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Biotech Science

Crime Reduction Linked To Lead-Free Gasoline 616

Posted by kdawson
from the getting-the-lead-out dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Even low levels of lead can cause brain damage, increasing the likelihood of behavioral and cognitive traits such as impulsivity, aggressiveness, and low IQ that are strongly linked with criminal behavior. The NYTimes has a story on how the phasing out of leaded gasoline starting with the Clean Air Act in 1973 may have led to a 56% drop in violent crime in the US in the 1990s. An economics professor at Amherst College, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, discovered the connection and wrote a paper comparing the reduction of lead from gasoline between states (PDF) and the reduction of violent crime. She constructed a table linking crime rates in every state to childhood lead exposure in that state 20 or 30 years earlier. If lead poisoning is a factor in the development of criminal behavior, then countries that didn't switch to unleaded fuel until the 1980s, like Britain and Australia, should soon see a dip in crime as the last lead-damaged children outgrow their most violent years."
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Crime Reduction Linked To Lead-Free Gasoline

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  • Lead (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jcicora (949398) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @01:57PM (#21089083) Journal
    So does this mean with all the lead paint we are seeing in toys now, we will see another spike in violent behavior.
    • Re:Lead (Score:5, Funny)

      by Surt (22457) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:14PM (#21089443) Homepage Journal
      Yes, that's exactly what this means, and that's exactly why they did it. If you don't believe the chinese government arranged this purposefully, well, maybe you've had too much lead exposure.
      • Oh come on (Score:5, Funny)

        by commodoresloat (172735) * on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:58PM (#21090321)
        China is taking care of this problem [theonion.com] with their usual efficiency, so stop giving them a hard time.
        • Re:Oh come on (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gbulmash (688770) * <semi_famous@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @06:03PM (#21092885) Homepage Journal
          Yet despite a 56% reduction in violent crime, we increased our prison population faster than we increased the national population and have a record level of people in jail. How does unleaded gas explain that?

          Perhaps it's that mandatory sentencing laws for drug crimes and 3 strikes laws took a lot of violent offenders and potential violent offenders off the street, rather than less lead.

    • Re:Lead (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:15PM (#21089481)
      I think you need to be exposed to actual lead, not just xenophobic media hysteria about lead.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Says a person who clearly uses solder as chewing gum.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by terminal.dk (102718)
        The biggest danger now is probably from you water tap. There was a program on danish television that showed how Chinese factories use whatever scrap metal they can find to make taps. Lead is added to lower the melting point of the mixture, and it will go into the water. The also leak way too much Nickel (from when they are coated in crome, which is in fact nickel. The cheap models have the coating inside as well). They showed how everything from car parts to whatever scrap metal they could find was used. An
    • Re:Lead (Score:4, Interesting)

      by moosesocks (264553) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:51PM (#21090221) Homepage
      Doubtful. I'm no expert, but I would imagine that the amount of lead you'll absorb by handling a small toy covered in lead paint is going to be at least several orders of magnitude less than what you'd be inhaling from the emissions of every car, truck, and bus on the planet (and at 1970s emissions standards) every day.

      A small toy with a coat of leaded paint is relatively inert in comparison, and even if you scraped every ounce of paint off of the toy and ingested it, I'd bet that your total exposure would be considerably less. Granted, the effects of massive single doses are probably going to be quite different than long-term exposure, and you'd probably die if you did ingest that much of a heavy metal in one go.

      Widespread use of lead paint is a bad thing, as is the widespread use of leaded gas. Lead's been conclusively shown to be a carcinogen and something you want to avoid if you can. That said, unless you eat the stuff or are exposed to minute amounts in aerosol form for a prolonged period of time, it's probably not going to do a whole lot of damage. The people who produced/imported those toys should indeed be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but I don't think it's cause for widespread panic yet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bob(TM) (104510)
      Actually, the paper makes an minor reference to lead-based paint. Their representation is that the absorption mechanism is less effective - it requires consumption of paint chips.

