Common sense not always obvious
Thursday, January 26, 2017 10:24 AM
President Donald Trump boasted just before his inauguration that his cabinet picks have “by far the highest IQ of any cabinet ever assembled.”
Many pass this off as a typical Trump boast, but others who have observed the confirmation hearings of his picks see a real concern about the capabilities of the picks, causing them to worry that their lack of knowledge can cause harm to the United States.
His supporters aren’t among those expressing concern. After all, they voted for Trump to shake up things. His nontraditional cabinet picks certainly do that. In fact, supporters likely hope these future leaders weren’t chosen for their intellect, but rather for their common sense solutions to running the federal government.
That injection of common sense into the federal bureaucracy is refreshing, and it doesn’t take a high IQ to straighten out some of the mess that is in Washington, D.C. Trump isn’t known for his intellectual prowess, yet he looked like a genius in overcoming all odds to take the highest office in the land.
While the level of IQ may not be a major issue, it is concerning that the president, and his cabinet picks, exhibit little intellectual curiosity.
Trump has little interest in information, whether it is intelligence briefings, possible Russian interference or why women might march against him. When he was questioned about repeating false accusations, Trump said on the “Meet the Press” NBC news program, “All I know is what’s on the internet.”
His cabinet picks also, at times, exhibit little intellectual curiosity. This didn’t always show up in the grilling by Democrats on major issues, but in some of the other exchanges.
For example, Trump’s appointee to head the Environmental Protection Agency faced many questions about his views on climate change, a hot topic that unfortunately has become a political issue not necessarily based on science.
However, Scott Pruitt also took questions on lesser issues, including one about the effects of lead poisoning in children. During this exchange, Pruitt stated that he wasn’t familiar with the research on how lead poisoning affects children.
Although he said he was concerned about lead going into drinking water or the food supply, something that is obvious to most people, particularly after the recent Flint, Michigan, crisis, it seems incredulous that the future administrator of the EPA doesn’t know the research about why lead is dangerous, something that seems like common sense.
If he ever decides to look into the research, he may find some of it is fascinating, particularly some recent studies that look at the effect of leaded gas on children. That research came to some surprising conclusions.
Common sense tells us that the reason crime rates have always been lower in rural areas is because of the scale of living — small towns have a more humane scale where neighbors support each other, something mythologized in television’s Mayberry.
However, recent research suggests there is more going on — that environmental factors, not only population, can explain the differences. Specifically, leaded gasoline, far more prevalent than lead paint decades ago, may be behind the disparities between crime rates in different size cities.
As most people know, research has previously shown that lead exposure in small children results in many complications later in life, including lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral problems and learning disabilities. Childhood lead exposure is also thought to lead to juvenile delinquency later in life.
A scientific study showed that lead from gas emissions rose steadily from the 1940s through the early 1970s before declining when unleaded gas was introduced and eventually became mandatory.
Another study followed violent crime, showing the same pattern, but 20 years later — the 1960s to 1980s — than the lead emissions. It began its steady decline in the 1990s, which continues today.
Although there were questions if that was just a coincidence, as correlation is often confused with cause in studies of this type, variations in the reduction of leaded gas among states, as well as among nations, enabled researchers to find a solid link between lead emissions and crime by geographic location.
The researchers conclude that the reason big cities had so much more crime during this time period is not because they were crowded big cities, but because lead emissions were elevated since there were many more vehicles concentrated in small areas.
Now that lead has been eliminated in fuel, crime rates among all sizes of cities are more uniform. Not only that, crime in general is lower throughout the United States, despite claims to the contrary in the most recent presidential election.
For example, in 2014, the homicide rate dropped to the lowest level since 1963, according to the FBI, capping a trend that began 25 years ago. The drop doesn’t follow any other common sense trend, such as the economy, racial or income disparities, police methods or demographics.
Lead can’t account for all crime statistics, of course. The murder rate in the United States increased slightly in 2015, the FBI reported, although the level is still well below the rates in the 1990s. Also, rates in some cities, notably Chicago, spiked in 2016. National comprehensive statistics for last year haven’t been compiled yet.
The study that links lead to crime probably doesn’t have much political use, particularly to the common sense administration coming in. However, it does highlight that common sense can be based on faulty information as new scientific research comes into play.
Curious minds uncovered these trends that were buried in statistical data already in existence. They weren’t originally seeking the solution, but became curious when presented with an odd coincidence.
The new administration needs some common sense to reform the federal government. However, it also needs a few curious minds at play because common sense can be based on false assumptions, even if it doesn’t come from the internet.