Matt Ridley

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The Right Honourable
The Viscount Ridley
Matt Ridley at Thinking Digital 2009 (cropped).jpg
A video image of Ridley at Thinking Digital 2009
Elected Heredity Peer
Assumed office
8 February 2013
Preceded by Robert Shirley, 13th Earl Ferrers
Chairman of Northern Rock
In office
Personal details
Born Matthew White Ridley
(1958-02-07) 7 February 1958 (age 57)
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Anya Hurlbert
Children 2
Parents Matthew White Ridley, 4th Viscount Ridley
Lady Anne Katharine Gabrielle Lumley
Residence Blagdon Hall, Northumberland
Education BA, DPhil (Oxon)
Alma mater Eton College
Magdalen College, Oxford
Occupation Author, journalist
Learned societies Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences
Known for Evolutionary view of human society
Notable works The Red Queen (1994), Genome (1999) and The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010)

Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, DL, FRSL, FMedSci (born 7 February 1958),[1] known commonly as Matt Ridley, is a British journalist who has written several popular science books.[1] He is also a businessman and a Conservative member of the House of Lords.[2][3]

Ridley is best known for his writings on science, the environment, and economics.[4] He has written several science books including The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (1994), Genome (1999), The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010) and The Evolution of Everything: How Ideas Emerge (2015). In 2011, he won the Hayek Prize, which "honors the book published within the past two years that best reflects Hayek’s vision of economic and individual liberty."[5] Ridley also gave the Angus Millar Lecture on "scientific heresy" at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) in 2011.[6] He was recently elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,[7] and won the Julian Simon award in March 2012.[8] In 2014 he won the free enterprise award from the Institute of Economic Affairs.[9]

His popular TED conference talk, "When Ideas Have Sex", has over 2 million views.[10] Ridley argues that exchange and specialisation are the features of human society that lead to the development of new ideas, and that human society is therefore a "collective brain".[11]

Ridley was chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007, during which period Northern Rock experienced the first run on a British bank in 150 years. Ridley chose to resign, and the bank was bailed out by the UK government leading to the nationalisation of Northern Rock.[12]

Education and career[edit]

Ridley was educated at Eton College from 1970–75 and then went on to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he completed a BA degree with First Class Honours in zoology and then took a DPhil degree in zoology in 1983.[1]

Ridley worked as the science editor of The Economist from 1984 to 1987 and was then its Washington correspondent from 1987 to 1989 and American editor from 1990 to 1992.[13][14]

He was also founding chairman of the International Centre for Life, a non-profit science centre in Newcastle, UK.[15] He served as chairman for seven years. He formerly had been a governor of the Ditchley Foundation, which organises conferences at its stately home in Oxfordshire.[16] He is a Patron of the British Humanist Association.[17]

He was also a visiting professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.[18]

He was chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007.[12]

In 2012 he became 5th Viscount Ridley on the death of his father.[1] In 2013 he was elected as hereditary peer in the House of Lords as a member of the Conservative Party.[19]


He is the author of several works of popular science:

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, Alice meets the Red Queen who stays in the same place no matter how fast she runs. This book champions a Red Queen theory for the evolution of sexual reproduction: that it evolved so that the resultant genetic variation would thwart constantly mutating parasites.

In The Origins of Virtue, Ridley argues that the human mind has evolved a special instinct for social exchange that enables us to reap the benefits of co-operation, ostracise those who break the social contract and avoid the trap of being 'rational fools'. It traces the evolution of society first among genes, then among cells, then in ants, vampire bats, apes and dolphins, and finally among human beings. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, former US President Bill Clinton named this book as one which had influenced his thinking.[20]

This book examines one newly discovered gene from each of the 23 human chromosomes. This was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2000.[21]

This book discusses reasons why humans can be considered to be simultaneously free-willed and motivated by instinct and culture.

  • 2006 Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code

Ridley's biography of Francis Crick won the Davis Prize for the history of science from the US History of Science Society. In 2006, Ridley contributed a chapter to Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think, a collection of essays in honour of his friend Richard Dawkins (edited by his near-namesake Mark Ridley).

