How To Test The Lead-Lowers-IQ Theory In The Real World
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January 24, 2013, 10:22 PM
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My recent Taki Magazine article considered the strengths and weaknesses of Kevin Drum`s Mother Jones article arguing that leaded gasoline caused the 1960s social decay by lowering IQ and impulse control. The issue is not whether or not lead is bad for you. It is. The question is how much should we worry about lead in the soil, in old buildings, in products, and so forth. Unfortunately, we don`t have a lot of good real world studies. 

I suggested that one way to test this would be to focus on specific locations with notoriously high levels of lead contamination. For example, here are 13 lead pollution Superfund cleanup site highlighted by the EPA.

My column elicited the following suggestion from commenter Billyjoe:

To test this, you could track down state dept. or Army records and then compare lead levels in country A (where the brats were posted) with later school results. It`s a good group to study because they`re randomly assigned to posts or bases and come from same s-e background.

Using Department of Defense schools for studies is an excellent idea, not only because we have a lot of naturally occurring experiments available to us because American children are moved around the globe semi-randomly at the Pentagon`s whim, but because the military also has the I.Q. score of at least one parent of each child in the DoD schools (i.e., the military`s AFQT enlistment test is, functionally, a heavily g-loaded IQ test). Having parents` IQ scores is school research utopia. 

Also, this DoD school idea could be combined with my localized-lead-pollution idea. When many military bases were shut down after victory in the Cold War, huge amounts of money were spent studying how badly contaminated each base`s soil was with toxins, such as lead. Some of these bases up for closure were in desirable real estate markets, and a big question was how much it would cost to clean up all the scary chemicals the military emitted over the years before people would buy condos there. 

A huge amount of data on how badly contaminated military bases were by lead is available, and a huge amount of information about school performance of children who grew up on various bases are available, too.

If Congress gave the Rand Corporation $10 million to analyze this, we could have a pretty definitive answer.