Nuclear free by 2030, and genetic mass anxiety

I was initially going to write a whole article about how the Japanese anti-nuclear movement, as represented by the weekly demos outside the Prime Minister’s house, differs from the west, but I couldn’t quite find the references I was looking for, and my background in genetic and social sciences is of course non-existent, so instead this article will be a hodge-podge of Bad Social Science™.

First, anti-nuclear protests. In the west, the majority appears to be professional protesters and NIMBYs, but in Japan, many seem to be articulating some difficult-to-pinpoint worries about radiation and stuff. My argument is based around the results of experiments that have shown that the serotonin (5-HT) transporter gene-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) of up to 90% of the Japanese population has either the short/short (s/s) or short/long (s/l) genotype, whereas Caucasian and African populations have a much lower percentage, closer to 45% and 60%, if I remember correctly. (Note, I picked this information up off a TV program, and I don’t have full text access to PubMed to verify the exact figures) This genotype is correlated with anxiety (and depression), particularly the s/s variant. Thus Japanese tend to be more anxious – the mentioned TV program did a quick experiment by telling 10 members of each of the races that they had to sing their favourite song in front of an audience soon, and 10 out of the 13 people who had significantly raised pulse rate were Japanese.

So, extrapolating (ie pulling stuff out of my arse) we can say that anxiety is endemic in Japan, thus following the Fukushima disaster where nuclear power issues came to the fore, it was socio-genetically (does such a word exist?) inevitable that there would be a mass outbreak of radiophobia.

This leads me onto the second part, the 2030 energy plan that has just recently finished going through a public discussion phase. At the start, public opinion was about 30% for no nukes, 45% for 15%, and 15% for 25% approximately, but by the end it had hardened to almost a majority for phasing out nuclear power. We are all (I hope) aware of the paucity of the media debate regarding associated issues such as greenhouse gas emissions – these really do have the ability to literally, not just hyperbolically figuratively, wipe countries off the map, with many Pacific islands and most of Bangladesh being prime risks – and economic issues such future generation costs, and even fundamentals like what production mix is going to replace the 10% or 25% of nuclear. About the only figures I have see have been from KEPCO presenting numbers to Osaka. 25% nukes (hmm, Kansai is 50% though, but let’s skip that) would cost 15.1 yen per unit, 15% would also cost 15.1 yen, and 0% 16.2 yen; I would vote for 0% for an extra yen, and KEPCO admitted that they hadn’t factored in full clean-up costs in the event of a major accident into the 15.1 yen, which would make nuclear more expensive if they chose a high-end number. (Note that these figures suggest to me that KEPCO would replace nuclear with mostly LNG, not renewables.)

Now, given the way that consultation has gone, and given the recent tone of Cabinet members, I suspect that the conclusion of the policy review will indeed be 0% by 2030. Even PM Noda himself when he (stupidly, in my opinion) met the protesters just repeated his stock line about he made his Oi reactors restart decision decision based on economic factors. With an election due within a couple of months, I will predict that the DPJ will adopt this 0% as part of their manifesto, and with most of the other parties voicing similar 0% goals, this will be one of the key election issues. However, I won’t put it past the new PM to look at the books and arbitrarily decide that manifesto pledges need to be ignored… I believe that a strong and confident leader (specifically, Toru Hashimoto having a Road to Damascus conversion) could do that and break through the mass anxiety described above.

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15 Comments.

  1. I can’t believe you went with a genetic argument. :headdesk:

    This is very simple. Over the course of the 70 years since the end of WWII, nuclear anything has been hammered into the national psyche as being destructive and evil. The US wanted Japan to get over its fear of just having been nuked to oblivion, so they pushed for Japan to initiate a nuclear power program. That was the beginning.

    Now, here we are 70 years later, and we’ve just had one of the worst industrial accidents of all time occur in our back yard. It will most likely cause very few health problems for the majority of Japanese people, but it opened pandora’s box, releasing a sentiment that has accumulated for nearly 3/4 of a century. This is on top of the three (of 24) other nuclear accidents that have all happened in Japan in essentially the past decade. The precedence for this backlash has been brewing for a while now.

    The real issue here is accountability. Japan could produce a modernized nuclear industry — God knows they have the technology — but they have the most incompetent, corrupt people running things, and it’s going to be hard for people to get past that. A good faith attempt at revising the industry (and doing it QUICKLY for fuck’s sake) would go a long way in helping people understand how important nuclear energy is. Instead, we’ve got the same TEPCO execs still in charge of everything.

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  2. Geez,

    Are you trying to parody debito with that genetic stuff?

    I figure the protesters here are just lead by the “professionals”, cyncially exploiting a few types of people to swell the ranks a bit. And then multiplying any crowd estimate by 10.

