Matt Ridley studied zoology at Oxford before becoming a journalist. He was science editor and American editor of the Economist from 1983 to 1992, and was a regular columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and Daily Telegraph from 1993 to 2000. He is the author of a number of science-related books.
Ridley is chairman of the International Centre for Life, a multi-million pound 'science park and education project' to 'foster the life sciences', that opened in May 2000 in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. He is also a director of a number of companies and is on the Advisory Council of the controversial pro-GM lobby group Sense About Science. He has an association with the libertarian and anti-environmental LM network via being a shareholder of Spiked.
Ridley's writing has contributed to the anti-Green backlash. Starting in 1995, a series of volumes based on his Down to Earth columns in the Sunday Telegraph were published as Down to Earth: A contrarian view of environmental problems; Down to Earth, Combating Environmental Myth; etc.
The first volume of Down to Earth appeared at almost the same time as Wilfred Beckerman's Small is Stupid and Richard D. North's Life on a Modern Planet. All 3 books attacked the environmental movement.
In Down to Earth Ridley labelled environmentalists 'Gestapo'. Like other contrarians, he attacked the science of climate change and what he termed 'ozone exagerration'. According to Ridley, many 'green' arguments are just socialist ones in new clothing. Ridley maintained the same tone in his Daily Telegraph Acid Test columns where he railed against The mad mullahs of ecology.
Like Beckermann and North, Ridley links to London's far-right Institute of Economic Affairs, where he is a Research Fellow and which was the publisher of his Down to Earth books. In August 1999 Ridley used one of his Telegraph columns to hype a book (Fearing Food) which was edited by the directors of the IEA's Environment Unit Roger Bate and Julian Morris.
In Unsavoury facts about organic food (Daily Telegraph, 16 Aug 1999) Ridley took the opportunity to repeat Dennis Avery's E. coli myth: 'according to the United States Centers for Disease Control, people who eat the products of...[organic agriculture] are eight times more likely to contract the strain of E-coli that killed 21 people in Lanarkshire in 1997'. This in spite of the fact that Centers for Disease Control had issued a press release in response to Avery's claims stating, 'The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not conducted any study that compares or quantitates the specific risk for infection with E. coli 0157:H7 and eating either conventionally grown or organic/natural foods.'
Ridley's generalised antipathy to organic farming surfaced again in a Guardian article in April 2003 where he quoted GM propagandist, CS Prakash, 'Organic farming is sustainable. It sustains poverty and malnutrition.'
In his book Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters (2000), Ridley writes that the 'opposition to genetically modified crops' is 'motivated more by hatred of new technology than love of the environment'. Some think Ridley's motivation for supporting all things GM and attacking all things organic can best be understood as a neo-liberal technophile's hatred of those who raise criticisms and questions about his ideologically framed obsessions.
Ridley contributed an essay titled "Genetically modified crops and the perils of rejecting innovation" to the Policy Exchange report, Science vs Superstition – the case for a new scientific enlightenment (2006). The report, says the Policy Exchange, "challenges the common belief that scientific progress in today’s world inevitably entails an element of danger or moral uncertainty" and "examines several case studies of the battle of scientific progress against unsubstantiated fears".
The essay, notes Edward Targett in an article for CommonDreams, was lauded by commentators as a "superb and meticulous critique of today's anti-science and anti-industrial forces".
Ridley was non-executive chairman of failed British bank Northern Rock in 2007 when it was taken into administration after a run on its finances. Ridley told the Treasury Select Committee investigating Northern Rock's collapse that the bank had been hit by "wholly unexpected" events and he defended the way he and his colleagues had been running the bank.
Career, affiliations, publications, contact, notes
- Matt Ridley, We have a new climate change consensus — and it's good news everyone, The Spectator (front page), 5 April 2014
- Matt Ridley 'Genetically modified crops and the perils of rejecting innovation' in James Panton and Oliver Marc Hartwich (Eds) Science vs superstition: the case for a new scientific enlightenment, London/buckingham: Policy Exchange//University of Buckingham Press, 2006.
- The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves Published: May 2010.
- Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human Published: May 2004.
- Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code Published: February 2008.
- Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters Published: March 2000.
- The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation Published: October 1997
- The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature Published: October 1994