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Old 8th January 2013, 01:46 PM   #1
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Lead (Pb) exposure linked to crime rates

Lead (Pb) exposure linked to crime rates

I apologize if this is in the wrong subforum. It seemed to me that it might be appropriate for either this or "Social Issues", however since I'm hoping to hear from more health experts and statistical experts, I thought it might best be placed here.


Interesting article in Mother Jones regarding lead poisoning, which links the rise and fall of amounts of lead exposure to the rise and falls in crime rate.

http://www.motherjones.com/environme...-link-gasoline

My first thought was "correlation does not imply causation", however I think the author is trying to make the case that there is more than a single correlation, as well as a very strong correlation between the two.

One of the places where it confused me, though, is on page two where he links low levels of lead exposure to ADHD. Perhaps I'm not thinking about this right, but if this link to lead exposure is true, shouldn't that mean that ADHD diagnoses should have peaked some years ago, and now be going down like the crime rates? My understanding is that ADHD diagnoses have been climbing in recent years.

Or, is this one more complicated, because ADHD diagnoses are relatively new?

Or, is this complicated because higher exposures to lead do not cause ADHD, but some other type of learning problems or disabilities?
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Old 8th January 2013, 02:02 PM   #2
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Lead exposure (or, to be precise, exposure to bioavailable lead) is going to be highest in low-income areas. So is crime. Then there's the fact that lead is a bioaccumulative compound, meaning that you pick up more and more over your lifetime. That means that it's going to hit adults--and therefore breadwinners--first. This causes some degree of depiration in a family. Finding a fit isn't going to be terribly difficult.

The other thing you have to consider is that technically speaking, George Washington, the entire Continental Congress, and the entire Continental Army were criminals. So were all the escaped slaves. For that matter, so was a black man marrying a white woman for a long time. In contrast, beating your wife was perfectly fine as long as the stick you beat her with was smaller-around than your thumb. Enslavement was also legal--as was sumary execution without trial in some cases. In some areas of the world today it is legal to execute your daughter if she shames your family by being raped. Smoking pot is illegal, and selling home-grown stuff is generally on the same level as drug cartells selling pretty much everything. My point is, the author is clearly attempting a package-deal here. Just because someone's a criminal doesn't actually mean they did something wrong. Simply calling someone a criminal has no biological meaning.

Originally Posted by meg
Or, is this one more complicated, because ADHD diagnoses are relatively new?
That's part of it. We're also getting better at identifying ADHD. So there's going to be a rise in it. Also, this isn't even as simple as that. ADHD is a function of numerous environmental and genetic factors.
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Old 8th January 2013, 02:38 PM   #3
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Dinwar,
Thank you for your response.

I am confused by this, as it regards to the article:

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post

The other thing you have to consider is that technically speaking, George Washington, the entire Continental Congress, and the entire Continental Army were criminals. So were all the escaped slaves. For that matter, so was a black man marrying a white woman for a long time. In contrast, beating your wife was perfectly fine as long as the stick you beat her with was smaller-around than your thumb. Enslavement was also legal--as was sumary execution without trial in some cases. In some areas of the world today it is legal to execute your daughter if she shames your family by being raped. Smoking pot is illegal, and selling home-grown stuff is generally on the same level as drug cartells selling pretty much everything. My point is, the author is clearly attempting a package-deal here. Just because someone's a criminal doesn't actually mean they did something wrong. Simply calling someone a criminal has no biological meaning.

Are you trying to say that when the NY Times reported in 1996 that crime rates had plummeted to rates not seen in 30 years
( http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/20/ny...ted=all&src=pm ) that this could be explained by our changing values? Are you trying to say that crimes we considered to be murder, rape, assault, or robbery in the 60s, just weren't considered crimes in the 90s?

And btw, I'm pretty sure that the whole beating your wife was ok as long as you followed the "rule of thumb" thing has been proven to be myth.
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Old 8th January 2013, 03:14 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by meg
I am confused by this, as it regards to the article:
I'm making a general statement that because of the diverse nature of what we consider crimes, crime rate doesn't serve as a useful metric. All I was pointing out was that there are innumerable confounding factors in crime rates, including everything from changing social norms to people writing incredibly stupid laws to enforcement to just about anything you care to name. The criteria is simply too loose to allow for any precise analysis. "Crime" isn't an activity in any sense; it's only defined as "breaking the law", and includes subsets of nearly every activity. My wife and I used to break the law every time I went out of town--she'd kiss me goodby on our front lawn, which in that city was illegal (though the law wasn't enforced).

