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Pretending to be “children”?

It will surprise no one that the Age runs a piece that is questioning the use of X-rays to determine the age of young men who are claiming to be minors so that they can avoid charges of people smuggling after they have crewed boats that have brought illegal immigrants to this country. The headline also tries to suggest that said testing applied to the “unaccompanied minors”is likewise unreliable:

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So much hinges upon how old any individual may be when it comes to asylum seekers and their facilitators so the question of just how we query any claims that any particular individual is under the age of majority is of utmost importance. On this occasion the vast majority of scientific opinion is that the age of an individual can be determined by the forensic examination of skeletal development by the use of X-rays. Frankly if its good enough to determine the age of a murder victim it should be good enough to determine the age of these so called minors.  This piece from the LA Times explains just how this long established method works I tend to think that we should have far more trust in the empirical  evidence here than the self serving claims of the young men who want to avoid doing time for their crime.

Furthermore I think that when it comes to this sort of crime, if someone is old enough to pilot a boat full of illegal immigrants into our waters then morally and ethically they must be old enough to wear the consequences as well.

Cheers Comrades


12 Comments

  1. JM says:

    Iain

    You are wrong, the LA Times is wrong, and so is the “expert” they quote. X-rays of bones and joints do not determine absolute age, they only determine the state of skeletal maturity of the individual concerned.

    Which varies from person to person. ie. it’s a relative measure, not an absolute one.

    My son has a condition that requires we determine his skeletal maturity so that we can stop the growth in one leg in order to compensate for the loss of length he has suffered during his childhood in the other. Consequently he is being monitored by X-rays every 3-6 months to determine:

    a.) the rate at which he is growing
    b.) the point at which he will stop growing (ie. reach skeletal maturity)

    Since this is a variable process, different for each individual, it’s a somewhat delicate judgement as to when you poison the growth plate in one leg so that he ends up with two legs more or less the same. It’s not easy.

    Your assertion, the contention of the article you quote, and the statement of the “expert” quoted is that I can simply take his age, look up a “standard” table and say “righto, we’ll do it on 11 January 2012”.

    Trust me we can’t. We have to watch closely and choose carefully.

    Otherwise we’d be saying “he must be average, right? Couldn’t possibly one of those boys who stops growing early or shoots up unexpectedly in his late teens could he?”

    You, the LA Times and their supposed expert are wrong and have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Period. And as a parent I don’t really want to hear any of your supposed expertise on the subject.

  2. Jilly says:

    JM

    You are confusing the motivation for these tests with medical applications. If those concerned did not lie about their age then tests would not be required. I am sure a wrist xray would give enough indication to their age, accessed via skeletal maturity, to indicate an actual age range. Your example is leg bone, not wrist.

    As a parent I believe you are being irrational regarding the subject, your son being the exception, as there are in most cases. If 40 year old men did not try to pass off as teenagers then there would be no use to look for scientific means in support to locate the truth.

  3. Iain Hall says:

    JM
    There is a great deal of history in forensic anthropology that underlies the validity of the use of x-rays of various parts of the skeleton to determine the age of an individual, now while it is not accurate to the day in determining age it does have a pretty good track record within a reasonable margin for error, it is certainly not perfect but it is the best tool that we have for testing the claims made by individuals such as the ones cited in this article.
    How pray tell would you suggest their claims be tested of not by the use of science?

  4. JM says:

    Iain: “.. a reasonable margin for error”

    The LA Times expert is quoted as saying it is possible to get within 12 months. Possible, but not guaranteed. These disputes are about periods of time of circa 12-24 months.

    And only one test is taken, not several over a period of time – which in this case needs to be about 24 months or longer. Which is what my son is going through. His doctors started nearly a year ago and have yet to establish a fix on when he will stop growing.

    The Age is right, the LA Times is wrong.

    And I’m quite astonished that an unemployed welder with no direct experience of the technique seeks to argue with a parent with a real and very important interest in the matter.

    You should apologise Iain.

    “…. it is the best tool for the job”

    I would have thought that corroborating evidence like birth certificates, identity documents and affidavits would also be good “tools”, don’t you?

    Or perhaps your drivers license is meaningless and we should demand a wrist X-ray from you before allowing you to drive? (Or vote, or drink).

  5. JM says:

    Oh sorry, I forgot this point.

    Last time I looked determination of whether a person was an adult or not did in fact boil down to an exact day.

    I believe it’s known as a “birthday” and I’m also given to understand that it is readily available for inspection on a person’s birth certificate, identity document, passport, etc.

    And also driver’s licenses.

    In other words, an X-ray with a standard deviation of plus/minus 1 year is completely inappropriate for making these decisions.

  6. Iain Hall says:

    JM
    I really think that your trust in empirical science is just window dressing on your political ideology, when it suits you you are a great defender of “a climate science” that is based more upon a tiny percentage of actual data and a large measure of extrapolation and speculation, and here you are suggesting that forensic science, which has a far greater data pool to draw upon than climate science, should be ignored and that we should instead either trust a claim that is clearly self serving or documents that may well be fraudulent or come form unreliable sources.
    Further

    And I’m quite astonished that an unemployed welder with no direct experience of the technique seeks to argue with a parent with a real and very important interest in the matter.

    You should apologise Iain.

    There is no way known that I will apologise to you here.
    I have nothing to apologise for.

    You are claiming that your situation, of being a parent of a child with an unrelated medical condition, gives you some sort of special insight into the determination of an individual’s age through the use of X-rays is utterly ludicrous. Its even more of a stretch than your usual claims that you are a scientist, even though you won’t even nominate your area of claimed expertise.

