Do Political Leaders Need To Pass a Mental Health Test Before Becoming Eligible for Public Office?

In my fantasy world every politician would have to demonstrate normal cognitive skill capabilities before becoming eligible for elective office and rather than picture IDs to vote, certifications of sanity for each voter.


We’ve all heard of the unpretentious ignorance by people who selectively ignore the facts to support an idea that serves a subjective purpose for them.   “Don’t bother me with the facts.  I’ve already made up my mind” is often the expression that comes to mind when we hear of such people.   And though we may chuckle at this, there are also chills that go up one’s spine when realized that this is played out everyday.  It’s a little spooky to realize that this is likely occurring at a mildly effectual level in the general public only.  But when it seems common place in the leadership positions of this country, it becomes downright frightening to realize that critical decisions that will seriously impact our lives have been and are being made by people whose cognitive skills are apparently damaged or may have never fully developed.  At least not in all ranges.

Cognitive abilities are the brain-based skills we need to carry out any task from the simplest to the most complex. They have more to do with the mechanisms of how we learn, remember, problem-solve, and pay attention rather than with any actual knowledge. Any task can be broken down into the different cognitive skills or functions needed to complete that task successfully.  SOURCE  

Among the cognitive abilities the brain is capable of producing are what Dr. Pascale Michelon calls Executive Functions.  Some of the characteristics of Executive functions are Anticipation: prediction based on pattern recognition; Decision making: the ability to make decisions based on problem-solving, on incomplete information and on emotions (ours and others’); and Inhibition: the ability to withstand distraction, and internal urges.

These characteristics, when properly functioning should allow individuals to recognize problems arising from clear and consistent patterns, utilize the available data at their disposal to offer viable solutions to confront the issue, and finally be able not to be distracted from lesser or inconsequential influences that don’t compute with the overall analysis.

In other words, if your brain is healthy and functioning as it was designed, you’re not going to circumvent the natural path that these skills lay out for you and decide that you “don’t believe that’s correct.”  To do such a thing could indicate that there is perhaps some malfunctioning going on with your brain’s ability to properly sequence events in the order that a healthy brain would.

It will probably come as no surprise to you to find out that more than a few congressional leaders are making decisions that appear to be occurring with a weak set of cognitive skills.  One current example is that of U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama.


The Koch Brothers continue to use their oil wealth to fund campaigns, front groups, think tanks, and politicians to sabotage climate and clean energy policies.


The climate deniers in Congress, almost exclusively made up of Republicans, had some recent hearings on the subject of climate change.  The oil-industry lackeys on the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works Committee,  including minority Chairperson James Inhofe of Oklahoma and fellow climate denier Jeff Sessions of Alabama, were on their game and brought in one of the handful of real climate scientists who is actually a certified climatologists, unlike all those “thousands of other scientists” that skeptics refer to as proof that there is no consensus about man-made global warming.  A notion that has been adequately debunked

One of the top witnesses called by the Republicans was Dr. John Christy.  His full written testimony can be viewed here.   

Indeed, a significant portion of the discussion was dominated by debate over Dr. John Christy’s particular brand of denialism, a well-trod debate.

Nonetheless, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) was more than surprised when informed by Senator Barbara Boxer that roughly 98 percent of climate scientists, contra Christy, accepted that anthropogenic warming was real and serious — he was outraged:

     Sessions: Madam Chairman, I am offended by that, I’m offended by that — I didn’t say anything about the scientists. I said the data shows [sic] it is not warming to the degree that a lot of people predicted, not close to that much…

    Boxer: The conclusion that you’re coming to is shared by 1-2 percent of the scientists. You shouldn’t be offended by that. That’s the fact.

   Sessions: I don’t believe that’s correct.   



The fact that the preponderance of actual climatologist do not concur with Dr. John Christy’s assessment of extreme events and their relationship with human-caused climate change disasters is deemed to be incorrect by Jeff Sessions.  Sessions doesn’t produce anything a logical person with fully functioning cognitive skills would consider as evidence to produce this view.  He simply passes off all of the testimony from the almost exclusive peer-reviewed literature  that has isolated John Christy and the other few men like Richard Lindzen who keep insisting, not that global warming is occurring but that there is still inconclusive evidence that shows a strong correlation between global warming and human activities.

Let’s see how Sessions’ response –  “I don’t believe that’s correct” – measures up to someone whose cognitive skills in the areas I mentioned above may be deficient.

