Did Falling Testosterone Affect Falling Crime?

There are already too many proposed causes for the secular decline in crime, but I can’t resist suggesting one more. A couple of months ago Nydwracu asked me whether it could be related to the secular decline in testosterone. The answer turns out to be “Maybe”.

This secular decline in testosterone is pretty dramatic. Our best source is A Population-Level Decline In Serum Testosterone Levels In American Men, which finds that from 1987 to 2004, average testosterone declined from 501 ng/dl to 391 ng/dl, with an even more dramatic decline in bioavailable levels of the hormone. That’s about minus 1% per year.

No one knows exactly why this is happening. Some people blame increasing obesity and decreasing tobacco use (wait? Smoking increases testosterone levels? THOSE TV COWBOYS WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG!). Other people have tried to adjust for these and found they don’t explain the entire effect, leading to a host of other theories. Recent scrutiny has focused on the role of feminizing chemicals in the water supply, probably a combination of industrial pollutants and discarded medications; the worst-affected areas are marked by an epidemic of transsexual fish (really).

(A quick aside – since these chemicals are gender-bending fish, frogs, and various other animals, could they be responsible for transgender in humans? This theory seems to still be in crackpot territory, but I don’t know why. Research shows that male-assigned-at-birth children exposed to diethylstilbestrol in the womb are more likely to become transgender than the general population. Other than that, there just seems to be one unpublished paper on the subject. Get to work, scientists!)

Annnnnyway, testosterone has been found to correlate a bit with violent crime. In a study of 692 male criminals, Dabbs et al found that those in prison for more violent crimes had higher testosterone than those in prison for nonviolent offenses. It’s hard to say exactly how much higher because they report their testosterone in a different way that doesn’t correlate to anyone else’s – I think part of it is that it’s salivary rather than serum testosterone but it’s still confusing even after I adjust for that. If we use relative rather than absolute, they do mention that 66% of inmates in the upper third of testosterone levels committed violent crimes compared to 46% in the lower third. High-T inmates were twice as likely to be in for murder as low-T inmates. Interestingly, testosterone was the highest risk factor for sex crimes, such as child molestation and (especially) rape – high-T inmates were four times as likely to be in for rape as low-T inmates. On the other hand, low-T inmates were about twice as likely to be in prison for drug offenses.

This “which criminals are worse” study is obviously not as good as an “are high-T people more likely to be criminals at all” study, but I can’t fin any of those with a good sample size. You can read a review of the research here.

According to the population decline study, testosterone levels declined about 110 ng/dL in 15 years. They don’t give me a standard deviation, but from this site I get one a bit less than 200. So testosterone declines by one standard deviation about 25 years? That means that a person in the top third of testosterone levels today would have been in the bottom third fifty years ago. Which – and I realize I’m doing all sorts of horrible things here to cover up my lack of actually useful data – if we extrapolate wildly from the results of these studies, we could sort of justify murder halving in about fifty years by falling testosterone alone.

The first problem with this is that we can’t really use data on prison inmates as representative of the population.

The second problem is that murder has halved in way less than fifty years. It seems to have halved between 1994 and 2004.

The third problem is that crime didn’t start falling until the early 1990s, but testosterone was falling since at least 1987 and probably earlier. This site, which doesn’t cite sources, says testosterone was higher in the 1940s, though they might be confusing that with “in men born in the 1940s, as studied in the 1980s”, which is of uncertain significance. Sperm count has been declining since the 30s, according to an article called Sperm Quality & Quantity Declining, Mounting Evidence Suggests

(it looks like somebody was not quite as virtuous as this Twitter user).

The fourth problem is that there’s contradictory evidence about whether testosterone is even falling at all, according to a a study that looked at the faces of Major League Baseball players of the past 120 years. This sort of makes sense – face width-height ratio is affected by testosterone (one reason women’s faces look different than men’s) and baseball players had standardized photographs taken of them for that time period. They find that, at least based on the face ratios, testosterone was increasing during that period, which would be interesting if it didn’t contradict everybody else. As it is, I suspect it just means baseball players were differently representative of the general population. For example, if baseball requires high testosterone, and scouts became better at selecting the highest-testosterone people over that period, that’d do it. Or if the nature of baseball changed to more of a “power game” rather than a “finesse game” (I think some people have said this) that’d do it too. Or if all baseball players suddenly started taking powerful testosterone-analogue chemicals at some point…hmmmmmmmmm…On the other hand – literally on the hand – we have the digit ratios of Lithuanians over 120 years. Someone in 1880 measured the length of Lithuanians’ fingers – which can be a proxy for testosterone levels – and then the experiment was repeated recently and the results compared. It did find the expected increase in testosterone, though no word on whether that was throughout the entire period or just concentrated in the past couple of years. So this sort of turned out to be a non-problem.

The fifth problem is that crime is dropping in women at the same rate as in men – women never really committed that many crimes, but now they’re committing fewer. Women do have some testosterone, so it’s possible that declining testosterone could affect female violence as well, but it wouldn’t be the first thing I expected. Also, I’m not sure if there are any secular trends in female testosterone levels, though I’d be fascinated to see data.

So overall while I like the approach of this hypothesis, I don’t think it gets the time window right. It would be a nice way to explain a gradual fifty-year decrease in violent crime starting in the 50s and continuing to the present day. Instead, we have a big spike in the 50s and a big drop in the 90s, which were not particularly abnormal in terms of testosterone decline.

This doesn’t really make sense to me. If testosterone is declining, it should cause a decrease in crime. One might argue that testosterone levels have been steadily operating behind the scenes causing very long term declines while other things account for the more visible short-term trends, but that seems like a cop-out.

I’d like to see studies comparing testosterone levels in violent criminals (both male and female) to those in the general population.

Also, we have cemeteries full of millions of dead people from every era of history, all carefully marked with what age they were when they died. Somebody needs to dig some of them up and measure their digit ratios – I assume you can still measure the digit ratio of bones, the overall length is still there. Then we can have a good answer for whether testosterone levels in men (and women) have been declining over time, when it started, and whether it’s been picking up recently. If it has been, the chance that it hasn’t had an important effect on our society worth exploring is pretty much nil.

I know, just once I want to get through an entire blog post without a call for disinterring the dead, but this is important.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

230 Responses to Did Falling Testosterone Affect Falling Crime?

  1. Santoculto says:

    Criminallity decrease because reduction of afroamerican proportion in american population by immigrants specially in cities as Niu York.

    • Nope, the decline in crime is across the board, affecting all age and race categories. Theories that are limited to specific groups or changes in the proportion between groups don’t get you very far.

  2. Pingback: Did Falling Testosterone Affect Falling Crime? | No. Betteridge’s Law

  3. Pingback: Links for February 2015 - foreXiv

  4. Johannes says:

    As one commenter pointed out, any thesis that explains dropping crime rate in the US must also be applied to dropping crime rates on a global level. It appears that there is indeed a global drop in crime in many western countries as indicated by this graph:


    Note that the drop in murder rates in the US from 1994 doesn’t seem dramatic, neither on a relative level nor on an absolute level.
    Also note that it appears that before murder rates dropped, they actually climbed for a number of years, especially if one takes into account the numbers from before 1990:


    My own favourite thesis is the videogame thesis. Doom came out in December 1993, so that would fit nicely. If it turns out that this is indeed a factor, I would like to nominate John Carmack for a Nobel peace prize.

  5. Steve Sailer says:

    Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s long 2000 article on how prescription testosterone revitalized his career, turning him from a depressed sad-sack with HIV into a pundit brimming with self-confidence in his opinions.


  6. Steve Sailer says:


    You’ll notice that teenagers have a lot less acne than they used to. Acne correlates to some extent with male hormones. Accutane works on acne and so it’s quite common today, although it’s powerful stuff. Here’s one reader’s response to Accutane:


    • Scott Alexander says:

      I do notice the decline in acne; at the very least it seems to have played a much bigger part in cultural imagination 20 years ago.

      I continue to be confused by the association between nerds and acne, given nerds are low-testosterone in most other ways. At this point I have to throw up my hands and admit maybe it’s purely cultural, a combination of ugly people lose status and end up as nerds, and the culture wants to mock nerds so exaggerates their ugliness.

      • Steve Sailer says:


        More than 16 million people worldwide have been prescribed Accutane since it was introduced to the market 30 years ago. More than 7,000 personal injury lawsuits have been filed, and hundreds are still pending. …

        Roche has been ordered to pay more than $53 million to Accutane patients so far, but is appealing many of the verdicts.

        … Accutane was introduced in 1982, but it wasn’t until more than a decade later that health care professionals became concerned about the drug’s serious side effects. …

        Among the more severe reported side effects were Crohn’s disease, miscarriages and birth defects, and suicidal thoughts. …

        The FDA called for an additional warning on Accutane in 1998, advising users that the drug could lead to depression and suicidal tendencies. The FDA also examined the link between Accutane and increased incidence of depression or thoughts of suicide. Between Accutane’s debut in 1982 and 2000, the FDA received reports of 431 cases of depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts or suicide in patients treated with Accutane; twenty-four committed suicide while taking the drug, and another 13 ended their lives after quitting the drug.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Oh, I agree, Accutane is horrible stuff. I get occasional psych patients who weren’t psych patients before they started it. The only excuse for it is that it works REALLY well.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Is 16 million patients worldwide enough to change the culture? I don’t know.

            But add in all the other medications for youngish people — Ritalin, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics — and it would be strange if medication didn’t have some effect on the culture over the decades.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        I don’t want to overplay the theory that Accutane (isotretinoin) leads to lower crime (the write-up I linked to is presumably an exceptionally strong case of Accutane temporarily demasculinizing an individual), but I would like to throw it out there because I’ve never heard it discussed, much less researched. Accutane is powerful stuff.

        Say it just temporarily lessens masculinity in teens. Maybe while they’re taking Accutane they lose interest in petty crime and hanging out with other juvenile delinquents. Then, when the treatment is over, it seems kind of silly to go back to banging. That’s something they did when they’re 15 but now they’re 17 and street life seems immature to them now.

  7. (I haven’t read through the comment thread, so perhaps someone has already made this point.)

    My understanding is that the digit ratio is a marker for testosterone level in the womb the individual was incubated in, not for testosterone level in the individual. Doesn’t that mean that if it is changing over time, that’s evidence on female testosterone levels not male testosterone levels?

