% accuracy rates.

      Lets look at the #16 reference to #7 if of the 100 cars the dog alerts on two, but one is not correct he states that the percentage is 99% not 50%.

      I guess that may be right? I’m not sure though, because it leaves 98 cars that the dog did not alert on. The police can’t search those cars, and they may all have marijuana in them. Now like I said my math is not great but I would put that at a 1% accuracy rate.

      OK I understand that the chances are very slim that the remaining cars all contained drugs, but the real fact is we would never know.

      If there is one thing we have learned especially lately (thanks to the Radley) is that criminal sciences, are not what CSI would have us believe.

    48. #48 |  ParatrooperJJ | 

      While we’re at it let’s ban the effective decongestant in Nyquil. Oh wait, we already did that.

    49. #49 |  B | 

      Opioid-NSAID combos are great for short-term pain relief (like a couple of weeks, e.g., post minor surgery or something like kidney stones.)

      For chronic pain conditions, they are terrible, because most people develop significant tolerance to the effects of opioids, but no parallel tolerance to the hepatotoxic effects of NSAIDs. Consequently, people take more to get the same analgesic effect. So uncoupling NSAIDs and opioids is a GREAT idea, for chronic treatment. The problem, as has been pointed out, is that if you start prescribing straight opioids, the DEA will be crawling up your ass.

      The real argument that needs to be made here is that a well-monitored opioid dependence is vastly preferable to both hepatotoxicity AND needless suffering due to puritanical drug policy.

    50. #50 |  MacGregory | 

      #47 MacK
      There may be 100 cars out there that may or may not contain drugs but that is not a factor. A measure of the dogs performance can only be obtained from the two cars that the dogs actually DID search. From the data obtained (granted, a very small sampling) the accuracy rating of the dog would be 50%.

    51. #51 |  MacGregory | 

      After a re-read I withdraw my last comment

    52. #52 |  Steve Verdon | 

      Sorry Lee (#2) that is just wrong.

      Are we going to get health care reform? Yes. Would Wal-Mart want to have some say in how it is forumalted? Yes. Why not do it so as to hurt your competitors. If Target has lower costs, then a federal mandate that has higher costing requirements but lower than Wal-Marts is a smart move. I’d also suggest you read up on how guys like J.D. Rockafeller made his money. A large part of his success depended on getting sweetheart deals from rail roads so that he could undercut his competitors. Another way to do that is to favor legislation that raises your competitors costs.

      Regarding dogs:

      Suppose we have 1000 trials, and that 10 of them are postive (bombs, drugs, etc.). What we want to know is:

      Prob(Bomb|Alert)

      We can find this by looking at

      Prob(Alert|Bomb)Prob(Bomb)/Prob(Alert)

      The probability of finding a bomb is thus proportional to the probablity that there is a bomb and the porbability that the dog alerts when there is a bomb.

      Now if the probability that the dog alerts in general is 50%, then the probability that there is a bomb when the dog alerts is equal to the probability of there being a bomb. Using our numbers a 1% chance. In this case, the dog offeres no help in finding the bomb. If the probability of an alert is dropped to say 5% and the probability of the dog alerting when there is a bomb is 80% then we have the following

      Prob(Bomb|Alert) = 0.16

      In other words, even a dog that doesn’t alert that often, and alerts 80% of the time when there is bomb will still likely have a poor track record.

      Unless I’ve messed up my math.

      Based on this I’d say that dogs should be evaluated by an independent agency. Dogs should be checked both in terms of how often they alert when there is a bomb, how often they alert when there isn’t a bomb, and from this determine how often the dog alerts in general.

      What also needs to be kept in mind is that a dog can alert even if the item is not there. That a dog alerts does not mean that there is something there. Also dogs should not be trained for cross purposes. Train a dog to detect bombs or drugs not both. If a bomb detection dog alerts but you find no bomb and drugs, I’d argue that the evidence should be inadmissable since the probably cause due to the dog’s “alert” was for explosives not pot or whatever.

      Of course, it is a bit more problmatic when its the other way around, a drug dog alerting and finding a bomb. Do we really want a bomb builder/terrorist to be let lose? Hopefully this is sufficiently unlikely that it wont happen.

