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Matt Ridley at TED

This is fun...

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  • Response
    Response: Sharing The Data
    The video is a survey from the advent of man to the invention of the computer mouse and what it all means. Highly entertaining and well worth your time. And just today Instapundit linked to an article exactly illustrates...

Reader Comments (36)

Simply brilliant! :)

Aug 7, 2010 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimonH

Interesting! But I'm sure a few feminists will jump up and down at the suggestion that men and women should stick to their own specialities..

I worked for one of the country's largest service organisations, which originally had a number of different divisions, each specialising in one aspect of the business. Then new management ideas took hold and "Multiskilling" became the buzz word. Old farts like me said it would lead to poorer service for the customer, particularly when they suffered from difficult problems.

Now many years later (I got out!) this does indeed appear to have happened, with new engineers taken on and given a fraction of the training I had. Off-Shoring of the call centres has further depleted the skill base.

I fail to see how we will continue to progress, unless this situation is reversed..

Aug 7, 2010 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave ward

This is an entertaining summary of parts of his excellent book The Rational Optimist, where he makes a strong argument against the prevailing pessimism.

Aug 7, 2010 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterQ

Excellent. Fun. Optimistic. The perfect antidote to weary pessimism of the Greens. There is a really striking similarity in his introduction to that of Lomborg in the Skeptical Environmentalist.
He has a great delivery style. It is hard to believe he is an Oxonian!

Aug 7, 2010 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

Was this your own little exercise in trade?

Aug 7, 2010 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie



Aug 7, 2010 at 3:05 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Watching that video would be more valuable to the average college student than a semester of study.

Aug 7, 2010 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

Aug 7, 2010 at 2:15 PM | dave ward

"Interesting! But I'm sure a few feminists will jump up and down at the suggestion that men and women should stick to their own specialities.."

I had a similar reaction. In addition I thought biologists whould be shuddering at the implication of sex and natural selection in the social and cultural sciences.

But, at the risk of arguing against no one on this thread, these concerns miss the point. In the vidio reference is made to the debate about intelligence by Matt Ridley. The particular view of feminists and biologist for that matter misses the point that it is the interactions of the complete mass of people which brings advancement.

I thought the presentation was excellent, as was Dr. Pielke Jr.'s video linked to in another post here a few days ago.

Now if someone could help me out with the money... I can't afford to keep buying all these books which people keep bringing out! Not looking in any particular direction, your Grace...

Aug 7, 2010 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered Commentertimheyes

I've always wondered what my computer mice were doing at night while I was asleep. Now I know. Already one of them, the pinkish one, is swelling up. And this morning I found the mouse pad torn up. I thought it must have been one of the cats, but, maybe it was building a nest.

I hope that the next generation are wireless. Really I do.

Aug 7, 2010 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

The speaker makes a good point about prosperity being tied to division and specialization of labor. Among current schools of economics, the Austrian School (see is perhaps the primary proponent of this idea. One of the reasons (though not the only) for the current economic wintery climes here in the US, is that the increasing number of regulations, taxes and fees are almost exclusively aimed at siphoning off some of the excess productivity that marks each exchange between specialists. For example, in the manufacture of an automobile, there are numerous parts manufacturers, design teams, shipping companies, etc. Every time a part changes hands prior to it's inclusion into the auto, there is a small bite taken from the exchange, a bite that is used to enrich or empower the governing political structures. Even a moose can be killed by enough mosquito bites.

The normal reaction is that companies and individuals either lobby their governments for special rights and protections or (more commonly) businesses and individuals retrench and withdraw a bit from commerce. For example, the man who repairs roofs has to pay an extra fee for licensing or taxes, and so he raises his prices. Because of that, when my roof leaks, I fix it myself, even though I am not as efficient at roof repair. Multiply this scenario by 300 million and you have a depression.

Aug 7, 2010 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterBob Shipp

Great little lecture thanks for that.