  8. Silas Kulkarni says:

    Interesting post, but I’d seriously urge you to dig deeper into the testosterone-crime research (and indeed most of the testosterone-behavior research). I read several of those studies once upon a time and found them to be riddled with errors, problems in methodology, and rather obvious confirmation bias. It seemed quite apparent that the scientists involved assumed that higher baseline testosterone levels in blood/saliva would be correlated with more aggression, violence, and crime and then tortured their data to confirm that theory. There seem to be a lot of reasons to be skeptical of that framework for understanding testosterone’s effect on behavior. For example there seems to be significant evidence to suggest that CHANGES in levels of testosterone are the dominant factor in behavioral impact, not baseline levels, and that two populations with differing baseline levels are not likely to show behavioral differences. Anyhow, long story short, dig deeper into these studies and I think you will find the same problems I did. This offers a simple alternative hypothesis about why the time-series doesn’t match: because baseline testosterone levels in the population don’t predict behavior.

  9. Pingback: Open Thread And Link Farm: The Dress Is Bigger On The Inside Edition | Alas, a Blog

  10. David Moss says:

    This seems like a perfect time for Scott to do one of his famous ‘much more than you wanted to know’ reviews on how to alter your Testosterone levels.

  11. Frank Schmitt says:

    I’d be curious to see a correlation of testosterone levels and cholesterol levels. I am not an endocrinologist but apparently the latter is a precursor of the former.

  12. Pingback: Quotable (#62) | Urban Future (2.1)

  13. Perhaps I’m overly cynical, but wouldn’t medical research on transgenderism be one of those inherently career-limiting moves?

  14. the_other_guy says:

    My main question is why is this post talking about serum testosterone? To simplify a bit, my understanding is that the T mopped up by SHBG is effectively neutered, and the remaining free testosterone is what matters.

    The other comments on here regarding the need for a global perspective are certainly valuable (and something consistently ignored when people have an agenda to overfit data to their pet cause).

  15. These crime stats seem to track pretty well with the availability of porn. Are we changing from rough-and-tumble chimps into masturbating bonobos?

  16. Ape or Apis? says:

    This decline in testosterone opens up some interesting avenues.
    Low testosterone often causes or exacerbates depression. Could this trend in testosterone levels be partly responsible for the increase in depression and suicide? Maybe it’s significant that the suicide rate among men is four times that of women.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Depression is completely different from suicide. Men have 4x the suicide rate of women, but women have 2x the depression rate and 20x the attempted suicide rate.

      • Unique Identifier says:

        While depression and suicide are not the exact same thing, they are not entirely unrelated either.

        There’s nothing outrageous about the idea that maybe low test->depression and depression->suicide, such that low-test->suicide. Read arrows as correlations, not necessarily very strong ones.

    • Anonymous says:

      I wonder how estrogen and progesterone have fared over the same period of time.

  17. fs says:

    Lampshaded Betteridge headline, I see you

  18. Airgap says:

    Scott, would you be interested in playing keyboards for my new punk band “Transsexual Fish Epidemic?”

  19. JayMan says:

    This secular decline in testosterone is pretty dramatic. Our best source is A Population-Level Decline In Serum Testosterone Levels In American Men, which finds that from 1987 to 2004, average testosterone declined from 501 ng/dl to 391 ng/dl, with an even more dramatic decline in bioavailable levels of the hormone. That’s about minus 1% per year.

    You don’t actually believe that study, do you?

    I tackled this before:

    I wouldn’t put my faith in this yet. I looked at the paper … The differences between wave 2 and 3 weren’t statistically significant. As well, the study experienced a huge amount of attrition between waves. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the high T guys were most likely to bow out or die. Even if they restricted their analysis to men who were in all three waves, it wouldn’t be sufficient to correct for this distortion [because the remaining men may have been disproportionally likely to suffer a steeper decline in T levels by age].

    While this is interesting, I’d like to see this replicated in much larger, representative samples with tightly performed measurements (which were somewhat questionable in this study).

    Getting fine population trends is generally very difficult, because rarely if ever are there representative samples tested at each relevant ages (schoolchildren come closest). As well, attrition is a major problem when doing longitudinal studies (indeed, most such results are suspect for that reason). This study retained only a little over a third of its original sample through all three waves.

  20. Illuminati Initiate says:

    Heh, the first thing I though of when reading the third and fourth paragraphs was the paranoid conspiracist fodder.

    “The NWO/Illuminati are putting chemicals in our water supply to PACIFY OUR CHILDREN and turn them QUEER!”

    Well we’re not, not yet at least. Though if prenatal exposure to those chemicals actually does significantly reduce violent crime… they might be something to consider 😛

  21. BN says:

    This one of those issues where an analytic focus on a search for specific etiologies by decomposition is much less fruitful than a more holistic look at human history and the evolution of social systems. If you look at crime rates as part of the cyclical evolution of society, you see that they tend to ebb and flow like tides over multi-generational time frames. That doesn’t mean they’re caused by the moon, but rather that what we’re seeing here is part of some large, recurring social- historical process rather than a unique result of some particular such as lead paint. The analytical bias is leading people astray here, and giving rise to lots of “just-so” stories.

    As an example, in 1990, Strauss & Howe used their cyclic-generational theory of history to predict that there would be a dramatic decline in crime rates over the next 20 years (which happened). They did not do so based on a specific cause-effect chain, but rather on the basis of the observed past behavior of the social system we are in and how it evolves over time.

    • Nornagest says:

      It seems to me that “crime rates are caused by an unspecified large, recurring socio-historical process” is as much a just-so story as anything in this thread. Moreso, really.

      • BN says:

        I’m suggesting that your desire to find a specific etiology so that you can “fix” whatever is going on in a highly complex, networked feedback system is not only an unjustified bias, it’s blinding you toward other possibilities.

        We have empirical evidence that ups and downs in violence and criminality occur in society. The USA in the 1950s was very low-crime. By the 1980s, that had changed radically. By today, it’s switching back. And this is not unique in our history. I only referenced Strauss & Howe because they observed this happening too, and then suggested that it was likely to continue. They were right about that, even if their explanation for WHY or HOW is conjectural.

        Similarly, we know that evolution happens, because we have lots of evidence that it does. We still don’t really know how, though a lot of work has been done to explore its mechanics. Now, assume we take your attitude and apply it to Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species.’ If you approach evolution by looking for causes which fit with your worldview, you’ll come up with a lot of nonsense and ‘just-so’ stories too (and there are PLENTY of those out there as well, no less bizarre than ‘lead paint made them do it’).

        Or, you can look at evolution from a system perspective, and try to figure out what fundamental forces are at work in the things you are observing and how they interact.

        • Nornagest says:

          I don’t buy it.

          Let’s start with evolution. Darwin himself came up with your why and how in natural selection, and while that’s been refined greatly in the last two hundred years, to a point where we can talk about selection on individual genes and even use that to do things like date splits between populations, at no point did the theory rely on a coarse analysis of secular trends; that existed at one time, but it predates Darwin substantially, and there’s a reason we don’t talk about it much in the context of evolutionary biology as a science.

          Going back to criminology, I don’t even know that there is a well-defined cycle. We know that there was a spike in crime in the Twenties and Thirties (popularly blamed on Prohibition and/or the Depression) and another from the Seventies or late Sixties continuing into the 2000s; but they’re very different in shape, intensity, and duration. And reliable data from earlier decades basically doesn’t exist. We need to use proxies, and those proxies suggest that the Middle Ages and Renaissance were much more violent times than the early modern or modern era, but they’re very noisy and subject to various sampling issues. So from a system perspective we can say that there’s probably an negative secular trend, and if you read Stephen Pinker that’s exactly what he’ll give you, but its power to explain the 20th-century history of crime, or project into the future at the granularities we’re interested in, is virtually nil.

          That leaves us with analytical approaches. And while they certainly aren’t as mature as a science as evolutionary biology is, what you propose as a substitute amounts to enshrining our ignorance.

    • Jaskologist says:

      “Everything goes in cycles” is itself a just-so story. Why does the cycle occur? What causes it? The mechanism remains to be explained.

      (Edit: beaten to the punch. Wiser than all the Norns, I am not.)

    • Kiya says:

      Does cyclic-generational history have a suggestion for what society can do to further reduce crime and/or keep it low? This is a thing I want in a theory of how crime rates change over time.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        You can’t always get what you want. Preferring false theories because they promise hope is a bad move.

        (Not that I think Strauss and Howe had a theory, let alone a correct theory.)

      • BN says:

        “Does cyclic-generational history have a suggestion for what society can do to further reduce crime and/or keep it low? This is a thing I want in a theory of how crime rates change over time.”

        This perfectly illustrates my concern about progressive/analytical bias when looking at issues like this. If you go looking for ’causes’ that give ‘hope’ for social action to ‘fix’ a problem, you’ll only wind up chasing your tail.

  22. August says:

    Violence isn’t as profitable as it once was in the West. People don’t carry as much cash, nor do they have many assets with decent resale value in their homes.

    People act because they hope their actions will improve their situation. With more cameras, porn, credit cards, cell phones, etc- the likelihood that violence will prove to be successful is unlikely. You have to have the government cheerleaders behind you to become a Chris Kyle, and then things still don’t turn out well for you personally.

    So if the returns on violence go up, and/or the penalty for trying violence goes down, we will see more violence. The guys trumpeting this drop in violence as evidence that we’ve somehow progressed as a species or a society are just being foolish.

    • social justice warlock says:

      So if the returns on violence go up, and/or the penalty for trying violence goes down, we will see more violence. The guys trumpeting this drop in violence as evidence that we’ve somehow progressed as a species or a society are just being foolish.

      It seems an odd definition of social progress that excludes “changing incentives so people act better to each other.”

      • August says:

        I did not define social progress. I did not exclude changing incentives so people act better to each other- in fact, I suggested that many incentives were changed- largely inadvertently- and this resulted in less crime. I also suggest this could change back rather quickly.

        What part of this do you not understand?

        • David Hart says:

          I don’t think SJW misunderstood, it’s just that the definition of ‘progress’ that one would have to infer from your comments seems like an artificially narrow one, if by ‘progress’ you only mean something like ‘changing the fundamental architecture of human brains so that we are naturally more inclined to treat each other non-aggressively’.

          I suspect that most people would include environmental changes that also make us less likely to resort to violence as a perfectly valid form of progress (albeit one that is, as you say, potentially vulnerable to regress if we let the environmental changes regress).

