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Studies Linking Lead To Violent Crime


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Interesting stuff:

 

 

 

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline?page=2

If econometric studies were all there were to the story of lead, you'd be justified in remaining skeptical no matter how good the statistics look. Even when researchers do their best—controlling for economic growth, welfare payments, race, income, education level, and everything else they can think of—it's always possible that something they haven't thought of is still lurking in the background. But there's another reason to take the lead hypothesis seriously, and it might be the most compelling one of all: Neurological research is demonstrating that lead's effects are even more appalling, more permanent, and appear at far lower levels than we ever thought.

 

 

 

Needless to say, not every child exposed to lead is destined for a life of crime. Everyone over the age of 40 was probably exposed to too much lead during childhood, and most of us suffered nothing more than a few points of IQ loss. But there were plenty of kids already on the margin, and millions of those kids were pushed over the edge from being merely slow or disruptive to becoming part of a nationwide epidemic of violent crime. Once you understand that, it all becomes blindingly obvious. Of course massive lead exposure among children of the postwar era led to larger numbers of violent criminals in the '60s and beyond. And of course when that lead was removed in the '70s and '80s, the children of that generation lost those artificially heightened violent tendencies.

 

 

Why not? Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who has studied promising methods of controlling crime, suggests that because criminologists are basically sociologists, they look for sociological explanations, not medical ones. My own sense is that interest groups probably play a crucial role: Political conservatives want to blame the social upheaval of the '60s for the rise in crime that followed. Police unions have reasons for crediting its decline to an increase in the number of cops. Prison guards like the idea that increased incarceration is the answer. Drug warriors want the story to be about drug policy. If the actual answer turns out to be lead poisoning, they all lose a big pillar of support for their pet issue. And while lead abatement could be big business for contractors and builders, for some reason their trade groups have never taken it seriously.

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It makes me wonder about the area I grew up in.  Strip mining releases mercury into the environment- really any process involving coal does that.  There are mercury warnings all over the place back in deepest darkest Appalachia- usually warning against eating fish in certain areas, because mercury accumulates in them.  But no doubt it makes it into the drinking water- particularly in towns that are directly down stream of the mining areas.

 

All of the coal mining in my old stomping grounds was west and north of Walden's Ridge.  And I remember noting even at a pretty young age that people on the other side Walden's Ridge (and a few towns like the one where I grew up- where there was a gap in the ridge, so that strip-mining hillbilly culture spilled out for a couple miles beyond the ridge) were consistently different from people who lived in the valley (between the Smokies and the cumberlands), well East of Walden's Ridge.  Somebody who lives in my home county, but north and/or west of this imaginary line- I can spot them instantly via speech patterns, mannerisms, attitudes... even their look to some extent.  These are people from my mom's side of the family- I'm kinned to nearly all of them.  

 

I've always chalked these mannerisms and such up to poverty, culture, etc. (this IS a very isolated area I'm talking about).  But now I have to wonder if heavy metal poisoning could be part of it.  Lead and mercury have much the same effect- they both damage the nervous system.  We all know about Mad Hatters and mercury- maybe part of what I've observed is from more subtle effects from lower levels of exposure.

 

Here's an article I ran across recently- it's about a town in Southeastern Kansas that's pretty much been abandoned due to lead contamination.  I've met a few people from that area- and they were remarkably like the strip-mining hillbillies I grew up with.  Of course, most families in that town originally came from the Ozarks... which is essentially the same bunch who settled deepest darkest Appalachia.  So maybe I'm just seeing a cultural echo here.  But I still have to wonder about heavy metal poisoning.  

 

Check out the couple who decided to stay in Treece Kansas despite the lead poisoning and the buy-out offer.  They would fit right in back in my home town.  And the steam they mention that's the color of orange juice but smells like vinegar- we had one of those too a few miles West over by Cross Mountain.  I imagine it's still there, just upstream of my home town.

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Violence does seem to correlate to geography.  It's an interesting article V, thanks for sharing.

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It's good to keep in mind that association (links between two things) isn't causation. (Remember power lines and cancer, or hormone replacement therapy and heart disease?) Observational studies are good for forming or disproving hypotheses, not much else. And there are plenty of confounding variables here: the Baby Boom (higher proportion of youths in the 1960s) and changes in policing methods, to name two.

 

If the lead hypothesis were true, I think we might see higher crime rates for Leadville, Colorado. Except for the past few years, they've been a long way below the national average.

