Skip to comments.The chemical component of violent crime
Posted on 05/12/2014 6:30:38 AM PDT by rickmichaels
Can there be a biological basis for criminal behaviour? It is a complicated, fear-fraught topic, for any hypothesis that assigns criminal propensities to different categories of human being tends to make people wary and angry. But I dont suppose anybody is too surprised to learn, for example, that an overwhelming number of the people on death row in the United States have a history of childhood head trauma.
One of the most intellectually sobering moments in my life came when I was about 30, roughly 10 years after I was first diagnosed with migraine, and it dawned on me that I almost inevitably got into a horrible argument in the 24 or 48 hours after I had symptoms (which almost never include headaches). I was not consciously irritable at these times, or aware of acting like a complete jackass, but obviously this was what was happening. It forced me to really confront being a big bag of walking, talking chemicals, right down to the emotions and social interactions.
One of the main chemicals you want to try to keep out of the bag is lead. There is a group of American scholars, chief among them Amherst economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes and housing expert Rick Nevin, who have been pushing a lead-crime hypothesis for 20th-century crime rates around the world. The hypothesis has been gaining steadily against rivals since Reyess landmark 2007 paper; the idea is that lead dispersed into the environment by means of automobile engines and house paint affected child development on a mass scale into the 1970s, when regulators got serious about removing it. Its diminished presence helps to account for the otherwise unexpected decline in violent crime in advanced industrial societies that began in the 1990s, when the lead-free kids began to reach adulthood.
The core of the lead-crime hypothesis is a bunch of impressive-looking graphs that show rates of violent crime very closely tracking the amount of lead in the atmosphere. You have to leave a gap of about 20 years between the graphs to create the magic, and scholars use slightly different gaps in different papers. But the pretty pictures are supported quite strongly by other analyses. State-by-state data from the U.S., for example, show that historical measurements of lead in the fuel supply of different states are associated with the difference in crime rates you would expect if the hypothesis were true.
The lead-crime link also travels well between countries (including Canada, where the data fit snugly), although it explains within-country changes in crime rates much better than it does the underlying, seemingly semi-permanent difference in rates of violence among diverse lands.
At the level of individual children, high measured rates of lead in the blood and tissues certainly seem to create the effects seen at the social scale by economists. Lead not only lowers IQ, but appears to affect impulsivity, attention, and what the psychometricians call executive function, a non-IQ measure of personal self-control. (In an amusing irony, the lead-crime link has become a liberal favourite, since it proclaims an astonishing triumph of environmental regulation, but Reyess statistical analysis relies partly on IQ and crime data from the much-execrated book The Bell Curve.)
There are weaknesses in the lead-crime hypothesis, or at least in the ambitious claims made for it by advocates, who suggest it may account for half or more of the variation in the late-20th-century incidence of American violent crime. The hypothesis works much better when you apply it to aggravated assault than it does to homicide. Lead does not appear to influence non-violent property crime at all. And lead-crime theorists have to work awkwardly around the 80s crack epidemic in American inner cities; they are forced to argue that gang war is a special form of anti-social behaviour, driven not by environmental factors but by supply and demand. (Which may be fair!)
While close-up studies of individuals show that lead is lousy for kids, the effects on later behaviour do not seem large enough to account, by themselves, for the population-level correlation between lead exposure and violence. This suggests that the lead-crime analysts may have not worked hard enough to rule out lead exposure being a proxy for other social factors, such as the quality of local government. Regulators have gotten the lead out of the gasoline, but if you grew up in a hyper-dense urban environment, next to a highway, in a house with peeling paintwell, the odds are probably a bit skewed against you anyway, even if your brain is fine.
I thought this was going to be an antigun diatribe. But yes, blood lead is correlated with measurable changes in mood and intelligence, it is a poison.
Removing it from paint and gasoline were very good ideas. Removing it from the economy is a bad idea.
It’s neat how this article can tie violent crime to chemistry rather than blame it on those given over to sin. (/s)
It can’t be true. If it is, how can we blame satan?
The left is desperate to blame crime on chemicals, genes, poverty, discrimination, being hit on the head, bullying or the phases of the moon.
Anything but on a free choice make by a human being to hurt another person or to unjustly take property.
In liberal land, there is no free will.
An episode of Cosmos a couple of weeks ago showed how a guy trying to see how uranium decomposed into lead discovered this lead link.
It was nearly 30 years from the time he figured out that lead was everywhere in the environment until it was banned and removed from gasoline and paint.
The Urban Feral Blacks and Latrinos are too young to have been affected as this “hypothesis” claims.
“Yutes” now acting out their ‘ethnic privilege’ were a whole generation removed - ergo, ZOT!
It’s clearly established that children from single parent families are 60% more likely to become criminal offenders.
This is because children from heterosexual, two-parent families are generally raised on a “success track”; but those raised by a single parent are raised on a “survival track”. Success oriented children are focused on improving themselves and their lives; but survival oriented children live by “the law of the jungle”, the scramble to keep what they have, and the tendency to band together into violent gangs.
Now this being an axiom, which group do you suppose gets more traumatic head injuries? So it can truly be said that such injuries are likely just as much cause as they are effect.
Certainly head injuries can make someone prone to violence; but what about a head injury in a person who is already violent?
The answer to this can only be divined with a significant decline in the number of children raised by single parents.
If this is true, then it is ironic that lead can be both a cause and a cure for violent crime.
If large amounts of lead in the atmosphere caused crime, then we see equal amounts of crime from all groups affected by the lead. We don’t. Some groups commit far more crime than others. Lead is not good for you, but to describe as a cause for crime sounds specious to me.
Abortion is the single biggest contributor to the drop in crime.
Actually, there’s two critical levels for lead. The one mentioned in the article is the lower level, where you have normal function then devolving into criminal behavior. The second critical point is acute lead deficiency, which can be homeowner administered at any location, by any person. Applied at the proper location, this dosage solves all of the criminal behaviors. Permanently.
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