If the author wants to discuss correlation of anything to rates of anything else, they need to look at specific activities, and "crime" simply doesn't cut it. Maybe look at risk-taking activities, which would include some crime (and a lot of non-criminal activities). Or look at defiance of authority figures, which includes crime (and a lot of non-criminal activities). Basically, the author needs to address some action people take for the correlation to have any meaning.

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And btw, I'm pretty sure that the whole beating your wife was ok as long as you followed the "rule of thumb" thing has been proven to be myth.
That may be true, but you can't tell me it was illegal to beat your wife in the USA for a big chunk of history. Simple fact was, it was considered okay up to a certain point, that point varying between groups. That's really all I was trying to say.
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Old 8th January 2013, 03:17 PM   #5
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Wrong about bioaccumulation. It comes out in hair, fingernails and urine. In time.

Re: the OP, did the study show high rates of lead in inmates? Or merely the societal link commonality?
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Old 8th January 2013, 03:30 PM   #6
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As far as I can remember, there was no reference to any study of lead in inmate populations. The article points to this paper: http://www.ricknevin.com/uploads/Nev...Manuscript.pdf

A search of the paper shows no instance of the word "inmate" or "prison"
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Old 8th January 2013, 03:35 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by casebro
Wrong about bioaccumulation. It comes out in hair, fingernails and urine. In time.
How long a time? If it sticks around for a few years, you're still going to be sunk.
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Old 8th January 2013, 04:54 PM   #8
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I'm a life long shooter- lead bullets, lead shot, lead bearing primer residue. So I've superficially looked into lead poisoning. The inner city kids are the most common subjects. Long term, proven lead poisoning is thought to cause a one point drop in IQ. No mention ever of social problem linkage.

Occupationally, years and years, stained glass workers get it too. So bad their teeth fall our and pus oozes out from under their fingernails.

But for the rest of us, seems the "signs" are indistinguishable from aging: poor short term memory, poorer concentration, sagging arm pits, incontinence, beer belly, erectile dysfunction, low tire pressure.

Two shooters I know have had tests. Serum levels? In nanos per furlong per fortnight, or some such.. One was 4. The other was 16, and after not shooting in an indoor range for a couple months, it dropped to 4. Four s normal, we all have some. It takes 25 to show some signs in some people, 50 show sign in more, 100 signs in everybody. So the indoor shooters sympoms were probably all in his head? But his did drop after no treatment whatever, merely cutting down on exposure. So it seems to go away, via hair, fingernails and sweat.

Nowadays the gun ranges have a specific soap that has nothing specific in it. Per the MSDS, Emollients and surfactants. lotion and soap. Plus scrubbing beads. And snake oil too? If you really want to remove residue from hands use vinegar. I think pickle juice ought to do, and leave hands smelling spicy too.

I'm so concerned, I'll probably be making a shot maker, a pan with little holes in it. Dump in melted scrap lead, and shot dribbles out the bottom.

I guess we'll know I'm, wrong when I start posting from jail.
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Old 8th January 2013, 05:12 PM   #9
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In Rome they used to make an artificial sweetener by boiling turned wine in a leaden vessel until it was a syrup. This was called "sugar of lead" and was quite popular.

Some scholars have alleged that this contributed materially to the downfall of Rome.
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Old 8th January 2013, 06:21 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by BenBurch View Post
In Rome they used to make an artificial sweetener by boiling turned wine in a leaden vessel until it was a syrup. This was called "sugar of lead" and was quite popular.

Some scholars have alleged that this contributed materially to the downfall of Rome.
They also used lead water pipes, which is why the person who fixes your pipes is called a plumber.
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Old 8th January 2013, 07:40 PM   #11
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The key point of the article is lead exposure of infants and toddlers. That lead exposure in infants and toddlers leads to developmental problems that statistically lead to criminal activities later in life. So therefore, a society with large amounts of children exposed to lead creates a society 20+ years later with higher rates of crime.

And, conversely, as we cleaned the lead fumes out of our air and fewer children were exposed to them, crimes rates go down.
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Old 8th January 2013, 10:25 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by meg
lead to criminal activities later in life.
What activities would those be? Kissing your wife in public? Going 67 in a 65? Putting a doorknob on a door (technically a violation of one of the anti-discrimination laws)? Shooting people for looking at them funny? Not claiming those $10 you won at the poker table on your tax returns?

