June 30, 2008

Where You Vote Affects Your Vote

I spotted this little item today in Scientific American:
"Location, location, location. We all know it’s true of real estate. But it may also apply to the ballot box. Because a team of American researchers has found that where people vote affects how they vote. The scientists looked at results from the 2000 general election. In Arizona that year, the ballot included an initiative to raise state taxes to support education. What they found is that people who happened to be voting in a school building were more likely to vote for the proposal than people who voted at a firehouse or a church. Their results appear in the June 23rd issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"And same thing happened in the lab. Subjects were shown a series of images, some of which pertained to schools. Later on, in what they were told was an unrelated experiment, they were asked to vote on funding for education. Folks who’d looked at lockers were more likely to vote yes. Whether voting in a church might affect where people stand on gay marriage or stem cell research remains to be seen. But it’s probably a good thing that more people don’t cast ballots in diners—might make it impossible to get rid of all that political pork."

Seems like quite an interesting study, but I wonder how far subliminal influences can be taken in terms of votes. It makes you wonder if government proposals on education in the UK were voted on in schools rather than in the House of Commons might be beneficial for such measures, what to speak of proposals to do with other issues being voted on in buildings reminiscent of said issue. The sheer weight of history aside, it can't be healthy for successive governments to vote on proposals in the same dusty old building since the 10th Century.

June 29, 2008

The Initial Potential

Hi there!

Fellow neuronerds may have guessed the humour in the post title; a neural event (like a thought, for instance) happens due to neurons communicating with each other by sending electrical impulses called 'action potentials'. You could say that the action potential is the beginning of a process that leads to a thought, hence the title of this post that inaugurates this blog! Hee hee ha ha, we can all stop laughing at my geekiness now.

But anyway, I decided to keep a blog of my own after realising how many other blogs there were that were devoted to science subjects. I do have a few favourite blogs that I like to read but not all of them really hit the spot and make me go, "whoa! I just learnt something amazing!" So I hope to do that with this blog, and I'm not claiming to be a big expert on science or something. I would just like to create a space where readers can share my sense of "whoa!" when I read a piece of neuroscience news that actually has an impact on people's daily lives or something else that is relevant. During my years as a psychology undergraduate and even now as a neuropsychologist-in-training, I regularly come across little pieces of "whoa!" that tend to stop me in my tracks and, like, think about stuff for a minute.

Some time ago I was chatting to a friend who made a very good point about the general inaccessibility of scientific articles. His argument went something like: "You scientists always tend to talk in hoity-toity ways and it'd be nice if things were explained clearly." After years of suffering neural meltdown every time I read an academic paper, I can share this guy's pain and agree that there is a major problem with the presentation of scientific data and they way it contributes to public education. And again I'm not claiming to be an expert who can do this, but let's hope that this will be a place where things that interest me in the neurosciences will be explained clearly enough so that a substantial number of people can join me in sitting back and exclaiming "whoa!"

Enter The Dragon..