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RS 224 - Rick Nevin on "The long-term effects of lead on crime"

Release date: January 6th, 2019

Rick Nevin (Photo: The Washington Post)

This episode features Rick Nevin, an economist who is known for his research suggesting that lead is one of the main causes of crime. Rick and Julia discuss: how do we know the correlation between lead and crime is a sign of a causal relationship? Has the lead-crime theory made any successful predictions? And is it possible that getting rid of lead could reduce the crime rate down to zero?


Rick Nevin's website

"Lucifer Curves: The Legacy of Lead Poisoning" by Rick Nevin

"The Rising Curve" by Ulric Neisser

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (7)

Rick Nevin's website has some great graphs on his website that indicate a striking correlation between Lead exposure versus low IQ and crime.

The decrease in unwed pregnancy may have something to do with more readily available contraception. The increase in college attendance may have something to do with the "college for everyone" policy.

If someone really did find low levels of Lead has more impact on IQ than genetics, that would constitute a genuinely wild result. High levels of Lead obviously have a definitive effect, since they result in death.
January 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
Damn, Im gonna be of of those who say "Im no expert but.." and then continue talking....but "facts" beside, he sounds a lot like a guest of Be Reasonable podcast :-/
January 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKrasny Vladimir
Did IQ drop between 1940 and 1970?
How do whites and blacks compare after controlling for lead exposure?
Are other factors affecting IQ like mercury exposure?
January 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMax
All that lead that Djhengis Kahn inhaled ?
January 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJonas Lundholm
Very interesting podcast. No doubt lead contamination is harmful and may have unforeseen downstream consequences, but it is highly unlikely that a single chemical is responsible for all human bad activity. (Even though it's fictional, the second human, living in Eden, in the bible slew his own brother out of jealousy.) Human behavior is much too complex. Dr. Gelaf should have raised this.

But it raises the thought question: if it were possible to remove all exogenous causes of violence, such as poverty, injustice, etc., would humans still hurt each other? Since it’s a thought question, my thought is: that would be a good start, but some people would still behave badly. Probably some “good behavior training,” which may take generations, would be necessary as well, to remove curb nasty human behavior.

Also, since (I believe) that lead poisoning is higher in people of color, I think it's possible that these data could be used in a racially discriminatory manner. Instead of using the data to mediate cleaning up the lead, it might be used (by people who don't understand the mechanism) in "victim blaming."
February 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPenny Bright
I just listened to this episode today and it was a very good conversation that gave me a lot to think about and stuff I hadn't actually heard before. Thank you.
On the downside, I fear this may be just another one of the kind of situations that's almost too big for humans to accept, prove, and deal with just once, but something that will have to be learned over & over & over & over again over centuries, and always dealing with it just around the edges. Because didn't the ancient romans know lead exposure was dangerous, and here we are in 2019 still arguing about it, ignoring it, denying it, or just living with it.
March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterchloe
What about White Collar Crime. Shouldn't we be looking into what type of element is correlated with that more insidious type of crime?
March 21, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto

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