      As a previous poster represented, inhalation of exhaust is a very efficient vector. Also, there is contact with materials on which exhaust is deposited - soils and water. Like pesticides (or nuclear waste, for that matter), a widespread low-level exposure is all that is necessary if total dosage characteristics come into play.
  • by JohnnyGTO (102952) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @01:58PM (#21089095) Homepage
    painting my kids toys with lead based paint!
  • by suso (153703) *
    Wow, imagine the reduction if we got rid of gasoline altogether.

    (Note to slashdotters, I'm joking)
    • by arivanov (12034)
      My point exactly. The USA has always been way more into gasguzzling even in those days. So even if this reasearch is correct the effects are bound to be less pronounced elsewhere. At the same time this probably explains the crime levels in Mexico city...
  • by haluness (219661) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @01:59PM (#21089115)
    Interesting - but couldn't this be a correlation != causation issue? Also it seems to imply that violent or criminal behavior is due to organic brain damage. Is that a given?

    Of course I haven't read the paper
    • ARRRR! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tetsujin (103070) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:04PM (#21089227) Homepage Journal

      Interesting - but couldn't this be a correlation != causation issue? Also it seems to imply that violent or criminal behavior is due to organic brain damage. Is that a given?

      Of course I haven't read the paper
      In another famous study, the decrease in number of pirates has been linked to global warming...
      • Re:ARRRR! (Score:4, Informative)

        by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:09PM (#21089337) Homepage Journal
        Actually piracy has been on the increase since the end of the cold war.
        That has been attributed to the increase in shipping and the decrease in patrols by the US, UK and the USSR.
        • by Tetsujin (103070)

          Actually piracy has been on the increase since the end of the cold war.
          That has been attributed to the increase in shipping and the decrease in patrols by the US, UK and the USSR.
          Well, that's good news, then! I guess I can stop worrying about the polar ice caps...

          (And anyway, the Pirates/Global Temperature correlation doesn't really bear the weight of too much scrutiny...)
          • by LWATCDR (28044)
            "(And anyway, the Pirates/Global Temperature correlation doesn't really bear the weight of too much scrutiny...)"

            Of course the more interesting correlation is a group that prides themselves on being enlightened and rational above all else, like the fans of the FSM would be so out of touch that they didn't know that there where still pirates on the high seas and that it is a real problem for shipping.
            • Re:ARRRR! (Score:5, Funny)

              by Tetsujin (103070) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:30PM (#21089783) Homepage Journal

              "(And anyway, the Pirates/Global Temperature correlation doesn't really bear the weight of too much scrutiny...)"

              Of course the more interesting correlation is a group that prides themselves on being enlightened and rational above all else, like the fans of the FSM would be so out of touch that they didn't know that there where still pirates on the high seas and that it is a real problem for shipping.
              It's actually just a problem with their survey method. They used to do a catch-release system to estimate the number of pirates, and identify them by markings on their earrings, patches, hooks, peglegs, etc. They also used a certain set of criteria (apart from the basic one of piracy) to identify pirates, and as the surveys have continued through the years they've failed to update their processes and criteria for changes in pirate fashions. (Basically, that pirates have come to favor other beverages apart from rum, the gradual improvements in prosthetics and the improvements in naval safety and changes in naval warfare which have reduced the incidence of dismemberment among pirates... the drastic changes in pirate lingo and their favored methods of doing business...)

              As a result, the most recent surveys only turned up a very small number of pirates: Captain Hook (who hasn't aged for a considerable period of time), the Dread Pirate Roberts (whose centuries-long career defies all explanation - the survey teams are still trying to find an explanation), and a handful of others...

              Of course, the disciples of the FSM have not overlooked these new facts. For a while, there has been a certain amount of doubt as to whether the results of this study really indicated that a decline in the number of pirates was the cause of global warming. Some said there could be other explanations, while others insisted that the whole situation merited further study and that it was too soon to draw any conclusions at all. Now, though, I think we can safely say, with a moderate level of cautious near-certainty, that the decline of piracy might not actually be entirely responsible for the increase in global temperature. There may be other factors, too.
      • by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:43PM (#21090051) Homepage Journal

        In another famous study, the decrease in number of pirates has been linked to global warming...
        Then why haven't P2P [ytmnd.com] file sharing networks, such as Napster Classic, Gnutella, Kazaa, eMule, and BitTorrent, sent us into an ice age?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by realthing02 (1084767)
      Good points, but I'm interested in the prediction about Britain's crime rates. If they do also drop that'd be pretty striking, even if it is just a correlation.

