The Ridley Riddle Part One: The Red Queen

Originally posted at Skeptical Science on 30 July 2011

This is a three-part series on science writer, businessman and climate contrarian Matt Ridley. The first section looks at his science books and is critical of his latest book, The Rational Optimist; the second scrutinizes one of his blog posts on climate change and shows that his avowed lukewarmer stance is built on shaky scientific foundations; the final part examines Ridley’s history as a businessman, drawing parallels between his role in the credit crunch and his approach to climate change.

Sometimes, it’s easy to dismiss climate change contrarians as being a little slow when it comes to truly understanding science, but it’s not possible to do that with Matt Ridley, who has a well-earned reputation as a first-class science writer.  He is on the Academic Advisory Council of the contrarian Global Warming Policy Foundation, along with Robert CarterWilliam HapperRichard Lindzen, and Ian Plimer. As well as being the author of several excellent science books, he’s a journalist, a businessman, and has a D.Phil. in Zoology from Oxford. And he runs a blog that, among other things, takes a skeptical stance on the mainstream science of climate change.

Why such a talented science writer should have come to reject the scientific consensus on climate change is the Ridley Riddle that this series of posts will attempt to answer.

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The Ridley Riddle Part Two: The White Queen

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

In 2010, David MacKay wrote a letter to Matt Ridley in response to an op-ed article by Ridley published in The Times. MacKay’s letter and Ridley’s reply to it are both posted on the Ridley’s Rational Optimist blog. In this article, I am going to focus on Ridley’s reply, not because it is a particularly interesting or original addition to the skeptical canon, but because I believe it is revealing about the mindset of a climate contrarian.

David MacKay is a physicist but not a climate scientist. He is the author of the book Sustainable energy – without the hot air, which examines the daunting challenge that the United Kingdom faces in decarbonizing its energy supply. It’s a must-read, entertainingly written, easy-to-understand work, and can be downloaded for free.  MacKay was appointed in 2009 to be Chief Scientist at Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. His letter to Ridley raises points that will be familiar to regular readers of Skeptical Science; he cites recent evidence of climate change and discusses the analogue of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and the central question of the likely range of climate sensitivity. MacKay also mentions that his personal and professional contact with climate scientists bears no relation to the way they are often negatively depicted on contrarian blogs.

There are three main elements of Ridley’s reply that I want to focus on in this article but, first, I’ll simply list in point form some of the other arguments that comprised the rest of Ridley’s Gish Gallop, along with rebuttal links and brief comments.


  • Warming Island. See Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth article for a good review and anSkS blogpost.
  • Speleothem temperature records (from Watts Up With That).  A rough and ready analysis by Willis Eschenbach that shows that some temperatures over the past 10,000 years were hotter than today. Whether reliable or not, these results are consistent with mainstream science, as reported by the IPCC AR4.

Regional temperature variations from pre-industrial levels plotted against latitude and time before present. IPCC Continue reading

The Ridley Riddle Part Three: Like a Northern Rock

Originally posted on 12 August 2011 at Skeptical Science

This article will look at Matt Ridley’s involvement in the collapse of the British bank, Northern Rock, in 2007. I am not the first to attempt to link this business disaster with with his views on climate change; George Monbiot wrote an articleThe Man Who Wants to Northern Rock the Planet, remarking, among other things, on the contradiction between Ridley’s small-government libertarianism and his begging the Treasury for a bail out of his company.

The rise and fall of Northern Rock

Matt Ridley was the non-executive Chairman of Northern Rock, a British bank that, in 2007, was the first in over a century and a half to experience a run on its deposits. British banks had all survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the end of the British Empire, until Northern Rock failed. Ridley had served on the Northern Rock board of directors since 1994 and was appointed Chairman in 2004. A previous Chairman of the bank was his father, Viscount Matthew Ridley.

Northern Rock’s depositors responding rationally but not optimistically to market signals.Source

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