"The Rational Optimist" primarily focuses on the benefits of the innate human tendency to trade goods and services. Ridley argues that this trait is the source of human prosperity, and that as people increasingly specialize in their skill sets, we will have increased trade and even more prosperity.[22] This was shortlisted for the 2011 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize.[23]

  • 2015 "The Evolution of Everything: How Ideas Emerge"

In The Evolution of Everything, Ridley "makes the case for evolution, rather than design, as the force that has shaped much of culture, technology and society, and that even now is shaping our future.” He argues that "Change in technology, language, mortality and society is incremental, inexorable, gradual and spontaneous…Much of the human world is the result of human action, but not of human design; it emerges from the interactions of millions, not from the plans of a few.”[24]

Ridley's books have sold more than a million copies and have been translated into 30 languages.[25]

Honours and awards[edit]

In 2010 his book The Rational Optimist (reviewed in Nature 465, 294–295 (20 May 2010)) was shortlisted for the 2011 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize.[26]

In 2011, the Manhattan Institute awarded Ridley their $50,000 Hayek Prize for his book, The Rational Optimist. In his acceptance speech, Ridley said: "As Hayek understood, it is human collaboration that is necessary for society to work... the key feature of trade is that it enables us to work for each other not just for ourselves; that attempts at self-sufficiency are the true form of selfishness as well as the quick road to poverty; and that authoritarian, top-down rule is not the source of order or progress." [5]

Publications and articles[edit]

From 2010 to 2013, Ridley wrote the weekly "Mind and Matter" column for the Wall Street Journal, which "explores the science of human nature and its implications".[27]

Ridley currently writes a weekly column for The Times, which primarily focuses on science, the environment, and economics.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Ridley is the son of Matthew White Ridley, 4th Viscount Ridley (1925–2012), and Lady Anne Katharine Gabrielle Lumley (1928–2006), daughter of Lawrence Roger Lumley, 11th Earl of Scarbrough.[28] With the death of his father in 2012, Ridley succeeded him as the 5th Viscount Ridley, having taken over the running of the family estate of Blagdon Hall, near Cramlington, Northumberland, some years before.[citation needed]

Ridley is married to the neuroscientist Anya Hurlbert and lives in northern England; he has a son and a daughter.[14]

In 1980 his sister, Rose, married the British Conservative Party politician Owen Paterson, who was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs until July 2014.[29] During this time Ridley was described as 'in many ways Paterson's personal think tank'.[30]


The Banks Group and Blagdon estate developed and sponsored the construction of Northumberlandia, or the Lady of the North, a huge land sculpture in the shape of a reclining female figure, which was part-commissioned and sponsored by Ridley.[31] Now run by a charity group called the Land Trust,[32] it is the largest landform in the world depicting the human form, and, through private funding, cost £3m to build.[33][34] Attracting over 100,000 people per year, the Northumberland art project, tourism and cultural landmark has won a global landscape architecture award and has been named ‘Miss World’.[35]

Northern Rock[edit]

Ridley was chairman of Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007, having joined the board in 1994. His father had been chairman from 1987 to 1992 and sat on the board for 30 years.[36]

In September 2007 Northern Rock became the first British bank since 1878 to suffer a run on its finances at the start of the credit crunch. It was forced to apply to the Bank of England for emergency liquidity funding, following problems caused by the financial crisis of 2007–08.[37] The failure of the bank eventually led to the nationalisation of Northern Rock. Ridley went before a parliamentary committee which criticised him for not recognising the risks of the bank's financial strategy and thereby "harming the reputation of the British banking industry."[12] He resigned as chairman in October 2007.[12]

However, it is likely all the money lent to Northern Rock during the crisis at penal interest rates will be repaid in full and earlier than expected with a profit to the taxpayers, as the state of its loan book turned out to be good.[38][39]

Political and scientific views[edit]

Role of government regulation[edit]

In a 2006 edition of the on-line magazine Edge - the third culture, Ridley wrote a response to the question "What's your dangerous idea?" which was entitled "Government is the problem not the solution",[40] in which he describes his attitude to government regulation: "In every age and at every time there have been people who say we need more regulation, more government. Sometimes, they say we need it to protect exchange from corruption, to set the standards and police the rules, in which case they have a point, though often they exaggerate it... The dangerous idea we all need to learn is that the more we limit the growth of government, the better off we will all be."

