Thursday, October 26, 2006

Peak oil theory and the ethanol alternative to gasoline

By John Ray

The recent big rise in crude oil prices and hence gasoline prices has really sharpened what has long been a concern across the political spectrum -- the fear that oil is running out. There are probably even libertarians who share that fear. The main concern for libertarians however is that the idea seems to be a fertile source of schemes for government intervention in all our lives -- from making air travel more expensive to herding us all onto buses instead of cars. Any oil supply problems are in fact greatly exaggerated but here I simply want to show why ethanol is in any case a viable alternative to gasoline.

There is an article here that surveys the arguments for and against using ethanol (industrial alcohol) as a motor spirit from a Greenie viewpoint. But what he says is largely irrelevant to how ethanol would be used if its usage was market-driven rather than Greenie driven. Under free trade and under conditions of higher oil prices, ethanol could be produced much more efficiently than it is. For a start, the basic feedstock used for production of ethanol in the USA is sugar extracted from corn. This is lunacy in economic terms as free-market sugar produced from sugarcane is only about a quarter of the price that Americans are forced to pay for their sugar by their government's trade controls. There would be no corn-sugar industry under free trade.

And traditional sugar-mills in countries like Australia and Brazil are powered almost entirely by burning bagasse -- the pulpy waste that is left over when the cane is crushed to extract the sugar-laden juice. So little or no fossil fuel is needed to drive the process of sugar production. The sugarcane in effect crushes itself. And after the sugar is produced, little bugs (yeast) turn it into alcohol. That's how the alcohol in beer gets there. And the bugs are not powered by fossil fuel either. They do it for us for free, all by their little selves -- as they have been doing for thousands of years. You could in fact feed the cane-juice fresh out of the crusher directly to the bugs if you wanted to be really energy-efficient about it. There is no need for an intermediate stage of sugar production. And you could get good hooch out of doing that as well. If I remember rightly, that is how rum originated

I should add that sugar production (and hence ethanol production) could be ramped up very quickly. Most sugar-producing countries are so restrained by EU, U.S. and Japanese import policy that they are producing way below capacity. Australia, for instance, could double its production within a year just by being allowed to. The crushing mills are so under-used these days that a lot have shut up shop. And there is a huge area in Western Australia (the Ord) that is suitable for cane that could be brought into production as soon as mills were built. It takes only one year for a cane crop to go from planting to maturity. .

Some background

Sugarcane is a huge grass that grows like mad in the tropics and somewhat less insanely in the subtropics. It is thus growable on a huge slice of the earth's surface. One year after planting it has huge stems which are absolutely full of sugary juice. And the technology for getting the juice out is prehistoric. You just crush the stems and the juice flows out. In most of the tropics (though not in Australia) there are vendors who will sell you for a few rupees (or whatever the local currency is) a fresh drink of very palatable cane juice which they produce by feeding cane stems through a little hand-powered crusher. So a sugar mill is a very simple thing. The only complexity arises out of the need to extract granular sugar out of the juice.

If however cane-sugar were to be used solely for ethanol production, the sugar-production step would not be needed. You could just feed the freshly-crushed juice to yeast bugs in a nice warm environment (and the tropics ARE warm) and they will excrete alcohol as a waste product of their metabolism. And since alcohol has a different specific gravity from water, it is very easily separated out. And that alcohol can go straight into an internal combustion motor and will make the motor roar like a lion -- which is why racing cars use it.

And in Brazil they do precisely that: the cane goes straight from the fields to a distillery which crushes out the juice and then ferments it. So I am not talking blue sky there.

The only reason ethanol is not widely used is cost. When crude oil was $30 a barrel, ethanol cost about twice as much to produce as gasoline. All those cane-farmers had to be paid. But crude is now around $60 a barrel so if that price stays there fairly permanently, I suspect that you are going to see ethanol-compliant engines going into mass-production worldwide. They already have them in Brazil, of course. Depending on your car, you drive up to either the ethanol or the gasoline pump. There ARE a few adjustments needed to run a car on pure ethanol for any length of time -- mostly to do with corrosion control if I remember rightly.

Because they are such a big producer of cane-sugar, Brazil long ago set in train moves to run everything on ethanol rather than gasoline. They were rightly criticized at the time for making motor fuel more costly than it needed to be (when crude was at $30 a barrel) but they seem to be having the last laugh now.

And producing ethanol from cane is extremely "sustainable". It needs no complex inputs or technology and cane can be grown on the same soil year after year as long as there is a suitable input of nitrates. And the nitrates can come either from superphosphate application or from rotating the crop with legumes (beans and peas). Australian sugar farmers do both -- and have been doing so for around 150 years. So there are no mysteries or significant problems with it.

More on the Brazilian experience

Brazil is not these days as keen on ethanol as it once was as they have now discovered oil -- which is cheaper than ethanol -- but their big experiment with ethanol does show how it would work for everybody if that became needful. I reproduce below some extracts from an excellent summary in Wikipedia -- which tells you all you never wanted to know about ethanol. The excerpt gives some real-life facts on how gasoline could over time be replaced by ethanol with little disruption and with a number of beneficial side-effects. I have highlighted some of the secondary advantages in red.

