Recorded: 09 Sep 2003
Yeah, I like writing. And I spotted that when I was a graduate student. I finished my research, breathed a sigh of relief and started writing up my thesis and I enjoyed it. And all my colleagues said, oh, I hate writing up. It’s the worst bit. And I thought, oh, well, maybe I’m different. And so I thought, well, maybe I should try to become a writer. Science is what I enjoy, what I’m interested in. And so I applied for a job which came up as an intern writing about science on The Economist. And I got the job and then I’ve made it—got a permanent job. And so for a long time I was writing about science, and then writing journalism generally. And I got a little visceral thrill out of turning a good phrase, finishing a good paragraph, putting together a good analogy. You know, these are the kinds of things that give a writer a cheap thrill, I’m afraid. So writing was something that I liked doing.
But I suffer from the same itch that all writers have which is that in the end you’re commenting on the world, rather than doing something. You’re one step removed from the action. And there’s always a tiny frustration there. And I also think that writing is to some extent a young person’s profession. As you get more fossilized in your views as a middle aged person you get less good at changing your mind and all that kind of thing. And so to some extent, I’ve, you know, done other things in my life. But—
Mila Pollock: As what?
Matt Ridley: Well, things like the International Center for Life at Newcastle which is all about trying to get across to people the excitement of science. Trying to, you know, grab ten years olds and say, this is a better, more exciting story than anything you’re going to get out of a game boy. And we’ve succeeded to some extent and not to others extent. It’s very, very hard getting across the thrill of modern biology to a very visual generation because it isn’t a very visual science at the moment. At least not at the macro level. You know physics and astronomy is somehow is a little bit easier in that respect, interestingly.
So writing has been a big theme of my life, but it’s not the only thing that I do
Science is the big story of our time. And bioscience in particular. And why one would want to write about, you know, human relationships or politics or all these other things that people write about when you could be writing about the “Y” chromosome sequence for the first time because nobody’s written about it before because it wasn’t known until this year. Why not?
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.