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The Science of Your Political Views

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

While Canadian politics could never match the emotional idiocy of American politics, I’ve seen some pretty heated discussions in the past few weeks.

The Canadian federal election is a couple of weeks away, and with the debates over and done, we are in the home stretch of campaigning.

But how much do attack-ads and party platforms really affect our decision of whom to vote for? Is it possible that our political leanings are more influenced by ‘nature’ than ‘nurture’?

An article in The Globe today discusses the neuroscience behind political viewpoints. As it turns out, the brain of a conservative works differently than that of a liberal.

Dr. David Amodio, Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University, discussed what these differences were, and how they affect what political party we support.

According to a 2007 paper Dr. Amodio published in Nature Neuroscience:

on average, conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles, whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty.

So conservatives tend to be more, shall we say, stubborn in their political viewpoints than liberals, who tend to gather more information and can be more flexible with their views.

While this may conjure up a stereotypical image of the crotchety old man, so set in his ways that he refuses to vote for anyone but the Conservatives, you should take these studies with a grain of salt.

It is only fair to point out that most of these studies are designed by liberals and may have some bias, and there are certainly many exceptions to these “rules”.

One very interesting study discussed in The Globe conducted at Princeton University:

people were shown black-and-white photographs of the faces of rival political candidates. After viewing each pair of photos for a mere half a second, they were asked which candidate looked more competent. In fact, the candidates they judged to be more competent had won their races two-thirds of the time.

This indicates that, regardless of political leanings, people tend to vote with their emotions as much, if not more, than with their brains. As much as I hate attack ads and staged photo-ops, it would seem the strategists are using science to their advantage.

So whether you identify yourself as a Liberal or a Conservative, NDP or Green, it couldn’t hurt any of us to be aware that the way our brains work can influence how we vote, and we should make an extra effort to stay informed on all the issues; instead of voting for the same party every time just out of habit.

Ontario Opposition Parties Resort to Radiation Fear Mongering

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was criticized for not releasing details of increased radiation levels in Ontario. - Photo: Joshua Sherurcij

It keeps happening, and it keeps blowing my mind.

However, this time it is not the media that is the culprit of radiation fear-mongering, but the opposition parties in the Ontario provincial government.

A story today from The Globe and Mail details how Premier Dalton McGuinty and the provincial Liberal party have come

under fire from opposition members on Wednesday for failing to tell the public about elevated levels of radiation detected in the province following Japan’s nuclear disaster.

The problem with this though, is that the increased radiation levels in Ontario are negligible.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about increased radiation levels being detected in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. The media, of course, jumped all over the story, even though the increase in radiation detected was less than the increase seen when it rains.

And it rains A LOT in BC.

The increase seen in Ontario is even smaller. In fact, as Leslie Meerburg, spokeswoman for Health Canada, pointed out:

A five-hour airplane flight from Montreal to Vancouver exposes an individual to 50,000 times more radiation than the level detected in Canada as a result of the earthquake in Japan

Let me give you some more numbers to show you just how ridiculous this complaint by the opposition parties really is.

Radiation dose absorbed in a biological system is calculated in units of Sieverts (Sv). This unit takes into account the radiation type, amount of radiation absorbed by your body, as well as the sensitivity of various organs to radiation exposure.

On average, you get about 10 micro-Sieverts (1.0 x 10-5 Sv) of radiation dose per day. That five-hour flight from Montreal to Vancouver gives you about 40 micro-Sieverts (4.0 x 10-5 Sv).

The increased amount of radiation in Ontario is roughly 0.00008 micro-Sieverts (8.0 x 10-10 Sv).

This is an increase of about 0.0008 %.

Need a visual? Here is a bar graph comparing a normal day’s worth of radiation dose in Ontario, compared to a day with the “increased levels” of radiation dose.

In other words, there is absolutely no danger associated with this increased level of radiation.

So why did the NDP give the Liberals a hard time?

New Democrats questioned government ministers for the second straight day on why they have not been more transparent with the public by publishing information on radiation levels in the air, water and food supply.

“This government totally dropped the ball,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in Question Period.

I generally support the NDP, but it was the NDP in this case that dropped the ball. I’m very disappointed by this.

Turns out, the Ontario government had already increased testing all food, milk and water in the wake of the Japan nuclear crisis. The NDP was upset that they didn’t tell anybody.

But I feel this was the right call. Why cause undo fear and panic  when there is absolutely no danger? I’m glad the government increased their testing rates, just to be on the safe side, but telling the public would have been a mistake.

Refusing to understand the science behind an issue and using fear to further a political agenda is distasteful and shows a lack of judgment. Frankly, it is something more akin to American politics.