Lead Exposure And Crime – The Connection
As automobile ownership soared beginning in the 1950s, millions of children in car-choked urban centers breathed in fumes from leaded gasoline. Those kids, research indicates, were more likely to grow up and “become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.” And when the U.S. began phasing out leaded gas, the crime epidemic began to decline. Lead exposure data over decades, scientists have found, are strongly correlated with crime rates in individual cities—right down to the neighborhood level. Cutting lead pollution, it seems, is the “most effective crime prevention tool we have.”
Lead exposure may have certainly played a role in the crime epidemic. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The research that Drum cites found that while lead exposure and crime rates were much in sync, it didn’t have a statistically significant effect on property crime or murder. Why would a lead-damaged brain make me more likely to assault someone, but not more likely to kill them or rob their home? As any scientist will tell you, “correlation is not causation.” The fact that crime rates fell in line with lead pollution doesn’t mean you can dismiss other factors. Increased funding allocated to police, more incarceration, and increased concealed-carry rates all likely helped America become a safer place.
The lead data is pretty convincing to me, said Tim Worstall in Forbes.com. And if it turns out that crime is largely “a result of the stupidity brought on by environmental poisoning,” it would challenge everything we know about crime. Conservatives would have to stop blaming culture and broken families. Liberals would have to stop bleating that crime is a consequence of poverty and inequality. “When the facts change,” an honest man changes his mind—and we all have some new facts to consider about crime.