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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Here's my latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
A war within anthropology over the causes of war itself seems to
be reaching resolution. The great ethnographer of the
gardener-hunter Yanomamo Indians of Venezuela, Napoleon Chagnon,
has long been battling colleagues over whether men in prestate
societies go to war over protein or women. Next month he'll publish a memoir, "Noble Savages," detailing
(as the subtitle puts it) "My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes-the
Yanomamo and the Anthropologists." This is a good time to look back
at how his argument has fared.
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
Not only is the capacity for forming large social networks in
monkeys partly genetic, but some of the genes that affect this
ability may now be known. So suggests a new study of an isolated
population of free-living macaques on an island off Puerto
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
Rockefeller and Harvard universities have found a new method of
editing DNA with great precision. This and another new technique
mean that scientists can now go into a cell, find a particular
sequence in the genome and change that sequence by a single
Just to get your mind around this feat, imagine taking about
5,000 different novels and reprinting them in normal font size on
23 very long cotton ribbons. Since each word takes up about half an
inch, the ribbons, placed end to end, would stretch for roughly
three million miles-120 times around the world. But to be a bit
more realistic, twist and tangle the ribbons so much that they only
go around the planet once.
One of the books written on your ribbons is "A Tale of Two
Cities," but you don't even know which ribbon it is on, let
alone where on that ribbon. Your task is to find the
clauses "It was the beast of times, it was the worst of times" and
correct the misprint.
Well done, Mark Lynas, for changing his mind over genetically
Here's Mark Lynas on those who still oppose GM
food: "I look forward to their opening up an honest and
self-critical debate on this, rather than attacking others like
myself who challenge green orthodoxy where it likely harms society
and the environment."
Here's Mark Lynas on wind power: "Matt Ridley's
massive Spectator anti-wind rant seems completely fact-free. Any
references to back this up, @mattwridley?" [There
were scores of facts and references, starting with my assertion
that wind power provides 0.3% of the UK's total energy, a fact that
Lynas challenged, then called specious, then conceded].
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
Street Journal is on the greening of the planet:
Did you know that the Earth is getting greener, quite literally?
Satellites are now confirming that the amount of green vegetation
on the planet has been increasing for three decades. This will be
news to those accustomed to alarming tales about deforestation,
overdevelopment and ecosystem destruction.
I have an op-ed in the Times on how even a global
optimist can foresee absolute as well as relative decline for
Europe if it continues to emulate the Ming Empire:
A "rational optimist" like me thinks the world
will go on getting better for most people at a record rate, not
because I have a temperamental or ideological bent to good cheer
but because of the data. Poverty, hunger, population growth rates,
inequality, and mortality from violence, disease and weather - all
continue to plummet on a global scale.
But a global optimist can still be a regional pessimist. When
asked what I am pessimistic about, I usually reply: bureaucracy and
superstition. Using those two tools, we Europeans seem intent on
making our future as bad as we can. Like mandarins at the court of
the Ming emperors or viziers at the court of Abbasid caliphs, our
masters seem determined to turn relative into absolute decline. It
is entirely possible that ten years from now the world as a whole
will be 50 per cent richer, but Europeans will be 50 per cent
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