Statistically Significant

Illustrations by Travis Foster


According to a recent article in Scientific American, whether or not you vote may be “hardwired” in your genetic makeup. A study by political scientist James Fowler, of the University of California at San Diego, found that identical twins are more alike in their frequency of voting than are fraternal twins, who share less DNA. Fowler speculates that the gene governing voter behavior may have been passed on since ancient times. But since “we obviously did not vote in large-scale elections in the Pleistocene,” he told Scientific American, the desire to participate in politics may be connected to more primitive tendencies, such as whether an individual has an innate disposition toward cooperating with other humans.

no need to cough into the phone when you call in sick

Massachusetts fell from seventh to ninth place in the United Health Foundation’s annual America’s Health Rankings, released at the end of last year—even as next-door Vermont moved up to take the prize as the least sickly state. Factors counting against the Bay State included our high incidence of “binge drinking” (17.7 percent of residents volunteered that they had had several drinks in one sitting during the prior month, compared with 15.3 percent of all Americans), and the percentage of children living in poverty (13.6 percent, lower than the national average of 17.4 percent but up from 11.6 percent the year before). But we retained our No. 1 ranking in occupational fatalities (or lack thereof), immunization of infants, and the number of primary-care physicians per capita.

We also passed a milestone of sorts: The number of self-reported “poor mental health days” per month went up from 3.1 to 3.2—passing the number of “poor physical health days,” which went down from 3.4 to 3.1. Though Bay Staters may be more likely to spend a sick day relieving stress than nursing a sore throat, the reverse is still true nationally, with 3.6 days of physical illness outnumbering 3.4 days of poor mental health.

ask not for tolls in new england

Of all demographic groups studied in a poll taken last October, residents of New England most strongly opposed “charging tolls on more roads if the result was better roads and reduced traffic congestion,” even as an alternative to a higher gas tax. The National Association of Realtors and Smart Growth America co-sponsored the survey of 1,000 adults, which found New Englanders opposed to tolls by a 55-45 margin—with residents of the Pacific Coast at the other end of the continuum, approving tolls by a 63-36 margin. Overall, Americans gave tentative approval to new tolls by a 55-44 margin, with more support coming from women and older voters than from younger men.

we’ll be right back to arrest you after this brief message

The town of Littleton has already raised $72,000 since 2005 from ads for a supermarket and car dealership on the backs of police cars. Now the city of Melrose is planning to follow suit and put bumper-sticker-sized ads on three of its police cars. The Boston Globe reports that the city will charge an advertising firm $15,000 per year for the right to place three small ads on each car—but plugs for doughnut shops, liquor stores, and funeral homes, among other businesses, will not be accepted.

get out of clothes and into computers

“Network systems and data communications analysts” have the rosiest job outlook over the next decade, according to December estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS predicts that jobs in that high-tech category will have increased by 53 percent—or 140,000—in the US from 2006 to 2016. The only other occupation with a growth rate of more than 50 percent is “personal and home care aides.” However, the greatest numerical increase in jobs will be for registered nurses (up 587,000, or 24 percent) and retail salespeople (up 557,000, or 12 percent). Among professions requiring a master’s degree, the fastest growth in demand will be for mental health counselors (up 30 percent), and among jobs that require vocational training beyond high school, the sharpest gains are predicted among make-up artists (up 40 percent) and skin care specialists (up 34 percent).

The industries with the worst jobs outlook are textile and apparel manufacturing (down 35 percent, or 211,000 workers), steel manufacturing (down 25 percent), and printing (down 22 percent).

blanks check

Meet the Author

In a few months we’ll know whether Massachusetts can improve on 2006’s embarrassingly low number of contested races for the state Legislature. Only 26 percent of the 160 House seats were contested by both parties last time, lower than in any other state but South Carolina. But even in races with only one candidate, voters have a second option. They can leave their ballots blank, and their non-votes are counted (if not given much attention). Last time, the highest percentage of blank votes (28 percent of all voters who took a ballot) was in the Cape Cod district represented by Democrat Matthew Patrick. Close behind were Mark Falzone of Saugus, Cory Atkins of Concord, David Torrisi of North Andover, and Lida Harkins of Needham—all Democrats in suburban districts where Republicans have done relatively well in gubernatorial elections. Will the GOP find candidates to run in these districts where it seems they can get more than a quarter of the vote without trying?

In contrast, voters in western Massachusetts seem relatively happy with their (lack of) choice. In five districts, blanks accounted for less than 15 percent of the vote even with only one candidate on the ballot, and all the winners were Democrats west of Worcester: Stephen Kulik of Worthington, William “Smitty” Pignatelli of Lenox, Christopher Donelan of Orange, Ellen Story of Amherst, and Dan Bosley of North Adams.