Matt Ridley responds to Tim Palmer

I came across a response, by Matt Ridley, to Tim Palmer’s talk. I’ve posted Matt Ridley’s response below. One interesting aspect of his response is that it is written as if he is someone with the expertise to actually debate the science. Of course, it’s a free world, so anyone can choose to do so, and Matt Ridley does have a science PhD (DPhil actually), but his research work was in biology (which he himself points out) and he hasn’t – as far as I’m aware – been actively involved in research for over 30 years. So, his science background is not really relevant to climate, his career has mainly been in journalism, banking and politics, and yet his response does not make any of this clear. It’s not necessarily required, but I do think most would acknowledge this type of thing.

Anyway, his response is below and I’ll make some specific comments below it.

Credit: Matt Ridley

He seems to dismiss paleo estimates in a manner that does not make much sense. I don’t think the higher end of climate sensitivity, or the dependence on temperature, somehow implies runaway. Mostly, the paleo estimates are consistent with the climate sensitivity range presented by the IPCC.

  1. This point is almost saying that he agrees with Tim Palmer followed by a comment that suggests he missed the point. The outcome is, of course, not certain, but depends on a number of factors, such as climate sensitivity (which we don’t know, but we can at least produce a likely range) and how much we will emit (which we also don’t know, but can at least influence). In a sense, the more we dismiss the possibility of it being dangerous, the more we are likely to emit, and the greater the possibility of it then being dangerous.
  2. Maybe the reason Tim Palmer presented only one dataset is because all the surface datasets are very similar? Maybe the reason he chose to present GISSTemp is because it suffers from less coverage bias than HadCRUT4? Maybe the reason he didn’t show the satellite datasets is because he was talking about surface temperatures, which they don’t measure? Maybe the pause isn’t quite as big a deal as Matt Ridley would appear to think that it is?
  3. Matt Ridley is, of course, free to be unconvinced; there isn’t some requirement that he be convinced. Of course models are tuned in some respects, but this doesn’t suddenly mean that climate sensitivity is not emergent. In fact, Tim Palmer explains this all quite clearly in his talk. Also, basing his concern about models in general on possible problems with economic models, suggests he doesn’t understand the concept of structural constancy.
  4. I think he’s wrong about biology being left out of the story. As far as I’m aware, biology is considered when studying the carbon cycle.
  5. What mismatch between models and observations?
  6. As far as I’m aware, his PDF did take Nic Lewis’s work into account; the lower bound was 1.5K which – I think – was reduced from 2K mostly because of recent energy balance estimates which we should treat with some caution (to be fair, we should treat all estimates with some caution). Also, discussing these energy balance models and why we should be cautious about accepting their results was a pretty key part of Tim Palmer’s talk, so it’s odd that Matt Ridley would ask this question.
  7. I’m guessing Matt Ridley doesn’t get the irony of this comment?

It’s clear that Matt Ridley does not like Bob Ward.

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53 Responses to Matt Ridley responds to Tim Palmer

  1. Magma says:

    “[Ridley’s] career has mainly been in journalism, banking and politics”

    Banking, you say? So Mr. Ridley possesses a sound understanding of basic mathematics and a deep appreciation of risk, I assume.

    (Feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken on these points.)

  2. BBD says:

    Notice how the lukewarm are extremely ‘sensitive’ to palaeo evidence. They know it’s toxic to their rhetoric, don’t they?

  3. BBD,
    There’s a tendency to dismiss paleo estimates and model estimates. Just wait until someone produces an energy balance estimate that is higher than they’d like. Then they’ll really be in a pickle 😉

  4. Something I meant to add, but didn’t, was a comment about “polite disagreement”. I think trying to be polite is a perfectly reasonable goal. However, there are many others things to strive for when have a discussion with others, such as actually listening to what others say, and taking on board the criticism of what you say (especially if it comes from experts). Being polite can be rather pointless if you don’t actually achieve anything. Of course, maybe one should remain polite because it’s a decent thing to do and because not doing so will simply be used by people like Matt Ridley to dismiss what’s being said. I find Matt Ridley’s rather constant reference to politeness rather irritating, because it’s – IMO – simply a way of deflecting from the real issues.

