The Jane Philpott shocker, neuroscience, and questions about the character of Justin Trudeau

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      On days like today, I wish that all federal politicians were required to undergo brain scans, which would be publicly released.

      It's because the political crisis that's affecting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shows no signs of going away. And perhaps some brain scans would help clear the air once and for all.

      I'll have more on that later in this article.

      But here's the central question facing Canadians.

      Is Trudeau a con artist—or, as Macleans suggested, an "imposter"? Or did he genuinely believe he was acting in the public interest when he claimed that 9,000 jobs were in jeopardy if SNC-Lavalin didn't obtain a deferred prosecution agreement?

      Here's what we know now.

      Yesterday, SNC-Lavalin's CEO, Neil Bruce, rejected Liberal suggestions that 9,000 jobs could vanish without a DPA.

      Bruce told Radio-Canada that many of his company's Canadian employees would be snapped up by other engineering and construction companies.

      That was also pointed out on this website last month by B.C. resident Phil Le Good. He keeps a close eye on the construction and engineering sector.

      Yet the 9,000-jobs line was repeatedly peddled in the media.

      The next bombshell on this story came from a former senior cabinet minister, Jane Philpott.

      She told Macleans magazine that there's more to the SNC-Lavalin story than has been revealed to date.

      She's particularly troubled by the government's insistence on muzzling former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

      Trudeau's cabinet has refused to waive cabinet confidentiality after January 14 so Wilson-Raybould can tell more of her story to the Commons justice committee.

      "If nothing wrong took place, then why don’t we waive privilege on the whole issue and let those who have something to say on it speak their minds and share their stories?" Philpott declared to journalist Paul Wells.

      Moreover, Philpott said it was an "insult" for Finance Minister Bill Morneau to suggest that she quit cabinet as an expression of personal friendship with Wilson-Raybould.

      So there you have it: two of the most powerful women in Trudeau's cabinet—one a medical doctor, the other a former prosecutor—have walked out on him.

      A third, Celina R. Caesar-Chavannes, has quit the Liberal caucus.

      Caesar-Chavannes has an undergraduate biology degree from the University of Toronto, an MBA in health-care management, and an executive MLA. She's also been an international research consultant.

      These are three very well-educated women, one of whom has extensive experience dealing with offenders in the criminal justice system. Two others have a keen interest in science and health care.

      What are their conclusions about Trudeau that the public might not be aware of?

      Neuroscience can expose con artists

      Now, on to those brain scans.

      Last year, the journal Human Brain Mapping published a paper examining "the neural correlates associated with psychopathy".

      This was done with the help of resting-state functional magnetic resource imaging.

      University of New Mexico researcher Kent Kiehl brought a mobile device into a medium-security prison and screened inmates who had previously been diagnosed with psychopathy.

      Another member of the research team was University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health assistant psychiatry professor Michael Koenigs.

      He said it was the first study to reveal structural and functional differences in the brains of people who had been assessed as psychopaths.

      The scans showed reduced connections between the part of the brain associated with empathy and guilt and the part of the brain that mediates fear and anxiety.

      Specifically, the research indicated that Factor 1 traits for psychopathy—generally covering selfish, callous, and remorseless use of others—are associated with structural anomalies in the brain. 

      Factor 1 traits include the interpersonal and affective deficits of psychopathy, such as shallow affect, superficial charm, manipulativeness, and lack of empathy.

      These traits are also linked to narcissistic personality disorder, which is characterized by grandiosity and a lack of empathy.

      People who score highly in these Factor 1 traits demonstrate low levels of distress, suffer little stress, and have a low suicide rate.

      "Factor 1 scores showed both increased and reduced functional connectivity between RSNs [resting-state networks] from seven brain domains (sensorimotor, cerebellar, visual, salience, default mode, executive control, and attentional)," the researchers stated in the abstract. "Consistent with hypotheses, RSNs from the paralimbic system-insula, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, amygdala, orbital frontal cortex, and superior temporal gyrus-were related to Factor 1 scores."

      Factor 2 traits of psychopathy relate to social deviance and sensation seeking. The study could not detect functional network connectivity issues for these characteristics through magnetic-resonance imaging.

      To sum up:

      * portable functional magnetic resonance imaging machines can detect shortcomings in neural connections;

      * some people with character defects demonstrate anomalies in the links between the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with empathy and guilt, and the amygdala;

      * the amygdala is an almond-shaped set of neurons in the brain's limbic system that's associated with fear.

      It's reasonable to conclude that people with these particular anomalies are likely to be less trustworthy than the average person. At the very least, they're likely to have less empathy.

      Isn't that something Canadians deserve to know the next time they walk into the ballot box?

      It raises a legitimate question whether anyone entering federal politics should have to undergo this screening.

      If we're allowed to have access to their financial-disclosure statements, why not their brain scans?

      Especially if this holds the prospect of ferreting out con artists.