"In Brazil, ethanol is produced from sugar cane which is a more efficient source of fermentable carbohydrates than corn as well as much easier to grow and process. Brazil has the largest sugarcane crop in the world, which, besides ethanol, also yields sugar, electricity, and industrial heating. Sugar cane growing requires little labor, and government tax and pricing policies have made ethanol production a very lucrative business for big farms. As a consequence, over the last 25 years sugarcane has become one of the main crops grown in the country.

Sugarcane is harvested manually or mechanically and shipped to the distillery (usina) in huge specially built trucks. There are several hundred distilleries throughout the country; they are typically owned and run by big farms or farm consortia and located near the producing fields. At the mill the cane is roller-pressed to extract the juice (garapa), leaving behind a fibrous residue (bagasse). The juice is fermented by yeasts which break down the sucrose into CO2 and ethanol. The resulting "wine" is distilled, yielding hydrated ethanol (5% water by volume) and "fusel oil". The acidic residue of the distillation (vinhoto) is neutralized with lime and sold as fertilizer. The hydrated ethanol may be sold as is (for ethanol cars) or be dehydrated and used as a gasoline additive (for gasohol cars). In either case, the bulk product was sold until 1996 at regulated prices to the state oil company (Petrobras). Today it is no longer regulated.

One ton (1,000 kg) of harvested sugarcane, as shipped to the processing plant, contains about 145 kg of dry fiber (bagasse) and 138 kg of sucrose. Of that, 112 kg can be extracted as sugar, leaving 23 kg in low-valued molasses. If the cane is processed for alcohol, all the sucrose is used, yielding 72 liters of ethanol. Burning the bagasse produces heat for distillation and drying, and (through low-pressure boilers and turbines) about 288 MJ of electricity, of which 180 MJ is used by the plant itself and 108 MJ sold to utilities.

The average cost of production, including farming, transportation and distribution, is US$0.63 per US gallon (US$0.17/L); gasoline prices in the world market is about US$ 1.05 per US gallon (US$0.28/L). The alcohol industry, entirely private, was invested heavily in crop improvement and agricultural techniques. As a result, average yearly ethanol yield increased steadily from 300 to 550 m3/kmy between 1978 and 2000, or about 3.5% per year.

Sucrose accounts for little more than 30% of the chemical energy stored in the mature plant; 35% is in the leaves and stem tips, which are left in the fields during harvest, and 35% are in the fibrous material (bagasse) left over from pressing.

Part of the bagasse is currently burned at the mill to provide heat for distillation and electricity to run the machinery. This allows ethanol plants to be energy self-sufficient and even sell surplus electricity to utilities; current production is 600 MW for self-use and 100 MW for sale. This secondary activity is expected to boom now that utilities have been convinced to pay fair price (about US$10/GJ) for 10 year contracts. The energy is especially valuable to utilities because it is produced mainly in the dry season when hydroelectric dams are running low. Estimates of potential power generation from bagasse range from 1,000 to 9,000 MW, depending on technology. Higher estimates assume gasification of biomass, replacement of current low-pressure steam boilers and turbines by high-pressure ones, and use of harvest trash currently left behind in the fields. For comparison, Brazil's Angra I nuclear plant generates 600 MW (and it is often off line).

Presently, it is economically viable to extract about 288 MJ of electricity from the residues of one ton of sugarcane, of which about 180 MJ are used in the plant itself. Thus a medium-size distillery processing 1 million tons of sugarcane per year could sell about 5 MW of surplus electricity. At current prices, it would earn US$ 18 million from sugar and ethanol sales, and about US$ 1 million from surplus electricity sales. With advanced boiler and turbine technology, the electricity yield could be increased to 648 MJ per ton of sugarcane, but current electricity prices do not justify the necessary investment. (According to one report, the World bank would only finance investments in bagasse power generation if the price were at least US$19/GJ.)

Bagasse burning is environmentally friendly compared to other fuels like oil and coal. Its ash content is only 2.5% (against 30-50% of coal), and it contains no sulfur. Since it burns at relatively low temperatures, it produces little nitrous oxides. Moreover, bagasse is being sold for use as a fuel (replacing heavy fuel oil) in various industries, including citrus juice concentrate, vegetable oil, ceramics, and tyre recycling. The state of Sao Paulo alone used 2 million tons, saving about US$ 35 million in fuel oil imports.

Most cars in Brazil run either on alcohol or on gasohol; only recently dual-fuel ("Flex Fuel") engines have become available. Most gas stations sell both fuels. The market share of the two car types has varied a lot over the last decades, in response to fuel price changes. Ethanol-only cars were sold in Brazil in significant numbers between 1980 and 1995; between 1983 and 1988, they accounted for over 90% of the sales. They have been available again since 2001, but still account for only a few percent of the total sales.