Again, "criminal activity" is a misnomer. There are activities society has defined as crimes, but they include a subset of many types of activities. Again, "criminal activity" is not a biological reality and therefore is an inapplicable criteria for biological (and therefore neurological) studies.

Quote:
And, conversely, as we cleaned the lead fumes out of our air and fewer children were exposed to them, crimes rates go down.
It also involves a great deal of other activities. You ever see a remediation site in action? I've done a few. They usually involve multiple contaminants of concern, massive amounts of activity, and a systematic attempt to make the area a better place in general. 99 times out of 100 there are all sorts of legal battles going on. In other words, remediation is not done in isolation.
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Old 8th January 2013, 10:53 PM   #13
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It would be awesome if it turns out to be that simple.

Then there would be a simple, straightforward solution to a lot of heinous, seemingly complex social problems. And economic problems too.
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Old 8th January 2013, 11:30 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by BenBurch View Post
In Rome they used to make an artificial sweetener by boiling turned wine in a leaden vessel until it was a syrup. This was called "sugar of lead" and was quite popular.

Some scholars have alleged that this contributed materially to the downfall of Rome.
Actually, the sweetener was called "sapa". The lead(II) acetate that was its main component was sugar of lead.

Originally Posted by bruto View Post
They also used lead water pipes, which is why the person who fixes your pipes is called a plumber.
Probably not really relevant- water flowing through lead pipes will not pick up much lead. Acidic liquids (particularly ones full of organic ligands such as tartrates, including wine and cider) will pick up lead much more quickly.
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Old 8th January 2013, 11:44 PM   #15
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I agree with other folks that socioeconomic factors are likely playing a major role. I wonder if it's possible to screen the results for that?

Originally Posted by Madalch View Post
Probably not really relevant- water flowing through lead pipes will not pick up much lead. Acidic liquids (particularly ones full of organic ligands such as tartrates, including wine and cider) will pick up lead much more quickly.
I know a few homebrewers who use lead solder in their equipment. I've tried telling them that Pb is pretty soluble in acidic wort, but they're unconcerned. I don't drink their beer
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Old 8th January 2013, 11:48 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by meg View Post
The key point of the article is lead exposure of infants and toddlers. That lead exposure in infants and toddlers leads to developmental problems that statistically lead to criminal activities later in life. So therefore, a society with large amounts of children exposed to lead creates a society 20+ years later with higher rates of crime.

And, conversely, as we cleaned the lead fumes out of our air and fewer children were exposed to them, crimes rates go down.
According to the report I just heard, where leaded petrol was banned overnight, the fall in crime 20 years later was abrupt; where leaded petrol was phased out gradually the fall was similarly gradual.
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Old 8th January 2013, 11:58 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by volcano View Post
I agree with other folks that socioeconomic factors are likely playing a major role. I wonder if it's possible to screen the results for that?
I'll suggest another major factor which correlates with socioeconomic factors:
Attachment and Early Education

Episode 411: Why Preschool Can Save The World

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On today's show, we meet a self-described robber baron who decided to spend his billions on finger paint and changing tables. We revisit decades-long studies that found preschool made a huge difference in the lives of poor children. And we talk to a Nobel prize-winning economist who says that spending public money on preschool produces a huge return on investment.
About those "decades-long studies that found preschool made a huge difference in the lives of poor children", they found among other things that it reduced rates of crime (actually, that the poor children who went to preschool were less likely to end up in prison as an adult compared to their peers who didn't) and teenage pregnancy, the same statistics that the Mother Jones article looks at as being correlated with lead.
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Old 9th January 2013, 12:16 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by volcano View Post
I know a few homebrewers who use lead solder in their equipment. I've tried telling them that Pb is pretty soluble in acidic wort, but they're unconcerned. I don't drink their beer
Beer isn't nearly as acidic as wine or cider...but I don't think I'd drink it either.
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Old 9th January 2013, 12:44 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Madalch View Post
Beer isn't nearly as acidic as wine or cider...but I don't think I'd drink it either.
Wort (the undiluted proto-beer) usually has a pH around 5-ish. You're right, though, that's not as acidic as wine (which I think is normally 3-4 or so?)
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Old 9th January 2013, 07:04 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by zooterkin View Post
According to the report I just heard, where leaded petrol was banned overnight, the fall in crime 20 years later was abrupt; where leaded petrol was phased out gradually the fall was similarly gradual.
And what other social programs happened at those same times, and how different were such nebulous results? Perhaps a society that bans abruptly also has other social concerns, enacted abruptly? A more lax society also has a laxness in other endeavors?
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Old 9th January 2013, 07:30 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by casebro View Post
And what other social programs happened at those same times, and how different were such nebulous results? Perhaps a society that bans abruptly also has other social concerns, enacted abruptly? A more lax society also has a laxness in other endeavors?
I've not had time to read even the original article, let alone the papers it is based on, however the people I've heard discussing it were scientists who have read the original papers, and their comment was that the research looked thorough in the way it was excluding other possible factors. With the usual caveats about argument from authority, and correlation not implying causation, it does appear that there is something there which is at least worth further study.