@Dave Ward, I don't agree that Matt Ridley was saying that anyone should stick to their own specialities, he just happened to use the example of the bootstrap in develpoment of early modern humans being accelerated by the initial male and female specialisations at hunting and gathering, and their trading their specialisations which gave them an advantage against the Neanderthals who had male and females both hunting equally. An interesting claim about Neanderthals which is totally new to me.

Aug 7, 2010 at 5:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

Wonderful! Makes me look forward to reading his book.

Aug 7, 2010 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh


There is evidence that Neanderthals had a separation of tasks so I too would like to know where he got that point.

In fact, Lewis Binford has made the claim that the males lived in hunter groups and usually were away from the females except for conjugal visits at their caves where they raised the kids. No man caves for them, no sir.


Aug 7, 2010 at 6:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Don Pablo de la Sierra, thanks for that link. I notice that Binfords theories are described as controversial there too, I'll have to finally get the time to start reading Ridleys book and see if his references are fleshed out there. I guess this was a short lecture after all!

Aug 7, 2010 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

Division of labour among Neanderthals. God, just what I don't need: another subject and set of books into which to dig. If I wasn't already retired, I would have to ... retire. So many books, so little time. As the saying goes, "youth is wasted on the young."

Somewhat in self-contradiction, I can recommend an intriguing if flawed book though - The Cave and the Cathedral: How a Real-Life Indiana Jones and a Renegade Scholar Decoded the Ancient Art of Man by Amir D. Aczel

Aug 7, 2010 at 7:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

There is evidence to suggest that Neanderthals interbred with humans. Sexual sharing of ideas?

Aug 7, 2010 at 7:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrCrinum

An excellent short video, encapsulating the concepts of the division of labour and comparative advantage. One thing that Matt Ridley leaves out is the creative destructiveness of competition through supplanting the existing order. Specialisation leads to new products and processes. By implication, the established processes and products are overturned.
It is not just in the sphere of production that these concepts apply. It is also with empirical science, be it economics or climatology. With complex data and many facets to the subject, there is scope for division of labour into data collectors, measurers, statistical validation, theory refinement. Alongside greater specialists there are also generalist assessors who get a total perspective of the corpus of knowledge, weighing up the status of competing ideas. Academic competition (to gain status) leads to improvements, but can also lead to diversity in conclusions. It also tends to blunt the conclusions where complex data is ambiguous or fuzzy. However, in climatology we have the IPCC, which divides the world into a small group of generalist experts (who all agree their main conclusions) and the masses, who are accept the wisdom handed down. A bit like the guild system, that kept England in the Dark Ages.

Aug 7, 2010 at 8:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

A great video.

Aug 7, 2010 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Thanks for the link Bishop, Matt was superb. I'll never look at my palm-knapper in the same way again?

Aug 7, 2010 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterroyfomr

"Nobody knows how to make a computer mouse, or a pencil"

Interesting observations. Could one could also apply this argument to the AGW theory, since it is a myriad of specialisations?

Aug 8, 2010 at 1:15 AM | Unregistered Commenterandyscrase

On reflection, I think, doesn't this just show that climate science is eminently trust-worthy,

Aug 8, 2010 at 1:35 AM | Unregistered Commenterroyfomr

Aug 7, 2010 at 7:59 PM | DrCrinu

"There is evidence to suggest that Neanderthals interbred with humans. Sexual sharing of ideas?

Neanderthal had two more chromosomes than modern humans - successful interbreeding was unlikely. Just as an example, a 5-6 year old Neanderthal would look and act like a 7-11 year old Homo Sapiens Sapiens (uhh, that's us... excepting maybe the Geico caveman). I'd be more interested in the evidence that Neanderthal had a much less pronounced gendered division of labor and next to zero trade links. Given that Neanderthal's brain was 10-15% larger than ours, he had speech and a capacity for abstract thought, these diffferences are telling.

In modern terms, Neanderthal was a protectionist and a gender-equalist. Neanderthal became extinct. And just where are we superior?