    Concerned Parents who don’t understand science or math (bonus to the exploiters, these parents often drag along their kids, inflating crowd numbers and being very photogenic, so you can see the motivation for radiation scare tactic propaganda not based on science)
    Oldsters who still have the Anything Nuclear = Hiroshima = Bad sentiment (as George notes) But I bet none of them protest nuclear medicine (X-rays, cancer treatments, etc.).
    Peacenik protestors who have been mostly idle since the unofficial policy of “Well, if a leftist (Obama) is the one killing civilians with drones and not closing Guantanamo, we don’t need to protest” since 2009. They’re bored.

    But then there are those with legitimate complaints.

    People who have actually been displaced from Fukushima and are still in limbo 1 1/2 years later. Tens of thousands (hundreds?) with strong motivation and free time.
    The 99.9% of the population who thinks the TEPCO execs are going to get away with this, continue to stubbornly resist investigations and demands for compensation, retire wealthy and live in luxury while Fukushima refugees still live in glorified boxes, and not much will change.

    Meanwhile, 500,000 people showed up for the Olympic medalist parade in Ginza, which pokes holes in a lot of theories about Japanese crowds and how big (or small) they are.

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  3. I’m very surprised you invoke a biological explanation, Ken. Then again, I read a study that people from the Western Isles are genetically predisposed to do that. :wink: You see what I did there?

    Arguments about concrete psychological differences between ethnic groups based on biology/genetics are pretty much guaranteed to be bollocks – they generally involve data-mining (Why that part of the brain? Why not go for the amount of light getting into differently shaped eyes affecting anxiety patterns? And the noses, they’re different too, and you can smell fear…) and horrible abuse of stats in order to fit the result the person seeks. In the case of the TV programme, the desired result sounds like the usual stereotype that Japanese are nice and timid and that whites and blacks are outgoing, possibly to the point of recklessness.

    Whatever genetically determined neurological variations there might be between national populations at conception, they are clearly overwhelmed by the environment (including in utero), mediated by the plasticity of the brain/human cognition (adaptation/response to environmental stimuli). In a single multi-ethnic country, psychologically speaking, ethnicity itself is going to be an social/environmental marker much more than a biological one.

    Of course, genetic variations within an environmentally/socially homogenous population (for example, same-aged men of the same ethnic group in the same country, with the same level of education and in the same socio-economic position) could have a decent explanatory role in variable concrete psychological outcomes such as tendency to depression or anxiety, but not something as specific and socially framed as this. Someone could find expression for their anxiety in a fear of the lights going out, or a fear of air pollution, or a fear of economic stagnation and losing their job, or many other situations that would lead to support for nuclear.

    Unfortunately, often under the fancy guises of “Evolutionary Psychology” (remember Eric C and anonymous, who really are racist fools) and “Hard Science (TM)”, the kind of crap that that show put up does get into magazines and on TV. At a certain point, someone is bound to emphasise the cast-iron objectivity of it all, as if being in possession of numbers makes everything “true”. You can’t argue with the (tortured, cherry picked, made-up) data, you know.

    If your genetic thesis were correct, we’d have Koreans much more nervous about nuclear power, and they’re not, despite being a lot closer to Fukushima than, say, Germany. Unless of course we get to resurrect the Nazi idea that Japanese are a lost Aryan race, what with their peaceful A type blood and all that. :cool:

    The position of the media (Asahi and Mainichi are clearly anti-nuclear), the actions of the government regarding TEPCO, the fact that nuclear power and radiation health risks are both poorly understood, the fact that the energy debate is poorly framed – all of this is easily enough to explain polling figures. We don’t need genetics.

    As for strong leadership – yes, we need someone who can get things done (and I think Noda is doing better than Kan or Hatoyama, tbh) – but not a Hashimoto. We need a strong group of talented and like-minded politicians, not a mini-fuehrer with a group of toadies.

    I think the poll numbers you cite are an indication that the opposition to nuclear is not particularly profound. The media has done a very good job of clouding the issues at hand, by not presenting the whole of the energy question properly. I’m not sure the leadership needs to be that “strong” on this issue to make headway.

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  4. @Level3:

    Peacenik protestors who have been mostly idle since the unofficial policy of “Well, if a leftist (Obama) is the one killing civilians with drones and not closing Guantanamo, we don’t need to protest” since 2009.

    Because they’re good drones. Bush only used bad drones. People who get killed by good drones can’t be innocent. It’s sort of a bit like good and bad AIDS

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  5. Considering Japanese education has such a good reputation for teaching the sciences, it’s always surprised me how much woo seems to get around here – new religions, nuclear panic and so on. Obviously, cultural memories of Hiroshima play a part in the nuclear concerns, but they also seem to fit into a larger pattern of believing nonsense. Having said that, the same could likely be said for any country, and there’s not much in the way of “woo stats” to go on…

    @VK

    I’m not sure if you noticed, but that Anonymous guy actually copied and pasted some of his stuff from Stormfront.

