Writing Nuclear Knights

Brian Martin


Go to Nuclear Knights

Nuclear Knights is an 88-page booklet analysing the pro-nuclear views of Sir Ernest Titterton and of Sir Philip Baxter. It was published in 1980 by Rupert Public Interest Movement, a Canberra-based nongovernment organisation most prominent for promoting freedom of information legislation. Here I describe briefly what was involved in writing and producing this booklet.

The idea

I had been actively involved in the Canberra anti-uranium movement since 1976. Another of my interests was the critique of science. In analysing science, I had read a fair bit of work in the sociology of science.

Most sociological-style analyses of aspects of the nuclear issue are by outsiders - not by activists. In my opinion, few of these analyses said anything useful to opponents of nuclear power. Someone directly involved in the nuclear debate should be able to do better. But what is worth analysing?

There are many more analyses of opponents of nuclear power than of proponents, just as there are many more analyses of those in prisons, asylums and dole queues than of who make policies on these issues. This led me to plan an analysis of the views of nuclear advocates in Australia.

Collecting information

In May 1979 I started collecting information about public advocates of nuclear power in Australia. I wanted to collect all the material before reading and analysing it in detail. This was not an easy process.

I already had a small file, including all pro and anti-nuclear letters and articles in the Canberra Times since October 1976. Friends offered some useful leads. For example, Mark Diesendorf had clippings about the 1972-73 debate over French nuclear tests in the Pacific.

I wrote to anti-nuclear groups asking for suggestions. This netted virtually nothing. I also wrote to Australia's most prominent advocates of nuclear power - Sir Ernest, Sir Philip, Leslie Kemeny and John Grover - asking for relevant articles. Only Sir Ernest responded. The Australian Atomic Energy Commission and the pro-nuclear body Council of Resources & Energy provided some material on request.

The newspaper cutting files held by the National Library and by the Canberra Environment Centre were fruitful sources. Also quite valuable was the Australian Public Affairs Information Service (APAIS), which listed articles in Australian journals by subject and author. APAIS listed many articles by Sir Philip in particular. Many listings of Sir Ernest's articles were in the lists of publications of staff at the Australian National University, where both he and I worked at the time. Generally if a journal - such as the Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences - had an article by a nuclear advocate, I searched the journal's indices to find any others.

This general method of proceeding led me from reference to reference, until I had sizable files, especially on Sir Ernest and on Sir Philip.

Reading the material

My files on Sir Ernest and on Sir Philip are each about four centimetres thick, aside from Sir Ernest's two books. In September 1979, I sat down to read each of these files in chronological order. For each knight I compiled an index of themes, such as "bombs," "hazard comparisons," and "uranium enrichment." Each time I came across a significant statement, quote or treatment of a theme, I made a listing in the index and marked the location in the article. The numbers of themes increased as I progressed through the papers.


After finishing reading the files and preparing the index of themes, I drew up an outline of what I wanted to write. I chose areas to analyse which were most interesting and illustrative, such as attitudes to nuclear weapons and fallout, and left out areas such as economics of nuclear power. Under each area, I listed key points, such as the different assumptions underlying Sir Ernest's treatment of the hazards of nuclear power.

After finishing the outline, I wrote different sections. For example, in writing about Sir Philip's views on the links between nuclear opponents and international communism, I used the index to refer to Sir Philip's key statements and treatments of this issue. In this way I could interlace my analysis with quotes and accurate representations of their stated views. At each appropriate point I noted source articles by Sir Ernest and Sir Philip to provide the basis for footnotes later.

Originally I had planned to analyse the views of Heinz Arndt, John Grover and Leslie Kemeny as well as those of Sir Ernest and Sir Philip. When it became apparent that my project was expanding excessively, I restricted the analysis to the two knights.

For me the hardest part of writing is the first draft. After this was on paper, I went over it several times in detail, improving continuity, flow, arguments and references. I consulted several people about difficult points and references.

By early December 1979, I was ready to begin typing. I typed the manuscript in 10 to 15 page segments, and asked my friends (and energy experts) Mark Diesendorf and Hugh Saddler to read each segment before I typed the next. The main advantage in doing this was in adding or substracting footnotes (which numbered over 200) before proceeding too far.

One potential difficulty is the cross referencing of sources. If I cited an article by Sir Ernest and referred to it later, I needed to know that it had originally been cited in footnote 64 or whatever. To get the citations correct, I typed a full list of all articles by Sir Ernest and by Sir Philip in my files. When an article was first cited, I indicated the footnote number on this list.


On finishing the typing just before Christmas 1979, I sent copies to Sir Ernest, Sir Philip, anti-nuclear groups and others likely to offer comments. I also submitted the manuscript to the journal Social Studies of Science. Unfortunately - or so I thought at the time - Social Studies of Science rejected the paper on the grounds that it didn't contain enough original sociological insights. I should have realised this in advance, but had deluded myself mainly because I hadn't wanted to contemplate producing another booklet at that stage.

There was no reply from Sir Ernest or Sir Philip about the manuscript. Nor was there much comment from anti-nuclear groups. But excellent comments came locally from Rosemary Walters and Mark Diesendorf.

During the three or four months it took for Social Studies of Science and others to reply, I took a much needed break from Nuclear Knights. In April 1980 I arranged with Rupert Public Interest Movement for them to publish the material as a booklet. Katherine Pitt of Rupert called Sir Ernest and Sir Philip to see if either had any comments, and to make sure they had received the manuscript. Sir Philip said he would sue if the material were published. So John McMillan of Rupert read the manuscript for defamation, but didn't find anything actionable.

From April to June I updated, improved and structured the manuscript for a more general audience, and took account of comments received. Also I rechecked every footnote citation and quote against the sources cited or quoted - a tedious procedure!

John Wood of Rupert offered to draw some graphics. I suggested some appropriate themes which fit in with places in the text, and he took it from there, producing brilliant contributions. Also I collected some graphics from other sources. Photos of Sir Ernest and Sir Philip were obtained from Sir Ernest, Chain Reaction and the Canberra Times.

Typesetting and layout

I typeset the manuscript on the compositor of the ANU Students' Association, spending about one hour per day after Peta Watt finished work, over a period of six weeks. Essentially the compositor typed directly onto a sheet of paper. Mistakes caught immediately could be fixed with opaquing fluid. For more serious blunders, the incorrect work, line or paragraph had to be retyped separately and laid on top of the incorrect text. To avoid this, I typed very slowly and carefully. By doing the typesetting myself, there was no need to prepare a second draft readable to anyone but me.

As I went along I prepared a layout mockup using photocopies of the typeset text. Betty Hawkins helped in proofreading by reading out loud from the typeset text while I compared this with the original (now covered with many pencilled changes).

After finishing the typesetting, I laid out the book. Actually some of the typesetting could be done directly on the layout sheets, such as page numbers, thus avoiding lots of fiddly work in laying out.

Stewart Toshach and Alan Cummine proofread the book at this stage. A photocopy of the layout was sent to Sir Philip, and he again said over the phone that he intended to sue. Two other solicitors read the material, again finding nothing actionable.

In early September the layout sheets and photos went to Union Offset for printing. Nuclear Knights was ready in about two and a half weeks. The next stage was promotion and distribution. But that's another story!