Pumped full of lead

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thoreau
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Pumped full of lead

Post by thoreau » 05 Jan 2013, 16:04

A thread to pick up the discussion of lead exposure and crime that started here:

[REMOVED BECAUSE IT GOES BEHIND THE VEIL]

It has been pointed out that the relationship between lead exposure and crime rates seems to be robust in the time series data as well as comparisons between states and countries. It is certainly plausible. But let me push this a bit farther by asking some questions that may very well have already been answered:

If a reduction in lead exposure means that Kids These Days are less prone to certain types of behaviors associated with crime (e.g. poor impulse control), we should see at least some markers of that in other contexts.
1) Have schools seen better behavior, overall, in the cohorts that have committed fewer crimes? That, alas, seems like a hard question to answer. Behavioral standards vary across schools, so who knows how meaningful any reported data is? Furthermore, schools seem to have become stricter and more punitive (at least based on the stories we hear of Zero Tolerance) so I'd expect more reports of misconduct just based on stricter definitions, irrespective of any actual changes in behavior.
2) Have schools seemed fewer learning disabilities or behavioral disorders in the relevant cohorts? Again, it seems like a hard question to answer because of the confounding effects of changing definitions and diagnostic criteria. There are cultural pressures (parents, etc.), funding incentives, and (yes) scientific reasons for new, broader definitions, but the consequence is that it will be harder to identify reductions in the incidence of these problems.
3) Might this be a partial explanation of the Flynn Effect, i.e. the rise in IQ over time? Obviously the Flynn effect has other causes too, but maybe this is part of it?
4) k-12 schools aren't the only institutions that would see a reduction in certain behaviors if reduced lead exposure is the key to reduced crime. The military recruits from a reasonably broad cross-section of society, and their recruitment standards and training standards methods and rules of conduct* seem to be somewhat more conservative (i.e. slower to change) than those of k-12 schools responding to fads. They also have the advantage of having basically the same standards and training methods nationwide, so you won't get the variation that you get between school districts.

I know that every grizzled old sergeant has beefs about Kids These Days (just as I do), but does the military have data that would suggest whether the cohorts really are better or worse these days?
5) In a strange way, Veal might be evidence for this hypothesis that Kids These Days are better able to sit still and do what they're told. The problem I observe is that Kids These Days are helpless, because they sit still and wait to be told. Perhaps that's a side effect of not being so rambunctious and troubled"?

On the other hand, it could be that few effects will be observed except in the cohorts at the top and bottom of the impulse control scale. If we divided the population into a numerical scale of self-control, then you move some people out of the bottom category and into the next one, which would increase the ranks in the bottom category, but you also move some people out of the next category and into the one above it. So effects might be masked except at the very bottom and very top.

*Altered in response to DAR's reply.
Last edited by thoreau on 05 Jan 2013, 16:44, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 05 Jan 2013, 16:28

Now that the military is voluntary, I'm sure it sees far fewer problem cases than when the draft was in effect. Moreover, it's managed to raise its standards considerably over the decades, requiring a high school diploma and, I believe, higher ASVAB scores than in the past. Those standards were relaxed to meet required accession rates for our endless war, but gone are the days when the judge could tell a juvenile delinquent to join the Army or he's going to jail.

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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by thoreau » 05 Jan 2013, 16:42

D.A. Ridgely wrote:Now that the military is voluntary, I'm sure it sees far fewer problem cases than when the draft was in effect. Moreover, it's managed to raise its standards considerably over the decades, requiring a high school diploma and, I believe, higher ASVAB scores than in the past. Those standards were relaxed to meet required accession rates for our endless war, but gone are the days when the judge could tell a juvenile delinquent to join the Army or he's going to jail.
All of that is true. However, depending on how the effects of lead present themselves, the military could still see the impact of better Kids These Days. If reduced lead exposure improves self-control and whatnot in all segments of a given age group, then high school grads with good ASVAB scores and enough discipline to meet physical fitness entrance requirements would be even better than they were in the past. If, on the other hand, the effects are only noticeable in the bottom segment, then a present-day recruit with whatever scores and background and fitness level would be little different from his predecessor 25 years ago.

I suppose, though, that the general tightening of requirements would make it really hard to tease out these effects, because you'd be comparing all (or nearly all) of today's recruits with a subset of recruits 25 years ago (or whenever), and I don't know if the data is broken down finely enough for the military's statisticians and social scientists to answer these questions.