 

http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Leadville-Colorado.html

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     Does lead lead to violent crime in other places outside the U.S.?  How about the places that banned lead along with the U.S.?  Do they have violence issues like we do?  How about places that didn't put a ban on them in the 70's?  Do they have lots of violence linked to lead?  Or places that never banned them at all?  How are their levels of violence?  Are there lots of violent criminals loaded up with lead?

 

     I'm not denying lead has plenty of adverse effects so anyone who wants to take that away from my post should go elsewhere.  I'm not taking some pro-lead position. 

 

          mwc

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Lead paint, cast lead toys, leaded gasoline, etc. were done away with decades ago. Why is it only NOW that we have a multi-headed epidemic of lead induced problems?

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Of course massive lead exposure among children of the postwar era led to larger numbers of violent criminals in the '60s and beyond. And of course when that lead was removed in the '70s and '80s, the children of that generation lost those artificially heightened violent tendencies.

 

Of course there are multiple factors that contribute to crime...

 

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in Freakanomics provide reasons why they think that the drop in crime during that time period was due to the legalization of abortion.  In states that legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade, the crime rate started to drop earlier, and there is apparently also a correlation "between each state's abortion rate and its crime rate."

 

There are even more correlations, positive and negative, that shore up the abortion-crime link.  In states with high abortion rates, the entire decline in crime was among the post-Roe cohort as opposed to older criminals.  Also, studies of Australia and Canada have since established a similar link between legalized abortion and crime.  And the post-Roe cohort was not only missing thousands of young male criminals but also thousands of single, teenage mothers...

 

The authors call this discovery "jarring" and I have to agree.  It is nevertheless an interesting correlation.

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It's good to keep in mind that association (links between two things) isn't causation. (Remember power lines and cancer, or hormone replacement therapy and heart disease?) Observational studies are good for forming or disproving hypotheses, not much else. And there are plenty of confounding variables here: the Baby Boom (higher proportion of youths in the 1960s) and changes in policing methods, to name two.

 

If the lead hypothesis were true, I think we might see higher crime rates for Leadville, Colorado. Except for the past few years, they've been a long way below the national average.

 

http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Leadville-Colorado.html

 

I agree, but it appears to me that researchers here have done their homework and done their best to avoid making spurious conclusions.  After controlling for all conceivable other factors, the findings here are complimented by new findings on the impact even trace amounts of lead have on the human brain. 

 

I doubt one town in CO is enough to disprove the findings.  All studies have outliers.  It's the trend that makes the rule, not the exceptions. 

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     Does lead lead to violent crime in other places outside the U.S.?  How about the places that banned lead along with the U.S.?  Do they have violence issues like we do?  How about places that didn't put a ban on them in the 70's?  Do they have lots of violence linked to lead?  Or places that never banned them at all?  How are their levels of violence?  Are there lots of violent criminals loaded up with lead?

 

     I'm not denying lead has plenty of adverse effects so anyone who wants to take that away from my post should go elsewhere.  I'm not taking some pro-lead position. 

 

          mwc

 

Yeah, according to the study, this is true world-wide and changes as expected along the lines of the changing laws. 

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Lead paint, cast lead toys, leaded gasoline, etc. were done away with decades ago. Why is it only NOW that we have a multi-headed epidemic of lead induced problems?

 

Didn't anyone read the original article I posted? 

 

The short answer is, it's not now, it's the crime spike experienced in the 1980s, two decades after lead use in gas spiked. 

 

Crime has since declined and cops are trying to take credit for the decline using spurious reasoning. 

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It wouldn't surprise me if it was true.

 

Wasn't lead one of the contributors to the problems in ancient Rome?

 

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Leaded gasoline was introduced in the early 1920s and discontinued in 1995. I'm just saying that lead has been around forever but the emergence of crime and ADHD is linked to lead anyway. Of course, widespread vaccinations were taking place at the time the little criminals and ADHDs were being conceived and growing up. The popularity of cell phones and computers could be a cause of our current woes. Or Dallas.

 

Obviously, lead is bad - it kills people. But does it spawn a generation of criminals or cause ADHD? If so, the epidemic should have begun much earlier in our lead laden history.

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Read the study F.  It explains why the findings are what they are.  This isn't your typical coffee causes/doesn't cause cancer study.  These guys did their homework. 