ETA: To address your point, from the article:
Quote:
Meanwhile, Nevin had kept busy as well, and in 2007 he published a new paper looking at crime trends around the world (PDF). This way, he could make sure the close match he'd found between the lead curve and the crime curve wasn't just a coincidence. Sure, maybe the real culprit in the United States was something else happening at the exact same time, but what are the odds of that same something happening at several different times in several different countries?

Nevin collected lead data and crime data for Australia and found a close match. Ditto for Canada. And Great Britain and Finland and France and Italy and New Zealand and West Germany. Every time, the two curves fit each other astonishingly well. When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn't fit the theory. "No," he replied. "Not one."
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Old 9th January 2013, 09:18 AM   #22
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Quote:
When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn't fit the theory. "No," he replied. "Not one."
That makes me extremely skeptical about this research. Not ONE exception? In physics you can get results like this, but not in biology or sociology. No exceptions usually means that the data has been tweaked in some way (usually unconciously).

Quote:
...but what are the odds of that same something happening at several different times in several different countries?
And what's supposed to convince us that this is correct is a careful and detailed look at Western democracies. This is where the data got tweaked. The odds are extremely good that the same thing would occur in those countries at the same time because they are trade partners, military allies, and generally share social norms. These aren't isolated systems; in a lot of ways these countries are a single entity (with the exception of Australia one of those ways is NATO, for example).

And again, none of this addresses my main concern: what we define as "crime" isn't a single set of behaviors, but rather a set including subsets of most behaviors.
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Old 9th January 2013, 09:55 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
That makes me extremely skeptical about this research. Not ONE exception? In physics you can get results like this, but not in biology or sociology. No exceptions usually means that the data has been tweaked in some way (usually unconciously).

And what's supposed to convince us that this is correct is a careful and detailed look at Western democracies. This is where the data got tweaked. The odds are extremely good that the same thing would occur in those countries at the same time because they are trade partners, military allies, and generally share social norms. These aren't isolated systems; in a lot of ways these countries are a single entity (with the exception of Australia one of those ways is NATO, for example).
But did those countries all ban leaded petrol at the same time, or at different times? If it was at different times, but the 20 year correlation still holds, then it would seem more likely to the lead that's significant rather than other factors.

Quote:
And again, none of this addresses my main concern: what we define as "crime" isn't a single set of behaviors, but rather a set including subsets of most behaviors.
Well, I guess you could look at the papers to see how they defined it.
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Old 9th January 2013, 10:28 AM   #24
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You might find this useful, dinwar. It is a CRS report for congress entitled How Crime in the United States is Measured . http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34309.pdf

Strange as it may seem to you, "crime" is measured and reported regularly. Lots and lots of scholarly papers are written about and use these crime statistics, and as far as I can tell so far, no one but you thinks it might be a measurement of wife kissing or doorknob installing, etc.
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Old 9th January 2013, 10:34 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by zooterkin
But did those countries all ban leaded petrol at the same time, or at different times? If it was at different times, but the 20 year correlation still holds, then it would seem more likely to the lead that's significant rather than other factors.
Not necessarily. Again, I've yet to encounter any remediation program that just included lead. This includes several that I helped with (both the planning and exicution phases, though on different projects) in shooting ranges. Unless you can demonstrate that these countries ONLY changed lead--rather than, say, undergoing broad social reforms, one of which was to increase environmental awarness and beginning a program of remediation--my statements still hold. Information doesn't transmit instantaniously, after all, and even within our own society different remediation methods are adopted at different times (and I should emphasize that I'm including action limits in with remediation methods). I can tell you that from personal experience, working in environmental remediation in Alabama and California.