Ethanol-fuelled small planes for farm use have been developed by giant Embraer and by a small Brazilian firm (Aero~lcool), and are currently undergoing certification.

Domestic demand for alcohol grew between 1982 and 1998 from 11,000 to 33,000 cubic metres per day, and has remained roughly constant since then. In 1989 more than 90% of the production was used by ethanol-only cars; today that has reduced to about 40%, the remaining 60% being used with gasoline in gasohol-only cars. Both the total consumption of ethanol and the ethanol/gasohol ratio are expected to increase again with deployment of dual-fuel cars.

Presently the use of ethanol as fuel by Brazilian cars - as pure ethanol and in gasohol - replaces gasoline at the rate of about 27,000 cubic metres per day, or about 40% of the fuel that would be needed to run the fleet on gasoline alone. However, the effect on the country's oil consumption was much smaller than that. Although Brazil is a major oil producer and now exports gasoline (19,000 m3/day), it still must import oil because of internal demand for other oil byproducts, chiefly diesel fuel (which cannot be easily replaced by ethanol).

The improvement in air quality in big cities in the 1980s, following the widespread use of ethanol as car fuel, was evident to everyone; as was the degradation that followed the partial return to gasoline in the 1990s.

So the scare about running out of oil is nothing like the problem people pretend. If American cars were kept going by tankers of ethanol from Australia and Brazil rather than tankers of oil from the Middle East, what's the problem? You would have a lot more price stability that way too. And since the tropics are the best place to grow cane, it would give much of the third world a cash-crop alternative to subsistence farming -- which would undoubtedly be of benefit to all concerned (though Greenies would find fault of course. There is no such thing as a happy Greenie)


Saturday, October 07, 2006


With particular emphasis on the Hispanic influx into the USA

By John Ray


One of the great divides between Left and Right in the 20th century was over human nature. In their zeal to control everything, Leftists claimed that there was no such thing and that a "new Soviet man" could be created by education and by altering the material circumstances in which people lived. Conservatives however recognized that man did indeed have a "fallen" (or selfish) inborn nature and that this was a major constraint on which policies would succeed.

Exactly what is inborn and what is not, however, could not be decided a priori. That was essentially a scientific enquiry and what the geneticists came up with is more extreme than even conservatives imagined. Abilities, personality and even attitudes have been shown to be far more heavily determined by genetics than by family environment. (See e.g. here and here and here).

One of the weaker genetic influences, however, would appear to be tribalism. Primitive human societies are invariably very tribal. Which tribe you belong to is of paramount importance in your life, and morality towards members and non-members differs greatly. High standards of reciprocity are expected between members but non-members are essentially "fair game". We would therefore expect that a profound suspicion and hostility to outsiders would characterize civilized man too. But it is not so. Even in the empires of ancient times -- such as Persia and Rome -- there was little prejudice against members of other races, tribes and linguistic groups. Your legal staus as citizen, slave etc mattered but not your ethnic group. The various ethnic origins of Roman Emperors, for instance, are notable.

So how come? I am afraid we have to say that tribalism is one of the areas to which the Marxist analysis does seem to have considerable application. The tribalism of primitive people seems to have been a reflection of competition over scarce food supplies -- and the more ample food suplies characteristic of civilization cancel such concerns out to a large extent. Nonetheless, something as anciently human as tribalism does not vanish overnight and we do see it bob up from time to time in the form of racism. Nazi Germany was of course a very clear example of revived tribalism. In general, however, civilized societies throughout the last 200 years have been very tolerant of ethnic mixing. Whole societies -- such as the USA, Australia and Canada -- are the product of some very vigorous ethnic mixing.

So why has such mixing generally been successful when there clearly are some residual instinctive pressures against it? A major lubricant to it would seem to be the assumption that the incomers would assimilate to the existing society and culture. It was assumed, in other words, that the tribe and its identity would not be threatened or altered. And we can perhaps see the importance of that assumption in the case of the Jews. It is a core claim of the Jewish religion that they are a chosen and special people and that they should therefore hold themselves apart from the rest of society. For religious reasons they cannot assimilate wholeheartedly. And that fact has of course always been known to members of the host societies that are themselves Judaic in beliefs (i.e. Christendom and Islam). It is difficult to hide your thoughts from close relatives who know you well and routinely read your sacred book. So Jews have always borne the brunt of tribalism. Their unwillingness to lose their identity in the tribe has led to their being treated as tribal outsiders always are -- with suspicion and hostility. Fortunately for Jews, however, the onrush of secularism in the modern world has now rendered their religious differences of minor interest so they are generally well accepted as members of the tribes they dwell among.

There are, however, two major areas of concern in the modern world where assimilation seems to be fairly crippled: Hispanic immigrants into the USA and Muslim immigrants into Europe. And both matters are the subject of an upwelling of popular concern. Most Anglo-Celtic Americans seem to want Hispanic immigration stopped and there have been some very vocal noises coming out of Europe lately about Islamic immigration. With their love of disrupting the existing society, Leftists are of course generally in favour of continued immigration by the resented groups. It falls to conservatives to devise a sane and balanced policy about the matter.