On the other hand, we could speculate that one reason why the military is able to maintain these higher recruiting standards, even in an era of Endless War, is that Kids These Days are better, in part because of less lead exposure or whatever it is that is reducing crime rates. Assuming that the lead hypothesis is true. Even then, though, the military's situation would just be consistent with the hypothesis but not really a strong test of the specifics.
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Kolohe » 05 Jan 2013, 16:58

k-12 schools aren't the only institutions that would see a reduction in certain behaviors if reduced lead exposure is the key to reduced crime. The military recruits from a reasonably broad cross-section of society, and their recruitment standards and training standards seem to be somewhat more conservative (i.e. slower to change) than those of k-12 schools responding to fads.
I would disagree on the time-variability of recruiting standards - they've been very flexible as economic and war conditions have oscillated over the last 20 years. The nadir of recruiting standards was in the middle of the last decade when the wars were very unpopular and the economy was non-shitty. The nadir of recruit quality was probably around '05 & '06 http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/11/polit ... .html?_r=0; now in contrast, they're pushing people out early.

(and the mid-decade recruiting pool also contributes to the current stats on veteran joblessness, and even perhaps suicide).

Edit: One other thing to point out that comes to mind with your revised reply - the total throughput of new recruits is much lower now then it was in the Cold War. In the mid-80's they were pushing about 140K (army) boots per year - http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1985/08/rpt1full.pdf In the height of the Bush II wars it was 80K http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/ ... uiting.pdf (page 5) (and last FY was 64K http://www.usarec.army.mil/hq/apa/goals.htm - the Navy drop off, which never had the mid decade ramp up, is similar, around 50K when I was doing recruiting in '00-'02, last FY around 35-37K)
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by thoreau » 05 Jan 2013, 17:48

Given the many factors you cite, Kolohe, in particular the lower throughput, I guess the military is a bad place to look for evidence confirming or refuting the lead hypothesis. I mostly picked on the military because it's (1) a large institution that recruits nationally and from a wide range of social classes, (2) while the recruitment standards do change the nature and expectations of training, and the code of conduct for recruits, seems to change much more slowly (perhaps I'm wrong on that) and (3) while the training environment of different services and different bases might not be perfectly homogeneous, their way of dealing with people in their late teens is still more uniform (no pun intended) than high schools and colleges. So I assumed that the military would be better-positioned to spot trends in how disciplined or focused the Kids These Days are.

OK, so the military is out. What other places might we look for evidence confirming or refuting the hypothesis that Kids These Days are fundamentally different in a way that happens to contribute to lower crime rates?
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Eric the .5b » 06 Jan 2013, 06:15

thoreau wrote:2) Have schools seemed fewer learning disabilities or behavioral disorders in the relevant cohorts? Again, it seems like a hard question to answer because of the confounding effects of changing definitions and diagnostic criteria. There are cultural pressures (parents, etc.), funding incentives, and (yes) scientific reasons for new, broader definitions, but the consequence is that it will be harder to identify reductions in the incidence of these problems.
Well, ADHD diagnoses have been exploding even as crime has plummeted. But yes, detecting any claimed reduction in actual incidence over the years would be hard or impossible.
thoreau wrote:3) Might this be a partial explanation of the Flynn Effect, i.e. the rise in IQ over time? Obviously the Flynn effect has other causes too, but maybe this is part of it?
The Flynn effect is an unbroken rise in average IQ since the 1930s, well before leaded gasoline. I'd think that would be a distinct problem for the lead hypothesis, which would suggest a drop in IQ for a period of decades.
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 06 Jan 2013, 09:33

Eric the .5b wrote:
thoreau wrote:3) Might this be a partial explanation of the Flynn Effect, i.e. the rise in IQ over time? Obviously the Flynn effect has other causes too, but maybe this is part of it?
The Flynn effect is an unbroken rise in average IQ since the 1930s, well before leaded gasoline. I'd think that would be a distinct problem for the lead hypothesis, which would suggest a drop in IQ for a period of decades.
I was thinking the same thing. But the SAT and ACT, which let's face it are a sort of intelligence tests, have been declining for decades.

Still, I would think that whatever neurological basis for criminality there may be would be a matter of affective, not cognitive differences. Shorter version: there's no contradiction in supposing that in some respects we are getting nicer but dumber.

