It’s too bad prosecutors aren’t interested in public health accounting fraud?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today issue its “Ten Great Public Health Achievements — United States, 2001–2010.”
This “achievement” caught my eye:
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention
In 2000, childhood lead poisoning remained a major environmental public health problem in the United States, affecting children from all geographic areas and social and economic levels. Black children and those living in poverty and in old, poorly maintained housing were disproportionately affected. In 1990, five states had comprehensive lead poisoning prevention laws; by 2010, 23 states had such laws. Enforcement of these statutes as well as federal laws that reduce hazards in the housing with the greatest risks has significantly reduced the prevalence of lead poisoning. Findings of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 1976–1980 to 2003–2008 reveal a steep decline, from 88.2% to 0.9%, in the percentage of children aged 1–5 years with blood lead levels ≥10 µg/dL. The risks for elevated blood lead levels based on socioeconomic status and race also were reduced significantly. The economic benefit of lowering lead levels among children by preventing lead exposure is estimated at $213 billion per year. [Emphasis added and footnote omitted]
Curious, I went to see how the CDC calculated that childhood lead poisoning prevention programs were generating 1.4% of U.S. GDP.
As it turns out, the estimate itself comes from a 2002 study that acknowledges,
The exact shape of the relation between children’s [blood lead levels] and cognitive ability is not known.
Nevertheless, the study moves on to state:
Two published estimates of the overall effect of cognitive ability on earnings are available (6,22). A 1-point difference in IQ was assumed to raise earnings for males and females together by 1.76% by Schwartz, and by 2.37% by Salkever. A third estimate, of 1.66%, derived from the study by Neal and Johnson (23), is essentially the same as the estimate by Schwartz, which we retained as our lower-bound estimate. For our base-case analysis, we used a 2.00% estimate, based on modification of Salkever’s estimate to exclude one of the two participation pathways. For our upper-bound estimate, we used Salkever’s weighted average estimate of 2.37%. [Footnotes omitted].
You can read the Schwartz paper here if you want, but I suggest you take the easy way out an accept the authors’ own description of the 1.76% figure as a mere “assumption” — a generous term that sounds better than “guesswork” or “fabrication.”
It’s truly amazing then how,
“Not known” + “assumption” = “$213 billion per year”
Maybe it’s not so amazing since the $213 billion is as imaginary as its components.
The reality, of course, is that there is no credible evidence that the claimed reductions blood lead levels have produced any IQ or monetary benefits.
On a macro level, in fact, IQ in the US has steadily risen since the early 20th century, regardless of the widespread use and then 1970s phase-out of leaded gasoline.
IQ is a complex, multifactorial phenomenon. There is no evidence that it is driven or significantly impacted by ambient lead exposures.