And the policy of one of the great immigrant-accepting societies -- Australia -- would appear to have been very successful and greeted with great popular approval. Under conservative leadership, Australia takes large number of selected immigrants but relentlessly pursues and locks up immigrants not chosen by the Australian government -- i.e. illegal immigrants. So the only real ethnic tensions in Australia today stem from the relatively small number of Muslim immigrants who came to Australia before the crackdown on it. So it would seem clear what a conservative policy on immigration is -- one that insists on control of immigation and one which uses that control to help ensure that the immigrants accepted will assimilate.

But that policy is not really available in the USA. There is no point trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. There are so many Hispanic voters in the USA that any party that was perceived as hostile to Hispanics would lose office. So GWB has done the best he can to ensure that official policy does not treat the illegal immigrants as outsiders. He seeks to at least remove official BARRIERS to assimilation. So the policy options left to American conservatives realistically amount only to doing what they can towards assimilating the Hispanics who are already in the country and -- perhaps -- minimizing a further influx by some increment in border security.

There is no doubt that the Hispanic influx has changed the character of the USA and many conservatives worry about that. The USA is by many criteria the world's most successful society so will the change in the character of that society threaten any of the success? Will a society built by Northern Europeans be damaged by the transition to a much more mixed society? Only time will tell but I am inclined to see the Hispanics as descendants of people who built one of the great empires (the Spanish) and people who without outside assistance or inspiration built the remarkable civilizations of Meso-America (Aztecs etc). I cannot be very pessimistic about the progeny of such people. Compared to Europe, America in fact has it easy. At least America's problem group are Christians, not the Muslims that Europe has to cope with. I have no doubt that European policy towards Muslims will eventually be very heavy-handed. Heavy-handedness towards their population does after all have a very long tradition in Europe.

Immigration and culture

There is a now well-known view that Hispanic immigration threatens the dominant Protestant-origin culture of the USA. I doubt that is true. I am in fact broadly sympathetic to the view that Protestant culture has created the modern world as we know it and I certainly think that the Christian influence generally has made the world much more humane than it otherwise would be. I am a keen student of history so know full well how inhumane even the great civilizations of antiquity were.

In fact, I seem to have greater faith in the power of Protestant Christianity than many others do. What I see is that New Testament Christianity keeps renewing itself. People keep rediscovering it. The Catholic church forgot it in the middle ages and the Protestant reformers rediscovered it. The great Protestant churches went to sleep and forgot it and a host of new evangelical Protestant churches sprang up that have now largely eclipsed them. The story of New Testament Christianity is a story of continual revival. And the word "revival" is of course for that reason well-known in connection with Christian evangelism. So New Testament Christianity is a faith of enormous power that keeps bobbing up with evergreen freshness time and time again.

And it continues to make new conquests. The largest Anglican communion in the world is now Nigeria and their enthusiasm for the original faith is great. To them the hollow shell of Anglicanism that is the Episcopal Church of the USA is contemptible and heretical. And Christianity in China is on a roll. On some estimates there are over 100 million Chinese Christians. The Chinese authorities even encourage it as a modernizing influence -- though they do treat harshly congregations that they perceive as being under foreign control. And there is also of course a great expansion of Protestantism under way in Latin America.

So I just don't see Protestant culture as being under any threat. Islam is certainly the most minor threat to it. The one substantial threat that there is to it comes from the modern Left. The postmodernist and politically correct crowd are doing their best to suppress it at every turn and remove it from public view. But such attempts are really laughable. They may even be doing Christianity a good turn. Christianity has always thrived on persecution.

And the Catholic church is certainly no longer any threat to Protestantism. The post-Vatican II church is itself now essentially Protestant. A Catholic Mass is now virtually indistinguishable from many Anglican ones and obedience to the official teachings of the church is mostly just a memory. There may be some people in rural Ireland who still obey the church's teachings on contraception but there are not many like them elsewhere in the Western world. A few plaster saints are about all that makes a church Catholic these days. So any cultural threat of religious origin posed by the Catholic Hispanic immigrants into the United States is imaginary.

But there is of course more to culture than religion. Hispanic societies are notoriously corrupt and feudal. Do Americans want those values in their midst? Obviously not. But Humpty Dumpty has fallen I am afraid and I see no prospect of putting him together again. The Hispanics are now there in their many millions in the USA and there is no realistically conceivable way that they will ever be removed. America already lives with a large and apparently permanent black underclass. It may have to live with a fairly permanent Hispanic underclass too. But millions of Hispanics have risen out of the underclass into middle-class American life so the ultimate size of the Hispanic underclass problem remains to be seen.