  5. mt says:

    “the more we dismiss the possibility of it being dangerous, the more we are likely to emit, and the greater the possibility of it then being dangerous.”

    Very well said indeed. Let’s hold on to this formulation.

  6. MT,
    Thanks. Something that is often misunderstood (and which I was trying to illustrate with that phrase) is that the only thing we need to be concerned about is climate sensitivity. This is simply not the case, since another important factor is how much we end up emitting. Even if climate sensitivity is on the low side, the impacts could still be severe if we simply continue to emit CO2 into the atmosphere. Some would even argue that various other uncertainties (such as carbon cycle feedbacks) could lead to dangerous levels of warming even if climate sensitivity is low and we do reduce our emissions.

  7. BBD says:

    I find Matt Ridley’s rather constant reference to politeness rather irritating, because it’s – IMO – simply a way of deflecting from the real issues.

    It’s tone-trolling, which is always irritating. I’d say it was the last refuge of a scoundrel, but that’s prolly agnosia.

  8. Willard says:

    > Being polite can be rather pointless if you don’t actually achieve anything.

    Achieving nothing might actually be the point of Matt King Coal’s concerns.

  9. Willard,
    Indeed, that may well be the case.

  10. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    =={ I find Matt Ridley’s rather constant reference to politeness rather irritating, because it’s – IMO – simply a way of deflecting from the real issues. }==

    That could be…

    But I will throw something else out there. I think that most people involved in these discussions is actually focusing on what they consider to be the real issues, not deflect from the real issues (an opinion I’ve reached after being accused of attempting to “distract” countless times).

    Relatedly, I’ve been thinking about the discussion of how various techniques might prove to be more or less effective at influencing public opinion on climate change, but I keep coming back to what I view as a basic limiting constraint. If the participants in the discussion are focused on a scorched earth, zero sum exchange, if they aren’t interested in good faith dialog, if they are pursuing identity confirmation as a primary (if unconscious) goal, and if they aren’t committed to a process of shared ownership over outcomes, then no technique can be effective – as a matter of definition.

    In that sense, politeness could be valuable because the first step towards better communication must, necessarily, be to reduce polarization.

    Perhaps, even if Matt is hypocritical in his approach to politeness, and effectively exploits the importance of politeness to score points in a bad faith exchange, at some deeper level actually is struggling with how to bring about a shared resolution.

  11. Joshua – “the first step towards better communication must, necessarily, be to reduce polarization”

    I see this as a rather bald assertion with no obvious factual basis.

  12. Joshua says:

    one –

    ==} I see this as a rather bald assertion with no obvious factual basis. {==

    Fair enough.

    I was trying to express it as a conditional, and an opinion. Perhaps I failed.

    It seems to me that there is no way to improve communication between people who aren’t engaged in good faith – because the goal isn’t communication but to reinforce identity-related distinctions. Thus, if your goal is better communication, then you must first reduce the polarization. If I”m wrong about the first part, then the 2nd part doesn’t follow.

    I think that factual basis rests, indirectly, in the literature that suggests that providing more information does not improve communication among polarized discussants. Or, indirectly, in literature such as this which suggests that “suprising validators” (e.g., Bob Inglis) are effective at moving “skeptics” towards embracing climate change mitigation.

  13. Joshua says:

    I should add that I’m not convinced how well the theory about “surprising validators” actually pans out (i.e., Inglis got drummed out of the Republican Party), but that it does hit on a basic reality.

  14. Joshua writes: “there is no way to improve communication between people who aren’t engaged in good faith”

    This I agree with. What that leaves us with is that there’s no point in engaging with people who aren’t acting in good faith. The question then becomes, how I do I know if John Doe is willing to discuss XYZ in good faith?

  15. Willard says:

    Matt King Coal’s document is not responsive to Palmer’s point – insisting on the lukewarm sensitivities has no scientific merit.

    I would bet that if you compare Matt King’s document above with his GWPF lecture, you’d see the same talking points.

    If that’s correct, then Matt King Coal is simply peddling his lukewarm talking points.

    As a biologist, Matt King Coal should be able to recognize that opportunistic behaviour.

