Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Still more correlations...

The NBER, of whom I can be suspicious at times, has an interesting paper out:


Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime
Jessica Wolpaw Reyes NBER Working Paper No. 13097
Issued in May 2007

Abstract : Childhood lead exposure can lead to psychological deficits that are strongly associated with aggressive and criminal behavior. In the late 1970s in the United States, lead was removed from gasoline under the Clean Air Act. Using the sharp state-specific reductions in lead exposure resulting from this removal, this article finds that the reduction in childhood lead exposure in the late 1970s and early 1980s is responsible for significant declines in violent crime in the 1990s, and may cause further declines into the future. The elasticity of violent crime with respect to lead is estimated to be approximately 0.8.
If it is true, even partially, let's put one more nail in the coffin of "tough" law enforcement and high-incarceration rates of non-violent criminals as the cause for dropping crime rates. Like so many things, crime is a complex system with phyical and social environmental factors. Three-strike laws are easy sells, but they are hard to prove effective.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Lou Dobbs and Cancer

Since spurious correlations have been on my mind this week, I thought I would bring up another one.

Lou Dobbs has made himself more popular these last two or three years by consistently bashing immigrants and telling people (while quoting only part of the statistical evidence) how much they are hurting the American worker. While most people don't see the wool being pulled over their eyes as this neo-liberal journalist diverts our eyes from real global trade issues, there can be no doubt that he is putting on a populist show that in the end always promotes an increased security apparatus for poor folk and increased liberty for the flow of goods and capital.

Anyway, right now he is quoting a completely debunked study about how Mexicans are bringing leprosy to the U.S. Just add it to the list of items he uses to manipulate the public into thinking he is a man of the people.

My own spurious but funny correlation, you ask. Well, last year my mother died of a brain tumor. She was a wonderful, generous person, generous to a fault, almost, and to say that she had more than a few friends would be an understatement. The number of people that she helped in her life cannot be counted, really. What's more, she was a Democrat and proud of it. That said, as she grew sicker and the cancer spread, she also gained an intense, cult-like interest in Lou Dobbs. His word became gold. For a while, I would quote statistics and argue with her. Eventually, I realized I was being silly: she was sick. I decided to just let her be and enjoy the last part of her life as she struggled to survive.

Now I would like to go on to say that maybe brain tumors cause you to put undue belief in jingoistic, unsubstantiated and hate-mongering punditry. Statistics would not bear me out here, though, as that would mean that nearly every Republican in America has a brain tumor. What I will say, metaphorically, is that we all suffer from the cancer that is 90% of CNN and 99.9% of Fox.