Crime in St. Louis: It’s Lead, Baby, Lead

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A team of researchers has released a new study investigating the association between childhood lead exposure and later crime rates in St. Louis. Unlike most previous studies, it uses census tracts in order to get the most detailed possible look at subpopulations within the city. Their conclusion: “We uncovered a relatively strong effect of lead on behavior, especially violent behavior.” This was true even after controlling for other variables that affect crime rates:

It is important to recognize that for the current analyses, the effect of lead remained a robust predictor of crime using methods capable of accounting for spatial correlations, and above and beyond the possible confounding influence of concentrated disadvantage.

….Because sociologists (as well as other macro-level scholars) have continued to highlight the primacy of concentrated disadvantage (as well as other macro-level variables) in predicting societal adversities (including crime), other relevant predictors such as lead often receive short shrift in the literature as well as less consideration when the topic shifts to policy initiatives. This is less than ideal because lead has emerged consistently, both in the current sample as well as others, and at the macro- and individual-level, as an apparent potent predictor of adverse behavior. Continuing to myopically focus on traditional forms of “social” adversity such as poverty runs the risk of downplaying more important behavioral predictors.

The authors are appropriately cautious about interpreting their findings. This is yet another ecological study, which compares populations across time, and that means it’s hard to assess causality. That said, there are now a lot of ecological studies at different levels (census tract, city, state, nation) showing the same result, as well as a smaller number of prospective and medical studies showing the same thing. There are still some unanswered questions about the lead-crime hypothesis—mostly because we lack the data to clearly demonstrate an age cohort effect—but the evidence sure seems to be piling up. There are lots of causes of crime, and lots of ways of reducing crime. But the biggest bang for the buck might be the simplest: get rid of the damn lead. If we start today, we’ll be glad we did it 20 years from now.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

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Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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