    53. #53 |  Steve Verdon | 

      MacGregory,

      Technically you are on the right path, but just a tad bit off. Yes, we want to use the data we have in hand. However, the dog is allowed to “inspect” all 100 cars, so that is part of our data in hand so to speak. Using field data is tough since we wont know about those cases where the dog has didn’t find drugs or a bomb when indeed there was one.

      I’d also add that dogs should go through not only re-tests, but also refresher training.

    54. #54 |  Light | 

      I’m actually allergic to Acetaminophen and a high dose would probably kill me, however, I’m aware of this and never get anything with Acetaminophen in it…. and its in EVERYTHING.

    55. #55 |  Lee | 

      Doctors cannot prescribe straight hydrocodone for you to pick up at your friendly neighborhood pharmacy.

      I have a couple of pill containers that would disagree with that statement.

      Steve:
      Yep, you’re right I screwd up the quick reading I gave the link. I thought WalMart was backing the a reform plan, not an employer mandate.

    56. #56 |  Aresen | 

      The cop who shot him was back on duty four days later, during which he was involved in a second fatal shooting. He’s now on paid desk duty.

      If I were the coffee boy in his office, I’d be very careful when bringing him his order.

    57. #57 |  Alex | 

      The consultant in the GfB story is based in Austin. Everyone in Austin is high, so if you bring the drug dog he’s going to smell the joint they just smoked. Considering Austin is full of stoned retards, I’d bet that about 52% of smokers smoke with their sacks in the car.

      Also, I had a run-in awhile ago in Austin with a drug dog. I was one of the 48% who doesn’t carry weed while the car smells like weed so no harm, no foul. But that dog immediately identified where the unsmoked blunt was kept and the ashtray. It was quite impressive really. The APD K9 officer asked me (away from the others) when was the last time the truck had been smoked in and where any weed was stored. He said it was to track the dog’s performance and make sure he’s sharp and really had no reason to lie. I’ve had one other run-in with a K9 in the middle of nowhere on the interstate, and the thing went down exactly the same.

    58. #58 |  Alex | 

      As to the statistics, trying to define an exact error rate is pointless. As with all statistics, you can manipulate the numbers to be in your favor. To get a meaningful evaluation, you have to define your objective before seeing the numbers. So a bomb dog that suspects 2 in 10,000 travelers of having a bomb, and he’s right on one of those is pretty awesome (even though some call that 50% error). But if he lets 100 bombs get by, that K9 handlers salary could be better spent in other places.

      The problem with drug dogs and evaluating their effectiveness is that they’re really good at smelling recently smoked pot (and other drugs) and drug users are really good at saying the dog is lying. What drug dogs are not very good at, even though it’s their stated purpose, is detecting 5 kilos of professionally packaged coke.

    59. #59 |  Bronwyn | 

      Lee, you forgot to quote the second sentence, which pointed out that it can be done, but at the risk of having the DEA breathing down the doctor’s neck.

      Even in the absence of an actual threat from the DEA, so many doctors are sufficiently afraid of the perceived threat that they refuse to prescribe opioids properly.

      You, Lee, seem to have hit the physician jackpot. I am sorry to hear you’re in need of pain meds.

    60. #60 |  supercat | 

      Sniffing dogs can be good and accurate if (1) the handlers want them to be accurate, and (2) nobody is trying to jinx them into yielding false positives. In cases involving e.g. getting victims out of collapsed buildings, the dog’s handlers want to avoid erroneous alerts, and so the dogs are probably reliable. In cases where a dog’s claimed alert can be used to claim PC for a search, the dog’s handlers are not opposed to erroneous alerts, and so the alerts are not as reliable.

    61. #61 |  old | 

      458 deaths per year sounds almost like a rounding error.

      Sure a rounding error, you’re a funny guy Balko, but what about the estimated 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations. What do those numbers do to the cost of insurance and health care in America?

    62. #62 |  Bronwyn | 

      More important is what those ER visits and hospitalizations do to quality of life.

    63. #63 |  Lee | 

      ANY drugs you take will have side effects.

      It is a very rare drug that will not kill someone.

      The numbers involved with aceto are very very low.

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