Hispanic IQ

So far in this article I have bypassed the issue of Hispanic IQ. There are in fact solid average IQ differences between Hispanics and Americans of Northern European origin. "Godless Capitalist" of Gene Expression has gone to great trouble to set out the relevant statistics in the comments section here.

So do I accept that Hispanics are of genetically inferior average IQ? If they are, the case for keeping them out would certainly be very strong. My answer is that I doubt it. But my doubt is not just a "gut" thing as it might be from a Leftist. It is based on solid scientific caution. I have after all been a psychometrician for nearly 40 years so I have had time to think about it. And, as I explained long ago here, I do think that SOME real differences between the average IQs of different races can convincingly be demonstrated. That does not mean, however, that ALL interracial differences in mean IQ can be accepted. Psychometric measurement is a difficult task and lots can go wrong.

And I think I should mention some cases where it has, in my view, clearly gone wrong: The extraordinarily low results reported in Lynn & Vanhanen for some African countries just do not seem to be compatible with minimal adult function; the low IQ of Ashkenazi Israelis is clearly wrong; the low IQ of Afrikaners is clearly wrong. I know Afrikaners well and they are as competent a group as their Northern European ancestors would lead one to expect. I have elsewhere explained the low recorded IQ of Israelis by saying that only the dumb Ashkenazi Jews go to Israel. The smart ones end up in New York. But that is largely a jocular explanation. Israel's undoubted per capita pre-eminence in high tech industries clearly shows that an amazing number of very smart Jews have ended up in Israel too. If Israelis have low IQs, it discredits the IQ test. And Indian IQs are low too despite the great commercial success that Indians outside India always have. To say that such a successful population is dumb is just not reasonable. And note that some of the successful Indian populations outside India are of almost wholly coolie origin. They arrived in places like Fiji as bottom-rung farm labourers. Their descendants, however are the businessmen and professionals who run Fiji. Clearly, good genetics has eventually triumphed over considerable adverse odds there.

So where do the tests go wrong? I am not in close enough touch with the original research to say much about Israel but if the testing oversampled kibbutzniks we may have an explanation. Because it does seem that largely rural populations -- such as Indians and Afrikaners -- routinely fare badly on IQ tests. Why? IQ is known to be developed by very stimulating environments so it seems likely that the difference could reflect the fact that city environments are much more stimulating than rural ones. And the largely rural origins of Hispanics would fit in with that too. Though the fact that second and third generation Hispanics in the USA do poorly on IQ tests too does clearly render that explanation insufficient by itself.

But to get to the meat of the matter: My doubts about the mean Hispanic IQ are based on genetics and history. As we know, Amerindians are Asians racially. And Asians are the brightest large human population. The Amerindians HAVE been separated from other Asians for a long time but the idea that selective pressures were less in the Americas than in Asia seems unlikely to me. There was clearly plenty of competition between rival Amerindian nations. So the remarkable achievements of the Meso-American civilizations (Aztecs, Toltecs, Incas etc.) were just what I would expect of their genetics. And those are still the genetics in them today. So I think that the depressed actual achievements are cultural. Don't forget that only two thirds of the variance in IQ is genetic. The remaining third can make a lot of difference. Let me say a little more about that:

Hispanic IQ and culture

Illegal Hispanic immigration into the USA has undoubtedly brought troubles in its wake -- particularly in recent years. There is a high level of criminality in the resultant population and a high level of almost every social pathology you can name. See here and here for background. Most conservatives attribute the troubles with the illegal immigrant population to the way they have been mollycoddled and allowed to get away with anything by the American Left. If there is no pressure to be law-abiding, why should the immigrants be law-abiding? And I heartily agree with that analysis. I think it is mainstream America that has created most of the immigrant problem by bowing down to the unending demands for "tolerance" from the American Left.

"Godless" at Gene Expression, Randall Parker and others, however, believe that the problem is more deepseated than that. They believe that with the best will in the world the Hispanics would still be an underclass. They base that view on the low average IQ recorded not only among the immigrants but even among their children and grandchildren. They take that low recorded IQ to represent a permanent genetic handicap. I am broadly sympathetic to that sort of reasoning and believe that some intergroup differences are real and important and do have large explanatory value.

In my many years as a psychometrician, however, I have developed a healthy awareness of what can go wrong in measuring psychological attributes, and in my own work I have always placed an unusual degree of emphasis on looking carefully at the criteria used to validate any given test or scale. And that emphasis has been greatly rewarded from an academic viewpoint in that I have on occasions been able to show a convergence between the psychometric measuring instrument and other indicators of what it purports to measure that is far greater than is normally obtained. A corollary of that, however, is that I am also unusually skeptical of a psychometric instrument that does NOT show a good convergence with other indicators of what it purports to measure.

And that is why I am skeptical of the Hispanic IQ data. It seems to me that the Asian origins of the "Hispanics" -- really Amerindians -- and their historically recent achievements in building notable civilizations without outside input (the Aztec, Toltec, Olmec and other empires) do NOT suggest an unusually disadvantaging gene pool.