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  6. Ken,

    Apologies for three posts in a row, but as an extra note to your original theory, I just recalled something from Richard Benthall’s Doctoring the Mind book (I recommended it here to someone a while back) – the theory that serotonin (or lack of it) is a major contributor to depression is actually not well-supported. Some drugs that appear to relieve depression have an effect on serotonin uptake (SSRIs such as Prozac), so it was theorised that serotonin levels mattered. However, there has been little evidence to support this theory. (Although, having a good “depression results from a chemical imbalance that we drug companies understand and can treat” story helps sales.) The truth is that the men and women in white coats don’t really understand how these anti-depressants work.

    More here.

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  7. @Rob:

    But is Japan different to anywhere else that’s just had a major nuclear accident?

    Is the difference between the UK (greater support for nuclear) and Germany (much less support) a matter of better British science education? :shock:

    Japan’s fertile ground for New Religious Movements has got a lot to do with collapse in traditional religion and social dislocation that massive economic transformation necessitates, and which is being prolonged by stagnation. I don’t think there’s any greater belief in woo here, it’s just it doesn’t have the same legitimacy as traditional woo. That and we’ve been through a millenium, which sets some people off, so wherever we are there seems to be more woo than there was.

    As for CP-ing from Stormfront: does that mean Anonymous was trolling, or unable to think for himself?

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  8. Yeah, that’s why I mentioned that the same could probably be said for any country in the world. I would generally imagine that better science education would help equip people to spot woo, but I can see that wouldn’t necessarily be the case. Put it down to a failure of imagination on my part.

    As for the CP-ing, I think Anonymous was probably trolling. Either that or trotting out his greatest hits.

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  9. Ken,

    Please, for the love of all that is unholy, NEVER invoke ‘genes’ or ‘genetics’ when talking about either individual behaviour or collective behaviour when your object of analysis is human.

    Nothing, and I mean nothing, of any value with regard to your applied question or interests will come of it.

    Here is a homework project for you related to the topic: How do we describe, categorize and measure ‘anxiety’ (and ‘depression’). Get back to me in a couple of years – and then we can begin to consider how utterly misguided it is to link any of these concepts to ‘genetic’ underpinnings.

    You were right about one thing, however. As a hodge-podge of Bad Social Science, your attempt aint half bad.

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  10. @VK:

    “We need a strong group of talented and like-minded politicians, not a mini-fuehrer with a group of toadies.”

    Both sound scary to me. :wink:

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  11. @GuruGuruDokkan:

    Steady on. There does appear to be a genetic influence on variable rates of depression. See, for example the meta-analysis here. While the applied clinical definitions of depression will vary across time and place, that doesn’t mean there cannot be a physical/genetic component to the phenomenon they’re trying to measure. It also doesn’t mean that you cannot compare depression across cultures. You just have to be very careful in doing it. (As far as I understand, there doesn’t appear to be any general genetic component to mental health that has attached to geographical origin (or rather, if there is, it must be so slight as to be irrelevant).

    Apart from that, I agree that genetics is just not going to wash as an explanation across cultures/ethnicities for different political opinions, and Ken’s antennae really should have twitched.

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  12. What complicates matters is that the programme Ken talks about seems to confuse “feeling anxious”, with “anxiety” as a clinical, debilitating condition.

    (They could have tried American men going naked in an onsen compared with Japanese men and got the opposite result in terms of “anxiety”, but we’re happy to see that as cultural conditioning.)

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  13. Great article Ken Y-N!

    I really appreciate the depth of the science but unfortunately I’m sure it will sail right over the heads of the genetic apologists!

    – I think it has.

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  14. @VK: So basically you are saying that the only bit I got right in the article was (ie pulling stuff out of my arse) then? :facepalm: :headdesk: :facepalm:

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  15. @Ken Y-N:

    I was trying to be generous and say that you’ve been pulling things out of other people’s bottoms. But basically, yeah.

    The thing is, the media put this kind of crap social science out a lot, just as they put out crap natural science. In both cases, if you didn’t know any better, you’d believe them. (A godawful methodological dysentery fest like The Bell Curve got attention even in the British press because of its talking points value.)

    People here are reacting strongly to genetic arguments about ethnic/culture differences not (only) because such ideas are the stock-in-trade of dodgy Nazi-ish types, but because they genuinely don’t have evidential backing. Although a humanities/social science education gets slagged here by certain posters, it can amount to something, and unpicking the ideas that lead to genetic/cultural comparison should be part of that something. Had 例のあの人, who gets grievously offended by people forgetting he did a social science degree at a jolly good university, posted the same thing, I probably would have roasted the fecker as someone who unequivocally should have known better. But part of that is that I detest people getting snobby about their own education.

    @Fidget Bach:

    :lol: (…er…You’re Ken, right?)

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