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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: 04-2012

Games Primates Play

People behave just like the apes they are

My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal is about how predictably "primate" we all are in the workplace:

Generally, junior professors write long and unsolicited emails to senior professors, who reply with short ones after a delay; the juniors then reply quickly and at length. This is not because the seniors are busier, for they, too, write longer and more punctually when addressing their deans and funders, who reply more briefly and tardily. The asymmetry in length and speed of reply correlates with dominance.

Time to start fracking

Opposition to shale gas is a storm in a teacup

The Times has published my op-ed on shale gas:

It is now official: drilling for shale gas by fracturing rock with water may rattle the odd teacup, but is highly unlikely to cause damaging earthquakes. That much has been obvious to anybody who has followed the development of the shale gas industry in America over the past ten years. More than 25,000 wells drilled have caused a handful of micro-seismic events that can barely be felt.

The two rumbles that resulted from drilling a well near Blackpool last year were tiny. To call a two-magnitude tremor an earthquake is a bit like calling a hazelnut lunch. Such tremors happen naturally more than 15 times a year but go unnoticed and they are a common consequence of many other forms of underground work such as coalmining and geothermal drilling. Earthquakes caused by hydroelectric projects, in which dams load the crust and lubricate faults, can be much greater and more damaging. The Sichuan earthquake that killed 90,000 in 2008 was probably caused by a dam.

Coral reefs have a future

A new study confirms that the threat from CO2 is exaggerated

A new study of the Great Barrier Reef will apparently confirm what I argued in The Rational Optimist that local pollution and over-fishing are a much greater threat to coral reefs than either climate change or changing alkalinity (sometimes wrongly called acidification).

The actual paper will appear in Current Biology, but this is from the press release from James Cook University (I hate it when scientists announce their results by press release before the journal article is available).

Update: here's the article in press, but behind a paywall.

Is eventual eradication of malaria possible?

A new technique for sterilising certain mosquitoes looks promising

After a break of two weeks, here is my latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal:

April 25 is World Malaria Day, designed to draw attention to the planet's biggest infectious killer. The news is generally good. Never has malaria, which is carried by the Anopheles mosquito, been in more rapid retreat. Deaths are down by a third in Africa over the past decade alone, and malaria has vanished from much of the world, including the U.S.

As so often happens in the battle against disease, however, evolution aids the enemy. The selection pressure on pathogens to develop resistance to new drugs is huge. In recent weeks, the emergence on the Thai-Myanmar border of malaria strains resistant to artemisin, a plant-derived drug, have led to pessimistic headlines and reminders of the setback caused by resistance to the drug chloroquine, which began in the 1950s.