          • August says:

            From p121 of Nassim Taleb’s Silent Risk:

            “I emitted the following argument in a comment
            looking for maximal divergence: “Had a book proclaiming The Long Peace (on how violence
            has dropped) been published in 19133
            4 it would carry similar arguments to those in Pinker’s
            book”, meaning that inability of an estimator period T to explain period > t, using the idea of
            maximum divergence. The author of the book complained that I was using “hindsight”to find
            the largest deviation, implying lack of rigor. This is a standard error in social science: data
            mining everywhere and not understanding the difference between meaningful disconfirmatory
            observation and anecdote.”

            Whatever I implied about progress doesn’t have anything to do with the subject at hand. You can easily find Taleb’s SR (which is a draft of something he will likely publish eventually) online, by the way.

    • John Schilling says:

      I do not believe that robbery of law-abiding citizens has ever represented a majority of violent crime, and particularly not in the industrialized world during the period of interest here. Violent crime is mostly about status and/or sex, and economic violent crime is mostly intra-criminal conflict over the profits of non-violent crime.

      The first two are certainly and the third potentially subject to the influence of testosterone levels. And of enough other things that the testosterone hypothesis is plausible but unproven.

      • August says:

        I am doubtful, though I did mention porn in my original comment because I feel it has certainly functioned as a substitute good, lowering the likelihood of rape, for instance. I think many on the internet over-estimate the motivating power of sex/status and underestimate the power of being really, really hungry.

        • John Schilling says:

          I don’t think I am underestimating the power of being really, really hungry. I am questioning its relevance to modern first-world criminals. Generally speaking, I think being really really hungry is no longer a major first-world problem; more subtle forms of malnutrition certainly are, but those generally don’t come with severe hunger. But this should be easy to verify – if criminals as a class are significantly motivated by hunger, then they should exhibit low body weight or other signs of undernourishment. I can’t find any evidence of this, but maybe I’m not looking in the right places.

          As for economic motivations generally, per the FBI robbery has consistently represented 30-35% of UCR-reportable violent crime since 1990. And that is almost certainly an understatement as violence that does not involve knives, guns, or actual serious bodily injury only makes it into the UCR if it is associated with a robbery (or rape). Beating someone up to establish yourself as king of the hill doesn’t count, beating someone up to take their wallet does, and even with that handicap robbery still doesn’t break 50%.

          Violent criminals mostly aren’t in it for the money, or the food. If that’s what you are after, our society is wealthy enough that there’s plenty of stuff lying around unguarded that you can steal without violence.

          • August says:

            All theft, even non-violent theft, increases the likelihood that violence shall occur. In the 1970s a thief could steal a TV and it would have some resale value. Now the obsolescence cycle is faster, so the value of the stolen goods is lower, and now newer TVs are trackable.
            Additionally, as you might guess, I used hunger as an example. There are more human needs, wants, etc…
            In the 70s a lot of folks still got paid in cash, so a mugging on payday might result in the perpetrator making off with a lot. Now he’d get a handful of credit cards, which shall be promptly cancelled.
            I have seen one case in which a group does have incentive to be violent- high school/college lesbians. Displays of violence happen to be very attractive for certain women at that age, and men are either jailed or trained not to behave that way, so for a brief period of time a lesbian willing to play thug can pull women way out of her league.
            I am providing examples, but ultimately, it may be best for you to think about it personally. Under what conditions would violence be a successful strategy for you? Meditate on that for a while, and don’t forget about surveillance cameras being everywhere.

          • John Schilling says:

            As noted elsewhere, the security cameras have had no affect on the rate at which robbers are caught and arrested. Nor have credit cards reduced the rate at which violent criminals attempt robbery relative to other sorts of violence.

            Also: The demand for “meditation” on my part has not in fact resulted in any meditation or reconsideration of my position. It has caused me to think of you as offensive, obnoxious, and not worthy of further engagement.

          • August says:

            Hopefully, the digressions away from the subject matter towards highly negative emotionally laden attacks upon my person will be seen and regarded as such by others.
            I made no demands. I am simply aware that it takes some imagination and time for some of this stuff to click, which is why I suggested meditating on the subject matter.

  23. Anonymous says:

    OTOH, puberty is starting earlier, even in boys.

  24. Ben says:

    I suspect what you are seeing with the baseball player study is improvements in transportation and communication allowing for more efficient scouting. In the 1900s (so baseball players born in the 1880s) your ability to find players for your team was basically limited by your geographic area. Given the geographic distribution of early baseball teams, basically just the north east and upper midwest, there are clearly a lot of potential players who probably aren’t being reached. As technology improved and baseball moved west (first California teams in 1958) the average player probably had more testosterone simply due to having a larger pool of potential players to draw from. This assumes that testosterone is positively correlated with baseball performance which seems at the very least plausible given what we saw in the steroid era.

    You can see this kind of effect quite clearly if you look at the birth decade with the largest slope, 1920s. Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 and broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Over the next decade this substantially widened the pool of potential players and led to an increase in average testosterone.

    You can see a similar effect in professional football with body types. Where at most positions the players started out as basically just top athletes and now each position has a very specialized body type. In football the development is more dramatic, suggesting more than just scouting improvements but even without that you see offensive lines trending toward increased bigger players.

    • Ryan says:

      In addition, baseball scouts have insisted that there is such a thing as a “baseball face” and a “baseball body”, and admit to being biased toward younger players who possess such things. While all major league teams have caught on to sabermetrics (using advanced statistics to rank prospects, as popularized by “Moneyball”), they still all rely on human scouting reports to various degrees.

      Baseball culture changes slowly, if it does at all, so all else being equal, a team may indeed make a personnel decision based on a scout’s judgment on which player has a better baseball face. I would be entirely unshocked to find out that their judgment of a good baseball face correlates with higher testosterone individuals.

  25. Arthur B. says:

    There is nothing odd about having many factors contributing to reducing crime because there are probably many factors increasing crime. The decline in crime simply means that on the balance, the crime decreasing factors outweigh the crime increasing factors.

    The previous post erred by implicitly assuming there are no crime increasing factors. Once you consider those, your question about multiple factors vs one factor vanishes.

  26. Besserwisser says:

    Women actually haven’t comitted that much fewer crimes than incarceration levels indicate, since courts are more lenient on them. That said, it could still be true less testosterone has an effect on them as well. Or maybe the justice system became even more lenient on women than in the past. I don’t know about the US but in the UK judges get directives to, essentially, go easy on female criminals.

    • K. says:

      Nope. Courts can be somewhat lenient toward women, but even when you correct for that, men commit much, much more violent crime than women do, and this is an amazingly consistent finding across cultures and pretty much any other variable you’d care to name.

      • Unique Identifier says:

        Careful reading is a skill.

        He claims that incarceration rates -exaggerate- the non-criminality of women, because women are treated more leniently by courts. He does not say that the -whole- difference in incarceration rates is caused by leniency.

        • K. says:

          Yes, it is. Read his post again, and then mine. I neither said nor implied that his post was attributing the whole difference in incarceration rates to leniency.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Then I guess we all agree. I will gladly take the blame for the misunderstanding. It was the leading ‘Nope.’ which threw me off.

      • Besserwisser says:

        I would still wonder if there can be some factors that can be hard to measure influencing the numbers even more. How can we know how likely people are to report crime? How likely is police to arrest a man instead of a woman when the latter comitted the crime?

        Then again, I do think men commit more crime than women. There are reasons for that as well. Though I might disagree with it being “much, much more”, as vague as that is. Also, you specified violent crime. Are the numbers more unequal there than in general crime? I also think most prisoners serve time for non-violent crime, so violence can scarcely explain even the majority of the disparity.

  27. social justice warlock says:

    Doesn’t testosterone decline with age? On the premise that it’s determinate of crime this could explain why most crime is committed by young men, but without assuming that it seems like a confound to the prisoner study (or not, I haven’t read beyond the abstract.)

    • Troy says:

      In addition, do any of these testosterone studies (e.g., on prison inmates) control for race? That’s another possible confounder.

    • Mike H says:

      While testosterone is most certainly a factor, the lack of a fully formed prefrontal cortex more readily explains why violent crime is committed almost exclusively by young men.

  28. What’s so hard about accepting that there are many possible causes for falling crime, but a single cause cannot be singled out. Social scientists want to emulate the hard sciences in trying to find specific, provable causes for problems, despite there often not being one.

  29. Shenpen says:

    I think you are focusing too much on prenatal T. How about later T production, also influenced by social dynamics, like how winning competitions (fights) and going to the top of the gang hierarchy made some monkeys T levels increase _tenfold_ ? http://www.warandgender.com/wgmaleag.htm Since we can assume that this kind of “beat up everybody until you are accepted as the gang boss” is illegal for humans, we may as well say criminality caused the tenfold increase of that monkey’s T, not the other way around.

    Maybe I am missing something, but I don’t see a strong link between prenatal and serum T. And it seems to me serum T is largely nurture – it is about whether you are in a competitive, challenging environment, or a soft and coddling one.

    (I have heard American schools are “perfect” environment for making low-T boys, they aren’t even allowed to punch verbal bullies in the mouth anymore. )

    Read that War and Gender book, Scott, since war is largely about legalized criminality, or crime is largely about small scale private war, you will find some answers.

  30. Vegemeister says:

    Are digit ratios actually comparable across historical eras? Could they be affected by nutrition?

  31. Irrelevant says:

    I’d suggest everyone in this post’s comments read the previous post’s comments, because they went over most of the pro- and counter-arguments for the various explanations of the crime wave and subsequent drop.

    The one explanation I haven’t heard a good counter for yet (and also hadn’t heard a scientific argument for prior to the same thread) is that when involuntary psychiatric commitment is counted as a form of incarceration, our current incarceration rate is almost identical to our incarceration rate prior to the crime wave, while our incarceration(+commitment) rate during the crime wave was remarkably low.

    See https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/02/14/how-likely-are-multifactorial-trends/#comment-184531 and http://bernardharcourt.com/documents/harcourt-jls-final-2011.pdf

    So, yeah, we may have simply transferred everyone from Bedlam to Jail. Thoughts?

    • Anonymous says:

      From Bedlam to Jail sounds like a killer DnB album.

    • That’s a pretty impressive result.

      This further contributes to my belief that the dramatic reduction in “mental health” incarceration, which was (as always) done for the purest of humanitarian motives, was a huge net negative both for those formerly incarcerated and for society in general.

      • keranih says:

        I think it’s easiest to understand (and predict) human actions – both negative and positive – if we assume relatively pure humanitarian motives from the perspective of the persons acting.

        Assuming evil intent, otoh, has not proven to be nearly as useful in my experience.