Aug 8, 2010 at 2:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert E. Phelan

Ridley’s key theme is the salience of trade — commerce — exchange — in propelling progress. The great point (which too many fail to grasp) is that trade makes both sides better off. Ridley draws an analogy to the biological exchange of information, i.e., sex, which propels evolution. Trade, he writes, is akin to ideas having sex with each other.

Ridley’s book celebrates the human achievement. To lament modernity, to deny that we’ve progressed, even to condemn what we’ve done, while romanticizing a supposedly halcyon past, is pitiably foolish. Ridley does a great job showing just what progress has achieved in quality of life for the average human. He and I share a profound reverence for the titanic human exertions standing behind this.
Reading his book on an airplane — a half-day transcontinental trip that for our forebears was arduous, miserable, dangerous, and took months — made me marvel anew at the vast web of contributions by untold thousands of people across the globe and across centuries that made this possible. The same is true of even our simplest modern conveniences, to which most of us give scarcely a thought.

I have been following the reviews and blog commentaries on Ridley’s book. Most have been quite positive. The nastiest was by George Monbiot in Britain’s left-wing Guardian newspaper. One can of course quibble with details of Ridley’s analysis. But to dismiss his basic story, to actually condemn it as villainy, takes a really diseased cynicism, and blinding oneself to what is, well, blindingly obvious. It’s painful to observe. And it’s harmful, standing in the way of a better world (especially for the downtrodden, about whose plight such pundits constantly whine).

 Monbiot et al are intolerant guardians of a narrow orthodoxy. They portray Ridley’s book as fanatically pro-capitalist and anti-government. It is not, and only a fanatic would see it so. Their critiques reveal more about the critics than about the book.

Bravo to Ridley for his breath of fresh air and clear thinking. That his message is widely labeled “radical” is ironic — the reaction really should be, “Duh! Tell us something we don’t know.” Yet Ridley is indeed telling us something that, sadly, most people don’t know.

My own book, The Case for Rational Optimism (Transaction, Rutgers University, 2009), does make many points and arguments similar to Ridley’s, but is far broader in scope, covering not only such topics as the economy, war and peace, technology, democracy, etc., but also the evolutionary background and the philosophical and psychological issues involved with optimism versus pessimism. See

Aug 8, 2010 at 3:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrank S. Robinson

The example of stone tool trade in Australia is interesting because of what didn't happen through trade.

Aborigines don't have bows and arrows. New Guineans do - and have had for thousands of years. There was continual contact between the New Guineans and Northern Aboriginals. Especially during the ice ages.

The bow and arrow was introduced to the Aborigines, and for a very short period it was used at the far north of Cape York. However it fell into disuse and it never traveled further.

The evidence of extensive trading networks in stone tools shows there was enough population density to support trade. That a new-fangled bow and arrow didn't take on is indicative of something different.

What I expect is the cause is resistance to change. Aborigines have been doing the same thing for 40,000 years or more. The ground was just not fertile for new ideas to take hold. Stone tool trading is O.K. New technology not.

Aug 8, 2010 at 5:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterJerry


Who really knows the interbreding answer? But "unlikely" on the basis of only chromosome numbers I would question.
Horses with 32 pairs of chromosomes breed with donkeys which have 31 chromosome pairs.
My specialty is a genus in the plant world, Family Amaryllidaceae. In this genus there are plants with 2N = 20 chromosomes, 2N = 22 chromosomes (most species), and 2N = 30 chromosomes. I have successfully hybridized combinations of all 3 chromosome numbers; i.e. 2N = 22 x 2N =30 gives 2N = 26.
I suspect that the answer regarding successful interspecific/intergeneric/interfamilial hybridization has more to due with certain DNA similarities/compatibilities rather than chromosome numbers.
Now how do we analyze behavior in light of the fact that monkeys possess a genome that is 93% similar to the human genome?

Aug 8, 2010 at 5:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterDrCrinum


Uh... you cross a horse with a donkey you get an ass. Viable as an individual, but sterile. A blind-end species. Chimps have a different chromosome number from humans, and I've never heard of a successful mating between the two.

