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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My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
Street Journal is about the retreat of Arctic Sea Ice and what it
This week probably saw the Arctic Ocean's sea ice reach its
minimum extent for the year and begin to expand again, as it
usually does in mid-September. Given that the retreat of Arctic ice
has become a key piece of evidence for those who take a more
alarmed view of global warming, it's newsworthy that 2012's melt
was the greatest since records began in 1979, with sea ice in the
Northern Hemisphere shrinking to about 1.3 million square miles, or
about half the 1979-2008 average.
As this column has sometimes pointed out ways in which the
effects of global warming are happening more slowly than predicted,
it is fair to record that this rate of decline in Arctic sea ice is
faster than many predicted. Although an entirely ice-free Arctic
Ocean during at least one week a year is still several decades away
at this rate, we are halfway there after just three decades.
I have an article in the Spectator drawing attention to the
curious fact that Rachel Carson's Silent Spring owed
much to a passionate tobacco denier. It's behind a paywall, but
there it is with the sources as links. Hat tip Ron Bailey.
Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published 50 years
ago this month, effectively marked the birth of the modern
environmental movement. "Silent Spring came as a cry in the
wilderness, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched, and brilliantly
written argument that changed the course of history," wrote Al Gore in his introduction to the 1994
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street
Bill Moggridge, who invented the laptop computer in 1982, died last week. His idea of using a hinge to
attach a screen to a keyboard certainly caught on big, even if the
first model was heavy, pricey and equipped with just 340 kilobytes
of memory. But if Mr. Moggridge had never lived, there is little
doubt that somebody else would have come up with the idea.
The phenomenon of multiple discovery is well known in science.
Innovations famously occur to different people in different places
at the same time. Whether it is calculus (Newton and Leibniz), or
the planet Neptune (Adams and Le Verrier), or the theory of natural
selection (Darwin and Wallace), or the light bulb (Edison, Swan and
others), the history of science is littered with disputes over
bragging rights caused by acts of simultaneous discovery.
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
Street Journal is a review of a remarkable new science book:
Your great-grandparents faced infectious diseases that hardly
threaten you today: tuberculosis, polio, cholera, malaria, yellow
fever, measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox, typhoid, typhus,
tapeworm, hookworm…. But there's also a long list of modern
illnesses that your great-grandparents barely knew: asthma, eczema,
hay fever, food allergies, Crohn's disease, diabetes, multiple
sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis. The coincidence of the rise in
these "inflammation" diseases, characterized by an overactive
immune system, with the decline of infection is almost certainly
not a coincidence.
My latest Mind and Matter column at the Wall Street
The astronomer Martin Rees recently coined the neat phrase "Copernican demotion"
for science's habit of delivering humiliating disappointment to
those who think that our planet is special. Copernicus told us the
Earth was not at the center of the solar system; later astronomers
found billions of solar systems in each of the billions of
galaxies, demoting our home to a cosmic speck.
Mr. Rees says further Copernican demotion may loom ahead. "The
entire panorama that astronomers can observe could be a tiny part
of the aftermath of 'our' big bang, which is itself just one bang
among a perhaps-infinite ensemble." Indeed, even our physics could
be a parochial custom: Mr. Rees says that different universes could
be governed by different rules and our "laws of nature" may be
The Times has published my article on Northumberlandia today.
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