In fact, that's an amazingly good case study. Alabama and California are part of the same nation. Yet they have very different environmental regulations. It's also interesting to note that they have very different social structures. Seems that environmental regulations are correlated, at least to some degree, with wider social reforms, and therefore merely taking multiple alequats from the same system (even accounting for variation in that system) is insufficient to account for those social issues.

Quote:
Well, I guess you could look at the papers to see how they defined it.
Possibly. I'm not convinced the authors actually give an adequate answer (otherwise a simple quote would have shut me down). But considering this is central to the OP's argument, I expect them to define their terms. It's their job to convince us they're right. It's not my job to do the work for them.

And this is a very, very simple question to answer. It's essentially a fill-in-the-blank: "Crime rate was measured by _________." I'm sorry, but if no one can fill in that blank, how much can we trust their conclusions about vastly more complex socio-economic and socio-environmental topics?
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Old 9th January 2013, 10:40 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by meg View Post
You might find this useful, dinwar. It is a CRS report for congress entitled How Crime in the United States is Measured . http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34309.pdf

Strange as it may seem to you, "crime" is measured and reported regularly. Lots and lots of scholarly papers are written about and use these crime statistics, and as far as I can tell so far, no one but you thinks it might be a measurement of wife kissing or doorknob installing, etc.
You have completely missed my point. Again, "crime" isn't a behavior IN ANY SENSE. Crime is violating laws. That's it. Show me how that is related to neurobiology and I'll shut up. Remember, we're not talking sociology here--the paper is postulating a link between low-level lead dosing and some BEHAVIOR, which makes this a neurobiology question. The fact that sociologists use the statistics in no way demonstrates their validity. Most obviously, sociology addresses issues that are not the concern of neurobiology, such is income distribution, resource availability, and law.

What BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITY is being defined as "crime" here? Because if there's not one (or several) biological activities defined as "crime", the author is pulling a bait-and-switch: they're presenting their paper as a study in biology, but the paper is acutally about sociology. Not that sociology isn't a valid field of study, but once we accept that we're not talking biology we can abandon the pretense of looking for chemical causes (chemicals can impact behavior, but crime isn't a behavior, in any biological sense).

Also, the doorknob thing IS considered a crime. The American with Disabilities Act outlaws them (in practice, doorknobs cannot meet the standards required by teh AwDA, and therefore are illegal).
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Old 9th January 2013, 11:19 AM   #27
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Dinwar, you keep asking questions that simply reading the two page article and perhaps even glancing at some of the many papers linked to in the article would answer.

If you have no interest in reading the article before commenting, fine. But be advised your comments don't make a whole lot of sense to people that actual have read the article.

In a nutshell,
Crime is measured in two ways, the Uniform Crime Report compiled by the FBI and the National Crime Victimization Survey, administered by the US Census Bureau. The link I gave you above details exactly what is measured and how the data is gathered.

We are not talking about remediation sites. The article is referring primarily to the Clean Air Act of 1970, which started systematically phasing out tetraethyllead from gasoline, beginning in 1973.

We are not talking about the bioaccumulation of lead in adults. We are talking about lead exposure to infants and toddlers and the very real developmental problems it causes, including lowered IQ, increased impulsivity, decrease aggression control, ADHD, and others.

and the many papers linked to in the article, some of which are:

Association of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Lead Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood

A Decreased Brain Volume in Adults with Childhood Lead Exposure

Confirmation and Extension of Association of Blood Lead with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and ADHD Symptom Domains at Population-Typical Exposure Levels

ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY AS SOCIAL POLICY? THE IMPACT OF CHILDHOOD LEAD EXPOSURE ON CRIME

Hope that clears it up a bit for you.

ETA: just to clarify, the all caps above is a cut and paste of the paper title. It is not me "shouting".
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Last edited by meg; 9th January 2013 at 11:33 AM.
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Old 9th January 2013, 11:51 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by meg
Hope that clears it up a bit for you.
Not at all.

Quote:
We are talking about lead exposure to infants and toddlers and the very real developmental problems it causes, including lowered IQ, increased impulsivity, decrease aggression control, ADHD, and others.
Notice that all of these deel with neurobiology. IQ is garbage and its inclusion in any scientific publication makes me question the authors' rigor, but let's leave that aside. All of these problems are biological--and many of them are things I myself proposed be examined in place of crime rate. Crime rate, on the other hand, is a legal issue and a sociological issue--NOT a biological one. No rigorous researcher would attempt to use one system to evaluate a completely different one. That's why biologists are very, very careful in their wording about things like animal fighting, social interactions, and the like. Crime rates are impacted by many, many, many factors, and those factors that can be impacted by lead are a very small minority.

