William Raspberry's July 23 op-ed column, "Blaming the Brain," raises important issues but stops short of the most challenging ones. He discusses research that found brain abnormalities in criminals convicted of violent crime. He then asks whether, if these abnormalities are genetically based, the criminal so afflicted can be held responsible.

But what about nongenetic abnormalities? Specifically, what about research linking lead contamination during early development (prenatal and childhood) to violent behavior in early adulthood? Does this mean that the vendors of leaded gasoline (who denied emerging science on this issue, attacked the scientists and continued to sell their product) should be held responsible? What about landlords who refuse to clean up lead-contaminated housing? Or what about emerging scientific evidence that learning disabilities can be caused by PCB exposure in the womb? Should General Electric be held financially responsible for the huge burden placed on Hudson River Valley school systems by learning disabled kids?

These are difficult questions. And Mr. Raspberry rightly calls them philosophical and religious as much as legal. How we answer them has the potential to threaten powerful interests and may explain why there have been -- and continue to be -- efforts to ridicule the scientists engaged in this research.



The writer is director of the W. Alton Jones Foundation, which works to protect the environment.