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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Archive for date: 03-2010

High Priests of Science

Politicising, propagandising and polarising the climate issue

A fine analysis by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the way that climate science has been distorted by environmentalism. They write:

"The result has been an ever-escalating set of demands on climate science, with greens and their allies often attempting to represent climate science as apocalyptic, imminent, and certain, in no small part so that they could characterize all resistance as corrupt, anti-scientific, short-sighted, or ignorant. Greens pushed climate scientists to become outspoken advocates of action to address global warming. Captivated by the notion that their voices and expertise were singularly necessary to save the world, some climate scientists attempted to oblige. The result is that the use, and misuse, of climate science by advocates began to wash back into the science itself.''

Those of us who love science - the habit of licensed curiosity, not the bureaucratic machine - have been increasingly dismayed by the way that its high priests have been behaving over the climate issue: trying to politicize, propagandise and polarize where they should be questioning, debating and being awkward. The most shocking thing to me about 'Climategate' was not the emails, but the any-excuse-will-do reaction to them from the scientific establishment.

Arrival of the Chiffchaffs

Chiffchaffs are the first summer visitors to arrive, around here at least, and their distinctive song is hard to miss, and one day near the vernal equinox suddenly there they are. I have written down the date in my diary most years since 1990. Last night I went back through the diaries and collated the data. It's hardly scientific, but notice there is absolutely no sign of a drift towards earlier arrival: if anything the reverse.

Yet here is whatThe Telegraph says:

A new "species" of human?

Genetic diversity within the Neanderthals is a more likely explanation

Woke to find the newspapers all claiming a new "species" of human being discovered in central Asia. Here's the Guardian:

"The finding suggests an undocumented human species lived alongside Neanderthals and early modern humans in parts of Asia as recently as 30,000 years ago."

Leave aside the fact that it's just a bone from a little finger, leave aside the fact that they have only sequenced some mitochondrial DNA, not nuclear DNA. Assume, for the sake of argument, that they have ruled out contamination. Applaud - as we should - the achievement of recovering DNA from the fossil and sequencing it.

New study: Man flu not a myth

A new study reiterates a long-standing evolutionary conundrum

So Man flu is not a myth, because testosterone inhibits the immune response.

This has been known to biologists for ages. In The Red Queen, I challenged readers to explain why bodies should be designed that way: why set up an immune system in such a way that it gets hindered by normal hormonal action? I still find it baffling. Over the years readers took up my challenge and wrote to me. They still do. Their answers nearly always boil down to a version of this: to weed out weedy males. That is to say, if males cannot both keep their testosterone levels up and resist disease they don't deserve to contribute to posterity's genes.

Trouble is, like all group selectionist arguments, it's vulnerable to the evolutionary free rider. Along comes a mutant animal that breaks the link between testosterone and illness and hey presto it can breed away to its gonads' content, propagating its subprime genes as if they were triple A.

World Poverty is Falling

Between 1970 and 2006, the global poverty rate has been cut by nearly three quarters.

Kathy Lette in the Sunday Telegraph

Very nice piece ofrational optimism