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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Kolohe » 06 Jan 2013, 09:52

D.A. Ridgely wrote:I was thinking the same thing. But the SAT and ACT, which let's face it are a sort of intelligence tests, have been declining for decades.
But that in turn, is more a revision (correction: reversion) to the mean, as those tests became more widely given over the decades.
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 06 Jan 2013, 11:14

Kolohe wrote:
D.A. Ridgely wrote:I was thinking the same thing. But the SAT and ACT, which let's face it are a sort of intelligence tests, have been declining for decades.
But that in turn, is more a revision (correction: reversion) to the mean, as those tests became more widely given over the decades.
Probably so. Still, having bounced back and forth across a number of socio-economic strata over the years, I've never seen any evidence that the upper-middle, let alone the upper class is on average more intelligent than those from or in economic classes below them.

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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Warren » 06 Jan 2013, 11:26

D.A. Ridgely wrote:
Kolohe wrote:
D.A. Ridgely wrote:I was thinking the same thing. But the SAT and ACT, which let's face it are a sort of intelligence tests, have been declining for decades.
But that in turn, is more a revision (correction: reversion) to the mean, as those tests became more widely given over the decades.
Probably so. Still, having bounced back and forth across a number of socio-economic strata over the years, I've never seen any evidence that the upper-middle, let alone the upper class is on average more intelligent than those from or in economic classes below them.
Yes, when I'm amongst people of low income I often say to myself "it's obvious why these people aren't making it", but when I'm amongst the upper classes I think to myself "How the fuck aren't these people homeless?" Even so, in the aggregate children of the elite are much better educated than their lower income counterparts. Looking at the forest, it's easy to see the vast chasm. But damned if I can tell the difference in the trees.
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by JasonL » 06 Jan 2013, 13:21

I suspect raw cognitive ability has little to do with income in the fat middle. Soft skills are more important, as is a willingness to grind. Grinders do well most everywhere, because most people aren't grinders.

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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Jennifer » 06 Jan 2013, 13:48

Warren wrote:Yes, when I'm amongst people of low income I often say to myself "it's obvious why these people aren't making it", but when I'm amongst the upper classes I think to myself "How the fuck aren't these people homeless?"
Children of the upper classes, even children who engage in serious fuckuppery, have more of a cushion against failure, which is how they manage to avoid homelessness or other bad consequences when people with no cushions suffer far worse consequences for far less severe screwups. I personally have known plenty of people who would have been complete and utter failures had they been born to MY parents rather than to the ones they had--for me, asking my parents for any sort of help (even of the "Can I sleep on your couch rather than in a homeless shelter?") simply was not an option.

Unsurprisingly, these rich-kid adults tended to be far more likely than the "Pay our own way through life" adults to sneer at me for certain poor-people behaviors, like "dancing in strip clubs rather than ask Daddy to write a check to pay my bills" or "buying clothes and furniture in thrift stores rather than take Daddy's credit card to the mall."
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Warren » 06 Jan 2013, 14:08

Jennifer wrote:
Warren wrote:Yes, when I'm amongst people of low income I often say to myself "it's obvious why these people aren't making it", but when I'm amongst the upper classes I think to myself "How the fuck aren't these people homeless?"
Children of the upper classes, even children who engage in serious fuckuppery, have more of a cushion against failure, which is how they manage to avoid homelessness or other bad consequences when people with no cushions suffer far worse consequences for far less severe screwups.
That I understand. But I'm talking about "real housewives" stuff. People who are in positions of authority and have social standing. I'm all like WTF? Why haven't you been kicked to the curb already? What do you bring to the party besides ignorance and selfishness?
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Jennifer » 06 Jan 2013, 14:17

Warren wrote:
Jennifer wrote:
Warren wrote:Yes, when I'm amongst people of low income I often say to myself "it's obvious why these people aren't making it", but when I'm amongst the upper classes I think to myself "How the fuck aren't these people homeless?"
Children of the upper classes, even children who engage in serious fuckuppery, have more of a cushion against failure, which is how they manage to avoid homelessness or other bad consequences when people with no cushions suffer far worse consequences for far less severe screwups.
That I understand. But I'm talking about "real housewives" stuff. People who are in positions of authority and have social standing. I'm all like WTF? Why haven't you been kicked to the curb already? What do you bring to the party besides ignorance and selfishness?
They bring impeccable credentials to the party, of course. How do you think our last president got his career? He has no particular ability, talent, intelligence or sense that I could see, but he did have the money and connections to get into Yale, PLUS the connections to avoid getting his ass shot off in Vietnam or arrested as a drug felon. So long as you have the right money, credentials and family connections, who needs ability?
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Shem » 06 Jan 2013, 18:16