  16. Eli Rabett says:

    Willard: Luckwarmer. Glad to see you have adopted Matt King Coal tho

  17. Sceptical Wombat says:

    On the occasions when I do engage in these discussions, I work on the assumption that there may be uncommitted or wavering onlookers and my aim is to convince them. I suspect that being polite is the best way to do that.

  18. On Carbon Budget, definitely vegetation on land and in sea, the latter with biogeochemical. See this description. Also, there are plenty of signal in ecology and biology which cannot be explained without an appeal to climate disruption. The opening chapter of King, Morgan, Gimenez, Brooks, 2010, Bayesian Analysis for Population Ecology (CRC/Chapman & Hall), and their many case studies of populations present quantitative evidence of impacts of climate change upon vulnerable and affected populations. It’s not a hypothetical. Drawn from their literature, it is taken as a well-known forcing factor.

    Climate disruption is not a primary focus of population ecology, yet it intrudes there, and anyone claims biology is a bit player in the emerging scientific consensus is simply not paying attention. I don’t even need to mention the extensive work of George Sugihara’s lab on these matters.

  19. Willard says:


    My first choice was:

    The Riddler’s a good memer.

    Then I forgot.

    That was a good thread. Two years already. My first usage may have been in this other death thread:

    You have a gold mine, AT.

  20. angech says:

    Joshua – “the first step towards better communication must, necessarily, be to reduce polarization”
    I see this as a rather bald assertion with no obvious factual basis..
    A bit like SETI guidelines perhaps, we have passed the first hurdle, do we communicate or not.
    Approach the second one, yes we will try to communicate.
    This excludes bad faith for the moment in that we are trying to communicate. It was left at the last hurdle but may reappear at any time.
    ” Christian” values might be a start, do unto others as you would have them do unto you might be the first step, Joshua. This particular one is often extolled ( not a pun) but also often forgotten. Very hard in the heat of b … communication.

  21. Skeptical Wombat,

    I work on the assumption that there may be uncommitted or wavering onlookers and my aim is to convince them. I suspect that being polite is the best way to do that.

    Indeed, this is probably true. However, when Matt Ridley discuss politeness (or complains about the lack thereof) what I suspect he is aiming for (as Willard suggests here) what he’s probably trying to do is discourage people from being impolite so that he can peddle his Lukewarm views without too much criticism.

    Maybe an interesting point is how often he brings this up. It does seem as though he really dislikes the way in which he is labelled by some. That might be telling is something.

  22. izen says:

    ” Christian” values might be a start, do unto others as you would have them do unto you might be the first step,…”

    It is worth remembering the Shavian update;
    “Don’t do unto other as you would have them do unto you, their tastes may differ.”

    Matt King Coal belongs to the team in ClimateBall that had chosen to ignore the umpires. Over the last ~200 years human society has developed the best way we have to decide what happens. The obvious utility of scientific understanding dominates the way we live.
    But despite the obvious efficacy and lack of any alternative, one side in this game has decided to ignore the science and appeal to their own ‘friends’ as umpires when the mainstream science declares them out. Friends who may have placed a bet on the game.

    Willard is right that the Riddler’s response to Plamer is non-responsive. It pretends agreement, then promotes the same ‘talking points’ that the Lukewarmer team regularly trot out when science calls the play. None of the points he makes have any traction or much meaning within the scientific field. They are not directed at the academic researchers. They are intended for a supportive audience who are capable of inferring the de-legitimisation of scientific knowledge as the umpire in this field.

    The one optimistic(?) note in all of this is that over the last decade or so of ClimateBall, the denial team have at least gone from denying any warming (ice melt, seal level rise, ocean acidification…), and progressed to conceding its happening, (but that zombie may rise again!) …
    to disputing responsibility.

  23. verytallguy says:


    paragraph 1. [two carriage returns]

    paragraph 2. [two carriage returns]

    paragraph 3. [two carriage returns]

    Lest you be perceived as a green ink writer, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.

    AT and Izen show you the way.

  24. verytallguy says:

    A reminder from Willard’s link back on Matt King Coal.


