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July 10, 2007

A lead balloon theory for rising and falling crime rates?

This past weekend, the Washington Post has this fascinating story about research linking lead exposure and criminal activity.  Here are snippets:

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries. "It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview.  "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

At the Freakonomics blog, Steve Levitt explores these ideas in this post.  And Michael Connelly has more here at Corrections Sentencing.

July 10, 2007 at 01:30 AM | Permalink


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Hmmm, from this brief entry it looks like a classic case of correlation/causation thinking. Also, isn't lead poisoning (or exposure generally) more common in low-income children? Thus, it could just as well be the low income factor, not the lead.

Posted by: Anne | Jul 11, 2007 11:48:22 AM

Anne, if you read the entire article, the research is more detailed and not as simplistic as you believe it to be.

Posted by: defense attorney | Jul 11, 2007 3:40:52 PM

Thanks--the link wasn't working when I first viewed this post. You're right, it's not as simple as it sounds.

Still. I don't want to sound "pro-lead" but you have to admit there are many reasons why people in the Robt Taylor homes would be worse off than average. Certainly lead exposure doesn't help, but I'm not sure I'd give lead-free so much credit.

Interesting thought, though.

Posted by: Anne | Jul 13, 2007 12:48:59 PM

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