      Of course, we'll also have to weigh in the effect on predicting the future and it's impact changing it's outcomes, which is still a relatively young science...
    • correlation != causation

      By the same token, Correlation => some sort of relationship most of the time. It could be coincidence, it could be a general trend in legislation, could be random coincidence.
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Interesting - but couldn't this be a correlation != causation issue? Also it seems to imply that violent or criminal behavior is due to organic brain damage. Is that a given?

      Correlation can be causation. Take smoking. Any "reasonable" person would suppose that smoking is bad for you. However, since you think it's bad, you can't test whether it is. The best you can do is look and see the correlation between smokers and lung cancer. No study has ever "proven" that smoking causes lung cancer. For all t
      • by B3ryllium (571199)
        And on the flip side, the observed correlation could simply be a result of the improved socioeconomic climate of the past few decades, spurred on by the advent of video games, the improvement of people's income, and other stress-relievers.
    • by illumin8 (148082)

      Interesting - but couldn't this be a correlation != causation issue? Also it seems to imply that violent or criminal behavior is due to organic brain damage. Is that a given?

      I think that correlation!=causation applies here.

      I read a far more plausible reason in the book Freakonomics (great book btw), which postulates that the fall in crime rates in the US was attributable to the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. The logic is that unwanted children are more likely to fall into a life of crime, due t

    • by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:32PM (#21089825)
      From the paper:

      "Lead has also been associated directly with delinquent, criminal, and aggressive behavior. Denno [1990] finds that lead poisoning is the most significant predictor of disciplinary problems and one of the most significant predictors of delinquency, adult criminality, and the number and severity of offenses. Needleman et al. [1996] find a significant relationship between the amount of lead in bone (a good measure of past exposure) and antisocial, delinquent, and aggressive behaviors. Dietrich et al. [2001] followed a cohort of 195 inner-city youths from birth through adolescence, and found a clear linear relationship between childhood blood lead levels and the number of delinquent acts. In addition, Needleman et al [2002] showed that adjudicated delinquents were four times as likely to have high lead levels than non-delinquents, and several studies have shown that violent criminals exhibit higher levels of lead in their bodies than nonviolent criminals or the general population.25"

      It seems to me that this environmental hypothesis is testable (and confirmed) far beyond what is attainable for most theories in the social sciences.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Belial6 (794905)
        You sound like you read the reports, and I am not prepared to start yet another huge project for myself by deciding to do in depth research, so I'll just ask...

        Did any of these studies track the same individuals by economic class. I could definitely see a correlation between wealth and lead exposure, and could could also see there being an identical correlation between wealth and crime. If that is the case, it could very well mean that the connection isn't lead to crime, but wealth to crime.

        And, if
  • That's funny... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by r_jensen11 (598210) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:00PM (#21089143)
    ...Freakonomics correlated the drop in crime rates with the legalization of abortion. Which sounds more sound of a theory to you?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by mc moss (1163007)
      Sometimes I wish slashdot allowed you to post pics on the comments section. Then I can directly post that graph that shows a correlation between a decrease in the pirate population and an increase in global warming.
    • RTFP! (Score:5, Informative)

      by ctid (449118) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:06PM (#21089293) Homepage
      Levitt's book is cited in the first paragraph of the paper, which is very interesting, but rather hard to understand on a (very) brief reading. Essentially, she says that lead contributes 56% to the drop in crime, while the availability of abortions contributes 29%.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tedrlord (95173)
        And, obviously, 14.6% of the drop is due to increased use of corp syrup, making people too fat and lazy to bother committing violent crime, and the last .4% is due to the reduction in Satanists since the scare in the 1980s. Woo! I can pretend I'm a scientist too!
    • by yfkar (866011)
      Well, at least there won't be as much illegal abortions if they are legalized, and thus crime rates drop.

      Come to think of it, we could get rid of crime once and for all by legalizing everything. ;)
  • Disclaimer: I seriously don't want to start a flamewar or anything, please keep it civil.

