Dohiyi Mir
    In Which NTodd Says His Peace

Tuesday, February 03, 2004
Go to the new DM blog.


Weapons Of Public Distraction Related Program Activity


Amazing that when BushCo starts feeling the heat, boobs and scary things pop out of the proverbial woodwork:

Following the discovery of suspected deadly toxin ricin in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, much of the Senate complex will be shut down Tuesday, the Senate Web site said.

Certainly I don't want to minimize the danger of a possible ricin attack, but it seems oddly convenient, just like the terror alerts and Kobe Bryant. Given our vigorous pursuit of silly things like exposed breasts, while we have yet to catch the people who outed Valerie Plame (let alone the anthrax killer), I have become a bit cynical. Then I read stuff like this:

Of eight tests conducted Monday, six were positive for the toxin, with a ninth and final test due Tuesday.
...
One milligram of ricin, a dose the size of the head of a pin, can kill an adult.

This gets me scratching my head, but maybe because I don't quite understand how testing works. If you've got a visible powder, I would assume there are gram levels of the toxin present, which from what I've read is millions of times more than you need to get a positive with today's analysis methods. If that's the case, why have 2 tests failed and nobody has become ill (thankfully)?

Given that you could have false positive rates of upwards of 80% in some tests, is it more likely that there are merely traces of something else at microgram levels (which make specificity dicey at best) that cause the tests to come up positive? Maybe my more scientific readers can help dispel my doubts.

It's pretty sad when I can't really trust the reporting, or the government officials doing the testing and investigating. After all the breathless front-page pronouncements of "we've found WMD" and "preliminary tests show the white powder to be [insert toxin]" that have proved false with corrections buried on page 12, I'm not going to hold my breath on this one.

ntodd

[Update: Tom Burka over at Opinions You Should Have has a nice FAQ about ricin that should clear up any questions you might have.] 
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A non-violent, counter-dominant, left-liberal, possibly charismatic, quasi anarcho-libertarian Quaker's take on politics, volleyball, and other esoterica.

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