        • I agree. My statement about humanitarian goals was not to imply that those behind deinstitutionalization of mental patients were evil and did not have honestly good motives. Rather, I want to cast aspersions on humanitarian social policy in general, as such policies have a way of causing harms much greater than the harm they are supposed to alleviate. Good intentions will not save you from unintended consequences.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      So, yeah, we may have simply transferred everyone from Bedlam to Jail. Thoughts?

      Well, in no particular order:

      Or Gaol, as the case may be.

      “Get the criminals off the streets” is a better political platform than “House the mentally ill [including the ones who haven’t actually done anything yet].”

      Absent possible context I haven’t seen, “So, yeah, we may have simply transferred everyone from Bedlam to Jail” is colorful and specific (yay!), without incivility (umm).

    • Lesser Bull says:

      As someone who just spent the last five years working with the prison system, I can say that providing mental health services and drugs and treatment was a huge thing both financially, with respect to the proportion of inmates involved, and with respect to the amount of time and space and personnel involved.

  32. Tom says:

    It’s worth noting that crime was low in the 50s and 60s and experienced a huge spike going into the 70s and 80s. Something caused the sudden surge and something caused the sudden decline. An explanation for the decline had better include an explanation for why that factor wasn’t an issue prior to the 70s.

  33. Harald K says:

    Cause and effect isn’t that trivial with hormones, they go both ways. It’s entirely possible that if we live in a peaceful society, where there’s little need for competition, aggression, or making quick decisions under pressure, our hormone levels adjust accordingly.

    So maybe we don’t have less crime because of less testosterone, but we have less testosterone because there’s less crime. (By the way, estrogen is linked to increased aggression too).

  34. Unique Identifier says:

    While invoking testosterone-as-cause, we should also ask whether (or rather how) testosterone is caused. A very pedestrian explanation might for instance be that obesity and/or inactivity cause low testosterone.

    While not particularly likely, it is not unthinkable that an violent/competitive personality funnels people towards a lifestyle which causes them to be high in testosterone. In this case, high crime and high testosterone could have the same cause, without there being any causative relationship between the two.

    • Mary says:

      It’s very thinkable. There have been studies that find that situations where you need to be aggressive raise testosterone and where you need to avoid aggression lower it.

      • nydwracu says:

        In which case a political environment where certain sorts of people need to be aggressive in some situations and have an incentive to be aggressive in many others, and certain other sorts of people have an incentive to avoid aggression, would…

        (Also, this provides a whole new argument against helicopter parenting.)

      • Steve Sailer says:

        “There have been studies that find that situations where you need to be aggressive raise testosterone and where you need to avoid aggression lower it.”

        And that would suggest that medical studies of subjects’ current testosterone levels are vulnerable to getting different results depending upon the settings. For example, bring some gangbangers into a medical research facility full of people in lab coats holding clip boards and asking them questions they don’t really understand the purpose of, and I suspect the homeboys’ would start feeling far from home and their testosterone levels would thus drop. In contrast, measure them on their own street corner where they are comfortable and at home and you’d probably get pretty high readings.

        So I’m not all that confident in long term measurements because little differences in methodology might affect the readings.

  35. High-T inmates were twice as likely to be in for murder as low-T inmates. Interestingly, testosterone was the highest risk factor for sex crimes, such as child molestation and (especially) rape – high-T inmates were four times as likely to be in for rape as low-T inmates. On the other hand, low-T inmates were about twice as likely to be in prison for drug offenses.

    Isn’t that last statistic pretty much redundant? By process of elimination, if someone isn’t in for violent crime, it’s most likely going to be drug use.

    • Fnord says:

      There are also no-violent property crimes (various types of theft that don’t rely on force or the threat of force), which are actually more common than violent crime).

  36. Good Burning Plastic says:

    The Lithuanian digit ratio link is broken presumably due to a missing http:// at the beginning of the URL.

  37. Fnord says:

    Despite the narrative and the clickbait title, that article actually looks pretty ambiguous on the idea that sperm quality is declining.

  38. Could this be due to changes in how testosterone is measured?

  39. Kyle Strand says:

    “Interestingly, testosterone was the highest risk factor for sex crimes, such as child molestation and (especially) rape – high-T inmates were four times as likely to be in for rape as low-T inmates. ”

    Is it a bad thing that my primary thought while reading that was “yep, that sounds exactly like what I know about testosterone”?

    • Anonymous says:

      Why would it be bad? It’s common knowledge testosterone increases sex drive, as well as confidence and energy (etc. etc. all those good things). I think the more horny, confident, motivated men are the ones who would be more likely to rape.

      • Wirehead Wannabe says:

        Is this brought up at all with regards to the ethics of testosterone supplementation I wonder? It sounds as though the number of additional rapes and murders it results in is unlikely to be zero.

        • Anonymous says:

          I wasn’t say “why would it be bad [to have high testosterone]”, if that’s how you interpreted what I was saying. I meant “why would it be bad [to ask if testosterone is correlated with likelihood of rape]”.

          As for testosterone supplementation, I previously was 100% for legalization and use with a specialist’s supervision, but if Scott’s hypothesis is true I would re-examine that belief.
          (Of course, there would be a level of increase that would still make legalization worth it. I’m glad this is a place where I can suggest that without getting torn apart.)

          • Cadie says:

            Well, criminalizing the supplements also is going to lead to some increase in crime, and some of that increase is likely to be violent crime. Plus increased use of supplements that haven’t been banned, even if they’re more poorly researched and may have even worse effects. So even from a pure crime-prevention standpoint, it may be worth keeping/making T supplementation legal. The additional (X) crimes from the legal stuff would be happening instead of additional (Y) crimes from banning it, and if Y is bigger than / worse than X, then we’re better off with X. I have no idea which scenario is actually better here, but it’s certainly possible that legal use would cause less trouble than not allowing it.

    • Peter says:

      Well, if you want to be a deeply virtuous adherent of feminist party lines[1], then you should think that _of course_ rape has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power and violence. That position… has something to it, but I’m pretty sure that the strict dogmatic form is incorrect. For example, I remember reading something somewhere about the effects of voluntary anti-androgen therapy on sex offenders – it helps some, but not others (in particular, it doesn’t seem to help sadists).

      [1] Bonus points for spotting an etymological irony there.

      • Mary says:

        Virtuous comes from the Latin root of vir meaning man (male).

      • K. says:

        I suspect that it’s a (very common, even among feminists) misunderstanding to think the feminist proverb that “rape is about power, not about sex” was originally meant to be a statement about the motivations of rapists; it makes much more sense if it’s primarily a statement about how we as a society ought to conceptualize rape (i.e., that we should think of it as a form of assault that happens to be sexual in nature, rather than as a kind of sex that happens to be nonconsensual).

        • Nornagest says:

          It seems to me that the proverb was likely about motivations, but social motivations rather than personal, if that makes sense; it follows pretty much immediately from the roughly contemporaneous (radfem?) trope stating that rape is a means by which men as a class exert power over women as a class.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Back in my American public school days, I was explicitly taught the personal motivations interpretation.

          • Nornagest says:

            Me too; but my American public-school health class got just about everything else wrong, so why not that?

        • Unique Identifier says:

          I think this is a much too generous reading.

          It is usually a good idea, to find some way to make sense of claims which at first seem to be absurd, but sometimes you miss the correct explanation – someone is spouting absurdities.

          • K. says:

            Since you provide no particular reason for thinking that in this case (and since internet commenters are extremely prone to latching onto the silliest possible misinterpretation of any feminist argument for no good reason in my experience), I think I’ll just stick with the interpretation where the statement is actually useful and insightful, thanks.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            It is hard to give much of argument, because it ultimately comes down to the nuances I have seen, dealing with the rape-is-about-power meme on countless occasions. I would have to cherry-pick excerpts here, which does no one much favor.

            I did, however, give a response to your argument, which reduces to ‘this interpretation makes more sense’.

            Here’s someone who’s not merely an Internet commenter, latching on to the sillest possible explanation. His name is Steven Pinker:
            “I believe that the rape-is-not-about-sex doctrine will go down in history as an example of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. It is preposterous on the face of it, does not deserve its sanctity, is contradicted by a mass of evidence, and is getting in the way of the only morally relevant goal surrounding rape, the effort to stamp it out.”

            A much longer excerpt, where he deals with the same topic with more argument and less polemic, will be posted in a subsequent pastebin.

            [You are of course free to remain unconvinced. You don’t even have to thank me.]

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Actually, I cannot quote the whole chapter while respecting copyrights. See Steven Pinker – The Blank Slate, chapter 18: Gender.

            Some choice excerpts:
            “Rape is an abuse of power and control in which the rapist seeks to humiliate, shame, embarrass, degrade, and terrify the victim,” the United Nations declared in 1993. “The primary objective is to exercise power and control over another person.” This was echoed in a 2001 Boston Globe op-ed piece that said, “Rape is not about sex; it is
            about violence and the use of sex to exert power and control…. Domestic violence and sexual assault are manifestations of the same powerful social forces: sexism and the glorification of violence.”

            “Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe. From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function … it is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”

            [If even official UN policy misunderstands what rape-is-power means, it has gotten very out of hand, regardless of original intent.]

          • K. says:

            My initial comment explicitly stated that the misinterpretation is very common even among feminists, and that I was only speaking about what I suspect to be the original intent of the phrase, so I have no idea where your apparent belief that you’re providing any sort of evidence against my initial assertion is coming from.

  40. Danny says:

    Is crime falling globally? Are there variations in testosterone collapse in different countries (beyond those two data point Lithuanians)? We should clearly conduct some sort of disinterrnational operation.

  41. See Scott’s previous posting for much more about the shape of the crime decline and alternative explanations.

    I don’t think “secular” (meaning long-term) is such an obscure usage.

    I find myself oddly resistant to seeing changing testosterone levels as a plausible explanation for the drop in crime. Maybe that’s because I rebel at the idea that chemical contamination is messing up our bodies, yet making us physically safer.

    Here’s my theory. As Steven Pinker argues, crime and violence, worldwide, are on a long-term downward trend. This was temporarily (i.e. for most of my life) obscured by various temporary problems (culture, drug abuse, etc.) from the 1960s through the early 1990s that “artificially” raised crime rates.

  42. haishan says:

    1. How do you determine if a fish is transsexual? Like, I’m pretty sure that if there are any fish on Tumblr, they’re biologically human. (But seriously, how homologous is transsexualism in other animals to trans* in humans? Are the same neurological/biological correlates present?)