    The legalization of abortion also occurred in a similar time frame and also has been attributed to a large statistical decrease in violent crime. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-10490717_ITM [accessmylibrary.com]

    Are both studies wrong? One study? More bending of statistics to make up for science? Anyone specifically in the know?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shados (741919)
      In the end, anything that lowers the amount of kids in the street that have health and mental problems and/or are not wanted and/or are bored (thats a big one) and/or have crappy parents, will reduce crime significantly. So I'm guessing all these things are simply indirect.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Billosaur (927319) *

      Scientific research is being abused even more in this sensationalist age. Listen, experimental design is simple, really, and therein lies the problem. It's easy enough to come up with a study, run on a limited population, at a level of probability just under then better-than-random threshold that will prove your pet theory. The number of factors involved in the commission of crimes (violent or otherwise) are so diverse, that to attribute it to one factor is absurd. Could it be an increase in law enforcement

      • by Geof (153857) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @03:29PM (#21090801) Homepage

        There are techniques to take some account of these factors. According to the NYT article, the study's author "uses small variations in the lead content of gasoline from state to state to strengthen her argument." So we have: 1) a correlation between violent crime and presence of lead in the environment, 2) support from state-by-state comparisons, 3) lead poisoning is linked to brain damage resulting in violent behaviors. Is that enough? Probably not - but it's suggestive, and with such sensational claims I expect there will be plenty of peer review.

        You're also accusing the result of being a "pet theory". It may be. It may be that many or most scientists cheat. But we shouldn't assume - with no evidence whatsoever - that any particular scientist is acting in bad faith. Do that, and we'll find scientists living down to our expectations.

        You may find the study "hard to believe", that it could "prove anything you like". If you don't examine the method, your complaint could also be leveled at any study you like. If you want better science, make specific criticisms - unless of course you don't want science at all.

    • by Abcd1234 (188840)
      Are both studies wrong? One study?

      Did you just accidentally leave the most obvious answer, "both", out of the list of options? Or do you really believe that there can be one and only one explanation for the reduction in crime rates?
    • by njfuzzy (734116)
      Here's a crazy thought. You know what all of these trends have in common? They are tied to a general increase in liberal thought in America. Allowing abortions (personal freedom), forbidding lead additives (corporate regulation). So maybe it's other liberal policies that have helped with the decrease in violent crime.
    • maybe BOTH are factors?

      I know, Crazy idea that something might not be 1 or the other, but a little of both.

      I summary I say: Terrorist use bombs. Bombs came about bacause of science, therefor scientist are terrorist;which is why the bush administration has no need to use science.

    • Given the sheer number of variables and lack of evidence here other than some statistics with little to no hard data to back them up, it's all a crapshoot. You could as easily credit the Christian Church or the rise of paganism for the same result.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Scrameustache (459504)

      Are both studies wrong? One study? More bending of statistics to make up for science?
      Both right?

      Or do all things in this world HAVE to be simplified to a singular cause?
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:04PM (#21089217) Journal
    Saw the same thing with abortion inversely linked to crime [cdlib.org][PDF Warning]:

    We offer evidence that legalized abortion has contributed significantly to recent crime reductions. Crime began to fall roughly 18 years after abortion legalization. The 5 states that allowed abortion in 1970 experienced declines earlier than the rest of the nation, which legalized in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. States with high abortion rates in the 1970s and 1980s experienced greater crime reductions in the 1990s. In high abortion states, only arrests of those born after abortion legalization fall relative to low abortion states. Legalized abortion appears to account for as much as 50 percent of the recent drop in crime.
    I saw those researchers talking about that on the Daily show once (or someone who wrote a book about it). No doubt, people will be more open to the lead paint idea than the abortion idea. Not because the data is any better or different but more so because religious beliefs are tied to abortion.