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It's good to keep in mind that association (links between two things) isn't causation. (Remember power lines and cancer, or hormone replacement therapy and heart disease?) Observational studies are good for forming or disproving hypotheses, not much else. And there are plenty of confounding variables here: the Baby Boom (higher proportion of youths in the 1960s) and changes in policing methods, to name two.

 

If the lead hypothesis were true, I think we might see higher crime rates for Leadville, Colorado. Except for the past few years, they've been a long way below the national average.

 

http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Leadville-Colorado.html

 

I agree, but it appears to me that researchers here have done their homework and done their best to avoid making spurious conclusions.  After controlling for all conceivable other factors, the findings here are complimented by new findings on the impact even trace amounts of lead have on the human brain. 

 

I doubt one town in CO is enough to disprove the findings.  All studies have outliers.  It's the trend that makes the rule, not the exceptions. 

 

Observational studies cannot, by definition, show cause and effect, even if you could somehow control for all conceivable factors. The only thing an observational study can show is associations.

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Read the study F.

I can read it and still see some problems with it, can't I?

 

As I said, leaded fuel was introduced in the 1920s, not post WWII, and it was discontinued completely in 1995, not the 1970s. It doesn't add up for me.

 

I wouldn't be surprised if there were, in addition to death and illness, neurological/developmental ramifications from lead exposure. I just fail to see a strong link to the specifics noted considering the timeline and the fact that lead has been present in food, water, and the environment in general since Day 1.

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It's good to keep in mind that association (links between two things) isn't causation. (Remember power lines and cancer, or hormone replacement therapy and heart disease?) Observational studies are good for forming or disproving hypotheses, not much else. And there are plenty of confounding variables here: the Baby Boom (higher proportion of youths in the 1960s) and changes in policing methods, to name two.

 

If the lead hypothesis were true, I think we might see higher crime rates for Leadville, Colorado. Except for the past few years, they've been a long way below the national average.

 

http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Leadville-Colorado.html

 

I agree, but it appears to me that researchers here have done their homework and done their best to avoid making spurious conclusions.  After controlling for all conceivable other factors, the findings here are complimented by new findings on the impact even trace amounts of lead have on the human brain. 

 

I doubt one town in CO is enough to disprove the findings.  All studies have outliers.  It's the trend that makes the rule, not the exceptions. 

 

Observational studies cannot, by definition, show cause and effect, even if you could somehow control for all conceivable factors. The only thing an observational study can show is associations.

 

 

The observational studies were combined with two medical studies:

 

One set of scans found that lead exposure is linked to production of the brain's white matter—primarily a substance called myelin, which forms an insulating sheath around the connections between neurons. Lead exposure degrades both the formation and structure of myelin, and when this happens, says Kim Dietrich, one of the leaders of the imaging studies, "neurons are not communicating effectively." Put simply, the network connections within the brain become both slower and less coordinated.

A second study found that high exposure to lead during childhood was linked to a permanent loss of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain associated with aggression control as well as what psychologists call "executive functions": emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility. One way to understand this, says Kim Cecil, another member of the Cincinnati team, is that lead affects precisely the areas of the brain "that make us most human."

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Yes, I read that. It doesn't say anything about lead causing violent behavior.

 

"Linked to production..." This is an association.

"Linked to permanent loss..." This is also an association.

 

I'm not in favor of lots of lead exposure, and I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but going from an association between A and B and saying that A causes B can be a disaster.

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Read the study F.

I can read it and still see some problems with it, can't I?

 

As I said, leaded fuel was introduced in the 1920s, not post WWII, and it was discontinued completely in 1995, not the 1970s. It doesn't add up for me.

 

I wouldn't be surprised if there were, in addition to death and illness, neurological/developmental ramifications from lead exposure. I just fail to see a strong link to the specifics noted considering the timeline and the fact that lead has been present in food, water, and the environment in general since Day 1.

 

 

 

 

Drum describes Nevin's work:

[if] you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early '40s through the early '70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted.

Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the '60s through the '80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early '90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years.

 

 

Leaded fuel was introduced in the 1920s, but it stands to reason it wasn't immediately pervasive in the environment given the use of automobiles did not dramatically rise until after WWII.  Given the findings show roughly a 20 year lag time, it stands to reason then that crime wouldn't increase dramatically until the 60s.  Moreover, it's quite a coincidence, if that's indeed what it is, that identical findings have been replicated world wide. 

And of course when that lead was removed in the '70s and '80s, the children of that generation lost those artificially heightened violent tendencies.

