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Aussie musicologist calls for death penalty in global warming debate

An Australian professor of systematic musicology – is that a job? – at the University of Graz, Austria, has set new standards of retribution in the never-ending debate on global warming.

Professor Richard Parncutt writes on his blog, which is hosted on the university website:

If a jury of suitably qualified scientists estimated that a given G(lobal)W(arming) denier had already, with high probability (say 95%), caused the deaths of over one million future people, then s/he would be sentenced to death. The sentence would then be commuted to life imprisonment if the accused admitted their mistake, demonstrated genuine regret, AND participated significantly and positively over a long period in programs to reduce the effects of GW (from jail)…

And so on, and so waffly. Essentially, he wants to hang those who dissent from majority opinion.

richard parncutt

Now, GW is definitely off-topic for Slipped Disc. Not part of our discussion. So not another word, please, on the weather.

We might, however, pause to wonder why a licensed musicologist – itself a nebulous science – should count himself qualified to pronounce a death penalty in the unrelated field of climatology. Does Professor Parncutt’s conclusion arise from studies of seasons by Vivaldi, Haydn, Schumann and others? Is his opinion unfathomably systematic? Or is he just another tenured academic with too much time on his hands?

Does the university have a clue what’s up on its website?


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  1. Susan Bradley says:

    Musicologists are those people who talk about music rather than doing it. Very uncreative. For Professor Parncutt’ eddification, I shall suggest that he go back to performing music. Reality is sometimes cruel.
    Also he may wish to ponder the following ideas of weather, applicable in most countries, and taken unashamedly from Wikipedia, by me, a working musician, in between practice sessions. Were Prof Parncutt to go back to practising he might find the world a nicer place than he now perceives it to be.

    If the rock is wet, it’s raining.
    If the rock is swinging, the wind is blowing.
    If the rock casts a shadow, the sun is shining.
    If the rock does not cast a shadow and is not wet, the sky is cloudy.
    If the rock is not visible, it is foggy.
    If the rock is white, it is snowing.
    If the rock is coated with ice, there is a frost.
    If the ice is thick, it’s a heavy frost.
    If the rock is bouncing, there is an earthquake.
    If the rock is under water, there is a flood.
    If the rock is warm, it is sunny.
    If the rock is missing, there was a tornado.
    If the rock is wet and swinging violently, there is a hurricane.

    • Susan Bradley says:
      December 31, 2012 at 11:15 am

      “Musicologists are those people who talk about music rather than doing it.”

      No, those are *music critics*. Musicologists scientifically study the phenomenon of music in general and the history of its development and performance, the conditions under which those things developed etc. They also edit and publish music which is a particularly important field because many editions of the great masterpieces we all love are often corrupt and full of mistakes. They do some really important things from which performing musicians and audiences benefit. Everyone who likes to read a little about music and music history and the lives of the great composers and performers should be grateful that there are those people out there who do all that research.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        An interview with Pierre Monteux:

        Journaliste: Maitre, you began as a violinist and then became a violist; why?
        Monteux: Parce que c’est plus facile.
        Journaliste: And then you started to teach, why?
        Monteux: Parce que c’est plus facile.
        Journaliste: But then you became a conductor, why?
        Monteux: Parce que c’est plus facile.
        Journaliste: Now that you are a famous conductor, having directed the great orchestras of the world and the world premier of Le Sacre du Printemps and many other works, what could you possibly do next?
        Monteux: Je deviendrai critique, comme vous. (no translation needed, I hope).

        I beg forgiveness if you’ve heard it before. Happy New Year to all music critics.

    • MotherGinSling says:

      Musicologists are music historians. They’re exactly the same as “art historians”. Art historians study art in all its aspects, from its techniques to its social/political/cultural impacts, music historians do the same but with music.

      But apparently that’s difficult to understand. No one asks art historians if they’re accomplished painters or sculptors. I’m a musicologist and although I utterly despise Prof. Parncutt’s statement, I’m as ever unnerved by statements such as Susan Bradley’s that clearly betrays an ill-informed, clichéd view on musicology and its scholars.

  2. Norman says: “professor of systematic musicology – is that a job?”

    Apparently it is. I found this article by Richard “the hangman” Parncutt himself. Pretty interesting, actually:

    • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

      Fascinating, in particular the UN worthy scientific rigour of his Figure 1, page 18…

  3. Petros Linardos says:

    ” professor of systematic musicology – is that a job? ”

    What do you mean, Norman?

    You ever seem to contradict yourself: last September you reported the death of Adam Krims, and rightly wrote about him with respect. Adam was a professor of Music Theory. That’s the English speaking equivalent to Systematische Musikwissenschaft in the German speaking countries.

    • Wolfgang Marx says:

      “Systematische Musikwissenschaft” ist not the equivalent of Music Theory; that’s “Musiktheorie” (the other side of the analysis coin) in German. There is no real English translation for this term – it encompasses psychology and sociology of music, acoustics, in some places popular music studies or even ethnomusicology or anthropology of music – everything that is methodologically close to social sciences or sciences yet has music as its topic. In English-speaking countries it is more often than not covered outside of music departments.

  4. Greg Hlatky says:

    Dear Professor Parncutt,
    I volunteer to be the first person put on trial. So that your agents have no difficulty taking me into custody, my address is:

    4511 County Road 121
    Rosharon, TX 77583

    I work during the day, so arresting me in the evening would be preferable.