To make that point vivid, look at this historical comment:

"When Columbus landed, the new research suggests, the Western Hemisphere wasn’t filled with scattered bands of ecologically pure hunters and gatherers. Instead, it was a thriving, diverse place; a tumult of languages, trade, and culture; the home to tens of millions of people - more, some researchers believe, than Europe at that time.

Then, the majority of native Americans lived south of the Rio Grande. They were not wanderers with tepees; they built up and lived in some of the world’s biggest, most opulent cities. Tenochtitl├ín, the greatest city in the aggressive military alliance best-known as the Aztec empire, may have had a quarter-million inhabitants - more than London or Paris. It glittered on scores of artificially constructed islands in the middle of a great lake in central Mexico. On first encountering this metropolis, the conquistadors gawped like yokels at the great temples and immense banners and colorful promenades. Hundreds of boats flitted like butterflies around the city’s canals and the three grand causeways that linked it to the mainland. Long aqueducts conveyed water from the distant mountains to the city. Perhaps most astounding to the Spaniards, according to their memoirs, were the botanical gardens - at the time, none existed in Europe.

I am inclined to think that the above description is a bit overblown but if even half of it is true (and I am fairly sure of that) Amerindian genes do seem to be well up there with their relatives in East Asia.

So if it's not the Amerindian gene pool that is causing their low IQ scores, what is it?

I think that what has happened is that a poorly-educated rural population has arrived in the USA only to be thrown into a behavioral sink, the behavioural sink of America's predominantly black underclass. Because of their lack of skills, education and urban (particularly scholarly) culture the immigrants have from the beginning found only low-paid manual work and thus been forced to live very cheaply. And living cheaply has meant by and large living in predominantly black slums. And that slum environment has given their children values that are anti-intellectual, to say the least. And in his many essays on the subject Theodore Dalrymple has documented graphically how hard it is to climb out of such an environment. So the low recorded IQ of the Hispanic immigrants themselves is attributable to their rural origins (rural populations normally score badly on IQ tests) and the low recorded IQ of their children is attributable to the moronic environment in which they have grown up. Only about two thirds of IQ is genetic. The rest is cultural. And there could be few worse cultures for the development of intellect than the slums of (say) L.A.

In ideal circumstances, a home environment formed by a culture that has been obsessed with education for 2,000 years (as in the case of the East Asians) might have allowed the children to rise above that handicap, but the Hispanics do not come from such a culture. So my belief is that if the children of the Hispanics could be got into good schools and put into a good environment generally, they would eventually merge into the American mainstream. I may well be wrong but given the unlikelihood that the Hispanic population of the USA will ever decline, all Americans should hope that I am right.

An email from an Hispanic

Below is an email I received from an Hispanic woman in response to my observations above. I helps to remind us of the genetic diversity in Hispanics. She points out the high achievements of many of those like her. With a serious effort at immigration control, the USA could have a lot more like her and a lot less of the criminal class. Australia controls its immigration and the nation that put the first man on the moon could do so too if it wanted to.

"My name is Erica and I am Hispanic with Mexican ancestors. I call myself a Mexican-American. I get criticized by other Hispanics and I am sure that many people would consider me in some way un-American. I call myself Mexican-American because when people look at me they are confused, I am fair skinned and according to my students, "I talk like a white person."

I am sending this e-mail in response to the article posted on your website regarding Mexican IQs. Well, I have never been tested as an adult, but as a child I was put in the gifted and talented programs at school, as were many of my Mexican- American friends. My boyfriend, who is also Hispanic, as a child in Wisconsin (a very white, Anglo area of our country) was also enrolled in gifted and talented programs along with his siblings. I was a teacher for 8 years, making a meager living, and I dedicated myself to raising other people's children (some white). Now, I am a law student at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. My mother and father were both teachers with the Texas public schools. My father's mother was a teacher. I just wanted to let you know about a few Hispanic people who have Mexican ancestors. Perhaps now that you know of a few, you can state with confidence that just because a person has a certain heritage does not mean that person has a low IQ. It is a fact that in Texas there are many "Mexican" teachers, lawyers, doctors (my first cousin is a doctor in Indiana, specializing in kidney transplants), judges, and government employees. Also, recall that President Bush, whom I voted for, has nominated, for the US Attorney General, a "Mexican" from Texas, Alberto Gonzales"


Footnote about Afrikaners: Yes. I have heard lots of van der Merwe jokes but they are typical of the jokes that city people have always told about rural dwellers.

Methodological Appendix

Razib (of Gene Expression) has expressed surprise to find himself more hereditarian than I am. I think he is mistaken. I think the truth is that I am more cautious. I have been a practicing psychometrician since 1968 (my 1968 work was later published here) and from my first two published papers onwards (See here and here) skepticism about what established measuring instruments really measure (what psychologists call "validity") has been a constant feature of my work.