    – was in charge of the UK’s bank with the worst risk management track record of all time, a position gained through nepotism
    – ignores almost all expert advice on the risk management of climate change
    – was nepotistically appointed to the UK parliament as a conservative
    – is closely politically aligned and socially aligned to leading conservative climate change deniers
    – is one of the UK’s largest owners and extractors of coal, on land he inherited
    – is paid to promote climate change denial syndicated to a political lobby group promoting climate change denial in a newspaper owned by a climate change denier

    And, as AT points out, he has no credentials in climate science whatsoever. The chasm between his utter lack expertise and his tone of authority in critiquing Palmer is astonishing.

    Quite aside from him being demonstrably wrong, as AT shows, why anyone should take him at all seriously in the first place is moot.

  25. andrew adams says:

    Politeness in a discussion isn’t just about the kind of language used, it’s about showing a basic level of courtesy respect to the person you are in discussion with. The kind of behavior described by Izen and Joshua above, essentially arguing in bad faith, is fundamentally disrespectful and discourteous, and couching it in nice language doesn’t make it “polite”, it just makes it passive-aggressive. Especially when claiming that your “politeness” gives you some kind of claim to having your arguments taken seriously.

  26. andrew adams says:

    Oh, and Ridley’s in the Times today displaying exactly the same panglossian wishful thinking to Brexit as he does towards climate change.

  27. Andrew,
    Yes, I noticed that (although I couldn’t read the whole article). As far as I can tell, the only thing that Ridley thinks we should fear are Greens/environmentalists.

  28. Bwana_Mrefu says:

    The irony of his last paragraph did make me chuckle. Matt Ridley and and his ventriloquist dummy, Owen Paterson, both seem to have cultivate a willful ignorance of any relevant science and a visceral hatred of all forms of environmental responsibility. The manners thing is a tactic.He is just sealioning. Continue to produce arrogant, seemingly obtuse responses like the one above, wasting the innocent researchers’ time. When the victim tells him where to get off, out comes his “well you’ve lost because you’re rude” bomb.

  29. BBD says:

    As I said, Ridley is a tone troll. Aren’t they all, given half a chance?

    As Andrew says just above, it’s a combination of hypocrisy and a passive-aggressive stance. Enough to make a saint kick. And they *use* it.

  30. Willard says:

    Here’s a comment scientists should ever ever ever do, vintage 2006-10-6:

    I am not going to critique Gray’s paper, it is beyond rational critcism, i will save technical comments for such an unlikely event as any of this actually ever gets published. Bill Gray is not a player in the scientific debate, his ideas reflected in the paper referred to at RC are so flawed that they are unpublishable. Bill Gray does not enrage the scientists, he simply isn’t a player in the scientific debate on global warming. However, he is a HUGE figure in the public debate on global warming. I am not alone in judging Gray to be “off the spectrum”, Richard Lindzen said something similar in an interview with Joel Achenbach (most climateauditors wont’ like the achenbach piece, but i believe the quote from Lindzen to be accurate:

    “Of all the skeptics, MIT’s Richard Lindzen probably has the most credibility among mainstream scientists, who acknowledge that he’s doing serious research on the subject. ”

    “When I ask Gray who his intellectual soul mates are regarding global warming, he responds, “I have nobody really to talk to about this stuff.”
    That’s not entirely true. He has many friends and colleagues, and the meteorologists tend to share his skeptical streak.
    I ask if he has ever collaborated on a paper with Richard Lindzen. Gray says he hasn’t. He looks a little pained.
    “Lindzen, he’s a hard guy to deal with,” Gray says. “He doesn’t think he can learn anything from me.” Which is correct. Lindzen says of Gray: “His knowledge of theory is frustratingly poor, but he knows more about hurricanes than anyone in the world. I regard him in his own peculiar way as a national resource.”

    In the Klotzbach thread, I characterized Bill Gray as “off the spectrum”. He is all alone out there. This isn’t to say that his views aren’t widely “popular” in certain nonscientific circles.

    p.s. In the hurricane class on Tues, i asked the question “how many students think i am wasting my time blogging at climateaudit”. 8/14 raised their hands. They are now telling me they are changing their vote, and that i need to straighten them out on Gray’s paper. I am not going to bother, but they are working on Peter Webster, maybe he will post his critique.

