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latest Mind and Matter column for the Wall Street
Scientists, it's said, behave more like lawyers than
philosophers. They do not so much test their theories as prosecute
their cases, seeking supportive evidence and ignoring data that do
not fit-a failing known as confirmation bias. They then accuse
their opponents of doing the same thing. This is what makes debates
over nature and nurture, dietary fat and climate change so
But just because the prosecutor is biased in favor of his
case does not mean the defendant is innocent. Sometimes biased
advocates are right. An example of this phenomenon is now being
played out in geology over the controversial idea that a meteorite
or comet hit the earth 12,900 years ago and cooled the
April's Reader's Digest carries an article based on excerpts from my
book and an interview with me:
"The world has never been a better place to live
in," says science writer Matt Ridley, "and it will
keep on getting better." Today, in a world gripped by global
economic crisis and afflicted with poverty, disease, and war,
them's fightin' words in some quarters. Ridley's critics have
called him a "denialist" and "shameful" and have accused him of
"playing fast and loose with the truth" for his views on climate
change and the free market.
Yet Ridley, 54, author most recently of The Rational Optimist,
sticks to his guns. "It is not insane to believe in a happy future
for people and the planet," he says. Ridley, who's been a foreign
correspondent, a zoologist, an economist, and a financier, brings a
broad perspective to his sunny outlook. "People say I'm bonkers to
claim the world will go on getting better, yet I can't stop
myself," he says. Read on to see how Ridley makes his case.
Brilliant or bonkers? You decide.