    2. AFAIK the effects of testosterone on transgender are mostly womb effects — we know, e.g., that MTFs (I have no idea how to turn this into a noun) have digit ratios more typical of cis women than of cis men. Certainly DES screws up prenatal hormones; is there evidence that the anti-androgens that the Communists are putting into our water supply to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids do the same?

    • Wirehead Wannabe says:

      Certain species of fish and frogs have the ability to literally change their biological sex, in the same way that the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park did. I’m unsure whether the term “transsexual” is normally used to refer to this.

      • Peter says:

        I believe the term is “sequential hermaphroditism” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequential_hermaphroditism

        I bet it didn’t come up in _Finding Nemo_. Oh well.

      • Ptoliporthos says:

        Yeah, fish and frogs are okay models for the genetic and biochemical aspects of the sex determination cascade in vertebrates, but essentially irrelevant to modeling the psychology of gender presentation. Sex reversal is orthogonal to transgender.

        Humans are not typical of most vertebrates. They have sex chromosomes that are obviously different under the microscope (cytologically distinguishable). These sex chromosomes are really old. Like, about 180 million years old, at least (they are shared between placental and marsupial mammals, but not monotremes like the platypus). A single gene on the Y chromosome, Sry, is necessary and sufficient to trigger testis formation. No amount of sex hormones given to an adult male will cause a testis to turn into an ovary and produce eggs, or given to an adult female, will cause an ovary to turn into a testis and produce sperm. There certainly are other biological effects, but that’s just not one of them.

        But mammals are weird.
        Most other vertebrates don’t have sex chromosomes that are cytologically distinguishable, and if they do, none of them are as old. Many vertebrates do not have a single simple bistable genetic switch controlling gonad development. Lastly, the strict canalization of male and female gonadal fate is not the case for most other vertebrates.

        Zebrafish — a common lab animal — is a perfect example. They don’t have sex chromosomes. They definitely have some genes that have a strong contribution to sex determination — but they’re found on at least two different chromosome pairs. Exposure to sex hormones can cause full sex reversal. I want to be totally clear here: this is sex reversal, not a change in gender presentation. The ovaries of adult females will literally turn into testes if human males handle the aquarium water too much and the testosterone on their skin dissolves in the water.

        Fish are a basket case — their lineage is really old (450 million years) but all their sex determination systems seem fairly young. Species in the same genus will have different systems. The same thing is true of frogs. Many of the genes involved in testis and ovary formation in mammals are conserved in fish and frogs, but the regulatory circuitry that creates a bistable (or metabistable) switch between male and female gonadal fate is different in each lineage.

        I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that this means that compared to mammals, fish and frogs must live in environments that are extremely variable, such that the optimum sex ratio changes too often — effectively selecting against a sex-determination system with strongly differentiated sex chromosomes and a stable 1 male : 1 female ratio.

        To give you a sense of how varied things are in fish, here are some examples of what goes on:

        -There are species with strict genetic sex determination with cytologically distinguishable sex chromosomes (just like mammals)
        -There are species with strict genetic sex determination with cytologically indistinguishable sex chromosomes (medaka)
        -There are species with environmental sex determination where social environment determines sex (Gobiodon erythrospilus)
        -There are species with environmental sex determination where temperature during a critical period determines sex (Odontesthes or Menidia)
        -There are species where a mix of genetic and environmental cues determine sex (Half-smooth tongue sole, Zebrafish)
        -There are species where different sex chromosome systems are segregating in different populations (Platyfish)

        Frogs, lizards, and turtles are all similarly diverse.

        Like mammals, birds and snakes have sex chromosomes. In mammals, the male has mismatched sex chromosomes; females are XX, males are XY. In birds and snakes, it’s the other way around, and we call males ZZ and females ZW. All three of these systems evolved independently, and are not homologous.

        I don’t know about snakes, but I do know that birds can sex reverse as adults. Female chickens (hens) have a single ovary, and a sort of “undifferentiated” gonad that doesn’t normally do anything in the adult. If you remove the ovary from a hen, the “undifferentiated” gonad will become an ovotesits (a gonad with both ovarian and testicular cells), that functions as a testis, making sperm and testosterone. These former hens are fully sex reversed, they grow male feathering, crow like roosters, chase and mount hens, and fertilize hens’ eggs, siring offspring. They can even transmit the W chromosome (a female-specific chromosome!) through their brand-new male germline.

        Anyway, the point I’m making is that, yeah all sorts of crazy things happen in other vertebrates, but no, this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how mammals manage their gonads. All these chemical sensitivity studies in fish and frogs are probably of extreme importance to understanding the impact that we have on fish and frogs, but they probably don’t tell us much about what these chemicals do to mammals. Most of all though, looking at the gonads of fish and frogs is an especially poor way to research the human brain.

        • My point was that I think Scott meant to use the phrase “transsexualism in fish” to mean “sequential hermaphrodism in fish.”

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            I meant to agree with you that that’s probably one of the things Scott meant.

            He’s now changed it to “gender bending-fish” which is still not accurate. It’s about biological sex, and not gender.

        • Nita says:

          Thanks, that was very informative.

          Hmm, I wonder if sex change is more common in species without a penis.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            I would guess so. Intuitively, it’s easier to switch sexes if you don’t have to also grow all new plumbing and fittings to deliver your gametes.

            In general, fish, frogs, and birds lack obviously sexually dimorphic external genitalia, so that certainly fits with your hypothesis. Turtles and crocodilians all have males with penises, if I recall correctly, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of adult sex reversal in those lineages.

            The hypothesis that the development of external genitalia imposes costs on sex reversal that create selection for canalization of male and female gonadal fate is certainly worth investigating.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          Thanks for this post.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        No, he means fish simultaneously exhibiting sex characteristics of both sexes. Usually primary of one, secondary of the other.

    • Unique Identifier says:

      Sex determination outside of mammals and birds is a mess. For instance, crocodiles have no sex chromosomes, and instead have their sex determined by temperature during a critical phase. As far as I can Google, fish apparently have a variety of different, poorly understood sex determination mechanisms. Some species of fish have sex-change as a natural part of their life-cycle. I wouldn’t expect sex in fish to transfer very well to sex in humans.

    • Roz says:

      If it were shown these chemicals led to a significantly higher chance of an unborn child being transgender, should we do something about it? How would any trans people feel about this?

      If they also decrease crime is it a price worth paying?

    • veronica d says:

      There is too much to go into here, but if you want a pop-science account of sex and gender in the animal kingdom, this is a fun book: Evolution’s Rainbow.

  43. Lettuce says:

    By the way, here’s a central question to explaining the falling crime: in how many and which countries of the world has crime been falling?

    • Arceris says:

      That’s actually an important point. According to this post over at Marginal Revolution, global crime is way down. That post deals with a different subject matter – that global antisemitism is way up, but compares it to a strong declining trend in overall crime.

      But, a global decline in violence and crime would seem to argue against in-country reasons (such as the incarceration rate).

  44. Lettuce says:

    To say that falling crime is “explained” by falling testosterone, isn’t much of an useful explanation unless you also explain why testosterone has been falling.

    • Kyle Strand says:

      Isn’t that sort of like saying that Newton’s laws of physics don’t really “explain” gravitation because they don’t explain why the laws themselves exist?

      I tend to think that knowing the direct cause of something is a useful explanation of why that thing happened, even if we don’t know the root cause–partly because presumably we can’t know the “one and only really truly ROOT cause” of anything.

      • Harald K says:

        Direct cause? It’s not that simple with hormones. Do flushed cheeks cause aggression? They’re linked to aggression, lots of really angry people get red.

        Maybe you think I’m being silly now. But psychologists speculated in the 1890s that what we think of as very basic emotions (fear, affection, amusement etc.) are based on interpretation of internal physical cues. Later experiments provided a lot of support for this theory: If you manipulate someone’s physical reactions – with epinephrine in a classic experiment, I think there also was one with niacin – then depending on context, they can interpret the same cues as excitement, anger, disgust, amusement etc. Facial flushing probably can cause anger.

        (I have wondered whether you could actually use that to make a workable “love potion”, to make people think they are falling in love. It would be unethical as hell, of course. Please don’t try.)

        • Irrelevant says:

          Facial flushing probably can cause anger.

          Is this supposed to be counterintuitive? Embarrassment prompts fight-or-flight responses, working in the heat makes everyone irritable.

          • Harald K says:

            I’m saying that the internal physical sensation can cause the feeling (of irritability, or embarrassment) because emotions require interpretation. If you were told beforehand that you were getting a drug that will make your face flush, you probably wouldn’t have nearly as strong an emotional reaction (if any at all), because you’d have an explanation for it.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Right, and I’m saying that all the common causes of flushing can trivially segue into anger, so I’m confused why this is considered a counterintuitive result. Different emotions are most easily accessible via different physical states.

        • Kyle Strand says:

          “Direct” was imprecise. My point was that finding an causal link is valuable even if there exist further causal links down the chain–and in fact there may *always* exist further causal links down the chain. This holds (and holds for much the same reason) regardless of whether the link is direct or indirect.

          As for love potions, I’d assume that to the extent that aphrodisiacs are effective, their mechanism is more or less along the lines you describe.

  45. This is the vaguest of vague impressions, but I think men with deep voices are less common than they used to be. Does this seem plausible– or implausible– to anyone else?

    • Kyle Strand says:

      Well, there’s George Ezra.

    • Harald K says:

      I am pretty sure (but I can’t find any documentation of it) that base frequency can vary by dialect. We are certainly capable of changing the pitch of our speaking voice quite a bit, depending on who we are talking to and when.

      So if men with deep voices seem rarer, that may well be cultural – if it’s just more acceptable to speak in a high-pitched voice, or if pushing your voice downwards now gets you associated with certain groups, etc.

      • nydwracu says:

        I think it can. I’ve had some classes with girls who’d ask questions in the deepest voice they could pass off as natural and then talk to other students in a squeak.

        (I’ve been told I have an unusually deep voice, but I don’t think so. Most twenty-something men sound like they’re speaking two or three octaves higher than would be natural for them. The symbolic meaning of this should be obvious.)

    • Hemid says:

      It seems true. The base melody of male voices in media, especially commercials, has risen to incredibly annoying. When an ad for trucks or barbecue comes on and the voiceover is traditionally manly, it’s startling and sounds parodic.

