Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Crime Medicine Stats Science

America's Real Criminal Element: Lead 627

Posted by samzenpus
from the is-not-causation dept.
2muchcoffeeman writes "The cause of the great increase in violent crime that started in the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s may have been isolated: lead. This leads directly to the reason for the sharp decline in violent crime since then: lead abatement programs and especially the ban of tetraethyl lead as an anti-knock agent in gasoline starting in 1996. There are three reasons why this makes sense. First, the statistics correlate almost perfectly. Second, it holds true worldwide with no exceptions. Every country studied has shown this same strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates. Third, the chemistry and neuroscience of lead gives us good reason to believe the connection. Decades of research has shown that lead poisoning causes significant and probably irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person's ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility. Another thing that stands out: if you overlay a map showing areas with higher incidence of violent crime with one showing lead contamination, there's a strikingly high correlation."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

America's Real Criminal Element: Lead

Comments Filter:
  • False Lead (Score:5, Funny)

    by James McGuigan (852772) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:33PM (#42509281) Homepage

    False Lead

  • Roman Empire (Score:5, Informative)

    by geoffrobinson (109879) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:34PM (#42509309) Homepage

    And didn't help lead to the downfall of Rome as well? I believe they had a lot of lead in their wine containers.

    • Re:Roman Empire (Score:5, Informative)

      by pwizard2 (920421) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:45PM (#42509511)
      Lead(II) Acetate [wikipedia.org] was actually used as a sweetening agent. They also had lots of lead water mains too. The Romans were highly advanced for the time, but the massive quantities of lead the average Roman was exposed to certainly didn't help matters.
      • Re:Roman Empire (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:55PM (#42509717)

        Or, were they so much more advanced than the rest of the world because they drank so much lead?

        • Re:Roman Empire (Score:5, Informative)

          by pwizard2 (920421) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:05PM (#42509887)
          The Romans were advanced. They had indoor plumbing, flush toilets (of a sort) and aquaducts that could transport water for hundreds of miles (most stretches of the aquaducts were enclosed in water mains similar to what we have today) The Romans were capable of performing complicated surgery/repair (much like the new-world cultures) and Roman public baths and enclosed sewage systems helped to maintain public health in crowded urban areas. When the legions were not fighting, they could build nearly any type of infrastructure. Roman roads and bridges have lasted for over 2000 years and are still usable today. That is very impressive considering that the parts of Europe not colonized by the Greeks or Romans were still in the tribal stage of civilization at the time.
          • by vlm (69642)

            That is very impressive considering that the parts of Europe not colonized by the Greeks or Romans were still in the tribal stage of civilization at the time.

            An alternative viewpoint is everyone other than crude barbarians either got merged into the empire or got the "Carthage treatment" so yeah, pretty much if everyone on multiple continents is either wiped out or forced to merge, the remainder is pretty much going to be the dregs of society. The last kid picked at gym class isn't likely to be an athletic prodigy.

          • Among other, notable Roman inventions was central heating. [wikipedia.org] By the late First Century BCE, they were heating their public baths and richer villas this way. (There may also have been some examples of this in India, centuries earlier, but the Roman invention appears to have been independent.)
          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:46PM (#42510587)

            Well, apart from the indoor plumbing, flush toilets, aquaducts, surgery, repair, public baths, enclosed sewage systems, roads and bridges, what have the Romans ever done for us?

          • Re:Roman Empire (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Sique (173459) on Monday January 07, 2013 @08:44PM (#42512775) Homepage

            The Romans were advanced. They had indoor plumbing, flush toilets (of a sort) and aquaducts that could transport water for hundreds of miles (most stretches of the aquaducts were enclosed in water mains similar to what we have today)

            You know why we call this "plumbing"? Because it was done with plumbum, the latin word for lead.

      • Re:Roman Empire (Score:5, Informative)

        by avandesande (143899) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:52PM (#42510653) Journal
        Here is one study claiming that this is false based on bone samples.... http://www.poweredbyosteons.org/2012/01/lead-poisoning-in-rome-skeletal.html [poweredbyosteons.org]
    • Re:Roman Empire (Score:5, Informative)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:48PM (#42509565) Homepage

      And didn't help lead to the downfall of Rome as well? I believe they had a lot of lead in their wine containers.