 

Not only did they show a strong correlation, which lags by 20 years, but they also found that when laws changed removing lead from gasoline, that crime began to fall.  IOW, if the study is accurate, it should be able to make accurate predictions and indeed it did.

 

 

 

And of course when that lead was removed in the '70s and '80s, the children of that generation lost those artificially heightened violent tendencies.

 

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Yes, I read that. It doesn't say anything about lead causing violent behavior.

 

"Linked to production..." This is an association.

"Linked to permanent loss..." This is also an association.

 

I'm not in favor of lots of lead exposure, and I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but going from an association between A and B and saying that A causes B can be a disaster.

 

As you point out, proving a causal relationship is always extremely difficult.  This is about as close as it gets in the world of social science though.  I guarantee you we regularly make important policy decisions on far less.  The fact that the findings are complimented by medical science significantly strengthens the findings IMHO. 

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Have the authors put forth a testable hypothesis as to why there is a 20-year lag time between lead exposure and a rising crime rate?

 

Have there been any controlled animal tests on lead exposure and violent behavior?

 

Has anyone tried to disprove this hypothesis by, say, studying places like Leadville, Colorado with lots of lead and little crime?

 

A video on good science vs. bad science:

 

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Have the authors put forth a testable hypothesis as to why there is a 20-year lag time between lead exposure and a rising crime rate?

 

Have there been any controlled animal tests on lead exposure and violent behavior?

 

Has anyone tried to disprove this hypothesis by, say, studying places like Leadville, Colorado with lots of lead and little crime?

 

A video on good science vs. bad science:

 

 

I'm pretty aware of what makes good and bad science.  I even have a degree in social science and worked for the DOJ so I have a pretty good idea what does and what doesn't pass for good science when it comes to public policy.  This isn't a drug study.  There are massive limitations when it comes to uncovering issues in society via stats and studies; we just can't use the same levels of statistical significance as they are able to use in drug studies (using drug studies here as a comparison because they are usually the most stringent) because if we did, we'd be stuck at a constant stalemate of "I don't know, so don't do anything."

 

So, I'll put it to you this way.  Cops have claimed that crime decreased because we put more cops on the beat.  They used weak studies and mere observation to proffer this claim and as a result more money and more political support is being dumped into law enforcement (again, I was a speech writer at the DOJ in a Bureau that handed out grants to local police forces for this very purpose, so I know a little about this issue) primarily based on assumptions. 

 

So, on one hand, we have a pretty good study that offers a reasonable hypothesis that isn't politically favorable, but which casts reasonable doubt on the status quo and on the other hand, we have "common sense" and self interest driving public policy that not only costs billions of dollars, but which also impacts each and every one of our lives. 

 

So, is the study correct?  Maybe, maybe not.  Should the study be considered and should it enter the public debate over such an important issue in all of our lives?  I would hope so, but since too many have too much to lose if it's true I doubt it ever will be. 

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Nobody's talking about a drug study, nobody is questioning whether the association studies mentioned here found links and nobody is proposing doing a huge intervention study (not possible anyway).

 

Do the researchers have any proposed mechanism as to why it takes 20 years' lead exposure to lead to a higher crime rate? I take it they don't.

 

As to the money and effort required to do a few studies that really shouldn't be a massive undertaking (or simply doing a search to see if someone else has done them), cleaning up every last of lead may well take a lot more money and effort, and based on the evidence available, nobody knows whether it would do much good. Once such a policy is in place, it's difficult to change even if it's found to be a waste of time.

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:sigh:

 

I don't think we are anywhere close to being on the same page here. 

 

For the record, I haven't even suggested cleaning up trace lead deposits.  I've merely suggested we shouldn't keep dumping money into law enforcement under the assumption that doing so reduces crime. 

 

Anyway, no hard feelings I hope.  You seem like a very intelligent person. 

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No hard feelings at all. I admit to being buggo on the idea of too much being read into association studies.

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Do the researchers have any proposed mechanism as to why it takes 20 years' lead exposure to lead to a higher crime rate? I take it they don't.

 

Because it's the people who are kids when they're exposed to lead that grow up to become criminals, so I assume the mechanism is that lead interferes with developing brains to a much greater extent than adult brains. They did blood test studies that measured childhood lead levels to adult behaviour which showed that there is a correlation bettween lead in your system during development and criminal acts as an adult. The 20 year lag is just the time it takes to grow up and get into really serious trouble.

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