  1. Anticipation: prediction based on pattern recognition.  Over the last 10 years there have been some clear climate patterns that have produced record droughts, flooding and ice melts in glaciers and polar caps.  This should raise some concern with even the least scientific amongst us.  If there weren’t alarms being sounded by people who study this phenomena, known as climatologists, it could be passed off as nothing we haven’t seen before over time.  But once the alarms have been raised and a clearer picture shows the degree by which we have experienced these patterns increasing, then our anticipation capabilities should become more heightened, not remain in neutral or even become dormant.
  2. Decision making: the ability to make decisions based on problem-solving, on incomplete information and on emotions (ours and others’).  With the increasing evidence laid out by the preponderance of climate scientists that man-made global warming is real, a healthy normal reaction would be to bring in the experts who share this view and arrange a system by which all the expertise can be made available to allow the greatest efficiency for potential problem solving.  The fact that absolutes are not primarily present shouldn’t offset the need to expect the worst.  The overreactions by some should not be viewed unworthy and tossed out in an integral plan to prepare for the worst scene scenario.  Caution, not dismissiveness, should be employed with emotional responses and incomplete information.
  3. Inhibition: the ability to withstand distraction, and internal urges.  As the science of climate change has evolved it has always pointed a finger at our growing use of fossil fuels contributing to the accelerated rates of CO2 in the atmosphere and increasing the green house effect.  The fossil fuel industry has clearly waged a war against this view.  Not from any authority on their own but, in the early stages at least, on the reliance of a few scientists they paid to find any evidence that would question the rising tide of peer-reviewed studies that concluded man-made CO2 was likely have negative consequences on our biosphere.  Once the greatest share of these challenges were reasonably debunked, this distraction should not carry equal or greater weight in determining what policy actions we and our government should take.


Even if Mad Hatter Sessions had an extra set of eyes would he still be unable to see the signs of man-made climate change?

Sessions has apparently lost the cognitive abilities of prediction based on pattern recognition and allows his decision-making skills to be unduly influenced from the distractions and internal urges he harbors about the funding he receives from the fossil fuel industry.  The oil and gas industry are among the top 10 donors to Sessions re-election campaign.   I’m not sure how else to assess such a mindless response like “I don’t believe that’s correct” in face of the overwhelming evidence that says it is correct.

The people of this country have a right to know that the health of their leaders is sound and will not inhibit their ability to function at the highest level of efficiency.  Though no laws exists that I am aware of demanding a physical health exam be made public for each candidate, the tradition to do so has been there by some to allay any fears voters may have.  Might it not now be a good idea in this era of fringe politics to also inquire of and expect a report on the soundness of a candidate’s mental health as it relates to cognitive skills.  Voters need to know that a modicum of common sense will be entertained by their representatives when critical decisions are under review?




Climate Gate Sacks Hack Attack Part 1 Video asks and answers the question, “Are people really that stupid”? 

The 8 Minute Epoch: 65 Million Years with James Hansen 

19th Century thinking on pollution is alive and well today 

Beware of false balance: Are the views of the scientific community accurately portrayed?  

10 responses to “Do Political Leaders Need To Pass a Mental Health Test Before Becoming Eligible for Public Office?

  1. “I don’t believe that’s correct” is just another way to say, “I’m bought and paid for by the oil industry and I’m pandering to them.” Who gives a f#&$ing crap whether Sessions believes in climate change science or not? Likewise for all the climate change deniers out there. YOU people are NOT scientists!! You don’t have the standing to not believe, to deny what the vast majority of scientists have proven. Yes, Larry. We absolutely need some kind of cognitive test that anyone running for office must pass before accepting a nomination. And we desperately need lobbying and special interest reform. Sessions is an embarrassment – so is Inhofe and all the rest. Politics have become a huge joke.

  2. Larry, as usual a great post…….a quote comes to mind…..”reason obeys itself: ignorance obeys whatever it is told to obey.” Thomas Paine, I believe……

  3. Reason is a great tool – it allows us to find rationalizations and bits of evidence in the world to protect what we want to believe, so that we don’t have to confront cognitive dissonance. Of course, we could use it to actually try to understand the world as it is and test our beliefs against reality, but that would be too hard and may mean we have to admit we’ve been wrong about something. So most of us use reason to build fortesses around that which we want to believe. When our leaders do that, the consequences can be catastrophic. Climate change denial is almost a crime against humanity, IMO – it’s prevented us from doing what’s necessary to give future generations a quality planet.

  4. what I have no yet decided is whether the climate change deniers truly believe the bilge they offer up, or whether they know that they lie, but find it profitable to do so, and assume the public at large is basically stupid. Some undoubtedly fall into each category. I’m not sure which is sadder frankly.

    • I would surmise that knowing something is wrong and then still willfully allowing it to continue is not only sadder but criminal. People like Sessions however feel immune to such charges and proceed to act in such cavalier ways.

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