    I realize that in making this offer that when convicted the penalty will be death, plus court costs. I am further aware that I am surrendering any civil liberties due to race/class/gender considerations.

    Look forward to seeing you soon. Have a nice day!

  5. Timon Wapenaar says:

    Suggested titles for further research in this field:
    “The Musicians of Pinsk: The Socio-Politics of Incipient Global Warming Denial amongst Eastern European Wedding Bands during the late Little Ice Age” – Foolhardy, H.

    “Formalism as a Means of Curbing Carbon Emissions: The Politics of Consumption in the String Quartets of Shostakovich” – Schtinghammer, O.

    “Slash and Burn: Colonialism, Climate Change and Zimbabwean Sponsorship of the Arts” – Gono, G.

    “An Analysis of Schnittke’s 7th Symphony with Reference to Russian Ice Core Samples” – Dimwitt, F.

    “Getting the Temperature Right: Performing Monteverdi’s Vespers Under Historically Accurate Climactic Conditions” – Blindinsky, M.

    By the way, does anyone know offhand what the carbon footprint of your common or garden variety performance of Mahler’s Eighth is? Nearest answer to the cubic meter gets a fully biodegradable edition of Mozart’s scatological lieder…

    • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

      Too funny Timon!

      P.S.: Norman, after a quick internet surfing between champagne glasses, it looks as if the controversy was addressed by the University and the musicologist presented his excuses as per []
      Back to champagne!

  6. Hank Reynolds says:

    Systematic musicology generally refers to what we call music theory (the technical analysis of music) and distinguishes that branch of musicology from historical musicology. As a music theorist, I like to think it is a useful occupation. It is certainly more useful than being a dime-store scientist, a purveyor of fallacious logic, and a moral monster.

    I, like most people, hold and express opinions on subjects that lie beyond my formal training. Parncutt obviously has no grasp of statistics or ethics, but is not lack of expertise that renders his writing odious.

  7. David Cason says:

    The only appropriate response:

  8. Peter - a different one from the other Peter says:

    This is a more interesting story than it seems at first sight. The link provided is to an Australian online mag with strong views that there is no Global Warming, thus the diatribe. This, I think, is related to Australia’s economy being very dependent on energy and minerals extraction. 
    Be that as it may, Prof Parncutt of raises the question of how far people can be held responsible for the indirect consequences of their actions. And what to do about it.

    Killing with bare hands, causing death by stabbing, shooting, or firing missiles are on a spectrum of indirectness. Putting poison into drinking water, or carcinogens or whatever, are more indirect again. When it is indirect, it is harder to establish: was it deliberate ? was there knowledge of the risk ? Was there reckless disregard ? Should someone be held responsible ? 

    Think of the US gun control debate. After a terrible massacre, who is responsible ? The guy who pulled the trigger ? The person who owned the guns ? The person who sold the guns ? The company who made them ? The people who advocated not having tighter controls ? Legally or morally ? Some or all of the above. It is hard to be definitive, because of the indirectness.

    Now add to that a time delay, or uncertainty of cause and effect. Think of the Thalidamide drug tragedy. Who was responsible for the deaths and handicaps ? The mothers that took the drug ? The doctors who prescribed it ? The pharmacies that sold it, the drug company ? And remember that the drug company reportedly was aware of the emerging evidence of side-effects for some time, and denied any linkage, and continued to manufacture and market the drug. Indirect causality, uncertainty, vested interests.

    Extend the timescale further. And look at global warming. I don’t profess to be an expert. But if there is long term global warming, the victims will be our descendants, not us. The linkage between our current energy intensive, pollution intensive economies, and future environmental changes, and deaths is indirect, separated over time and space, and uncertain. And there are very strong vested interests on both sides of the debate.
    But if it could result in millions of deaths, in the future, what is the appropriate response now ? And if we wait until it happens, then the people who caused it will be long dead. So then what ?

    So I’d say Prof Parncutt is bold to step into this area. Perhaps his approach is a bit blunt and exaggerated. But whatever he says is going to get attacked. 
    He is stepping into a more vicious arena than systematic musicology.
    But perhaps it is good that even a musicologist is thinking about it.

    • Whatever – what he said was clearly fairly vacuous, since he seems to make no effort to right the wrong he claims to identify himself. In the interests of us all, by his own logic, should he not immediately seek to shut his department , move to a smallholding, and cease to travel, far less encourage any students to travel?

  9. Musicologist says:

    FYI – as a recipient of a master’s degree in musicology – let me explain (in very simple and broad terms) the three major types of musicology offered in an academic setting: 1) historical musicology (focus on the scholarly study of western music), 2) ethno-musicology (focus on the scholarly study of non-western music), and 3) SYSTEMATIC musicology (an esoteric branch of musicology that focuses on the aethetics and philosophy of music, including the politics of music. Given his specialty, he could possibly write an article about the effect of music on world climate changes because the basis of systematic musicology is music’s relationship to just about anything!

  10. Jane Ginsborg says:

    It is clear from the article, available on the blog of someone calling themselves Tallbloke, that Richard Parncutt does not advocate and has never advocated the death penalty for anyone. He simply wants to make people think. He is highly respected within his academic community, and has a long history of combining excellent research in musicology, music theory and music psychology with a commitment to causes of vital importance to the global community. I am sorry that he is being vilified on this website, as elsewhere, by people who have not read what he has to say.

  11. G. J. Radnor says:

    “Conversation about the weather
    is the last refuge
    of the unimaginative”
    Oscar Wilde

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