  7. Jilly says:

    JM
    It is well known by now that documentation, such as birth certificates and passports, are destroyed. If this documentation was provided then bone testing would not be required.What alternatives are we left to discover the truth.
    The crew members of the boats are criminals. Not entirely trustworthy.

  8. JM says:

    Jilly, you’re speculating. My understanding is that in the case of the 3 boys the Age is following, other documentation – such as birth certificates – is actually available but the Fed’s are ignoring it. Apparently because the legislation (or regulation, I’m not sure which) requires that X-rays and X-rays alone be relied on

    Iain. I’ve given you a perfectly scientific rationale – namely that X-rays are subject to variation and that the standard deviation is around 12 months which is far too wide in the legal sphere which has a standard precision of 1 day. A technique with a standard deviation of 12 months on a single measurement can only determine a 17 year olds age as falling between 14 and 20 (+/- 3 sigma).

    Can you explain to me why you think a possible 3 year error either way is satisfactory for the legal purpose of determining adulthood?

    You are claiming that your situation, of being a parent of a child with an unrelated medical condition, gives you some sort of special insight into the determination of an individual’s age through the use of X-rays is utterly ludicrous.

    Why? Tell me. All it means is that in an area of life of especial importance to me – the health of my children – I happen to have encountered this technique and had it explained to me by the specialist and a radiologist. That puts me a little ahead of the game in the layperson stakes when compared with the average newspaper reader and your good self. That’s all I’m claiming.

    BTW – I’m not sure that “I know only what I read in Bolt’s column and your experience in your personal life is worthless because the great god Bolt has spoken” is exactly a good look.

  9. JM says:

    Jilly: Your example is leg bone, not wrist.

    I didn’t explain quite properly (and you’re displaying your lack of familiarity with the technique). My son’s problem is with his leg, but the measurements of skeletal maturity are done by X-rays of the hand, particularly the finger joints and the wrist in the latter stages. You need to do a succession of tests over time and watch the ageing process as the fingers mature first (at the tips) and the maturity is progressive with the wrist occurring last.*

    That gives you a trajectory for that individual and can tell you when they are going to stop growing.

    It absolutely does NOT tell you how old the individual actually is. You require a birth certificate for that.

    It can tell you – by reference to the average of a large number of people – how the individual measures against the average, but not how that maps to their age. That’s where the standard deviation (ie. the error) comes in. And it’s pretty wide.

    All of us know this from personal experience with children, particularly teenagers, and their growth patterns. We all know that one can shoot up early and then suddenly stop, while another (possibly a sibling) and appear stunted during the early years and shoot up later.

    All of that is caused by bone growth. Which is what is being measured with X-rays. And which varies from person to person.

    This is a totally inappropriate technique.

    * ie. you shouldn’t rely just on the wrist, you have to watch growth through all of the extremities of the skeleton. At least that’s my understanding as explained to me by my child’s doctors.

  10. Iain Hall says:

    JM

    Iain. I’ve given you a perfectly scientific rationale – namely that X-rays are subject to variation and that the standard deviation is around 12 months which is far too wide in the legal sphere which has a standard precision of 1 day. A technique with a standard deviation of 12 months on a single measurement can only determine a 17 year olds age as falling between 14 and 20 (+/- 3 sigma).

    And as I’ve already suggested the notion that someone who is just under the age of majority should not be prosecuted for this offence is more ridiculous,

    Can you explain to me why you think a possible 3 year error either way is satisfactory for the legal purpose of determining adulthood?

    Well that is you stretching the envelope when the stated margin for error is less than that

    Why? Tell me. All it means is that in an area of life of especial importance to me – the health of my children – I happen to have encountered this technique and had it explained to me by the specialist and a radiologist. That puts me a little ahead of the game in the layperson stakes when compared with the average newspaper reader and your good self. That’s all I’m claiming.

    That is just you using an argument from your own authority again 🙄 Further you claim this authority on the basis of hearsay 🙄

    BTW – I’m not sure that “I know only what I read in Bolt’s column and your experience in your personal life is worthless because the great god Bolt has spoken” is exactly a good look.

    I don’t know where that comes from I don’t reference Bolt here

  11. JM says:

    Iain: the stated margin for error is less than that

    I’ve used the stated “margin for error” from the LA Times article. It’s fairly clear they are referring to a standard deviation which they pitch at 12 months. +/- 3 puts 99% of 17 year olds between 14 and 20 years.

    But that’s the technical perspective. The guts of the matter is that to determine legal age requires a precision of 1 day.

    This technique doesn’t even come close. No-one claims that it does.

    To use this as the sole measure to determine legal claims is ludicrous.

  12. Craigy says:

    “I really think that your trust in empirical science is just window dressing on your political ideology, when it suits you you are a great defender of “a climate science” that is based more upon a tiny percentage of actual data and a large measure of extrapolation and speculation…”

    You really have provided a classic example of wingnut projection here Iain, and you managed it in just one sentence.

    First you say….“your trust in empirical science is just window dressing on your political ideology”

    And then follow it up with an opinion straight from (your ideas man) Andrew Bolts song book.

    “a climate science” that is based more upon a tiny percentage of actual data and a large measure of extrapolation and speculation…”

    LOL, now let’s see you explain how you have visited all the climate scientists, examined all the evidence and conclusions and worked out that the data set is a tiny percentage. One must asked, a tiny percentage of what Iain?

    If you didn’t get this talking point from Bolt, then who? Monckton? LOL……Oh my belly hurts.

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