Crime has no biological meaning. It's like talking about the thrust generated by a woodwind instrument--yeah, you can kinda sorta twist things so it looks like the concept is applicable, but it's sloppy and the results have little if any meaning. Now, discussing biological issues--such as ADHD, impulse control, agression control, etc., is a different issue entirely, as I already stated.

Quote:
We are not talking about remediation sites.
Yeah, I got that. What you insist on failing to understand, however, is that NO ONE, EVER just cleans up lead. Remediation sites are an example to illustrate the point (I picked shooting ranges for exactly that reason--they're as close to a site that only cares about lead as you'll ever find, and there were STILL half a dozen COCs for those sites). The call to reduce lead exposure, via reduction of lead in paint, gasoline, and other sources, was part of a broad social reform that swept through the Western world, hitting different countries at different times. The Clean Air Act alone includes far more than lead (I've read most of it; have you?). And the Clean Air Act wasn't an isolated bit of legislation--a great deal of environmental legislation came out at that time, as did a great deal of legislation aimed toward social reform. Since all of the countries analyzed were Western democracies, all of which are members of various incestuous international treaties and all of which are trade partners, the fact that they underwent similar suites of reforms, including addressing lead, can be taken as given. Thus lead exposure could very easily be functioning more as a proxy for said social reform than as a causal mechanism.

The method for controlling for such social reforms was flawed because it didn't account for the fact that the countries used to control for the reform were societally linked. Thus, we cannot conclude that lead is the issue--broad-spectrum social reform remains a viable explanation.

Quote:
Dinwar, you keep asking questions that simply reading the two page article and perhaps even glancing at some of the many papers linked to in the article would answer.
It always concerns me when the question is so easy to answer, yet the proponents of an idea refuse to do so.
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Old 9th January 2013, 12:14 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
It always concerns me when the question is so easy to answer, yet the proponents of an idea refuse to do so.
I am hesitant to speak for the author, lest I make the mistake of stating my uneducated interpretation of what he wrote, vs what he actually said.

My whole point is starting the thread was to discuss this article. It was not for me to state that the article is "true", nor to defend it.

I readily admit that I am not an expert on lead, developmental disorders caused by lead, or crime. I was rather hoping that people that did have some of those qualifications might chime in with their opinions about the article in question, and/or the papers linked to.

I guess what I'm trying to ask is: this article seems to me to be soundly researched, and the connections it makes are intriguing, and might perhaps have a great social impact. Does it seem this way to you, learned people?
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Old 9th January 2013, 12:23 PM   #30
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Meg,

Maybe I can help explain Dinwar's point a bit.

Trying to say "lower lead causes lower crime" is comparable to saying
that rolling a 6 makes blue. While that may be true in a sense, there's information missing that makes a determination of validity impossible. If I clarify that we're discussing the game Life, and that if you roll a 6 when starting you move 6 spaces, and the color of the space you'd land on is blue, then that makes sense. But it's still not "rolling 6 makes blue", it's "rolling 6 moves you 6 spaces, which puts you on a blue space".

So claiming, biologically, that lead exposure causes crime is, well, not clear. Why? How? What types of crime? Because the motivations for crime of various sorts can vary widely. As can the root personality/character issues that lead one to commit a crime. At this point, the best that can be said is that there is a correlation between lead and crime rates.

The in-between step is missing. What we have so far:

1. Lead exposure as infants
2. ????
3. Higher crime rates

Until someone can say why crime rates rise and fall with lead, speculating that one causes the other is premature. Does lead exposure lead to poorer impulse control? Lowered empathy? Developmental problems that produce more adults that can't rise from a lower-income bracket?

Basically, what is the link between the biology (lead exposure causes something) and the sociology (that something is X, which causes people to be more prone to commit crime).

I think that's Dinwar's point, and hopefully I've clarified it for you a bit by using different words. And hopefully I have gotten the correct idea of what he's saying, myself
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Old 9th January 2013, 12:38 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by meg
My whole point is starting the thread was to discuss this article. It was not for me to state that the article is "true", nor to defend it.
You've avoided discussing the paper, though. This is how scientists talk about papers--we rip them apart, finding any flaws we can. Well, actually we find all the connections we can between this new data and what we know. The flaws are the first thing to address most often, though, and always seem to get top billing. In this case, I think it's justified because the errors are methodological and impact the validity of the conclusions.

