Saturday, June 7, 2008

Confusing Correlation with Causation

A recent article on MSN Health does a great job showing how the medical view of individuals can miss the social determinants of both health and crime. The article cites a recent study in PLoS Medicine which found that increased levels of lead in children is linked to crime later in life. They article goes on to discuss the dangers of lead and the neurological effects that it has. Even though it notes the connection between lead exposure and poor communities, it completely misses the connection between poor communities and crime. Instead in assumes that the effects of lead on the brain are what lead to crime.

This lack of a larger perspective shows how entrenched the medicalized, atomized version of society is. Individuals who are born into socially marginalized communities often have no real opportunity for engagement and often end up being involved in delinquency. While there is still the presence of agency, it is difficult to disregard the widespread patterns of crimes in marginalized populations worldwide. Nothing links these groups (race, religion, creed, education) except for their marginal status. It is difficult to see how policy makers cannot make the connection that it is not something intrinsic to these individuals but something social that is happening. Social patterning of all aspects of our lives is something continually overlooked by the media and not well understood by those in power. We must learn to look past simple individual level explanations and ask why these patterns are so consistent across place and time. Only then will we be able to find adequate social and economic policies to mitigate the ill effects of poverty and marginalization.

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