More women in government leads to less corruption, researchers say

A new study of 155 regions found that the more women are represented in local and national governments, the less corruption there is.

One of the final scenes in the HBO film, The Final Year, is on election night. Samantha Powers was hosting what she assumed would be a victory party for Hillary Clinton. A total of 37 female ambassadors had gathered, as well as other important women, such as Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem. As the results came through, the gravity weighed down the room. There would be no female president.


There's never been a female president, and that's a problem, according to a new study published in Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. Despite all the rhetoric about Clinton being corrupt, this research of 155 regions in 17 European countries found the opposite to be true: when more women are in government the nation is less corrupt.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, New York City, 2017(Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia (2006-18)

Conducted by Chandan Kumar Jha, at the Madden School of Business, and Sudipta Sarangi, professor and department head of the Department of Economics at Virginia Tech, the paper focuses on female labor force participation and parliamentary presence. While females have little effect on most economic activities in government, they are certainly less corrupt. This holds true for local as well as national seats. Sarangi notes:

This research underscores the importance of women empowerment, their presence in leadership roles and their representation in government. This is especially important in light of the fact that women remain underrepresented in politics in most countries, including the United States.

The authors attribute this to policy decisions made by women. They note that women tend to focus on laws that favor women, children, and family. While it may seem that the longer women are in power the more corrupt they'll become, the authors found no evidence of this. They did note that women are not necessarily less corrupt than men in general; the focus of this study is governmental roles and the policy decisions they make. And in that arena the answer is clear.


Margaret Chase Smith with UK politicians Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, circa 1952. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character. — Margaret Chase Smith, Republican Senator from Maine (1949-73)

Interestingly, the authors cite a shortcoming: their data are concerned mostly with the perception of corruption. But they don't find that to be a problem. In fact, they write, perception and action are closely linked:

Besides the fact that corruption perception has been found to be highly correlated with actual corruption, the perception of corruption is important in itself as individuals' decisions are based on perceptions. The US Supreme Court also recognized the need for reducing corruption perception along with actual corruption.

While the issue of gender inequality persists across the planet, the authors conclude that “women's participation in politics should not only be encouraged for the sake of obtaining gender equality but also because it has positive externalities—a negative impact on corruption."


Geraldine Ferraro, Lextinton, Virginia, 2008(Photo by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

We've chosen the path to equality, please don't let them turn us around. — Geraldine Ferraro, first American female vice presidential candidate

With a record number of women running for election in the U.S. this year—309 in total, breaking the 2012 record of 298—fighting corruption is one of the many issues on people's minds. Our current Congress is comprised of less than 20 percent of women. With any luck that will change this year.

At the local level, the numbers are even more startling; Emily's List reports that over 34,000 women have expressed interest in attaining a seat this year. Policies that discriminate based on gender have fired up women in America like never before. Here's to a less corrupt 2019.

--

Stay in touch with Derek on Facebook and Twitter.

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

7 fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Here are 7 often-overlooked World Heritage Sites, each with its own history.

Photo by Raunaq Patel on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites are locations of high value to humanity, either for their cultural, historical, or natural significance.
  • Some are even designated as World Heritage Sites because humans don't go there at all, while others have felt the effects of too much human influence.
  • These 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites each represent an overlooked or at-risk facet of humanity's collective cultural heritage.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Scientists discover how to trap mysterious dark matter

A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.

Surprising Science
  • Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
  • Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
  • The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Keep reading Show less