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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His new book How Innovation Works is now available in the UK as well as in the US and Canada.
My latest Mind and Matter column at the Wall
Street Journal is on wolves and "mesopredators":
The return of the wolf is one of the unexpected ecological
bonuses of the modern era. So numerous are wolves that this fall
Wisconsin and Wyoming have joined Idaho and Montana in opening
wolf-hunting seasons for the first time in years. Minnesota follows
suit next month; Michigan may do so next year. The reintroduced wolves
of Yellowstone National Park have expanded to meet the expanding
packs of Canada and northern Montana.
The same is happening in Europe. Wolf populations are rising in
Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe, while in recent years wolves have
recolonized France, Germany, Sweden and Norway, and have even been
seen in Belgium and the Netherlands. Nor are wolves the only "apex
predators" to boom in this way. In the U.S., bears and mountain
lions are spreading, to joggers' dismay. Coyotes are reappearing
even within cities like Chicago and Denver.
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal:
In 1965, the computer expert Gordon Moore published his famous little graph showing that the number of
"components per integrated function" on a silicon chip-a measure of
computing power-seemed to be doubling every year and a half. He had
only five data points, but Moore's Law has settled into an almost
iron rule of innovation. Why is it so regular?
This week's award of the Nobel Prize for medicine to John Gurdon
and Shinya Yamanaka effectively recognizes the science of
epigenetics. Dr. Gurdon showed that almost any cell (in a frog)
contains all the genetic information to become an adult. What makes
the cell develop a certain way is a pattern of "epigenetic"
modifications to the DNA specific to each tissue-turning genes on
and off. Dr. Yamanaka showed that if you can remove that epigenetic
modification (in a mouse) you can reprogram a cell to be an
Yet to most people the word "epigenetics" has come to mean
something quite different: the inheritance of nongenetic features
acquired by a parent. Most scientists now think the latter effect
is rare, unimportant and hugely overhyped.
There are several mechanisms of modifying DNA without altering
the genetic code itself. The key point is that these modifications
survive the division of cells.
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
Street Journal is on genetically modified crops:
Generally, technologies are judged on their net benefits, not on
the claim that they are harmless: The good effects of, say, the
automobile and aspirin outweigh their dangers. Today, arguably,
adopting certain new technologies is harder not just because of a
policy of precaution but because of a bias in much of the media
against reporting the benefits.
Shale gas is one example, genetically modified food another,
where the good news is deemed less newsworthy than the bad. A
recent French study claimed that both pesticides and GM corn fed
to cancer-susceptible strains of rats produced an increase in
tumors. The study has come in for withering criticism from
mainstream scientists for its opaque data, small samples,
unsatisfactory experimental design and unconventional statistical
analysis, yet it has still gained headlines world-wide. (In
published responses, the authors have stood by their results.)
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
Street Journal finds that just as liberals and conservatives have
predictable personalities, so do libertarians:
An individual's personality shapes his or her political ideology
at least as much as circumstances, background and influences. That
is the gist of a recent strand of psychological research identified
especially with the work of Jonathan Haidt. The baffling (to
liberals) fact that a large minority of working-class white people
vote for conservative candidates is explained by psychological
dispositions that override their narrow economic interests.
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