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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Matt Ridley's latest book Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19, co-authored with scientist Alina Chan from Harvard and MIT's Broad Institute, is now available in the United States, in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.
My article for Spectator:
The Queen has suffered ‘mild, cold-like symptoms’ from her Covid-19 infection, according to Buckingham Palace. The wording reminds us that, except in the very vulnerable, the common cold is always and everywhere a mild disease. There are 200 kinds of virus that cause colds and they hardly ever debilitate healthy people, let alone kill them. Yet we were recently told by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) that ‘it is a common misconception that “viruses mutate to cause less severe disease”’. If that is the case, how did all common colds become mild — and why would Covid not do the same?
As somebody with a background in evolutionary biology, I knew that Nervtag’s claim (which bizarrely cited myxomatosis, a flea-borne disease of rabbits, to support its argument) was misleading. Surely they were aware that, mostly due to the work of Professor Paul Ewald, the dominant belief in evolutionary theory about disease virulence is that it depends on the mode of transmission? Though sometimes lethal at first, respiratory diseases do evolve to become milder, while sexually transmitted, waterborne or insect-borne diseases (such as myxomatosis) don’t.
My article for Spiked:
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My article for The Telegraph:
Fusion energy is coming. Last week’s announcement of a significant energy yield from the Joint European Torus in Oxfordshire is just a milestone on the path but all the signs are that there’s probably going to be reliable fusion power on tap some time in the next decade thanks to breakthroughs in superconductivity.Also, private money is pouring into fusion, which has forced the public projects to speed up, as it did with genomics. It would be a foolish person who repeated Ernest Rutherford’s clanger of 1933 about nuclear fission: “Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of the atom is talking moonshine.”True, there is every chance we will make a mess of the opportunity by adopting an extreme precautionary approach to regulation. In the case of nuclear (fission) power, we bound it into such a straitjacket of cumbersome rules that we ended up making it a lot more expensive, slightly less safe and incapable of even trying new designs that might bring down the price and drive the safety even higher. Innovation should have rendered both Chernobyl and Fukushima redundant long before they blew up, and Hinkley is going to be grotesquely, needlessly costly. If we make a similar unforced error with fusion, forget it.
But fusion is very different from fission, producing vastly less radioactive material and almost no long-term waste. It cannot melt down or blow up. So regulating it is simpler: treat it like any other industrial facility and set up the regulation to give quick decisions, be flexible and focus on the safe outcome not the process of getting there. If we do that, we might have a great opportunity, because Britain is already a leader in fusion.So it’s worth casting our minds forward to how the world might look if small power stations start making huge quantities of energy from tiny quantities of water (the source of deuterium) and lithium (the source of tritium). We could heat our homes and power our cars with cheap electricity. We could synthesise fuel for planes and rockets. We could speed up productivity through automation. We could desalinate seawater. We could suck carbon dioxide out of the air, achieving net zero painlessly. We could rewild all wind and solar farms. Above all, we could tell the eco-killjoys who preach that our use of energy is not just a problem but a sin to get lost.And therein lies the problem, because they will fight us every step of the way, inventing ludicrous objections to fusion. Remember, for the eco-elite, hair-shirt asceticism is a feature not a bug. Giving ordinary people unlimited energy would horrify these high priests. What they love about climate change is the excuse it gives them to disapprove of people having fun. Imagine the scowl on Greta’s face when we tell her electricity is going to be abundant, cheap, reliable and low-carbon. It’s shooting their fox.Notice too how it would make a mockery of the urgent rush to net zero today. The BBC’s Jon Amos delivered a predictable sermon on this theme this week following the fusion announcement: “Fusion is not a solution to get us to 2050 net zero. This is a solution to power society in the second half of this century.”He’s got it backwards: if fusion does come after 2050, why spend trillions and force people into austerity in the rush to net zero by 2050 instead of say 2070? We are hurrying to shut down coal, gas and nuclear prematurely with no reliable replacement. Looking back that might prove to have been very foolish.
My article for the Telegraph:
The news that Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation, is to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing is baffling on a number of levels. Has he not got a day job to do? There is a pandemic on.
“Sources close to” him say it would be a “political statement to turn down the invitation”, which indicates ludicrous delusions of grandeur: he is a bureaucrat, not a head of state, let alone a “dignitary”.
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