      My vague impression is that it’s a “gay accent” situation, not evidence of anything hormonal or even “real.” Black men for example aren’t participating in the change; if anything, they’re counter-signaling. But men in professions and social milieus that are hostile to fatherly-voiced masculinity are learning not to sound like men. They’re affecting a slack and needling tone, like Canadian Valley Girls. And that accent is uniform across America. Everything sounds like NPR and NPR sounds like a tampon commercial. The sound of gentrifying Atlanta is the sound of “hipster” Brooklyn is the sound of Portland. Twenty years ago that sound was only Portland. Now it’s America’s uniform voice of conformity and aspiration.

      Young women’s voices seem to be rising too, I’d guess in instinctive response, a kind of neotenic arms race, to a pitch far beyond annoying, one that sounds like a real physical strain to maintain. If the arms race doesn’t end, in another twenty years they’ll be almost entirely outside the range of human hearing, silence punctuated by creepy door-creaking sounds.

      • veronica d says:

        This is needlessly snide.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          I thought it was an interesting and presumably honest description of his impressions. It is probably not the commonest or most widely applauded perspective, but I think that adds to rather than detracts from its value.

          • Nita says:

            @ Unique Identifier

            Hemid smoothly goes from describing his actual impressions to this:

            men in professions and social milieus that are hostile to fatherly-voiced masculinity are learning not to sound like men. They’re affecting a slack and needling tone, like Canadian Valley Girls.

            with zero explanation why he considers the “traditionally manly” voice more authentic.

            Smuggling attacks on your political opponents into “honest description” of your impressions is probably not very good for civil discourse.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Help me understand the problem here. Do you presume that he is describing things differently than he actually sees them, in an attempt to smear people who he doesn’t like, or is it that you find his perspective so unpleasant that he should keep quiet about it?

            [Feel free to choose other alternatives as well, of course.]

          • veronica d says:

            If his impressions were honest, so were mine.

          • Nita says:

            @ Unique Identifier

            I presume that he cannot see into the lives and minds of all these men all over the country. So, he cannot observe whether they’re learning not to sound like men, and whether their tone is an affectation.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            This place is full of commenters gazing into minds, purporting to explain why robbers rob and rapists rape, but Hemid’s speculations about tone of voice are what you want to single out for unverified speculation?

            We can at least conclude that my mind-gazing was off the mark. I would have thought this was about the pro-masculine, anti-gay vibes he gave off.

          • Nita says:

            @ Unique Identifier

            So, people are less eager to defend the honor of robbers and rapists? That seems like a plausible bias, even among rationalists.

            And I’m not sure it’s fair to call denigrating the vocal qualities and/or habits of other men “pro-masculinity”.

            I understood Hemid’s “gay accent” remark as a claim that it’s a cultural phenomenon, not a biological one. That’s not “anti-gay”, and I’m even inclined to agree (although I’ve seen no evidence that the previous “traditionally manly” pitch was completely natural).

            But, like Veronica said, the snide accusations detract from the value of Hemid’s comment.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Why does your explanation keep changing from post to post? I realize that gazing into the minds of others is difficult, but even your own?

            So, now it’s the snideness. I assume you were equally dissatisfied when S.Alexander referred to Marcotte as a skin-suit Vogon?

          • Nita says:

            @ Unique Identifier

            I realize that gazing into the minds of others is difficult, but even your own?

            Introspection is notoriously unreliable, you know.

            On a more serious note, if you want others to engage with you in good faith, try to be kinder than you feel is necessary. This recommendation is based on my personal experience.

            Veronica claimed Hemid said something snide. You said he merely described his observations. I explained why it’s unlikely that the snide parts were observations.

            I assume you were equally dissatisfied when S.Alexander referred to Marcotte as a skin-suit Vogon?

            Absolutely. Personally, I enjoy snide remarks as entertainment, but they seem to degrade the quality of discourse, which is both more important in general and more central to the aims of this blog.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            If you read my post carefully, you will see I used the word -impressions-, not -observations-. I double down on this later, describing it as -his perspective-. You appeared to understand this in your first reply, using the word -impressions- yourself, but now you have, like a sorcerer, changed the word to observation, so you can paraphrase me on practically the opposite of what I actually said.

            Is ‘bad faith’ your go-to defense against Socratic dialogue, even while you are pulling tricks like these?

            But thanks for the clarification with regards to Vogons. I don’t particularly agree with your opposition to snideness, but it is a view I can both understand and respect.

          • Nita says:

            Ah, you got me. I did cast an interpretation spell on your comments, transforming the combination of “impressions” and “see” into “observations”.

            If you meant to use the metaphorical meaning of “see” (as in “artistic vision” or “worldview”), then I apologize for misusing my magic.

            On the other hand, I think actual observations usually add value, while speculative explanations fueled by emotion usually don’t, so words that conflate them are unhelpful.

            From a truth-seeking perspective, I’d rather be discussing the substance of Hemid’s comment — do men use higher pitch in the media now than they did in the past? why? is it bad? is it a sign of something bad? — but being accused of sorcery was pretty entertaining, thanks.

          • veronica d says:

            Snide is very fun when playing to your own tribe. For example, in my tribe, queer social justice feminists, we can be really fucking snide about dudes. That means you guys (well, many of you).

            And yeah it’s funny and I laugh sometimes about “male tears” or whatever, but I also understand this: that kind of discourse is alienating to its targets, and if we actually want to talk to each other in productive ways, we need to set aside the snide comments.

            At least, we have to somewhere. There needs to be a place where we can talk to each other. Which is why I come here. I think this is kinda meant to be that kind of forum.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            I use ‘see’, in the sense of having an perspective on things. We had already established that we are talking about his impressions, and we were talking about cause-and-effect and mental states which obviously -cannot- be ‘seen’ in the literal sense of the word.

            Nowhere did I suggest that he was ‘merely describing his observations’, which was what you wanted to paraphrase me on and argue against. It is trivially untrue that his post is mere observation, because it contains interpretation too, and it was never the argument I was making.

            I wouldn’t have belabored any of this, because you are right that it is neither particularly important or relevant to the larger topic, if you did not have the gall to deliver a condescending tirade about ‘good faith’ and ‘niceness’ – indeed good values, but you don’t seem well fit to give classes.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            vernoica d:
            I would say the problem with ‘male tears’, is not the snideness, but the pants-on-head worldview which goes with it – the problem with bringing it outside of feminist spaces would not be that of hurting the feelings of others, but that of being critiqued or ridiculed rather than applauded.

            Personally, I think these sort of ideas need the pushback they would get, outside of safe spaces, but that’s not for me to decide.

            And yes, we need a place to talk. I want that place to include posts like Hemid’s, and you want him to tone down the snideness. Both seem to be sane positions, and ultimately our benevolent dictator will make the calls.

        • Kyle Strand says:

          I found it amusing.

          For the record, I have a somewhat high-pitched voice for a guy, but I wish I didn’t.

        • “This is needlessly snide.”

          Not needlessly–I thought it was funny, especially the final sentence. Whether correct I have no idea.

    • Troy says:

      From choirs I’ve been in I think that the most common male vocal parts (broken into 4) are baritones > second tenors > [or maybe =?] second basses > first tenors. But this doesn’t give us a sense for changes over time.

      I can also report from personal experience that contemporary musical theatre men’s parts are all too damn high. There do seem to me to me more bass/baritone parts in older musicals. I’m not sure how much if that is cultural/stylistic though (i.e., demand rather than supply).

      I’ll bet choir directors who have performed Rachmaninoff have a sense for how men’s voices have changed.

      • Kyle Strand says:

        That may also just be cultural, though. I’ve heard that Russian bass lines are, generally speaking, notoriously low. How do the ranges for the men compare with, say, Mozart’s Requiem, since Mozart wrote long before Rachmaninoff?

        • Troy says:

          You are right about Russian basses. I haven’t performed the Requieum, but Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil hits lower notes than anything else I’ve ever sung — there are several points where the basses go down to a low B-flat (below the bar line). Although one of Rachmaninoff’s friends worried about finding even Russian basses to sing such notes, memorably saying that such basses “are as rare as asparagus as Christmas.”

          My thought with the Rachmaninoff wasn’t to compare it with more recent compositions or anything, but just that choir directors who have performed music like that probably have a sense of whether it’s become easier or harder to find basses who can hit those notes.

          Maybe I’ll ask my choir director this week what he thinks.

          • Kyle Strand says:

            Did you ask your choir director?

          • Troy says:

            Rehearsal was canceled on account of snow. I will try to remember to ask this week.

          • Troy says:

            Lo, I report my findings.

            My choir director said that he’s never considered the question of whether men’s voices have been going up or down before, but that he hasn’t noticed any change. I asked him whether it was easier or harder to find men to sing Rachmaninoff nowadays. He said he didn’t think there was a difference, and that if there was it’s not as big as the difference between ethnic groups (the requisite basses being easier to find among Russians, in particular).

            I also asked another older bass in the choir who is active in the music scene. He said that he would guess that men’s voices have gone up, but was also not sure.

          • Troy says:

            Googling on this question revealed this paper by Herbert Moller, Voice Change in Human Biological Development: http://www.jstor.org/stable/204176?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

            Moller makes several claims of interest in that paper:

            (1) The median age of voice change during puberty for men has decreased by 4 years over the last 3 centuries.

            (2) Medieval music, e.g., Gregorian chants, was written for male voices that we would recognize as baritones or tenors today. Around the 15th century a gradual shift began in which bass parts became more common.

            (2*) There is a parallel change of more parts being written for female voices, especially sopranos.

            (3) Prior musicologists attributed (2) and (2*) above to cultural demand, but another plausible explanation is vocal supply — i.e., men’s voices have gotten deeper over time and women’s have gotten higher. One explanation of this is nutritional changes in the West. (Bass and soprano parts were added around the same time that consumption of meat and butter increased.) More recent nutritional changes and health improvements may similarly explain (1).

            (4) Anecdotal reports from voice teachers suggest that since the 1960s there are an increasing number of deeper male and female voices. (p. 251)

            (5) Studies of testoterone levels in male singers find higher levels in basses and baritones than tenors. (p. 252)

    • Johannes says:

      It is my anecdotal impression that the male (maybe also female) voice pitch differs between nations and languages. Male native English speakers seem generally speaking at a considerably higher pitch than native Germans. I wonder if there is any research into national divergences in testo levels and the like? I think the sperm quality has also deteriorated in other western nations.

      • Peter says:

        Language, nationality and pitch: these links don’t answer all of your questions, but see Language Log here and here.

        (I seem to recall a chart with a third nationality in, but I can’t find it.)

    • K. says:

      IIRC, we know from music history that modern male voices are much deeper than they were in premodern times.

