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KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Brain Scans for Presidential Candidates?

Brain MRI (image courtesy of Widipedia)Daniel G. Amen, a neuropsychiatrist and brain-imaging expert well known for his work with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, suggests that all U.S. presidential candidates should be required to undergo brain scans so that we know if they have any brain dysfunction:
What do Rudy Giuliani's messy personal life, John McCain's temper and Hillary Clinton's inability to seem authentic have in common? Maybe nothing. They may be just overblown issues in the otherwise normal lives of candidates under the political microscope.

Such symptoms, however, may mean a lot—such as evidence of underlying brain dysfunction. Sometimes people with messy personal lives have low prefrontal cortex activity associated with poor judgment; sometimes people with temper problems have brain damage and impulse control problems; sometimes people who struggle with authenticity have trouble really seeing things from someone else's perspective. ...

Seems a bit too invasive to me, but then again, as Amen wrote:
Three of the last four presidents have shown clear brain pathology. President Reagan's Alzheimer's disease was evident during his second term in office. Nonelected people were covering up his forgetfulness and directing the country's business. Few people knew it, but we had a national crisis. Brain studies have been shown to predict Alzheimer's five to nine years before people have their first symptoms.

President Clinton's moral lapses and problems with bad judgment and excitement-seeking behavior—indicative of problems in the prefrontal cortex—eventually led to his impeachment and a poisonous political divisiveness in the U.S. The prefrontal cortex houses the brain's supervisor, involved with conscience, forethought, planning, attention span and judgment. ...


5 comments:

peaceableimperatrix said...

OK. I completely agree about the Alzheimers test (heck, I believe older people should have yearly vision tests and reflex tests in order to keep their drivers licenses), but I'm guessing AARP will fight that one tooth and nail.

As to Clinton's oversexuality -- I don't really care what presidents do with their ding-dongs. As long as they leave us with a surplus rather than a monstrous deficit. You know what I mean?

Dick Margulis said...

Sorry, Katharine, but I have to disagree with you on two grounds:

First, brain scans are a blunt instrument. There's a lot of hand-waving and pseudoscience involved when anyone suggests that it's possible with our current state of knowledge about brain function to diagnose personality disorders based on a brain scan. Even if you combine it with genetic testing and other kinds of screening, the vast majority of people who might be screened out by such tests function perfectly normally as mature citizens. So the science doesn't back you up. This kind of testing has some utility in terms of helping confirm a diagnosis when you have symptoms. Otherwise, not really.

Second, this is a huge civil rights issue. If we can prevent someone from running for president based on the potential for future bad behavior revealed in a brain scan, then we can prevent anyone from entering any career at all, based on similar criteria.

It's a bad idea. Way too Big Brother for my taste.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Oh, I don't think, Dick, that we ought to set up mandatory brain scans. I just think that it's an interesting idea.

Caryn Sobel said...

I am also opposed to brain scans, an imprecise instrument, as Dick has said. I would be even more opposed were they more reliable!

I prefer to gamble the old-fashioned way--with my instinct about their campaign promises, tied to media blackouts of all pertinent information.

Anonymous said...

this is political

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