Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Limbaugh Way (3)

On Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh claimed:

Ladies and gentlemen, I mentioned this story yesterday, and here are the details. It's an AP story from Helena, Montana: "A new national limit on lead in children's products -- which has toy makers scrambling for new testing methods and retailers for storage space for inventory they're not sure they can sell -- also is forcing motorcycle dealers to pull dirt bikes off showroom floors. It became illegal Tuesday to sell off-road machines geared for children younger than 12 because parts in them contain lead at levels greater than 600 parts per million. Most motor vehicles have such parts. 'I think they took this law a little too far,' said Margie Hicklin-Krsul, the owner of Redline Sports, a sports bike dealership in Butte. 'I've never had anyone come in and say, "My child keeps putting parts of his motorcycle into his mouth."'"

So you could say here that government regulations are about to ruin yet another business. I'm unable to get to the bottom of this.

Rush is right. He is unable "to get to the bottom of this;" or the top, the middle, or anywhere with any details or facts. But his assumption that lead can be dangerous only if it is directly ingested flies in the face of everything we know about lead.

Consider this from Environmental Policy As Social Policy? The Impact Of Childhood Lead Exposure On Crime by Jessica Wolpaw Reyes of the National Bureau of Economic Research in May, 2007:

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 198 s 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.

This elasticity, Reyes explained, implies that between 1992 and 2002 the phase-out of lead from gasoline was responsible for approximately a 56% decline in violent crime. She adds "Lead from gasoline can be absorbed directly from breathing in gasoline exhaust from the air and also indirectly from contact with lead deposits that have accumulated in soil." This dwarfs the impact of lead in paint, (absorbed when paint chips are eaten or indirectly when deteriorating paint creates lead dust) and which has declined more gradually, from 1920.

Economist Rick Nevin, studying crime rates across nations for a decade through the mid-1990s, also found a link between exposure to lead and aggressive behavior. He noted

sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead (and) in Britain and most of Europe, they did not have meaningful constraints [on leaded gasoline] until the mid-1980s and even early 1990s. This is the reason you are seeing the crime rate soar in Mexico and Latin America, but [it] has fallen in the United States.

He observed further that the rate of violent crime among adolescent blacks in inner city neighborhoods declined more than among the general population- and those urban neighborhoods are precisely those in which children were more likely to be exposed to lead, and in which more extensive amelioration efforts were undertaken.

Notwithstanding other researchers who have observed the same lead-violent behavior connection, There are several factors which lead to a rise or decline in violent crime. Nevertheless, the failure of Rush Limbaugh to present evidence supporting his pre-determined conclusion, coupled with his assumption that the only way to ingest lead is by eating it, is striking. Chalk this one up to: ignorance.

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