    • Lesser Bull says:

      And men also seem to have longer necks than they used to. Is this a real trend and if it is, is it tied to testosterone levels?

    • Dead Milkmen fan says:

      Declining rates of smoking would – I think – tend to raise the overall tone of our collective voice. (I know I sound much manlier after I’ve had ten cigarettes.)

  46. ishaan says:

    Interestingly, the contradictory evidence is not truly contradictory, since it consists of fetal testosterone measures (faces, digits) which is different from the circulating plasma/salivary testosterone in which the decline is posited to be occuring.

    (I don’t want to *actually* ascribe meaning to that, but since we’ve already got our wildly irresponsible speculation hats on anyway with the whole crime thing, I think the latter would be much more environmentally plastic. Aren’t behavioral shifts in response to various physiological and social circumstances supposed to be mediated by changes in circulating testosterone levels? Whereas, I would imagine evolution would “want” to control fetal development and perhaps even puberty much more tightly – no to mention that hiding out in a placenta might be protective against many environmental factors.)

  47. gattsuru says:

    I’d expect some threshold effects for something with wide bioavailability, simply because biologically synthesized chemicals may not follow the same no-safe-dose rule that heavy metals seem to take. That’s a bit of extra complexity over the lead model, but not much more than a bit.

    ((Of course, we can’t reject reverse causation, because that’d make it too easy. Warning: PDF, terrible experimental design.))

  48. Thomas says:

    It’s the high incarceration rate, despised by liberals and libertarians (a.k.a. the unmugged).

    • malpollyon says:

      Then how do you explain trends in every country that doesn’t have the ludicrously high incarceration rate of the USA?

      • Wrong Species says:

        It could be that since those other countries didn’t have a violent culture, they didn’t need to lock up so many criminals. But in the United States, more aggressive measures were needed.

    • Vanzetti says:

      Right, the high incarceration rate, which was brought by War on Drugs, which led to the crime rise in the first place (if you could buy recreational drugs in a store, no one would need to mug people to get them). But of course it’s the liberals who are responsible.

      • It’s also possible that the War on Drugs contributed to the spike in crime by pulling parents (mostly fathers) out of the community.

        • Vanzetti says:

          That a secondary effect. First it made the fathers in question commit crimes. Then it made the children more likely to commit crimes…

    • anon says:

      Adding the political shot at the end detracts from your argument by distracting readers.

  49. Radford Neal says:

    Is the direction of causation actually clear? I could certainly imagine that growing up in a violent culture leads to higher testosterone levels. It ought to, if people are sufficiently adaptive. So maybe less violent crime -> lower testosterone, rather than the reverse, explaining both the time trends and the different testosterone levels in violent vs. non-violent prisoners (assuming the the violence of their crimes reflects the violence of the culture they grew up in).

    • Godzillarissa says:

      This was exactly what I thought, although I suspect my transhumanist leanings might have colored my thinking there.
      After all, the idea of humans change -> body chem adapts is so much cooler than body chem changes -> humans adapt.
      So yeah, someone answer Mr. Neal’s question, please :p

    • Svejk says:

      This is a good question. Reproductive endocrinologists have observed that marriage (as an example) lowers circulating testosterone, so behavior–> hormones is a plausible causal relationship.

    • Svejk says:

      Changes in relative social status can also cause fluctuations in hormone levels in humans and other primates (the ‘Winner Effect’).

      • Lesser Bull says:

        So a general decline in the relative status of men as a group since the 50s? Seems plausible.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Since total amount of testosterone existing nationwide is not zero sum, it is possible that many men have lost status not to many women, but to a relatively few other men. That is, status may be more or less zero sum, but testosterone lost from the lower status men is not being concentrated in the higher status men, but rather is not being produced in the first place.

          Also, a feeling of loss of status/being dominated may come from interaction with bureaucracy (government or private), online or off.

  50. Douglas Knight says:

    The Lithuanian link is broken. Also, it found the expected decrease in testosterone (increase in 2D:4D).

  51. Anonymous says:

    Do people with more testosterone look more “guilty” and does this cause them to be convicted more easily for the same crime? Or is this negligible.

  52. decade says:

    I was unaware of the non-“non-religious” meaning of “secular”, so reading the start of this post made me feel like I was missing A LOT of context.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It still means non-religious.

    • Error says:

      I was too. I suspect that the uncommon usage and reader confusion was at least partially intentional. Scott, care to confirm or deny?

      • George S says:

        Well, if you read a lot of econ blogs like Scott does, you probably see something about secular stagnation nearly every day.

      • Alex Godofsky says:

        It’s not an uncommon usage, and the usage is completely standard in context.

        • Mary says:

          It is jargon and therefore uncommon for the general reader.

          I recommend C.S. Lewis’s Studies In Words, in particular the chapter on “World” to fathom the usage.

    • Deiseach says:

      This is where I start clucking about “What are they teaching them in schools nowadays?” 🙂

      Nobody here has heard the phrase “secular calendar”. when the Romans marked the end of one century and the start of another? Or – to use a religous term – secular clergy (that is, clergy not members of religious or monastic orders?)

      You lot need to read more historical novels or something 🙂

      • Kiya says:

        Go ahead and make fun of me for not having heard “secular calendar” or “secular clergy,” but even if I had known those usages, that wouldn’t have helped me parse “secular decline.”

        So that not everyone has to go looking for the answer themselves, pasting Google’s definition here: “[Economics] (of a fluctuation or trend) occurring or persisting over an indefinitely long period.”

  53. Mike H says:

    What about the availability of violent and sexual media? These seem to be an outlet for these urges. I’m sure someone has suggested this already.

    I also wonder if there’s some sort of cultural (with perhaps an IQ aspect) tipping point where crime becomes such an unthinkable act among enough of the population that it simply collapses.

    • Albipenne says:

      I wonder how well this matches the timelines. 1994-2004 might be an interesting time for uptake in internet access. Someone with more patience than I could did into the US census data on the subject, and see if there are any trends over that period. http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/publications/

      • Anonymous says:

        I thought of internet usage rising correlating with crime falling in the last post but my super lazy ten minute exploration didn’t give me much of interest.

      • As you may know, someone did look at changes in internet access by state vs changes in rape rates, on the theory that increased internet access meant better access to porn, so could be used to test whether porn was a complement or a substitute. More internet access correlated with less rape, and the correlation did not hold for other crimes, which at least suggests substitute.

    • William O. B'Livion says:


      IQ isn’t the end-all-be-all of mental function, and might not even be all that useful in this field.

      I’m not hugely bright by local standards–I’m firmly in the 2nd standard deviation, and I can certainly think of, consider and plan various crimes ranging from murder to bank robbery and computer crimes. That said, I have fairly mediocre executive function, and tend to oooohhh shiny.

      But I don’t because (a) massively immoral and (b) jail. Mostly in my case (a), because I’m (probably) not a sociopath, and any other sorts of crimes would be almost as much effort as work, and my work pays ok.

      Which might be what we’re seeing here (rank speculation). There is “executive function” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions), and if we assume that it does exist as an independent “thing” from IQ (which I think there is a strong argument for), but that it can be effected by more or less the same sorts of things that effect IQ, it is *possible* that at least part of the change in crime isn’t that people are finding crime unthinkable, but that they are more measured–they can calculate the risk/reward and don’t act as impulsively.

      However this would suggest that these population groups would then have the intellectual skills to move out of poverty. It would be very interesting to refactor the “rising inequity” number to judge the impact of immigration from central and south America.

      • I believe that “find crime unthinkable” is actually shorthand for “find committing crime unthinkable– if you can’t get that crime into the “I’ll do it” range, imagining committing the crime doesn’t matter much.

        I wonder if less crime leads to less crime because fewer people are around criminals, so the behavior seems less normal.

        • Rhys says:

          This is my opinion as well. I wouldn’t doubt that environmental or physical causes interact with socialization. If things change such that somewhat fewer people commit crime, for whatever reason, even fewer people are exposed to crime. It’s less normalized, making the psychological barrier somewhat higher…emphasizing whatever other causes may be in play.

        • RCF says:

          There are all sorts of feedback effects. More crimes means more poverty, and more poverty means more crime. More crime means a larger crime:police ratio, which means fewer crimes get solved, which means the cost-benefit ratio for crimes improves, which means people commit more crimes. Also, being the victim of a crime can make one more sensitized to the harms of crime and less likely to commit crimes oneself, but it can also make one feel like the world owes you, and make one more likely to commit crimes. The latter effect would probably be more predominant the more people feel that crime is rampant.

      • JK says:

        There is “executive function” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions), and if we assume that it does exist as an independent “thing” from IQ (which I think there is a strong argument for)

        I’d like to see this strong argument. All cognitive tests load on the g factor, so there are no “independent things.”

        • Peter says:

          Well, there are no independent things, wlog, at least not for that sense of “independent”. There’s Meehl’s observation that in fields such as psychology, everything is correlated with everything else (the “crud factor” as he put it, often bowlderised to “ambient correlation noise”) – and if you don’t see a statistically significant correlation, your sample size isn’t large enough.

          • JK says:

            I’m obviously not referring to Meehl’s crud factor but to the fact that all cognitive tests correlate positively with each other (and most of that correlation is due to shared genetic factors).

          • JK says:

            On the other hand, the crud factor probably has a lot to do with the g factor because, as someone put it, g runs through psychology like carbon runs through biology. Lots of correlations between social science variables are due to intelligence influencing all sorts of variables.

          • Peter says:

            JK: Cosma Shalizi has me convinced that the positive manifold means very little. OTOH there seems to be more to g than that – when researching my reply I found out about “independence of the indicator” and I’ll need to find out more about that – when I’m not meant to be working – before I feel qualified to have an opinion again…

        • Nita says:

          Cognitive tests are relatively short and distraction-free. Thus, they don’t engage some aspects of executive function at all.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yup. I’m fairly test-smart, but have dreadful executive function.

          • Cadie says:

            I agree. If your executive function is absolutely awful, then it will negatively affect your performance on IQ and similar tests. But the test environments are designed to help you focus on the test, so people with less-extreme deficits can have enough ability to perform well in that environment, while having trouble in more common everyday environments. The setup lowers the minimum planning and strategizing ability you need. Presumably this makes it a more accurate measure of the types of thinking the tests are trying to measure, while sacrificing a portion of their correlation to real-world success.

        • Harald K says:

          “All cognitive tests load on the g factor”

          All this means is that there is some positive correlation between whatever things you call cognitive tests. As has been pointed out, there’s always going to be a biggest factor.

          so there are no “independent things.”