    This kind of comment is baaaad for your INTEGRITY ™. It’s also bad for your persuasiveness. Teh Dilbert would be confirmed in what he knew all along if you ever said something like that.


    Snark and smarm are the two forces that power the Internetz.

  31. Magma says:


    It would be nice if scientists were immune from the narrowing of vision, loss of capacity, and hardening of spirit that affects many people as they age. Maybe the best we can hope is that intellectually stimulating work and environment slow the process.

    By pure coincidence, this weekend I read through some early to mid-1990s papers and articles by the late and now-forgotten Henry R. Linden. In their dismissal of a scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, explicit embrace of contrarianism, mocking of ‘alarmism’, and claims that rising CO2 and warming temperatures were good things, they could have been written yesterday.

    It’s a reminder of how long the lukewarmers and contrarians have been playing the same old song.

    The Evolution of an Energy Contrarian (1996)

  32. Willard says:

    Thanks, Magma. Will have a look.


    There’s even better in that Gray thread. Look at these tidbits from an exchange between Judy and Junior:

    [Junior] Your cavalier dismissal of work outside of of your own expertise is pretty surprising coming from you. This is now a second time that you have criticized or mischaracterized my work on this site, only to then follow up that you will have no more to say once I have responded to your mischaracterizations.

    [Judy] Let me give you a counter scenario that will hopefully help you understand how damaging and inappropriate your behaviour is in this regard. I hereby “accuse” you of having stealth motives in being a supporter of the Gray/Landsea camp, and therefore defending them (Landsea, a student of Gray’s, is a collaborator of yours) by trying to discredit research that questions Gray’s forecasts by attacking the motives of the scientist that did the research. You are further motivated by trying to build readership over at Prometheus and bring media attention to you personally by making sensationalist accusations.

    [Junior] Crickets.

    So Landsea was a student of Gray – small world indeed. How Junior goes on to justify his ad homs with “I am a political scientist” is also a thing of beauty. I wonder if Matt King Coal would appreciate to be reminded of his cavalier dismissal of work outside of his expertise, or that he looks like a stealth issue advocate. Perhaps even more relevant would be how Judy characterizes Bill’s work:

    Gray’s paper is very significant in the public debate (but not the scientific debate). Gray got a standing ovation at the National Hurricane Conference (described in Achenbach’s article); note this is not a scientific conference. At the American Meteorological Society Conference on Tropical Meteorology and Oceanography a few weeks later, his presentation was absolutely hammered by the audience. A number of the GT hurricane students were in this audience, and we had also critiqued the paper thoroughly in class, which explains the reaction of the students to the climateaudit post.

    Gray’s paper is rhetorically effective, and touches on issues that the broader public cares about (the same is true of JJ OBrien’s unpublished but widely circulated paper). This is in contrast to much of the published research with can be rather arcane and often seems irrelevant to the public, and is rarely rhetorically effective. In my BAMS article, I tried to capture this same rhetorical appeal and relevance in the context of rigorous scientific arguments that clearly identify the uncertainties. It is a very big challenge for science to get the research credibly and effectively communicated to the public.

    This seems to fit Matt King Coal like a glove: very significant in the public debate, but not the scientific debate. Rhetorically effective. Touching on issues the broader public cares about.

    All we need is a standing ovation.


    Nevertheless, how the Auditor managed to racehorse out of his posting of Gray’s presentation and more importantly how he dodged Judy’s accusation of sexism regarding his treatment of Kim Cobb won that thread.

  33. Willard says:

    Speaking of “getting a bit back” and “increasing suspicion,” here’s a little bit where Matt King Coal presents strawmen that show he was right all along:

    I FIRST visited a shale gas well in Pennsylvania in 2011 while writing a report for a think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Lord Lawson, the former chancellor.

    At that time, most energy analysts were still arguing that shale gas was a flash in the pan. I concluded that that was almost certainly wrong and that we were witnessing an energy revolution of huge significance.

    And so it proved.

    Notice the title.

  34. izen says:

    “I read through some early to mid-1990s papers and articles by the late and now-forgotten Henry R. Linden. In their dismissal of a scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, explicit embrace of contrarianism, mocking of ‘alarmism’, and claims that rising CO2 and warming temperatures were good things, they could have been written yesterday.”