In 2007 the environmentalist George Monbiot wrote an article in The Guardian connecting Ridley's libertarian economic philosophy and the £27 billion failure of Northern Rock.[41] On 1 June 2010 Monbiot followed up his previous article in the context of Matt Ridley's book The Rational Optimist, which had just been published. Monbiot took the view that Ridley had failed to learn from the collapse of Northern Rock.[42]

Ridley has responded to Monbiot on his website, stating "George Monbiot’s recent attack on me in the Guardian is misleading. I do not hate the state. In fact, my views are much more balanced than Monbiot's selective quotations imply." [43] On 19 June 2010 Monbiot countered with another article on the Guardian website, further questioning Ridley's claims and his response.[44]

In November 2010, the Wall Street Journal published a lengthy exchange between Ridley and the Microsoft founder Bill Gates on topics discussed in Ridley's book The Rational Optimist.[45][46] Gates said that "What Mr. Ridley fails to see is that worrying about the worst case—being pessimistic, to a degree—can actually help to drive a solution"; Ridley said "I am certainly not saying, 'Don't worry, be happy.' Rather, I'm saying, 'Don't despair, be ambitious.'"

Ridley recently summarised his own views on his political philosophy during the 2011 Hayek Lecture: "[T]hat the individual is not – and had not been for 120,000 years – able to support his lifestyle; that the key feature of trade is that it enables us to work for each other not just for ourselves; that there is nothing so anti-social (or impoverishing) as the pursuit of self sufficiency; and that authoritarian, top-down rule is not the source of order or progress."[47]

In an email exchange, Ridley responded to the environmental activist Mark Lynas' repeated charges of a right-wing agenda with the following reply:

On the topic of labels, you repeatedly call me a member of "the right". Again, on what grounds? I am not a reactionary in the sense of not wanting social change: I make this abundantly clear throughout my book. I am not a hierarchy lover in the sense of trusting the central authority of the state: quite the opposite. I am not a conservative who defends large monopolies, public or private: I celebrate the way competition causes creative destruction that benefits the consumer against the interest of entrenched producers. I do not preach what the rich want to hear — the rich want to hear the gospel of Monbiot, that technological change is bad, that the hoi polloi should stop clogging up airports, that expensive home-grown organic food is the way to go, that big business and big civil service should be in charge. So in what sense am I on the right? I am a social and economic liberal: I believe that economic liberty leads to greater opportunities for the poor to become less poor, which is why I am in favour of it. Market liberalism and social liberalism go hand in hand in my view.[48]

Ridley argues that the capacity of humans for change and social progress is underestimated, and denies what he sees as overly pessimistic views of global climate change[49] and Western birthrate decline.

Climate change[edit]

Matt Ridley has argued for a "lukewarm" view of climate change and against renewable energy policies that he considers damaging to the economy as well as the environment. In a report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation in 2013 he wrote:

I have written about climate change and energy policy for more than 25 years. I have come to the conclusion that current energy and climate policy is probably more dangerous, both economically and ecologically, than climate change itself. This is not the same as arguing that climate has not changed or that mankind is not partly responsible. That the climate has changed because of man-made carbon dioxide I fully accept. What I do not accept is that the change is or will be damaging, or that current policy would prevent it.[50]

Ridley has consistently argued that the evidence suggests that carbon dioxide emissions are currently doing more good than harm, largely because of the CO2 fertilisation effect, which boosts crop growth and the growth of forests and wild vegetation, and that the best evidence suggests this will continue to be the case for many decades. In 2015 he wrote about a report by the independent scientist Indur Goklany as follows:

As Goklany demonstrates, the assessments used by policy makers have overestimated warming so far, underestimated the direct benefits of carbon dioxide, overestimated the harms from climate change, and underestimated the human capacity to adapt.[51]

In 2014, a Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Ridley was sharply challenged by Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute. Sachs termed "absurd" Ridley's characterization of a paper in Science magazine by two scientists Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung. Sachs cited the data from the Science article to rebut Ridley's contentions, and stated that the "paper's conclusions are the very opposite of Ridley's".[52][53] Ridley replied that 'it is ludicrous, nasty and false to accuse me of lying or "totally misrepresenting the science..I have asked Mr. Sachs to withdraw the charges more than once now on Twitter. He has refused to do so, though he has been tweeting freely during the time." '[54]

Shale gas[edit]

Matt Ridley was one of the earliest commentators to spot the significance of the shale gas revolution. In his 2011 report, The Shale Gas Shock, for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, he wrote that:

shale gas will undoubtedly prove to be a significant new force in the world energy scene, with far-reaching consequences.[55]

Ridley is a forthright proponent of fracking.[56] However he has been found to have breached the Parliamentary Code of Conduct by the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards for failing to disclose in debates on the subject personal interests worth at least £50,000 in Weir Group,[57] which has been described as, 'the world's largest provider of special equipment used in the process' of fracking.[58]


Arms of Matt Ridley
A Coronet of a Viscount
A Bull passant the tail turned over the back Gules
Gules on a Chevron Argent between three Falcons proper as many Pellets
On either side a Bull Gules gorged with a Collar Gemelle Or and charged on the shoulder with three Mullets pierced Argent
Constans Fidei (Constant in loyalty)


