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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: 05-2012

How Facebook captured capitalist "Kumbaya"

Free sharing on the net is not incompatible with markets

My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal:

Human beings love sharing. We swap, collaborate, care, support, donate, volunteer and generally work for each other. We tend to admire sharing when it's done for free but frown upon it-or consider it a necessary evil-when it's done for profit. Some think that online, we're at the dawn of a golden age of free sharing, the wiki world, in which commerce will be replaced by mass communal sharing-what the futurist John Perry Barlow called "dot communism."

Evolution ain't what it used to be

Novel rare genes and shrinking brains

My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal.

If you write about genetics and evolution, one of the commonest questions you are likely to be asked at public events is whether human evolution has stopped. It is a surprisingly hard question to answer.

I'm tempted to give a flippant response, borrowed from the biologist Richard Dawkins: Since any human trait that increases the number of babies is likely to gain ground through natural selection, we can say with some confidence that incompetence in the use of contraceptives is probably on the rise (though only if those unintended babies themselves thrive enough to breed in turn).

Red tape hobbles a harvest of life-saving rice

Bio-engineered micronutrients may be the most cost-effective way to help the poor

Latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal

This week saw the announcement of the latest conclusions of the Copenhagen Consensus, a project founded by Bjørn Lomborg in which expert economists write detailed papers every four years and then gather to vote on the answer to a simple question: Imagine you had $75 billion to donate to worthwhile causes. What would you do, and where should we start?

How Dickensian childhoods leave genetic scars

Epigenetics and childhood maltreatment

Latest Mind and Matter column from the Wall Street Journal:

Being maltreated as a child can perhaps affect you for life. It now seems the harm might reach into your very DNA. Two recently published studies found evidence of changes to the genetic material in people with experience of maltreatment. These are the tip of an iceberg of discoveries in the still largely mysterious field of "epigenetic" epidemiology-the alteration of gene expression in ways that affect later health.

The economic defeat of tuberculosis

TB was not cured so much as prevented by better housing conditions

My latest Mind and Matter column for the Wall Street Journal:

Peter Pringle's new book "Experiment Eleven" documents a shocking scandal in the history of medicine, when Albert Schatz, the discoverer of streptomycin, was deprived of the credit and the Nobel Prize by his ambitious boss, Selman Waksman. Streptomycin was and is a miraculous cure for tuberculosis.

Yet the near disappearance of tuberculosis from the Western world, where it was once the greatest killer of all, owes little to streptomycin. Mortality from TB had already fallen by 75% in most Western countries by 1950, when streptomycin became available, and the rate of fall was little different before and after. Scarlet fever, pneumonia and diphtheria all declined rapidly long before their cures were introduced.

High tech runs through it: the new science of fly fishing

Silicon nano matrix fishing rods

My latest Wall Street Journal column is on the technology of fly fishing rods

Moore's Law is the leitmotif of the modern age: Incessant improvements in communication and computing are accompanied by incessant drops in price. Yet some quite low-tech devices are also experiencing Moore's Laws of their own, especially those that use new materials. Even something as mundane as fishing rods.