We Can See Political Bias From Space

World leaders illuminate their hometowns like a Lite-Brite, researchers claim

By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 14, 2014 1:59 PM CDT
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(Newser) – Deceased dictator Mobutu Sese Seko wanted his hometown to shine brighter than the diamonds he ransacked from the Congo’s coffers—and he apparently isn’t the only world leader to shed some light (and money and resources) on his birthplace. Researchers say that political favoritism can, as LiveScience puts it, "literally be seen from space." The home regions of leaders become brighter at night after they come into power—and then appear to fade back to black after the leader dies, retires, or is otherwise deposed.

Researchers studied information on the hometowns of political leaders in 126 countries, as well as satellite data that showed nighttime light intensity. “Our results suggest that being the leader’s birthplace increases nighttime light intensity and regional GDP by around 4% and 1%, respectively,” one scientist who worked on the study says in a Monash University press release. Mobuto, for example, lavished his hometown of Gdabolite with a palace, a first-class airport, and the finest water, electricity, and medical services when he took power in 1965. The satellite images during that time period showed “extremely high levels” of light intensity there—which then petered out after Mobutu died in exile in 1997. The scientists note that this correlation mostly seems to occur in countries with weak political structures and poorly educated citizens.

The Earth from space at night. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.
The Earth from space at night. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.   (Shutterstock)
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