  1. ^ a b c d "RIDLEY, 5th Viscount". Who's Who. A & C Black. 2015. Retrieved 2015-10-31. 
  2. ^ "Ex-Northern Rock chairman Ridley joins Lords". BBC News. 6 February 2013. Retrieved 6 February 2013. 
  3. ^ "Viscount Ridley: Spoken material by date". Parliamentary Business. 2013. 
  4. ^ "World's top thought leaders". Real Clear Science. 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Hayek Lecture 2011". 
  6. ^ "Angus Millar Lecture 2011". 
  7. ^ "2012 Fellows" (PDF). The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 
  8. ^ "Past Winners". Julian L. Simon Memorial Award. 
  9. ^ "Matt Ridley wins IEA Free Enterprise Award". Institute of Economic Affairs. 2014-07-22. 
  10. ^ "When ideas have sex". TedGlobal. 2010. 
  11. ^ "Matt Ridley observes "ideas having sex"". Wired Magazine. 2010-07-21. 
  12. ^ a b c d "Northern Rock chairman quits after criticism from lawmakers". International Herald Tribune. 19 October 2007. Retrieved 17 February 2008. 
  13. ^ Debrett's People of Today 2007, p. 1406,
  14. ^ a b Ridley, Matt. "Matt Ridley's C.V.". Archived from the original on 6 July 2007. Retrieved 4 September 2007. 
  15. ^ "International Centre for Life website". 
  16. ^ "The Ditchley Foundation: The Governors". 
  17. ^ "Matt Ridley FRSL FMedSci: Science writer, Chairman of the International Centre for Life, Newcastle-upon-Thames, and Patron of the BHA". British Humanist Association. Retrieved 2015-10-31. 
  18. ^ "Matt Ridley - Biography". CSH Oral History Collection. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. 2012. Retrieved 2015-10-31. 
  19. ^ Beamish, David (6 February 2013). "Conservative Hereditary Peers' By-election, February 2013: Result" (PDF). Retrieved 6 February 2013. 
  20. ^ "Bill Clinton's World". Foreign Policy. December 2009. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  21. ^ The Samuel Johnson Prize
  22. ^ "Getting better all the time". The Economist. 13 May 2010. 
  23. ^ "The 2011 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction". Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. Retrieved 21 April 2012. 
  24. ^ "Evolution of Everything Book by Matt Ridley". 
  25. ^ a b "Matt Ridley". Times Journalist. The Times. Retrieved 2015-10-31. 
  26. ^ "BBC 2 - The Culture Show: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley". 
  27. ^ "Mind and Matter column". Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  28. ^ Matthew White Ridley – website
  29. ^ [1] Owen Paterson, his sceptic brother-in-law, and how Defra went cold on climate change
  30. ^ [2] Owen Paterson more than meets the two criteria for a good Cabinet minister
  31. ^ "Northumberlandia". Northumberlandia. 
  32. ^ "Northumberlandia: What it's all about". Matt Ridley. 
  33. ^ "Northumberlandia’s no angel, but she’s my Lady of the North". The Times. 2013. 
  34. ^ Sharp, Aaron (11 December 2013). "Stunning shots of Northumberlandia show why it beat Mexico and Malaysia to win global landscape award". The Mail Online (London). 
  35. ^ "Northumberlandia named 'Miss World' in global competition". The Journal. 2013. 
  36. ^ The Times 19 September 2007 Northern Rock chairman gives chief full backing
  37. ^ Pfanner, Eric (15 September 2007). "Credit Crisis Hits Lender in Britain". New York Times. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  38. ^ "Northern Rock 'to return £11bn profit to taxpayer'". BBC News. 28 February 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 
  39. ^ "'Bad Bank' from the wreckage of Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley is more profitable than RBS, TSB and Virgin Money put together". This Is Money. 17 June 2015. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 
  40. ^ "What's your dangerous idea? Matt Ridley "Government is the problem not the solution"". The Edge. 1 January 2006. Retrieved 1 March 2008. 
  41. ^ Monbiot, George (23 October 2007). "Governments aren't perfect, but it's the libertarians who bleed us dry". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2007. 
  42. ^ Monbiot, George (7 June 2010). "The Man Who Wants to Northern Rock the Planet". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 June 2010. 
  43. ^ Ridley, Matt (7 June 2010). "Monbiot's errors". The Rational Optimist. Retrieved 7 June 2010. 
  44. ^ Monbiot, George (19 June 2010). "Ridleyed With Errors". George Monbiot. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  45. ^ Ridley, Matt (26 November 2010). "Africa Needs Growth, Not Pity and Big Plans". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 13 April 2011. 
  46. ^ Gates, Bill (26 November 2010). "Africa Needs Aid, Not Flawed Theories". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 13 April 2011. 
  47. ^ "Matt Ridley 2011 Hayek lecture". The Manhattan Institute. 
  48. ^ "Debate with Matt Ridley on ocean acidification". Mark Lynas. 
  49. ^ "Angus Millar Lecture 2011 – Scientific Heresy". 31 October 2011. 
  50. ^ "A Lukewarmer's Ten Tests" (PDF). GWPF Report. 28 January 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  51. ^ "The Benefits of Carbon Dioxide". The Rational Optimist. 20 October 2015. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 
  52. ^ Sachs, Jeffrey, "The Wall Street Journal Parade of Climate Lies", Huffington Post, 09/06/2014. Sachs' article links to Ridley's "Whatever Happened to Global Warming?" (subscription required), Wall Street Journal, 4 September 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-07.
  53. ^ Ridley, Matt (2014-09-07). "Whatever happened to global warming?". Matt Ridley Online. Retrieved 2014-09-14. 
  54. ^ "Jeffrey Sachs blows a gasket, and our contributor cleans up the intellectual mess", , 9 Sept. 2014. Ridley quotes a tweet by Sachs: "Ridley climate ignorance in WSJ today is part of compulsive lying of Murdoch media gang. Ridley totally misrepresents the science," at Ridley's weblog
  55. ^ "The Shale Gas Shock" (PDF). The Global Warming Policy Foundation. 4 May 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 
  56. ^ The five myths about fracking. Rational Optimist. 16 August 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  57. ^ "The Conduct of Viscount Ridley". House of Lords Commissioner for Standards. 23 January 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  58. ^ "Fracking: Weir Group boss says Scotland 'well placed'". BBC News. 14 December 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 

External links[edit]

Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Matthew White Ridley
Viscount Ridley