My Thing with the Royal Court

I’ve just replied to the Royal Court’s executive producer. I promise I’ll keep the discussion polite from now on. Thanks to those who have offered their advice, and to Barry Woods and Paul Matthews who alerted me to a tweet in which Rapley says it’s “nothing to do with freedom of speech – straightforward breach of copyright.”
I try to counter this argument in my letter, without referring to the law, but merely to the fact that rational discussion of the points made by Rapley require that his text be in the public domain. Of course, if he doesn’t want rational discussion of the points he makes, or claims that 2071 is a work of fiction largely written by Macmillan, then I don’t have a leg to stand on. Here’s my reply:

Dear Ms Davies
On receipt of your letter I wrote a very rude reply on my blog, for which I apologise. I have since revised it, while leaving the original rudeness visible. I realise it was quite unforgivable to address you publicly in this fashion. As you know, here in France the Charlie Hebdo affair has resulted in a week of extremely fraught and often aggressive discussion about free speech and its limits. I overstepped those limits.

To reply directly to your point:
Yes, I have published an unauthorised transcription of the text by Macmillan and Rapley.
I appreciate that the authors hold a copyright on any work they publish, but since this work doesn’t exist anywhere at the moment except on my site, I don’t see how I can be infringing their copyright. The day they publish this work I will indeed take it down.

I am surprised that the authors are bothered about this. Apart from two anecdotes about professor Rapley’s boyhood atlas and the ice melting in his hand, there’s nothing in this text which couldn’t be found on Wikipaedia or in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. I’ll take those two anecdotes out if you like and rewrite the piece, using those two sources, and putting it in the third person.

More seriously, there is a strong public interest defence for keeping the text in the public domain. Apart from the personal anecdotes and the potted autobiography, the text is a political tract aimed at changing the behaviour of the whole world by reorganising the political and economic structure of society. A political tract is open to criticism, and to be criticised it must be cited. (Marx and Engels could no doubt have claimed copyright to the Communist Manifesto, but they’d have looked pretty silly if they tried to prevent people from reading it.)

My main criticisms of the text are 1) that it is extraordinarily boring, and 2) that it is grossly misleading in what it chooses to leave out. Both criticisms can only be justified by quoting the whole text. The first criticism is of course subjective, but important, given that professor Rapley, in an interview on your site, insists that it was written largely by Duncan Macmillan, who is a professional playwright.

The second criticism is far more serious. This is not the place to discuss the science of climate change, but Professor Rapley (or Mr Macmillan) admits that there is much we don’t know and will probably never know about the climate. (I know he said that because it’s in the transcript. It’s clearly important to know that an eminent scientist whose advice is sought by government bodies has admitted the ignorance surrounding the science.)
There is nothing in the text about the uncertainty surrounding climate sensitivity (the likely temperature rise resulting from a doubling of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere); nothing about the fact that predictions of future temperature rise are based on computer models, not on science; nothing about the failure of models to predict recent temperatures, or the fact that average atmospheric temperatures have not risen at all for the past eighteen years. There is nothing about the fact that climate related disasters have not risen over the past sixty odd years during which atmospheric CO2 has been rising. The causal connection between CO2 and temperature in the geological past is mentioned, but the fact that it is the temperature rise which causes increased CO2, and not vice versa, is glossed over.
The consistent choice of facts which support the climate catastrophe position and the absence of any expression of facts which argue against that position is the act of an activist, not of a scientist. For example, Rapley nowhere refers to the current eighteen year pause in temperature rise, but states that “each of the last three decades has been successively warmer … than any preceding decade since 1850.” which may be true, just as it’s true that in each of the last three decades we have become successively richer. But anyone who made that statement without mentioning the economic crisis of 2007 would be accused of being grossly misleading.

Both the text and the wide public discussion about the play in the media have emphasised the authority of science and of Rapley as a scientist. In giving such a partial, one-sided history of the current climate and of current climate science, this text gives a distorted view of the science. If you don’t believe me, you can read the text to check. The only way to demonstrate what it leaves out is to quote the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text. If I take the text down, we’ll have no way of knowing who’s right, but simply the word of Rapley (and Macmillan) and the memory of the few hundred people who saw the show.

Yours
Geoff Chambers

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5 Responses to My Thing with the Royal Court

  1. Brad Keyes says:

    Geoff, try to empathise with Rapley. He’d love to save the world, but not for free. You understand that, don’t you? I mean it’s only human, right?

  2. Brad Keyes says:

    PS I don’t imagine you’ve had much spare time/sleep in the last couple of days for obvious reasons, but that’s no excuse for neglecting the less-important fact that I replied to you at Joe Duarte’s blog. I demand your thoughts in response, and refuse to pay a penny for them.

  3. tbtaaim says:

    Recursive Fury set what I believe to be a clear legal precedent for this issue that may inform future transcriptions: it is acceptable and lawful to take something someone else has said and re-publish it within the literature, provided you: (a) do so wholly out of context so as to lose all proper meaning; (b) misquote; and/or (c) attribute the words to the wrong person. I’m afraid that by transcribing with full accuracy and attributing the words to the person who spoke them you failed to comply. No royal society medal for YOU.

  4. TinyCO2 says:

    It’s possible to copyright phrases and actual words but not the gist of what the thing was about. You could list each item he talks about in your own words (including the personal anecdotes), linking to an appropriate graphic and then outline what’s wrong with it. Of course if there are any choice phrases you can quote them directly.

    You can disseminate it further afield by regularly mentioning key words like “Rapley” so potentially your hatchet piece is easier to find than other references to the show or future versions. Getting other blogger, twitterers and Facebookers to link to it one it’s written will also help.

    Of course by taking a stand on this obviously tedious work, you risk the Streisand Effect.

    If you’ve got the energy for that I’d rather see a sceptic guide to being sceptic. You know, all those niggly little things that make us sceptical in the first place. I’m sure Rapley’s work contained many of them.

  5. Brad Keyes
    I only just read your comment on Lewandowsky’s nationality at
    http://www.joseduarte.com/blog/how-one-paleo-participant-can-change-the-outcome-of-a-study
    When I transcribed an interview with Lewandowsky I became fascinated by his accent, which seemed to lurch from Australian to mid-west (he was at Oklahoma University) to what I took to be New England. (I think he was born in Maine).
    tbtaaim
    I read recently that a new law in Britain protects peer-reviewed articles from the libel laws. I suppose I could establish this site as an on-line scientific review and ask you-all to peer review it.
    TinyCO2
    On the idea of “a sceptic guide to being sceptic”: there’s an excellent article at Paul Matthews’ blog on what makes people come over to the dark side, which follows on from articles at Jeff Id’s and Judith Curry’s:
    https://ipccreport.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/converts-to-scepticism/

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