Author Archives

Brian Hughes

Do polling locations influence election outcomes?

In times of economic and political turmoil, people increasingly turn their attention to how their societies are governed. As a result, it seems as though matters relating to elections and electoral processes are permanently in the public spotlight. Globally, over 80 national elections or civil ballots are scheduled to take place in 2011; this month alone, there are to be seven national elections or referenda (in Benin, Cape Verde, Chad, Ireland, Kosovo, Switzerland, and Uganda). (The year’s busiest month will be April, during which eleven separate national ballots are already scheduled, with a constitutional referendum also now likely to be held in Egypt.)

Perhaps surprisingly, the practice of democracy has been influenced in several respects by systematically conducted empirical research. For example, much of the text formatting and layout of ballot papers is subject to evidence-based design principles. Research showing that multi-page ballots lead to higher levels of voter error has led to ballot papers being produced so that all candidates appear on the same page (increasing its size if necessary). Other research has led to the introduction of graphical elements, such as candidate photographs and political party emblems. Overall, studies spanning several disciplines (such as psychology, optometry, and ergonomics) have helped influence what goes on inside the polling station. However, research has now begun to show that the polling station itself is of relevance, and in a particular way that will undoubtedly be seen as controversial. Continue reading “Do polling locations influence election outcomes?”

“Menopause relief: Do not use if pregnant”

Recently, I came across this product available for over-the-counter sale. It was one of a number of herbal remedies, each targeting different ailments, that were available at this premises. I was immediately struck by the information on the label. As it was quite expensive I was reluctant to buy it, so I asked the clerk if I could instead take it down and take a photograph. To my slight surprise he agreed without question.

Perhaps the oddest feature of this product is that, although it is ostensibly for “menopause relief”, it is advised that women not use it if they are pregnant. Now while menopause is difficult to define concisely, it is clear that all definitions involve one key premise: namely, that you can’t be pregnant at the same time. In clinical terms, menopause begins 12 months after a woman has had her final menses (assuming that no other physiological cause is affecting her menstruation, in which case it’s not menopause). So menopause can only be declared if a healthy woman has had no period for a full year, which should indicate clearly to all concerned that pregnancy will be impossible. Continue reading ““Menopause relief: Do not use if pregnant””

Emergency contraception: Pragmatics, politics, and (just) a little science

Recently, the Irish state’s national Medicines Board legalized the availability of emergency contraception on an over-the-counter basis in high-street pharmacies. The drug, NorLevo, an emergency contraception that can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse, is now available to all women without the requirement that they first obtain a prescription. Essentially, the move came as the result of a combination of failed regulation and market forces. For the previous month, the major pharmacy chain Boots had decided — in apparent contradiction of the existing regulations — to go ahead anyway and sell the so-called “morning-after pill” to women without requiring them to first supply a prescription. Boots justified their decision by formulating a “new” legalistic interpretation of the existing regulations (despite the fact that the spirit of these regulations was clearly intended to prevent such availability). Continue reading “Emergency contraception: Pragmatics, politics, and (just) a little science”

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