          This does not follow at all from “all cognitive tests load on the g-factor”. Really, I wish there was a quiz attending that Shalizi essay, so we could check if people actually got half of what he’s saying.

          • JK says:

            Shalizi’s argument was taken apart here.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            There is not always going to be a biggest factor. In athletics, it seems to be easy to find negative correlations, because sumo wrestling, basketball, long distance running and gymnastics reward very different body types.

            The lack of negative correlations, and furthermore the strong positive correlations, undermine the idea of intelligence types, in analogy to body types.

            [I might be fooling myself here – that general fitness would generally drown out all other concerns, in athletics, such that there would only be positive correlations, when looking at sufficiently inclusive populations.]

          • Peter says:

            “Taken apart” was taken apart here.

          • Nita says:

            @ Unique Identifier

            Yeah, a general fitness factor (something like normal anatomy + health + training) seems pretty likely if your tests were applied as widely as intelligence tests.

            Also, there aren’t that many popular “mental sports”, so there’s less selection and development of narrow mental abilities.

          • Harald K says:

            Ah, a “debunking”, JK.

            Yes UI, I think you are wrong about athletics. One thing is to look at highly trained specialists. Obviously extremely few sumo wrestlers are going to run marathons. But extremely few Go professionals are going to be professors of chemistry too – you’d have a hard time finding any “g” if so extremely specialized people were all you had to look at.

            But if you look at, say, people right out of middle school, I guarantee you that performance on a wide variety of athletic tests are going to be strongly correlated. If you do factor analysis on that, you are guaranteed to find that one (let’s label it the cp-factor) is going to explain more variation than other factors. It will probably explain a lot of the total variation too.

            If I did that, and said “all athletic tests load on the coach potato factor, so therefore talk about muscle fiber types is just bunk”, I would be making the same mistake as JK above.

          • JK says:

            Harald, did you read that critique? Shalizi makes many factually incorrect claims and attacks a strawman version of the g theory. You make the same mistake by assuming that correlations between tests are the only evidence in favor of the g theory. Why does g account for just about all the predictive validity of IQ tests? Why do g factors from different IQ tests correlate more or less perfectly? Why is the g factor much stronger on the genetic than on the phenotypical level, as shown in multivariate behavioral genetic research? Shalizi does not address any of these important issues, so his argument is very weak.

          • Harald K says:

            JK, when you say “All cognitive tests load on the g factor so there are no independent things”, I see right away that you haven’t understood the first thing about Shalizi’s argument. So, I don’t think you could tell a bad debunking from a good.

            Worse, you’re using your flawed understanding as an argument against inquiry! This is exactly the same as saying muscle fiber types don’t exist (or are not worth studying), because the vast majority of variation in sports performance is already explained by another factor.

            Shalizi’s post is already 10000 words, so no way I’m getting into a debate on whether it’s been “debunked” or not, or what, if anything, is wrong about it. The only relevant part is about whether you can use factor analysis results like those of g as an argument against searching for “other” causal factors, and there he says no, and there he explains very well why.

          • JK says:

            Harald, someone claimed that there was a “strong argument” for independence between IQ and executive functions. I expressed skepticism towards this claim and pointed out that executive function tasks load on the same g factor as IQ tests, demonstrating non-independence. It is beyond me how you can infer from this brief remark that had nothing to do with Shalizi that I “haven’t understood the first thing about Shalizi’s argument”.

            Worse, you’re using your flawed understanding as an argument against inquiry! This is exactly the same as saying muscle fiber types don’t exist (or are not worth studying), because the vast majority of variation in sports performance is already explained by another factor.

            You seem to have completely misunderstood this dispute. What inquiry am I against? Intelligence and athletic performance both obviously have general and task-specific determinants. Whether those general determinants are best conceptualized as, say, a single stable ability or factor (“g”) or as an unstable amalgam of various different factors (“sampling”) is an empirical question. Research on general abilities in no way precludes research on specific abilities (cf. hierarchical models of intelligence where g is at the apex of a complex ability hierarchy).

            The only relevant part is about whether you can use factor analysis results like those of g as an argument against searching for “other” causal factors, and there he says no, and there he explains very well why.

            It seems that you haven’t understood Shalizi’s argument at all. He does not argue for the importance of other factors besides g. He argues that g does not exist at all, and is just an artifact caused by those “other factors” working together in a particular way.

          • Harald K says:

            It seems that you haven’t understood Shalizi’s argument at all. He does not argue for the importance of other factors besides g.

            And I never said he did.

            He argues that g does not exist at all, and is just an artifact caused by those “other factors” working together in a particular way.

            More proof that you don’t understand that article. Saying, “this doesn’t work as evidence” isn’t the same as saying “this is wrong”. But I’m cutting it here: the odds that I should succeed in explaining something to you that Shalizi apparently failed at, are not good.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Harald, you’re spending all your bandwidth in these posts making vague insinuations about what people are misunderstanding. Could you instead -correct- the misunderstandings, or at least outline some arguments which point towards their resolution?

            Presenting a good case might not convince JK, but it might make other people take Shalizi more to heart.

          • JK says:

            Harald, when in a hole, stop digging. Shalizi says that g is a myth and that the findings of cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, functional brain imaging, evolutionary theory, and evolutionary psychology argue against the existence of g, and that “The sooner we stop paying attention to g, the sooner we can devote our energies to understanding the mind.” He is not just making some non-committal technical/statistical point about g. He is saying that “this is wrong.” Of course, it’s easy for him to say this when he overlooks all the best evidence and absurdly claims that “nobody has presented a case for g apart from thoroughly invalid arguments from factor analysis.”

          • Harald, Shalizi’s view on g has been definitely debunked as per JK’s link to the HV paper. According to one paper, I believe by Ian J. Deary, the g factor has correlates within the brain, and neuroscience concludes that g probably measures something real and in the brain. Also, in between group studies, g factor changes the least between races and such, pointing towards its usefulness.

          • Nita says:

            “There is an emerging consensus that intelligence does not reside in a single, narrowly circumscribed brain region such as the frontal lobe. Rather, intelligence seems to be best described as a small-world network.”

            “Many studies on the neuroscience of intelligence have shown sex differences, sometimes to a striking degree, with respect to which brain features correlate with intelligence.”

            “Although certain brain structures and functional pathways seem more likely to be involved in intelligence than others, there is also considerable heterogeneity, which might be related to individual differences in strategies when solving cognitive tasks.”

            Deary, Ian J., Lars Penke, and Wendy Johnson. “The neuroscience of human intelligence differences.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11.3 (2010): 201-211.

            In other words, many little things have to go right for the brain to work well, and these can be somewhat different in different people. There’s no single structure, pathway or substance that generates intelligence.

        • Irrelevant says:

          I’m honestly confused by this entire argument. We don’t know precisely what the set of independent biological factors that alter g is because we have a foggy understanding of the brain. Maybe information packing efficiency depends on variations in operating voltage level between brains. Maybe it doesn’t. We do know that the answer doesn’t matter at the macro scale. Why all the acrimony?

          • Peter says:

            “Independent” is such a slippery word, it has technical and lay meanings and probably multiple technical meanings at that.

            The way I score it, William O. B’Livion said something slightly unpedantic which if read pedantically contradicted g-theory, and JK rushed to the defense of g-theory. I made a slightly unhelpful comment bringing in a semi-related phenomenon to try to defuse the “independent” thing, but in retrospect that was a clumsy choice. Soon Cosma got invoked, use of the word “myth” to describe various positions is fighting talk, and thus acrimony arising elsewhere got imported into our conversation.

      • JDG1980 says:

        it is *possible* that at least part of the change in crime isn’t that people are finding crime unthinkable, but that they are more measured–they can calculate the risk/reward and don’t act as impulsively.

        Isn’t it also possible that the actual risk/reward calculation has changed in the past couple of decades? Prison sentences for serious crimes (and some not-so-serious crimes) have skyrocketed since the 1970s, and modern surveillance and investigative technology makes it much more likely for the average criminal to be caught.

        At one time, people with moderately high IQ but low empathy might have found bank robbery to be a reasonable career choice. But only an idiot would try that now; bank robbers usually get caught (there’s electronic surveillance everywhere) and then they go to jail for 20-to-life. Today, a similar personality type would probably focus on identity theft or malware, which doesn’t require them to even encounter the victims in person.

        • John Schilling says:

          Bank robbery is a very atypical crime. As I have mentioned elsewhere, robbery in general is an atypical crime; profit-motivated criminals generally eschew violence and violent criminals are usually pursuing other goals. But even within the realm of robbery, banks are uniquely high-risk, high-reward targets and not useful for understanding or illustrating criminal behavior in general.

          As for “much more likely to get caught”, the clearance rate for homicide declined from 94% in 1950, to 72% in 1980, to 65% in the “peak crime” year of 1993, and has remained steady at ~64% at least through 2008. For robberies including but not limited to bank robberies, 44% clearance in 1950, to 24% in 1980, still 24% in 1993 and holding steady since.

          So, increased probability of getting away with it is a plausible explanation for the massive increase in the 1960s/70s, but causality could go either way on that one. Increased probability of getting caught is not a plausible explanation for the post-1993 decline, because the probability of getting caught has not increased.

          Terminology: “Clearance” is cop-speak for having arrested someone with enough evidence for the DA to prosecute, or having enough evidence to make an arrest save for the pesky fact that the suspect is e.g. already dead. If it doesn’t correlate 100% to the actually guilty party being punished, it’s probably pretty close to 100% in terms of setting an example for other would-be criminals.

    • Amanda L. says:

      Might also be tied to abortion. Roe v Wade was 1973, so 1994-2004 was when the first wave of aborted babies would’ve been in their teens and twenties. Which seems kind of eugenicist and icky, but :/

      Apparently this is controversial (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalized_abortion_and_crime_effect), has Scott or any other good blogger looked into the plausibility?

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Its been mentioned before. Levitt is the most famous for proposing it and (ironically) Steve Sailor has a rather good critique of it.

    • Nestor says:

      Whatever the factor turns out to be, lead, testosterone, economics, culture, clearly there was some sort of phase change in the 90s, or perhaps the 70s, when the generation that reached prime crime committing age in that decade was born.

      • haishan says:

        I’m loath to continue this here because it really belongs on the last post’s thread, but the obvious explanation for the initial downward shock is the end of the crack epidemic. Less clear why violent crime continued to fall after that, though.