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Crime Medicine Stats Science

America's Real Criminal Element: Lead 627

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."
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America's Real Criminal Element: Lead

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  • 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.

  • by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:43PM (#42509467) Homepage Journal

    You know, except for the whole fact that we know lead sequestering directly affects mental function in ways that cause the individual to become more violent.

  • 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, 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 Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:50PM (#42509623)

    They called it Wilding in NYC like when the central park jogger was raped and beaten

    ... as if that was a real thing:


  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:54PM (#42509693)

    Except it isn't just simple time correlation. There is also spatial correlation (areas with different lead contamination, different countries) and for individuals there is causal link between lead poisoning these behavioural problems.

  • 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 sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:59PM (#42509769) Homepage Journal

    Except we do know very well that lead exposure at a young age DOES result in poor impulse control, lower IQ, and a greater tendency towards violence.

  • by clawhound ( 811481 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:00PM (#42509793)
    Did you read the actual article? He address those topics precisely. He waited to publish this article until he had a stack of corroborating studies using different methodologies. One study is nothing. Many different studies of many different places, and each one maps well? That's a whole heaping mound of coincidence.
  • Re:Roman Empire (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dynedain ( 141758 ) <slashdot2@anthonymc l i n . c om> on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:04PM (#42509857) Homepage

    It's not a pun. That's the Latin origin of the word.

  • 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 Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:07PM (#42509917)

    The neurological effects of lead are known and reproducible. Translating individual effects to society effects is an exercise in statistics because you can not create isolated control groups in society without adding extraneous and often unmeasurable effects.

    There is almost no such thing as an absolute scientific proof in sociology. The best you can do is lower the error bars of your statistical model of highly correlated qualities.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:07PM (#42509925)


    Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum wrote that obviously the millions of children who were exposed to high levels of lead didn't all become criminals, but he notes that those on the margin may have been "pushed over the edge from being merely slow or disruptive to becoming part of a nationwide epidemic of violent crime."

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:08PM (#42509943)
    Lead causes brain damage. This is a tested and demonstrated effect, proven as far as medical science is concerned. Linking low levels of exposure to to increased societal violence is a correlation with a previously proven causal link. So you missed the point.

    What are you some Republican "causing pollution is a right, if it caused a crime 20 years later, all you have to do is prove it was linked to the atom of lead that caused the brain damage, and trace that atom back to the person that released it, and sue them. The free market fixes all."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:08PM (#42509945)

    And read the fucking article where he stresses that this is correlation.

    After you have a lot of correlation and look at other studies, you start making guesses about causation.

    Your witty Slashdot one-liner tells me every time you see stats, you just say that. RTFA, this isn't some loose correlation with nothing to back up his suggestions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:11PM (#42509995)

    Except the summary actually calls out the "correlation is not causation" parrots

  • Re:In other news. (Score:4, Informative)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:20PM (#42510159) Homepage

    Unfortunately, nobody has been able to serve papers, and they're not clear on jurisdiction.

    And, randomly, Buddha wasn't a world creator. He was a mortal man like you and I -- there *is* no specific creator in Buddhism. Depending on who practices it and where they come from, Buddhism isn't even technically a 'religion' [buddhanet.net].

  • by ChrisMaple ( 607946 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:38PM (#42510479)

    Wikipedia: Lead paint or lead-based paint is paint containing lead, as pigment, with lead(II) chromate (PbCrO4, "chrome yellow") and lead(II) carbonate (PbCO3, "white lead") being the most common. Lead is added to paint to speed up drying, increase durability, maintain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture that causes corrosion.

    Also, as might be expected by those who have handled tin-lead solder, lead is soft and flexible. This helps lead paint adhere for a long time on surfaces with differing thermal coefficients of expansion.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:39PM (#42510489)

    I didn't know that I could legally be running leaded fuel in 1996. /snarky

    Actually, you can still find it today, particularly in aviation fuel. It is being phased out, but still in use today:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avgas#Phase-out_of_leaded_aviation_gasolines [wikipedia.org]

    There is no direct fuel replacement at the moment for older engines that require leaded aviation fuel.

  • 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]
  • 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.

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

    by Sir_Eptishous ( 873977 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:18PM (#42511035) Homepage
    As soon as I saw this was an article on Lead I knew it would turn into a "Did Rome Fall because of Lead" discussion.

    I disagree with your simplistic analysis of Roman Imperialistic effectiveness: "warm coasties".

    Lets see? What was Gaul when Caesar conquered it. His own histories, as well as Gibbon, et al, indicates there was much forested areas. The same goes with conquering the Dacian tribes, and the Dalmatian provinces. Those were heavily forested, yet closer to Rome. When Augustus conquered the Germans all the way up to the Elbe, the reality was, it wasn't really economically feasible to maintain those areas once all the slaves had been "monetized". As you say, it was nothing but trees...

    The failure at Teutoburg came in a big part from Arminius subterfuge, and once the damage was done The Senate wasn't too keen on spending the money to subdue a region with little economic value, unlike the "warm coastie" regions with much higher economic value.

    Regarding Roman problems dealing with the Persian cavalry, that would be more of a military tactical issue, where The Romans didn't really have an effective method for defeating units who could fire ranged weapons from afar, as the Roman Military was much more effective at close combat.
  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:23PM (#42511101)

    Except that the neurological effects of lead poisoning are well known, and include lower IQ, increased aggressiveness, and poor impulse control - practically a recipe for making someone more inclined to commit criminal acts. And if you read the article you'll see that several different studies show the same correlation:
    1) National crime rates rose and fell with a high correlation to the rise and fall of leaded gasoline 23 years earlier
    2) Individual states phased out leaded gasoline at different rates - their crime rates likewise fell at correlated rates
    3) A study of other nations shows that Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Finland, France, Italy, New Zealand, and West Germany (all those named in the article) all show the same high correlation between crime rates and their own leaded gasoline use and phase-out, with not one nation studied failing to show it.
    4) Studies of ongoing effects show that cities (and even neighborhods, in the case of New Orleans where the data was available) with high lead contamination correlate extremely well with high-crime areas, even when neighborhoods have been long since gentrified.

    That many studies all seeing an extremely close correlation suggests that there is almost certainly something to it.

  • Re:False Lead (Score:5, Informative)

    by BeaverCleaver ( 673164 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:32PM (#42511241)

    It can become a huge problem, particularly for shotgun pellets, which by their nature are scattered indiscriminately. If you shoot a duck, maybe two pellets kill the duck, and the other hundred go directly into the waterways, and therefore the food chain. Not cool. I believe steel shot is presently being encouraged to improve this?

  • Re: Roman Empire (Score:4, Informative)

    by ahodgson ( 74077 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:46PM (#42511473)

    As I understand it, between 400 and 900 AD Scotland was invaded and largely conquered by invaders from Ireland. The Picts were largely annihilated or absorbed. So really the "Scots" the Romans new didn't get civilized, they got wiped out.

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

    by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @07:42PM (#42512133)

    It's not a pun. That's the Latin origin of the word.

    I know, that's why I wrote it. But how does that make it not-a-pun?

    UPDATE: After carefully checking with a few dictionaries, it appears that the designatum of the English "pun" is strictly narrower that the common translation of "pun" in my native tongue, which means more like "word play", with the narrow sense of "pun" being represented with a transliteration of the French word "calembour". It just shows that you learn a new thing every day!

  • Re:False Lead (Score:5, Informative)

    by stuporglue ( 1167677 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @09:49PM (#42513487) Homepage

    Lead-free shot is required at least in Wetlands Managed Areas in Minnesota.

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