January 22, 2010

A stick will not detect a bomb.

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8471187.stm

N.B. Since this post was written, the linked BBC story has been updated to indicate that export of the device has been banned.

A BBC Newsnight investigation has found that a so-called "bomb detector", thousands of which have been sold to Iraq, cannot possibly work.

Basically it's a stick, some wires and some swappable cards that have those flat anti-theft tags you sometimes find attached to stuff in shops. Each card supposedly allows the device to detect a different substance. There's no power source of any kind. They're produced by a British company. They cost around £40k each. Which seems like rather a lot for something which is apparently as effective at bomb detecting as cornflakes packet with 'bomb detector' written on the side.

I like this paragraph from the story:

In 1999, the FBI put out another alert: "Warning. Do not use bogus explosives detection devices."

Presumably issued by the FBI's Bleeding Obvious Advice Unit.

See also article on Bad Science which links to an article the New York Times published on this more than two months ago. (Here - requires login which you can get from here. If you use Firefox, you might like to install the BugMeNot extension.)

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