Recorded: 09 Sep 2003
I think that any kind of knowledge can be misused. It’s always possible that there will be dangers coming out of the genome. But I think it was quite obvious in the twentieth century that you could misuse ignorance about biology, in eugenics and in other ways. And that, in fact, the more we found out, the less support you give for crude and prejudicial uses of genetic information.
You know, we find out that races don’t have very big genetic differences between them. Things like that which really mean that on the whole is that so far it’s proved definitely a good thing rather than a bad thing from the point of view of risks to find out more rather than to stop finding out more. And I think that will go on being the case, not just because of the medical benefits, but because of the philosophical, self understanding that we can get out of the genome, which is going to enrich and make more subtle our understanding of who we are. And by no means cut off the possibility of changing it. In fact, I agree with Daniel Dennet who says that the more we understand about ourselves and how we are put together, the more free will we actually gain because you gain the degree of freedom of avoiding your fate, if you know what that fate is going to be.
Matt Ridley is a journalist and a leading science writer. He earned his Ph.D. in zoology from Oxford University in 1983. He worked as a correspondent and editor for The Economist, a columnist for Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph and as editor of The Best American Science Writing 2002.
His books include Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature; Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation; Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters ; Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human; and Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. His books have been short-listed for many literary awards.
He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Ridley is the honorary life president of the International Centre for Life, Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s park devoted to life science that he founded in 1996. He is chairman of Northern Rock plc, and other financial services firms.
In 1996, Ridley first visited Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and made James D. Watson’s acquaintance. In 2006 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and is a visiting professor at the lab.