Quote:
I was rather hoping that people that did have some of those qualifications might chime in with their opinions about the article in question, and/or the papers linked to.
Four and a half years in environmental remediation has given me a rough-and-ready understanding of how contaminants of concern are addressed. I'll grant you that I don't know the neurological impacts of lead exposure, but I DO know how politicians dealing with environmental hazards think. They tend to think in clusters. It's not "We need to lower lead exposure!"; it's "We need to make things safer! You, you're not doing anything--give me a list of things that we can do to make things safer!" Lead would be on one of the lists in a sub-section of a sub-section of a chapter of the report. Along with 50 other contaminants.

My point is, I am qualified to criticize the author's method of attempting to minimize the impact of social reform and other environmental factors. That system specifically is one I've spent a lot of time addressing. And since that's the author's justification for ruling out social reform and other environmental factors, it's a valid topic for discussion in regards to this paper.

Quote:
I guess what I'm trying to ask is: this article seems to me to be soundly researched, and the connections it makes are intriguing, and might perhaps have a great social impact. Does it seem this way to you, learned people?
Not really. The author's methodology is flawed, in specific ways that, at least to me, make their conclusions untennable.

Also, thanks for the translation, Hellbound. I frequently need those....You've stated one of my points far better than I have.
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Old 9th January 2013, 01:05 PM   #32
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If this paper is correct then the consequences are shocking. We have been punishing people for being sick! It is not their fault they were exposed to lead as a small child. This then caused them to commit crimes and be punished.
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Old 9th January 2013, 01:19 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Hellbound View Post
The in-between step is missing. What we have so far:

1. Lead exposure as infants
2. ????
3. Higher crime rates
Cognitive problems that result in learning difficulties and poor socialization would be a good fit for number 2.

We already know that kids who "don't play well with others" are far more likely to end up in prison when as adults.
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Old 9th January 2013, 01:21 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by Kestrel
Cognitive problems that result in learning difficulties and poor socialization would be a good fit for number 2.

We already know that kids who "don't play well with others" are far more likely to end up incarcerated.
At which point #3 becomes irrelevant. Why not simply discuss cognitive problems and learning disabilities? Why throw in crime rate at all? All it does, at that point, is confuse the issue.
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Old 9th January 2013, 01:26 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by Kestrel View Post
Cognitive problems that result in learning difficulties and poor socialization would be a good fit for number 2.

We already know that kids who "don't play well with others" are far more likely to end up in prison when as adults.
As Dinwar said, then why didn't they look for that? If you notice a correlation between crime rates and lead, my first thought wouldn't be "lead causes crime!" but "Why?".

While this is an interesting suggestion, I have to view it more as a preliminary study. Without a mechanism, it's a correlation that suggests more study would be productive, but the claim of lead causing crime I'm not ready to accept yet. Not to mention, as Dinwar also pointed out, the reduction of lead was NOT the only thing going on at the time. What other things were changed/phased out/dropped at the same times? Was that looked for, and have they been ruled out?

At this point all I can say is "interesting, but not yet supported".
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Old 9th January 2013, 01:28 PM   #36
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Thank you Hellbound and Dinwar. I think I understand a little better what you are getting at. I do want to ask, though, Dinwar, when you scientists talk about papers and rip them apart, do you read them before ripping? Have you actually read this article, or any of its links?

As to the ??? that is in the middle, it appears to my uneducated self to be this:

To quote from Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime http://www.nber.org/papers/w13097
Quote:
The association between low-level lead exposure during early development and subsequent deficits in cognitive development and behavior is widely accepted. A large and diverse literature in epidemiology, psychology, and neuroscience reaches the consensus that early childhood lead exposure negatively affects cognitive development and behavior in ways that increase the likelihood of aggressive and antisocial acts.12

Footnote 12 Banks, Ferretti, 1997.
And to quote from Association of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Lead Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/...l.pmed.0050101

Quote:
Conclusions

Prenatal and postnatal blood lead concentrations are associated with higher rates of total arrests and/or arrests for offenses involving violence. This is the first prospective study to demonstrate an association between developmental exposure to lead and adult criminal behavior.


