Hypothalamic Rage

rage ratA year ago Dayu Lin and co-authors published a landmark study in Nature on the hypothalamic nucleus which, when optically stimulated, produces undifferentiated rage. At that time Ed Yong wrote a wonderful summary of the work.

The point: in the mouse there is a region in the hypothalamus which, when stimulated, produces undifferentiated rage. There is reason to believe there is an equivalent region in humans. While we don’t go around with optogenetic probes in our brains, the state of undifferentiated rage is not uncommon. Many of us have experienced times when rage is out of control — difficult to keep in check by reason or logic. This is why I don’t like having guns within easy reach.

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Will the NRA’s zealotry backfire?

nraOver the past decade or two the NRA has become increasingly monomaniacal. It has gone from an organization working towards the general advocacy of guns and their appropriate use to a right-wing noise machine whose only goal is absolute gun-weilding freedom. Its strong-arm tactics, combined with weakness from gun-control groups, has cowed legislators and moved popular opinion towards increased absolutist support the second amendment. Continue reading

On the role of experts in creating personal belief systems

teacher studentEach of us has a semi-coherent theory of the world; I’ll call this a personal belief system. Perhaps this is easy to understand through protypical characters: Religious Joe (RJ) and Secular Mary (SM). Religious Joe’s parents are evangelical, fundamentalist Christians. As a youth he went to Sunday School each week and the majority of his friends and their families shared common beliefs. Joe’s parents taught him “where we came from”, taught him that God was person-like and the bible was literally true. As Joe grew older he began to hear his minister and teachers more frequently.

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Distribution of Popular Vote Difference by State is Strongly Bimodal

The histogram of the distribution of popular vote differences by state is strongly bimodal. Obama states on the right. (Data from David Wasserman @Redistrict as of Nov 28, 2012). This suggests that

  • there are not many real ‘tipping point’ states
  • A remarkably stable baseline as starting point for future elections
  • Red states (left) and Blue states (right) are really different groups