Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The neuroscience of politics

I normally try not to think about government or politics much.  It just frustrates me.  But with the U.S. government shut down, I'm kind of forced to think about it.  I'm in the middle of a batch of National Institutes of Health grant proposal reviews.  I'm a sitting member of a study section in the Deafness and Communication Disorders Institute (NIDCD).  Reviews are due this Friday.  Study section meeting is next Friday in Washington DC.  Being a responsible citizen of the scientific community, I carried on with my reviews today.  But of course when I went to log on to the NIH Internet Assisted Review website I found this message:

Due to the lapse in government funding, the system on this web site may not be up to date, transactions submitted via the web site may not be processed, and the agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted. If you are a grantee or grant applicant looking for guidance, see NOT-OD-13-126

And NIH staff are not permitted to work from home or office so there is no communication about how to proceed.   The National Institutes of Health: Sorry, we're closed.  It's weird.

At first I was mildly amused.  Politicians are playing games again and shut down the government, I thought. THAT is kind of amusing, right? But now after living with it for day, it's sinking in and I find it absolutely absurd.  The land of the free: closed.

If the government ever does re-open, I think I might put together a proposal under Obama's $100 million dollar BRAIN Initiative to figure out what neurological disorder is affecting U.S. politicians.  I'll title it, The Disconnectome: The Neuropathogenesis of Political "Thinking" in the United States.  A major question that I will propose to address is whether the disorder is congenital, thus causing diseased individuals to seek government office, or whether it is acquired once they are sworn in.  My a priori hypothesis is that it is congenital.  My evidence, of course, comes from campaign data--speeches, sound bites, ads, debates--clearly it is a pre-existing condition.

I have some theories about mechanisms as well.  I suspect it is an auditory feedback deficit.  Listening to some of the talking heads, I'm convinced they can't hear what they are saying.  One may wonder whether it is a generalized perceptual deficit because it seems that they don't hear what others are saying either.  But in fact they DO understand what others are saying.  The evidence for this clear: they selectively avoid direct responses to questions. If they didn't understand the questions, statistically they should actually answer one, at least once in a while.

I have a plan for eradication and prevention of the disease too.  Stage 1 is to ban any U.S. politician who holds office during a government shut down.  This is a clear sign of an epidemic and quarantine is the only viable option.  So please don't re-elect anyone.  It is for their own good.  Stage 2 is a simple screening questionnaire. It only has one question:

1. Are you interested in running for U.S. government office?  Yes/No.

If they answer yes, they probably have the disease and should not run.  We need to nominate individuals with absolutely no interest in governing.  It is our only hope for electing a competent official.


Kambiz Tavabi said...

Greg, I actually hope that this isn't entirely satire. I was trying to explain to my 6 year-old yesterday, exactly why gangs of grown up apes would do this. But I couldn't find a reason or example to demonstrate how actual apes in trees could be so socially inept. Either deficits in audition or cognition (e.g., Thinking, Dumb & Dumber); I think your proposal deserves the Colbert bump

john leto said...

Caught this article on Twitter, perhaps an explanation to a bemused world as to what is happening across the pond. I thought it was a kind off government strike action taken against their voters for voting for them.

namelessnow said...

I once advocated for a type of noocracy. But, I learned (rather abruptly) that novel ideas weren't allowed in "these parts":