D.A. Ridgely wrote:
Kolohe wrote:
D.A. Ridgely wrote:I was thinking the same thing. But the SAT and ACT, which let's face it are a sort of intelligence tests, have been declining for decades.
But that in turn, is more a revision (correction: reversion) to the mean, as those tests became more widely given over the decades.
Probably so. Still, having bounced back and forth across a number of socio-economic strata over the years, I've never seen any evidence that the upper-middle, let alone the upper class is on average more intelligent than those from or in economic classes below them.
They do have quite a bit more practice in taking tests, however, an underrated skill in a world where taking tests is a big part of getting ahead.
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 06 Jan 2013, 18:18

Good point.

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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by thoreau » 06 Jan 2013, 18:19

Kolohe wrote:
D.A. Ridgely wrote:I was thinking the same thing. But the SAT and ACT, which let's face it are a sort of intelligence tests, have been declining for decades.
But that in turn, is more a revision (correction: reversion) to the mean, as those tests became more widely given over the decades.
Sort of related, it could be that as we expand access to college we'll see the average college student get worse even as the average Kid These Days gets better, if the lead hypothesis is true.

Anyway, I'd be more willing to sign off on the lead hypothesis if somebody could point to its effects in some context other than crime. There must be an effect, somewhere.
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Mo » 07 Jan 2013, 00:24

Well, teen pregnancy rates are also at 40 year lows and peaked in the early 90s. The lack of impulse control would probably be relevant there.

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/02/0 ... low-in-us/
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by thoreau » 07 Jan 2013, 00:28

Mo wrote:Well, teen pregnancy rates are also at 40 year lows and peaked in the early 90s. The lack of impulse control would probably be relevant there.

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/02/0 ... low-in-us/
Good point.

We could also look at drug addiction, but I'm not sure that impulse control is the precise issue when talking about physical addictions. Maybe gambling?
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Eric the .5b » 07 Jan 2013, 03:39

I'd be less dubious about the hypothesis if we weren't hunting for possible evidence of key steps in the logic, specifically the claim, "kids really were dumber, more violent, and more impulsive, all things being equal, up until the 90s".
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by JasonL » 07 Jan 2013, 08:41

My only real objection is the completely unscientific sense that it's too pat of an answer. It feels like lead would have other effects that would have been picked up somewhere. I dunno. OTOH, I have seen a nasty case of lead poisoning which eventually ended in a life ending alcoholic binge, so I don't doubt the effects of large exposure.

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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by Kolohe » 07 Jan 2013, 09:14

I like Jonas's explanation here http://highclearing.com/index.php/archi ... ent-692691 that lead is/was the tipping point (and like Malraux says thereafter, both on the way up and the way down).

The other thing that needs to be accounted for, even besides the specific freakonomics hypothesis that abortion is a big cause of the crime decline, is that the overall population of 16-35 year old men crested to a high water mark just before crime peaked (as the last of the boomers came of age) then ebbed as Gen X started to reach that age group. And there has been a bit of a leveling out in crime since the somewhat larger Gen Y has started to come of age. (but you would also expect diminishing returns, of course)
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by thoreau » 07 Jan 2013, 09:22

JasonL wrote:My only real objection is the completely unscientific sense that it's too pat of an answer. It feels like lead would have other effects that would have been picked up somewhere. I dunno.
I am basically on the same page, but it could be that the effects are only easy to detect for behaviors dramatic enough to generate an obvious signal, e.g. crime, teen pregnancy. For everything else, perhaps a multitude of other factors swamp the effects. Perhaps, once you cross the threshold of "not living a life of crime" too many other factors dominate the effects of lead.
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by JD » 07 Jan 2013, 09:57

JasonL wrote:My only real objection is the completely unscientific sense that it's too pat of an answer. It feels like lead would have other effects that would have been picked up somewhere.
Baby Boomers. Think about it. Their horrible taste in music and clothing, their self-importance, the Clinton presidency - it's all there.
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Re: Pumped full of lead

Post by JasonL » 07 Jan 2013, 10:43

JD wrote:
JasonL wrote:My only real objection is the completely unscientific sense that it's too pat of an answer. It feels like lead would have other effects that would have been picked up somewhere.
Baby Boomers. Think about it. Their horrible taste in music and clothing, their self-importance, the Clinton presidency - it's all there.
I do not dare plumbum the depths of boomer psychosis.

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