Back to the first quoted paper, though. She also says stuff like this:

Quote:
The elasticity of violent crime with respect to childhood lead exposure is estimated to be approximately 0.8. This implies that, between 1992 and 2002, the phase-out of lead from gasoline was responsible for approximately a 56% decline in violent crime. Results for murder are not robust if New York and the District of Columbia are included, but suggest a substantial elasticity as well. No significant effects are found for property crime. The effect of legalized abortion reported by Donohue and Levitt [2001] is largely unaffected, so that abortion accounts for a 29% decline in violent crime (elasticity 0.23), and similar declines in murder and property crime. Overall, the phase-out of lead and the legalization of abortion appear to have been responsible for significant reductions in violent crime rates.
which I do not understand. Maybe this addresses part of your question regarding other social parameters (like abortion)? I honestly have no freaking idea. Perhaps if you read the paper, you would understand, and you could explain to me if that is the case.

Also, in the original article, as zooterkin pointed out, the correlations between crime rate and lead exposure was not just from one thing, like federal trends. After more thorough analysis of states and localities that varied in whether they slowly phased out leaded gasoline, or abruptly banned it, the fall in crime rates followed a mirroring pattern, either slowly dropping in the slowly phasing out areas, or abruptly dropping in the areas that abruptly banned the additive.

In addition, further analysis was performed in countries around the world, showing this same curve of crime rates the same 23 years after the removal of lead from their gasoline.

So, while I don't think anyone is arguing that there could not possibly be any other contributing social factor, I believe they are arguing that there appears to be a strong correlation between removing lead from gasoline and crime rates falling 23 years later.
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Old 9th January 2013, 01:53 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by rjh01 View Post
If this paper is correct then the consequences are shocking. We have been punishing people for being sick! It is not their fault they were exposed to lead as a small child. This then caused them to commit crimes and be punished.
Well, I wouldn't go that far. We have been punishing people for committing crimes.

However if we have a new understanding as to what has caused some of this behavior, perhaps we can do things as a society to change the outcome for more at risk populations.

For instance
More aggressive removal of lead from old building and homes, which the article argues for.
Testing of young children for lead exposure,
Providing more training to exposed children at a younger age, teaching tools for overcoming aggressive tendencies, and fighting impulsiveness. If such training exists.
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Old 9th January 2013, 02:11 PM   #38
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Originally Posted by Hellbound View Post
As Dinwar said, then why didn't they look for that? If you notice a correlation between crime rates and lead, my first thought wouldn't be "lead causes crime!" but "Why?".

While this is an interesting suggestion, I have to view it more as a preliminary study. Without a mechanism, it's a correlation that suggests more study would be productive, but the claim of lead causing crime I'm not ready to accept yet. Not to mention, as Dinwar also pointed out, the reduction of lead was NOT the only thing going on at the time. What other things were changed/phased out/dropped at the same times? Was that looked for, and have they been ruled out?

At this point all I can say is "interesting, but not yet supported".
Perhaps you are expecting too much. Science is often a matter of different teams putting together different parts of the puzzle. This paper points out an remarkable association between lead exposure and crime rates. We know that lead exposure is linked to cognitive problems. I suspect there are also studies linking cognitive problems to criminal behavior.

Like you, I don't see this as proof that we have found the root source of all crime. But it is an interesting theory that merits further study. There is a plausible mechanism and not just a correlation. Childhood lead exposure could be one of the factors leading to criminal behavior.
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Old 9th January 2013, 02:31 PM   #39
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I don't know, maybe the made a correction for advances in neonatal care?

hmmmm, just a frinstance, was there a coincident drop in infant mortality? A leap in medical science may be saving more ill infants, 20 years later we end up with adults with developmental probs. Like my nephew, born at 3 1/2#. Now he's a janitor, with a 90th percentile IQ.

Or maybe, a most general advance, life span got longer in the meantime too. Was that due to lead abatemnt, or everydarn thing got better, and so did the crime rate, and oh by the way, lead levels dropped too.

Hmmm, maybe the better livng conditons made it less necessary to steal lead to sell as scrap- the lower crime lowers the lead levels?
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Old 9th January 2013, 02:34 PM   #40
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Originally Posted by meg View Post
Well, I wouldn't go that far. We have been punishing people for committing crimes.

However if we have a new understanding as to what has caused some of this behavior, perhaps we can do things as a society to change the outcome for more at risk populations.

For instance
More aggressive removal of lead from old building and homes, which the article argues for.
Testing of young children for lead exposure,
Providing more training to exposed children at a younger age, teaching tools for overcoming aggressive tendencies, and fighting impulsiveness. If such training exists.
Agree with your conclusions. If such training does not exist then it needs to be invented. Also stop saying we should deal with certain people who commit crimes harshly in order to deter others. This would not work.
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