    I'd like to know if forcing your beliefs on other people is worth twice as much crime? Is making cheaper, more effective paint worth twice as much crime? Personally I'd say no to both of those but I'm sure half the country disagrees with me on the first point.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by operagost (62405)

      I'd like to know if forcing your beliefs on other people is worth twice as much crime?
      Pro-lifers believe that abortion is murder, and therefore a crime, so the answer in this case would be yes. There are alternatives to abortion, so your premise may be a false dilemma. How many offenders come from single parent homes? Foster homes? Adoptive two-parent homes?
      • How about how many offenders come from low, medium, and high-income families? Income is a huge discriminator in picking who will and won't commit crimes.
  • by feelbad_feelsgood (809633) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:06PM (#21089267)
    ... the crime wave will recede from Eastern US cities like Baltimore, where every single property in the entire city was painted with lead [wikipedia.org] right up until the ban in 1978. Thing is, lead paint was used because of its durability, so there is no guarantee that these cities are even in the downward part of the curve yet, as the paint may just now be starting to chip and find its way into children's lungs/guts.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      Lead paint is only a problem if people eat it. Not a lot of people licking building, or so I assume.

      Lead in the air is breathed, obviously.

      While both are bad, the lead in the air has a more dramatic effect then the lead on the buildings.

  • The incidence of bellbottoms fell off precipitously in the late 1970s as well.
  • How about decreases in crimes by people who were never born, because their parents could get a legal abortion? And other family planning that made more kids who'd become old enough to commit crimes instead the product of more educated, well adjusted families? Also prenatal care and other health in ghettos.

    The Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960s made a generation that came of age in the late 1970s through 1990s (and still coming today) a lot more well adjusted.
  • Finally, an excuse to start dumping saltpeter [straightdope.com] into fuel tanks..
  • That's an adverb. What you are looking for is impulsiveness.
  • by rlp (11898)
    I question the timing. Giuliani is taking credit for the drop in crime in NY during his tenure as mayor (personally I think it was mostly Bratton - the police Commissioner). Guiliani is the leading GOP candidate for President '08. So, the NY Times and publishes a "study" that the drop in crime in the US was due to phasing out lead in gas. How convenient, expect more of this stuff as the '08 campaign heats up.
  • I know the crime rate is also tied into drug use. I can't help but wonder if, as more addicts die earlier, this can also lead to a lower crime rate.
  • Does this explain disco music?
  • Say wha? (Score:4, Informative)

    by imstanny (722685) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @02:26PM (#21089703)
    The book Freakanomics makes a good case for crime reduction based on the Roe v Wade - the legalization abortions. The logic goes that majority of kids who are not aborted end up being much more suspetible to crime. Another reason for reduced crime is increased police presence.
  • The drop in crime is actually due to LEGOS; the wonderful mental stimulating plastic brick toys which were launched in their plastic form in 1963. Yes, that is 10 yrs before the noted 1973 statistical start time. However, it took approx. 10 yrs for said toy to fully populate the American market.

    Thus, the statistical analysis clearly proves that LEGOS are directly responsible for the current drop in crime.

    And why would this be? Because LEGO itself is derived from the term "Play Well". The millions of kids t
  • by o'reor (581921) on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @03:06PM (#21090459) Journal
    ... actually, being a criminal is a sure way to get lead into your body at some point.

  • by jpfed (1095443) <jerry.federspiel@gma i l .com> on Tuesday October 23, 2007 @03:24PM (#21090731)
    Reading the article, they already control for abortion, the average crime rate per year, the average crime rate for individual states, and even the effects of people moving from one state to another. The lead level measurements were finer grained than "lead existed before this date, then, everyone stopped using it"- they included state-by-state, year-by-year measurements in their lead data, adjusting for population density (as a surrogate for traffic density).

    This was a sophisticated analysis; I wouldn't call it, as some commenters above have, "junk science". It would be surprising for their observed relation to hold, but their interpretation be incorrect. It would be interesting for someone to really come up with an alternative explanation of this paper's observations.

    As a side note, I'm pretty sure that by now most lay people, and everyone reading this forum, is aware that correlation does not imply causation. And I'd be willing to guess that the vast majority of scientists have been aware of this elementary statistical fact for some time. It's likely that scientists take many potential influences into account before submitting for publication. So can we please exercise some restraint in the future and actually read the article before denouncing it as "junk science" because, as everyone knows, correlation is not causation? I am emphatically not asking people to take what the researcher says on faith, but if you decry the article without reading it, then your words are essentially noise.

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