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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: 08-2011

Rational Optimist by Skype

Back in June, I could not make it to Idea City in Canada, meeting that chose "ideas having sex as its slogan". But I recorded a talk by Skype and here it is.

Counting species out

I have a piece in today's Times newspaper on extinction of species. Here it is, with added links:

The suitably named Dr Boris Worm, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, led the team that this week estimated the number of species on the planet at 8.7 million, plus or minus 1.3 million. That sounds about right. We human beings have described almost all the mammals, birds, butterflies and other conspicuous creatures, but new beetles, wasps, moths, flies and worms abound in every acre of tropical forest.

Some patterns are clear. Most species are on land; marine life, though just as abundant, is slightly less diverse. Most are in the humid tropics; the rest of the globe is an ecological footnote to the rainforest. Most are animals - though plants, fungi and microbes vastly outweigh us beasts, they tend to come in fewer kinds, perhaps because plants hybridise and bacteria swap genes, blurring the boundaries of species. Most are insects: spiders/mites and molluscs take silver and bronze, but if Planet Earth had a mascot, it would be a ground beetle.

Why we are nice to strangers

Latest Mind and Matter column from the Wall Street Journal:

Evolutionists long ago abandoned the idea that natural selection can promote only selfish behavior. In the right circumstances, animals-including human beings-evolve the instinct to be nice (or acquire habits of niceness through cultural evolution). This happens within families but also within groups, where social solidarity promotes the success of the group at the expense of other groups.

Goldilocks heritability

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

Hardly any subject in science has been so politically fraught as the heritability of intelligence. For more than a century, since Francis Galton first started speculating about the similarities of twins, nature-nurture was a war with a stalemated front and intelligence was its Verdun-the most hotly contested and costly battle.

The limits of sexual selection

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

What limits the size of a peacock's tail, the weight of a deer's antlers or the virtuosity of a songbird's song? Driven inexorably by the competition to attract mates, these features of animals ought to get ever more elaborate. There was even once a theory-now discredited-that the famously gigantic antlers of the Irish elk became so unwieldy that they caused its extinction. Yet sexual ornaments do not get ever bigger.

This time it's different

The Polar Bear problem

It's not that they are more desperate. it's that they are thriving.

Here is a piece I just published in the Spectator.

DNA calypso

Johnny Berliner made this charming little calypso account of genes and what they are made of. It's concise and precise as well as nice. (Calypso rhyming is catching)

h/t Mark Stevenson.

Where do carbon dioxide emissions come from?

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