      That is one of the theories, yes.

    • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:53PM (#42509681)

      And didn't help lead to the downfall of Rome as well? I believe they had a lot of lead in their wine containers.

      They had a lot of lead in their plumbing. (Which is a nice pun for the classically educated. ;-))

    • Re:Roman Empire (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:37PM (#42511319)

      Apparently the romans were not poisoned by lead...

      From wikipedia:

      "The great disadvantage of lead has always been that it is poisonous. This was fully recognised by the ancients, and Vitruvius specifically warns against its use. Because it was nevertheless used in profusion for carrying drinking water, the conclusion has often been drawn that the Romans must therefore have suffered from lead poisoning; sometimes conclusions are carried even further and it is inferred that this caused infertility and other unwelcome conditions, and that lead plumbing was largely responsible for the decline and fall of Rome. In fact, two things make this otherwise attractive hypothesis impossible. First, the calcium carbonate deposit that formed so thickly inside the aqueduct channels also formed inside the pipes, effectively insulating the water from the lead, so that the two never touched. Second, because the Romans had so few taps and the water was constantly running, it was never actually inside the pipes for more than a few minutes, and certainly not long enough to become contaminated. The thesis that the Romans contracted lead poisoning from the lead pipes in their water systems must therefore be declared completely unfounded."

  • by lysdexia (897) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:35PM (#42509321) Homepage
    And here I thought it was Roe v. Wade. http://www.freakonomics.com/2005/05/15/abortion-and-crime-who-should-you-believe/ [freakonomics.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by operagost (62405)
      And here I thought it was gun control. Now, if only we could ban those terrible long, pointy kitchen knives [bbc.co.uk], no one will ever harm anyone again!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Any research done into the mass shootings in the last couple of decades will show a very strong correlation between anti psychotic pharmaceuticals and those shootings. But we aren't banning those drugs, just the guns the drugged up nuts were using.

        http://www.wnd.com/2013/01/the-giant-gaping-hole-in-sandy-hook-reporting/ [wnd.com]

        Let us blame, if anything, behavior altering drugs for people's behavior.

    • Nope, coding error (Score:5, Informative)

      by l00sr (266426) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:07PM (#42510873)

      Donohue and Levitt botched the study [wikipedia.org]: a programming bug meant they failed to control for things they thought they were controlling for. Furthermore, they accidentally predicted the total number of arrests instead of the arrest rate, as they should have.

  • so... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nkwe (604125) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:36PM (#42509353)
    If you don't fill someone full of lead, they don't fill someone else full of lead?
  • by Andrio (2580551) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:37PM (#42509367)
    I'm throwing this damned mechanical pencil away.
  • Curious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:44PM (#42509495)

    Admittedly inspired by an XKCD comic, are they sure the violent crime/lead contamination map isn't just a slightly variant on a population density map? The more people, the more cars, the more lead contamination potential, etc.

    • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:48PM (#42511499) Journal

      I think the most damning piece of evidence here is when they compared the restrictions on leaded gasoline across different states, and then also across different countries, and in all cases they've got the same pattern of a ~20 year time delta between the lead emissions curve and the violent crime curve.

  • by Andy Prough (2730467) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:49PM (#42509601)
    The root of all evil on earth, it would seem? However, kind of interesting that the drop in crime is also correlated with the rise of the Sony PlayStation and XBox? Maybe instead of going out and getting drunk and trashing stuff, young men are staying home and getting less drunk and playing Modern Warfare.
  • by rossdee (243626) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:49PM (#42509603)

    Guns don't kill people
    Bullets kill people

    and of course bullets are made of lead

  • Maybe... (Score:3, Informative)

    by judoguy (534886) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:54PM (#42509701) Homepage
    I hope this study isn't like the 6 city CDC study purporting to show that gun carry license liberalization didn't reduce gun crime. The CDC cherry picked 6 cities for different six month periods in order to "prove" that guns possessed by legal carriers didn't help.