    I can see what you mean.

    Although anyone citing Seitz, Singer, Lindzen and Pat Micheals as the inspiration for their position on the science now would acquire the tarnished legitimacy they now hold.

    His three areas of doubt have not stood the test of time either.
    Arctic snow and ice has not increased and sea levels have not fallen as a result.
    CO2 has continued to accumulate in the atmosphere at the same (or increasing) rate rather than increased sequestration in biosphere or oceans.
    Cooling from aerosols will not delay and offset AGW as governments have to regulate and reduce emissions because of the death and immediate and obvious damage, they cause.

    3 Zombie arguments Nature has beheaded!

  35. Magma says:

    @ Willard (again)

    After reading Ridley’s opinion piece, I’m thankful the odds that he and I will ever meet in person are very low. It would not be a pleasant encounter.

    The short biographical note at the bottom concludes “He was chairman of Northern Rock from 2004-07,” without noting that he was assigned personal responsibility for that bank’s failure, which he himself described as a “catastrophic black mark” on his CV.

    On the other hand, Ridley also stated that “I learnt a lot from it.” Those watching him smirk and caper over the vastly more consequential issue of climate change might well doubt that.

  36. stevefitzpatrick says:

    An enormously amusing comment thread.

  37. stevefitzpatrick says:

    Oh, forgot… thanks.

  38. Willard says:

    Let’s Make the Comment Thread Greater Still:

    And nothing about the ‘fake news’ MSM. By not even mentioning them (after regularly calling them biased at best) [teh Donald] is trying to minimize their influence. I think in that [teh Donald] will succeed… they really are horribly biased, even compared to… say…. climate scientists.


  39. Willard says:

    To return to my homework of searching for G News about Matt King Coal, the Federalist has an interesting rant with this gem:

    Ridley writes, “In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Britain and the United States made huge contributions to science with negligible public funding, while German and France, with hefty public funding, achieved no greater results in science or economics.”

    Considering that the public funding of the US of A dwarfs all the other three nations combined, I’m not sure how the Riddler’s riddle works exactly, besides exploiting the usual “France-Socialist” meme.

  40. Willard says:

    Reading so much crap creeping out of Matt King Coal’s Myth of Science, Orac facepalms:

    Basically, Ridley postulates the “myth” of basic science as a means of arguing that current patent policy is too stringent and protects monopoly (which is an arguable point) and that government funding “crowds out” private funding and prevents discoveries from being made:

    To most people, the argument for public funding of science rests on a list of the discoveries made with public funds, from the Internet (defense science in the U.S.) to the Higgs boson (particle physics at CERN in Switzerland). But that is highly misleading. Given that government has funded science munificently from its huge tax take, it would be odd if it had not found out something. This tells us nothing about what would have been discovered by alternative funding arrangements.

    And we can never know what discoveries were not made because government funding crowded out philanthropic and commercial funding, which might have had different priorities. In such an alternative world, it is highly unlikely that the great questions about life, the universe and the mind would have been neglected in favor of, say, how to clone rich people’s pets.

    At this point, I gave up on Ridley. First, he’s downplaying the number of discoveries made with government funding, such as NIH and NSF funding. Also, the Internet is rather a big deal to dismiss so breezily as a “highly misleading” example, given how it has so thoroughly transformed our world over the last 25 years or so—mostly by private companies taking advantage of and building on the government-supported infrastructure and protocols. As for the last “what if” assertion, I did facepalm on that one, given that we actually do have a sort of “living experiment” going on right now regarding what happens when government funding dries up. The NIH budget has been more or less static for over a decade and thus has declined significantly in real dollars. As a result, private sources have stepped in. Have their priorities been better for the country? Not really:

    So the riddle is solved with counterfactual thinking.

  41. while German and France, with hefty public funding, achieved no greater results in science or economics.

    That explains why the language of science was not German at that time, German physicists contributed nothing to relativity and quantum mechanics, German chemists contributed nothing to chemistry and agriculture and the US had no interest whatsoever in employing German scientists in the war period.

    What do they teach at these private school for future failing bankers?

  42. Willard says:

    GRRROWTH, Victor.

