Sunday, July 8, 2007

Opportunist, thy name is Rudy

You know that reduction in violent crime in New York City that Rudy is always crowing about presiding over, as if he arrested every perp in New York personally?

Yeah, well, hold the phone. He was in the right place at the right time. The real reason that the crime rate plummeted was neurochemical, not the hoo-ah, head-crackin’ police state and “zero tolerance” policies that the authoritarians authoritarian instituted.

It turns out that the declining crime rates that Rudy is so fond of standing on are actually the result of (liberal) social and environmental policies enacted in the sixties and seventies that reduced lead exposure and lead poisoning in children.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin, and can have devastating effects on neural development even at low levels. There is a direct causal link between lead exposure and learning and developmental disabilities, decreases in I.Q., and behavior problems. It has also been adequately demonstrated that lead poisoning correlates with a lack of impulse control, and a lack of impulse control is a factor in many criminal acts.

Even tiny amounts can cause reduced IQ, reading and learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and behavioral problems. As a result, childhood lead poisoning is associated with lower educational achievement, higher rates of high school drop-out and increased behavioral problems. In the long run, children who are lead poisoned may be less likely to be positive contributors to our communities. It is estimated that lead poisoning has tripled the number of children needing special education.

Now…back to Rudy and his chest-thumping assertions that he enacted the policies that reduced crime in New York City. "I began with the city that was the crime capital of America," Giuliani, now a candidate for president, recently told Fox's Chris Wallace. "When I left, it was the safest large city in America. I reduced homicides by 67 percent. I reduced overall crime by 57 percent."

Well – crime did fall during the Giuliani era, but science says Rudy is claiming the entire pie as his when he really only deserves a sliver.

The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce lead poisoning.

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."

I have not been able to track down the original studies, but I want to see them, and I want to go so far as to write an Excel worksheet and look at the data in my own format. You see, this issue is right up my alley. I have spent my career straddling medicine and academia. I have volunteered many hours in public health clinics, and in that capacity, I have tested thousands of children for lead levels; and in academia I have done neural research.

What I know about the effects of lead on neural development, and what I have read so far about the studies, I am inclined to believe that Rick Nevin is right on. The obvious questions that were raised in my mind as I was reading the Post article, were answered.

Now we already know what I think of Rudy – that is to say that I have scraped more appealing things from the bottom of my shoe after a visit to the dog park. So I really find it quite delicious that he is claiming the credit for a phenomenon that is actually due to those liberal social programs of the past that he and his ilk have tried mightily to undo.