    Contrast that "study" to John Lott’s study that looked at every single city in every single county for all 50 states for an over 20 year contiguous time frame. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_Guns,_Less_Crime [wikipedia.org]

  • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:03PM (#42509847) Journal

    Most victims of violent crime have been found to have large amounts of lead inside them.

  • What about poverty? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:23PM (#42510209)

    Another thing that stands out: if you overlay a map showing areas with higher incidence of violent crime with one showing lead contamination, there's a strikingly high correlation.

    Some of the cheapest land in Dallas is right by the old lead smelters, where you couldn't build without millions of dollars of decontamination. The poor live around there, the rich moved elsewhere. So I'd like to see an overlay with SES (socio-economic status) and the lead/crime maps.

  • by InterGuru (50986) <jhd@intergur[ ]om ['u.c' in gap]> on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:32PM (#42510355) Homepage

    Every time the homicide rate goes up or down, we all cast about for causes. The usual suspects, the economy, policing, and number of prisoners, do not work out. The changes are usually national, while policing and prison policies differ over the country. Crime rates were low in the Depression, are low now, in our deep recession and were high during the prosperous 80's.

    The historian David Hackett Fischer, in his book "The Great Wave" (one review here [bookwormhole.net] ) using over 700 years of British records shows that the homicide rate and inflation are closely correlated. High inflation, high crime, low inflation low crime. It certainly holds for the examples above. Fisher himself concedes that correlation is not causation, but it rules out the usual explanations.

  • by ScooterComputer (10306) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:30PM (#42511211)

    Although this discovery does not explain all violent crime, it seems to indicate something that will need, should need addressed: very likely none of the CRIMINALS during this time voluntarily or willing took lead to induce their psychosis. They were poisoned; by their environment, by society, by ignorance. At the very least, this raises a interesting "mens rea" situation. Certainly, if someone suffered a blackout from fever induced by severe food poisoning while driving home from the restaurant, ran off the road and killed someone, we wouldn't lock them in a cage and call them "animals". However this study is basically saying that very large numbers of people were inadvertently poisoned, made sick, causing neurological damage, and they were then treated to some of the worst, inhumane treatment (prison, electrocution, lethal injection) that any ill human being has ever endured.

    So the question is: when is America going to start realizing that prison as a "deep dank hole" is an inhumane basis of punishment rooted more in religious dogma (making people "suffer" for their sins) than in true causality--neurological (and quite inadvertent) defect? Is there any reason for prisons to be such cold, horrific places? Certainly we can look back on the asylums of the early half of the 20th Century with contempt; yet we, societally, accept prison rape and beatings, isolation and estrangement as fodder for comedy. I am no advocate of a plush lifestyle for those convicted of horrific crimes, but neither am I tolerant of such treatment of those who are neurologically incapable of making better, more rational decisions. We need to STOP putting people in prison for stupid crimes (drugs, financial crimes) and confine the use of "corrections" budgets to making safe, healthy places for the sick to live out their lives under proper (medical, if necessary) care.

  • by Twinbee (767046) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:42PM (#42511385) Homepage
    This quote from the article sums it up quite nicely:

    In fact, use of leaded gasoline varied widely among states, and this gave Reyes the opening she needed. If childhood lead exposure really did produce criminal behavior in adults, you'd expect that in states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime would decline slowly too. Conversely, in states where it declined quickly, crime would decline quickly. And that's exactly what she found.

    This is why I continue to think that experiments should be performed on half the states at a time, especially if we're not sure about something. For example, the idea to drop working hours to 50-75% of what we have is a 'risky' plan, but could make people much happier. So we try it out on half (or some fraction of) the states. Another idea is to try fluoride in water at 0.1ppm, 1ppm, 2ppm. Similar experiments can be used for chlorine or ozone (I'm not making any judgements on those or saying that conclusions haven't already been reached by the way).

    By experimenting on half (or some fraction of) the states like this, we create a kind of 'evolution', where we can filter out bad ideas, and keep good ones. Or at least more likely be able to do so.

Vax Vobiscum

Working...