My field is of course the measurement of attitudes and personality rather than the measurement of ability (though I have made some very minor contributions to the academic literature on IQ -- e.g. here) but most psychometric principles remain the same regardless of the field. And what I have repeatedly found is that a test which may be valid on one population may not be valid on another. And cross-cultural validity is a particular problem in that regard. Most psychologists do not report their failures but I do so you will see here a very graphic example of a breakdown in validity when a test was applied cross-culturally. So my caution has been shown to be more than just a disposition in me -- it is something that is justified by the data. In other words, a test that measures (say) IQ in Britain may not be a good measure of IQ in Lesotho. And it may not be a good measure in Lesotho even if it is also a good measure in (say) Nigeria. Validity breakdown is very common and, as I have also shown, is substantially unpredictable.

So are all cross-cultural and cross-national comparisons of IQ inconclusive? Not necessarily. The most widely recommended (but rarely followed) approach to validity assessment in psychology is a multi-method, multimodal approach. It is that approach which guides my thinking. In other words, I usually need evidence from more than one source before I conclude that a difference is real. The exception to that is interesting, however. The exception is where the validity of the test has been demonstrated on BOTH populations being compared. That is rarely done -- though I imagine there are some exceptions in India -- and the only case I can think of is the case of the Queensland Test devised by Kearney, McElwain and others (Summarized about half-way down the page here). The QT was in fact constructed to be valid among Australian blacks (Aborigines). It used only items that discriminated within Aboriginal populations. It was, in short, actually biased against whites! It relied on Aboriginal culture rather than white culture. I am sure that nobody who knows Aborigines will be surprised by the results when the QT was administered to whites, however: Whites still scored a whole standard deviation higher on average! So I have no doubt about what the reality is in that case.

But in most cases I think we need corroboratory evidence from other sources to validate conclusions about mean differences in IQ. And that evidence is clearly forthcoming in the case of Africans. I think it is kindest to draw a discreet veil of silence over the record of sub-Saharan Africa in matters to do with intellectual achievement and the development of civilization but certainly there is ample evidence to confirm what the IQ tests tell us there.

But there are ALSO cases where evidence from other sources does not corroborate what the IQ tests tell us, and, as I have already set out at some length, the "Hispanics" (Mesoamericans) seem to be a case of that -- so I am not at all convinced at this stage that they suffer from any genetic disadvantage in IQ. If someone has however shown reasonable levels of validity for Raven's PM (or other tests normally used) among the inhabitants of the Hispanic ghettos of Los Angeles (for instance) I will of course have to think again.

Statistical Appendix

* In 2002, 23 percent of all births in the United States were to immigrant mothers (legal or illegal), compared to 15 percent in 1990, 9 percent in 1980, and 6 percent in 1970.

* Even at the peak of the last great wave of immigration in 1910, births to immigrant mothers accounted for a slightly smaller share than today. After 1910 immigration was reduced, but current immigration continues at record levels, thus births to immigrants will continue to increase.

* Our best estimate is that 383,000 or 42 percent of births to immigrants are to illegal alien mothers. Births to illegals now account for nearly one out of every 10 births in the United States.

* The large number of births to illegals shows that the longer illegal immigration is allowed to persist, the harder the problem is to solve. Because as U.S. citizens these children can stay permanently, their citizenship can prevent a parent’s deportation, and once adults they can sponsor their parents for permanent residence.

* The large number of children born to illegals also shows that a “temporary” worker program is unrealistic because it would result in hundreds of thousands of permanent additions to the U.S. population each year, exactly what such a program is suppose to avoid.

* Overall, immigrant mothers are much less educated than native mothers. In 2002, 39 percent of immigrant mothers lacked a high school education, compared to 17 percent of native mothers. And immigrants now account for 41 percent of births to mothers without a high school degree.

* The dramatic growth in births to immigrants has been accompanied by a decline in diversity. In 1970, the top country for immigrant births — Mexico — accounted for 24 percent of births to immigrants, by 2002 it was 45 percent.

* As a share of all births in the country, Mexican immigrants accounted for one in 10 births in 2002. No single foreign country has every accounted for such a large share of births.


2007 UPDATE:

The Harpending and Cochran thesis about rapid human evolution in the last 10,000 years does rather undermine the view that the East Asian origins of native South Americans should be a guarantee of their intelligence. See also the work of Bruce Lahn on the rapidity of recent human evolution.

I must admit that in my observations, Latin Americans are much more party-people than the studious and serious people of China. Latin Americans may look similar to East Asians but they don't behave that way.

2009 UPDATE:

Losing Ground: Hispanic children fall behind their peers quickly, a study finds

All the studies show that Hispanic illegals and their offspring have markedly lower average IQ scores than the white average. My orientation in psychometric research has however always been great caution about the validity of any tests used and I initially felt that the remarkable success of ancient Central Americans in building rather advanced civilizations despite being cut off from the major source of human progress (the Eurasian continent) implied a higher IQ for their descendants than the tests showed.

