Friday, October 16, 2015

Matt Ridley is an idiot

We do not often dwell on our mistakes, here at IT. This is because I already have a full-time job. But one glaring error of a few years ago needs to be corrected:

Dr. Ridley, a former editor of the Economist (the only newsweekly in the English language worth the paper it's printed on) is no idiot, nor is the idea that things are going to get better an idiotic one. Hence, consideration of his thesis is a little OT for this blog, but we aren't going to let that stop us, especially as Mr. Ridley's thesis is a favorite canard of the most dangerous and savvy deniers, those that have given up attack the science of global warming and instead dedicate themselves to attacking the case for action. The endless adaptivity of humans figures prominently in this set of crackpot ideas.
My friends, I was wrong. Matt Ridley is a screaming idiot. The evidence of this has been piling up for a while now, but the New York Times has helpfully assembled an overwhelming case for mandatory headgear for the 5th viscount Ridley.

It's mind boggling the diversity and scale of the stupidity Ridley displays in this interview. Ignorance of science, art, and economics are all on display. (He proclaims Vernon Dursley one of his personal business heroes. It would be easier to take this as "a bit facetious" were it not that Ridley oversaw the first run on an English bank since 1878(!), culminating in a taxpayer bailout that left the bank owned by the state.)

Where does one even begin with this density of nonsense? He takes the attitude of a sullen 12-year-old to literary fiction, describing it as "like playing tennis without the net" because it is not composed of things that "actually happened." Yes, this millionaire and hereditary peer, educated at Eton and Oxford, thinks fiction is unworthy of attention because it isn't "really true."

It gets worse. He lavishes praise on "The Hockey Stick Illusion," a discredited heap of paranoia and lies that looks all the more embarrassing in 2015 as dozens of papers have replicated the "hockey stick" and record-shattering warmth over the ensuing five years as extended the sharp edge of the hockey stick even further.

And it gets even worse than that:
Which writers — novelists, essayists, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
Ian McEwan, Willis Eschenbach, Stewart Brand, Deirdre McCloskey, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Niall Ferguson, Richard Dawkins, David Quammen, Sam Harris, Bill Bryson. People like this are more than mere writers; they are the generators of new ideas through fine prose, the heirs to Voltaire.
Leave aside the fact that Sam Harris is a bigot, Richard Dawkins has parleyed an interesting idea he had thirty years ago into a career as a professional anti-religious whiner, and the fact that I instantly knew, before Googling the name, that Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be an angry former Muslim employed by right-wing think tanks to vilify Islam and Muslims. What touches this list into immortality is that Ridley has placed Willis Eschenbach -- Willis Eschenbach -- on his list of writers he most admires. Jesus wept.

For those lucky people who have never turned over one of Eschenbach's rocks, he is a failed massage therapist/failed cabinet maker/Watts dittohead whose writing is horrible. Not just wrong on the science (as we expect); not just irrational and paranoid: horrible in style, in usage, even in grammar and spelling. Willis Eschenbach writes like English is his second language, learned exclusively from a brain-damaged crackhead.

Think I'm exaggerating? Take a look:
James Hansen and others say that we owe it to our Grandchildren to get this climate question right. Hansen says “Grandchildren” with a capital G when he speaks of them so I will continue the practice. I mean, for PR purposes, Grandchildren with a capital letter outrank even Puppies with a capital letter, and I can roll with that.
In any case Hansen got me to thinking about the world of 2050. Many, likely even most people reading this in 2010 will have Grandchildren in 2050. Heck, I might have some myself. So I started to consider the world we will leave our Grandchildren in 2050.
But Hansen doesn't capitalize "grandchildren," unless the word is used in a title, as with "Storms of My Grandchildren." This is the dedication of that book:
To Sophie, Connor, Jake,
and all the world's grandchildren
Tastes differ, but I very much doubt anybody with any knowledge of the English language at all would describe the above as indicative of an "heir[] to Voltaire." It rambles. It is vague and lazy ("many, perhaps most of the people reading this . . . .") It attempts a breezy conversational tone which combined with the mistakes with which the post is riddled grammar and usage (the titular eight-tenths needs a hyphen, "grandchildren" is not a proper noun, "unajusted" is still missing its "d" five years on, you don't capitalize "Final Conclusion" and you can't even pretend to blame Hansen for that one . . . .) gives the impression not of relaxed ease, but arrogance coupled with embarrassing vacuity.

Speaking of vacuity, here's Willis trying to defend himself from Roy Spencer's complaint that he stole from 20-year-old climate papers and presented their ideas as his own:
Easy for you to say. You’re some anonymous humanoid, might be a 16-year-old Valley girl for all we know, who is totally safe from such untrue accusations because you never have to take responsibility for your words—you hide your identity behind an alias like some kid in a chat room.
Who is acting like an adult here? Me, or you, you who won’t stand behind what you say, you who are too ashamed to sign your own work? Unlike you, I have a reputation to uphold and defend, and defend it I will.
This writing sample really has it all. It rambles, the second sentence is a garbled, overlong mess, and he's larded up the whole thing with useless flourishes that make it sound even dumber than the underlying stupidity of the content requires.

A decent ninth-grade composition teacher should have cured Willis of referring to "untrue accusations" or unnecessarily explaining that the purpose of an alias is to "hide your identity." He makes the classic neophyte writer's mistake of deploying useless adjectives ("totally safe," "untrue accusations") and seems to be unwilling or unable to hold a coherent thought from one end of a sentence to the other: "Unlike you, I have a reputation to uphold and defend, and defend it I will." What happened to upholding it?

Matt Ridley compared this hot mess to Voltaire. He, like Willis Eschenbach, is an idiot. I deeply regret my error.


  1. > Roy Spenser


    > here's Willis trying to defend himself from Roy Spenser's complaint that is stole from 20-year-old climate papers

    "is"? Should be "he", perhaps?

    And that's a reply to a comment, not part of the post, and not a reply to Spencer.

    Spencer's comment, slightly rephrased, that the Watties like WE lack all context and pointlessly repeat (badly) ab initio work that others have done better is entirely accurate, though.

    Ridley is indeed an idiot, and the cognoscenti have known this for some time:

    1. Good catches, thanks. I knew a post mocking someone for spelling and grammar errors would inevitably contain some. My only comfort is that no one has ever compared me to one of the greatest prose stylists of all time.

      "And that's a reply to a comment, not part of the post, and not a reply to Spencer."

      I would say the exchanges in the comments are part of his overarching defense of his behavior. It's good to note he wasn't attacking Spencer himself, however.

  2. What an insult to Voltaire. If anything they are the heirs to Pangloss. At least Ridley is, with his philosophy of 'Il faut chier dans le jardin des autres'.