As for the overall genetic similarity, I think it's that small dissimilarity that really matters. You can bring up an infant chimp and an infant human together (it's been done) and they pretty well level-peg for about two years. Then the chimp just stops progressing, entirely; and the human roars ahead.

Still scratching my head over what this all means vis-a-vis Neanderthals, though...

Aug 8, 2010 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterLevelGaze

How does anyone know how many chromosomes Neanderthals had? Does anyone have a link?

Aug 8, 2010 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

No Scientist says non-Africans have 1-4% neanderthal genes.

That would imply that Homo Sapiens could and did interbreed with Neanderthals.

In my case I attribute my intellectual capacity to Neanderthals, but reserve judgment on physical stature (obviously an HM trait :-) )

Aug 8, 2010 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

I stand corrected by myself, before anyone else does. In my post replace "ass" with "mule". Sorry! :)

Aug 8, 2010 at 12:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterLevelGaze

Good question about the link. I remember reading it and actually incorporated it into a lecture for my cultural anthripology course, but I can't seem to find the reference now. A quick and dirty search reveals a lot of talk about DNA sequences but doesn't seem to mention chromosome number. Wikipedia does have a pretty balanced article on the Neanderthal Genome Project at Max Planck Institute here

There are concerns that the samples used for the project might have been contaminated by modern humans handling them, but I'm sure that the researchers were well aware of that possibility and took steps to minimize that possibility. Producing genomes is a brand-new field and there have been fairly few records produced... with a larger sampling of genomes it might be worthwhile to conduct a study to see whether, and if so how much, contamination occurs in the construction of non-human genomes (i.e. finding human DNA sequences in non-human species would give us an idea of how successful attempts to minimize contamination actually are).

A lot of the interpretation of the significance of DNA sequences is filtered through the Out of Africa theory that holds that modern humans left Africa some 60,000 years ago and replaced other species like Neanderthal. A competing theory, definitely a minority view at this point, called the Multi-regional Continuity Model, argues that modern humans did evolve from archaic Homo Erectus populations like Neanderthal, in which case, finding Neanderthal DNA sequences in humans would not be so unusual.

An interesting result from DNA research indicates that humans and chimps may have split at some point and after almost a million years of separation actually began interbreeding again for awhile before splitting permanently. There is a lot more to learn.

Aug 8, 2010 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert E. Phelan

Ridley is not an optimist. He is a realist. In the US median income grew by a factor of 8 in the 20th century. Since China and India stopped trying to drive their economies by socialist diktat, their economies are soaring. Freedom and technology create unbelievably fast progress. A growth rate of 5% per year will double an economy in 15 years. This prospect for propsperity makes greenies tremble with Malthusian fear. But our biggest problem is our waistline.

Aug 10, 2010 at 9:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterTJS

A 15 minute tour de force crammed with big ideas. A hugely entertaining antidote to the prevailing pessimism that passes nowadays as profundity.

Ridley is not afraid to think outside the conventional pieties of anti-market environmentalism which so dominate current thinking and which threaten economic, social and (yes) environmental progress.

Aug 11, 2010 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

I loved the video and have it on my site as well. I've gone through the Rational Optimist audiobook more than twice. And, I've bought the hardcover so that I can see Ridley's notes. Because of Ridley's observations, I am greatly heartened by our collective chances on this wondrous spinning blue marble.

And (to paraphrase PJ O'Rourke) for anyone who thinks there was a better time than this one, one word: Dentistry.

Cheers, Norm

Aug 11, 2010 at 10:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTimberati

@Nicholas - I'll cut out and keep this one:

"A hugely entertaining antidote to the prevailing pessimism that passes nowadays as profundity."

Well said.

Aug 11, 2010 at 11:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

I've always wondered what my computer mice were doing at night

Real computers have balls.

Aug 13, 2010 at 7:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterM. Simon
Aug 13, 2010 at 7:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterM. Simon

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