That is however a fairly arguable proposition and, combined with the persistent low IQ of Hispanics across the generations, the findings reported below have changed my mind. I think that the findings below confirm what the IQ tests say. The results below show what I very "incorrectly" call the "chimpanzee effect". A month old chimpanzee is much smarter and more capable than a human infant of the same age but the human does of course far surpass the chimp eventually. In other words, low IQ is less evident in the early years and most evident in adulthood. We find a similar effect in blacks. Average black IQ is closer to average white IQ in childhood than in adulthood. Beyond the early teens, black IQ stops rising but white IQ does not. White IQ peaks at about age 16.

And what is reported below is precisely another example of the chimpanzee effect: Intellectual achievement gap smallest in early childhood but rapidly increasing with age. I must stress that I am NOT saying that either blacks or Hispanics are similar to chimpanzees. ALL human beings of any race are much smarter than chimps. I am just using chimps as a vivid demonstration of what seems a general truth: That real gaps in intellectual ability become evident later rather than sooner -- and the Hispanic developmental pattern is exactly what we expect of an average IQ that is indeed lower

A forthcoming study on Hispanic children’s cognitive skills underlines the challenges the country faces in aspiring to close the achievement gap between these children and their white and Asian counterparts. Hispanic “children fall behind their peers in mental development by the time they reach grade school, and the gap tends to widen as they get older,” reports the New York Times. “The drop-off in the cognitive scores of Hispanic toddlers, especially those from Mexican backgrounds, was steeper than for other [low-income] groups and could not be explained by economic status alone. . . . From 24 to 36 months, the Hispanic children fell about six months behind their white peers on measures like word comprehension, more complex speech and working with their mothers on simple tasks.”

This new study, from the University of California–Berkeley, may be unusually blunt in its assessment of Hispanic cognitive development, but it is hardly unprecedented. A 2004 study by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office found a similar decline in Hispanic students’ ability to keep up with their peers in learning English. Children from Mandarin- and Spanish-speaking households begin kindergarten with similar levels of English proficiency, but their paths quickly diverge. The Mandarin-speaking students make continuing progress in mastering English, while the Hispanic students’ advance stalls out in the second and third grades as the demands of California’s English-proficiency test grow more difficult. Mandarin kindergartners establish oral skills in English in one year, the legislative analyst found, and by the beginning of second grade, they have begun developing a mastery of reading and writing, unlike Hispanics. The widening English-proficiency gap between Asian and Hispanic students may reflect parental willingness to expose children to English at home, but the gap occurs in math as well.

This summer in Southern California, I observed Hispanic students who had been taught in English throughout their school careers, yet who possessed very weak formal language ability. An in-class reading assignment at Locke High School in Watts asked students to answer the question: “Why is it important to use all your skills during your teen years?” A ninth-grader wrote in response: “To make it better.” Another question, “What sudden insight came to the engineer?” elicited the answer: “How to put the little mirrors.” While diagnosing the student-written sentence, “The pigs squealed loudly because the’re [sic] bored at the barn,” a high-school English teacher in Santa Ana asked his class: “Why does the dependent clause need to be in the past tense?” A student answered: “Because you’re talking about a lot of people.”

The Berkeley researchers speculate that the early decline in Hispanic students’ language and reasoning skills may reflect inadequate maternal stimulation in the home. And indeed, a Santa Ana elementary-school principal recounted to me her largely unsuccessful efforts to get parents to teach their children such basic kindergarten-survival tools as cutting with scissors and the words for colors. “Kids come in not knowing the alphabet in Spanish or the sounds of Spanish,” she said. “They use three-word sentences; they come in without oral-language ability.”

The Berkeley study will inevitably be used to buttress the Obama administration’s plans to pour billions of federal taxpayer dollars into early-education programs. As a matter of education policy, such efforts represent wishful thinking. Head Start has been repeatedly shown to have no lasting effect on students’ academic performance. Even the most successful and lavishly-funded of such early-intervention programs — the iconic Perry Preschool Project from the early 1960s in Ypsilanti, Mich. — explained only 3 percent of the earnings of its participants at age 40, and about 4 percent of their educational-attainment levels, wrote John J. Miller in NR in 2007. Replicating the Perry Project’s services on a national scale for Hispanic children would be extraordinarily expensive and produce only modest results. Many children who receive early intervention provide inferior intellectual stimulation for their own children, whether for innate cognitive or for cultural reasons.

But the more interesting implications of the study and others like it are for immigration policy. Our de facto immigration policy is currently weighted to a population that appears to require massive additional government education spending — even before formal schooling begins — to be made academically competitive. This choice would not seem to be economically rational, at least so long as we aspire to universal college-going. If the country remains committed to sending a far greater number of students to college, as even many conservatives continue to be, we better get ourselves a different mix of immigrants if we don’t want to bankrupt our education budgets. Alternatively, if the open-borders lobby prevails and Latin American migration continues to dominate our immigration flows, it’s time to acknowledge that many students never will be college material, nor do they need to be to lead productive, fulfilling lives.