    See how our Viscount sociobiologically panglosses over Darwinism:

    Before I read this book, I wasn’t aware that I was a creationist. But Matt Ridley tells me I am, in his broad sense of someone who foolishly believes that any good can come of ‘human intentionality, design and planning’. With no little intellectual chutzpah, he offers to treat us to a ‘general theory of evolution’ of everything, surpassing Charles Darwin’s ‘special’ one that applied only to living organisms. According to the author, ‘top-down’ is always bad, ‘bottom-up’ is always good. By what evolutionary method he avoided consciously designing this book itself remains a mystery to the end.


    The question does arise of how much of the ‘evolution’ that Ridley perceives really deserves the name. Even his own Apple laptop, he argues, has evolved, because different people invented its various components and they all went through many versions. (Still, it is designed.) And Ridley oddly calls the ‘Green Revolution’ in industrial agriculture of the mid-20th century an ‘emergent’ phenomenon. In fact, many of the important early Green Revolution discoveries were made by research funded by the government of Mexico. But conceding that would undermine his insistence elsewhere that public funding of science ought to shrink.

    What all this glosses (or Panglosses) over, though, is the fact that evolution is a thoroughly nasty business. The evolution of species necessitates the torturous suffering and death of billions. Similarly, to abolish state schooling and allow an entirely private system to ‘evolve’ once again, as Ridley thinks is desirable, would of necessity condemn a lot of children right now to bad educations. It’s all very well to ‘fail often’, as the Silicon Valley tech mantra has it, when you are designing a smartphone app to allow hipsters to swap recipes for moustachio wax, but when failing harms people it might, after all, be useful to engage in a bit of the dreaded ‘planning’ or what one might simply call forethought.

    Steven Poole’s style and gusto shows there’s no need to shriek to school.

  43. Andrew Dodds says:

    Yes, Science is so awash with public funding that private funding is simply crowded out; we have all these philanthropists with their chequebooks open but the scientists just won’t swoop to taking the money.

    It really is a classic example of British upper-class snobbery over science, in which science is performed by ‘boffins’ in their shed/garage and doesn’t need any real funding – indeed, adequate funding would just make them less hungry; the kind of attitude that has seen so many innovations strangled or sold off from the UK for lack of funding for development.

    As far as the whole ‘Top down vs Bottom up’ approaches.. evolution has no choice. It can only do incremental bottom-up change because that’s how it works; that’s why we don’t have creatures with wheels, even though they are more mechanically efficient. For human society, top-down approaches give us sewage systems, highway networks, universal healthcare, full power grids and many other things that the bottom-up private sector can’t deliver.

  44. Andrew Dodds says:

    VV –

    And German chemistry continues to be strong.. had I gone into chemistry as a specialty, this would be the research team for me:

    ( )

  45. izen says:

    A few years back I surveyed the main pharmaceutical agents used in medicine. Almost half were discovered and synthesised by German scientists during the massive government investment in German Chemical research in the 1920s after WW1.
    There were few, if any, products that did not have major government funding behind the discovery and development of all the painkillers, sedatives, antibiotics and chemotherapy agents in common use.

  46. Willard says:

    C’mon, Izen. We all know how petrochemistry emerged from Sierra Leone’s stateless science.

    Evo ain’t about survival of the wittiest:

    Ryan seems to have deleted his account, however.

    Sad snowflake.

  47. izen says:

    I have always found the Libertarian hypersensitivity to government coercion, but myopia in regard to commercial/economic coercion a puzzle. Employers typically exercise far more control over their employees than governments.

  48. I reckon it’s because private industry so much more efficiently screws people over than gummint, Izen. In semi-related other news, Libertarians never get sick … at least not to an extent which exceeds their ability to pay for the treatment themselves:

    What gives you the right to have someone else pay for your pre existing condition?

    There’s another word to describe this sort of self-centered myopia: childish.

  49. Willard says:

    Since Natural News has been cited on another thread, a testimony:

    Mike Adams is one of America ‘s great journalists and freedom fighters


  50. JCH says:

    Adding nutrients to the soils of the bread basket is a piece of cake. All you have to do is put diesel in all the tractors…

  51. Pingback: 2017: A year in review | …and Then There's Physics

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