.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Regulatory Czar wants to use copyright protection mechanisms to shut down rumors and conspiracy theories


As Congress considers vastly expanding the power of copyright holders to shut down fair use of their intellectual property, this is a good time to remember the other activities that Obama's "regulatory czar" Cass Sunstein wants to shut down using the tools of copyright protection. For a couple of years now, Sunstein has been advocating that the "notice and take down" model from copyright law should be used against rumors and conspiracy theories, "to achieve the optimal chilling effect."

What kinds of conspiracy theories does Sunstein want to suppress by law? Here's one:
... that the theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud. [From page 4 of Sunstein's 2008 "Conspiracy Theories" paper.]


Freedom of speech requires scope for error

At present, limits on speech are governed by libel law. For statements about public figures, libel requires not just that an accusation must be false, but that it must have been:
... made with 'actual malice'—that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard to whether it was false or not. [New York Times v. Sullivan, 1964]
The purpose of the "actual malice" standard is to leave wide latitude for errant statements, which free public debate obviously requires. Sunstein thinks that room-for error stuff is given too much weight. He'd like it to see errant statements expunged. From Sunstein's 2009 book On Rumors (page 78):
On the Internet in particular, people might have a right to ‘notice and take down.' [T]hose who run websites would be obliged to take down falsehoods upon notice.
Further, "propagators" would face a "liability to establish what is actually true" (ibid).

Suppose you are a simple public-spirited blogger, trying to expose how Michael Mann, Phil Jones, Tom Wigley, and other Team members conspire to suppress the research and destroy the careers of those who challenge their consensus views. If Sunstein gets his way, Team members will only have to issue you a takedown notice, and if you want your post to stay up, you'll have to go to court and win a judgment that your version of events is correct.

Today that should be doable, at great expense. But before the first and second batches of climategate emails were released there were only tales of retaliation, with one person's word against another's. Thus at the most critical juncture, when documentary proofs of The Team's vendettas were not yet public, even a person who was willing to run Sunstein's legal gauntlet might well have been held by a judge to be in error.


The path from Sunstein's 2008 "Conspiracy Theories" article to his 2009 On Rumors book is straightforward. According to Sunstein's 2008 definition, a conspiracy theory is very close to a potentially libelous rumor:
... a conspiracy theory can generally be counted as such if it is an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role. [Abstract]
At this time, Sunstein's "main policy idea" was that:
government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories....

... government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. ["Conspiracy Theories," pages 14-15]
Government funding of trolls? Sounds like a bad joke, but Sunstein quickly upped the ante. In On Rumors he followed the conspiracy theory as slanderous rumor angle as a way to justify adopting the "notice and take down" artillery from copyright law. So Sunstein already has a history of escalation in his legal crusade against ideas he does not like. If SOPA and PIPA are enacted and the machinery of copyright protection becomes vastly more censorious, its pretty much a certainty that Sunstein will want to use these more powerful tools against rumors and conspiracy theories as well.

Sunstein's target has always been the very core of the First Amendment: the most protected political speech

In On Rumors, the rumor that Sunstein seems most intent on suppressing is the accusation, leveled during the 2008 election campaign, that Barack Obama "pals around with terrorists." ("Look Inside" page 3.) Sunstein fails to note that the "palling around with terrorists" language was introduced by the opposing vice presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin (who was implicating Obama's relationship with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers). Instead Sunstein focuses his ire on "right wing websites" that make "hateful remarks about the alleged relationship between Barack Obama and the former radical Bill Ayers," singling out Sean Hannity for making hay out of Obama's "alleged associations" (pages 13-14).

What could possibly be more important than whether a candidate for president does indeed "pal around with terrorists"? Of all the subjects to declare off limits, this one is right up there with whether the anti-CO2 alarmists who are trying to unplug the modern world are telling the truth. And Sunstein's own bias on the matter could hardly be more blatant. Bill Ayers is a "former" radical? Bill "I don’t regret setting bombs" Ayers? Bill "we didn't do enough" Ayers?

For the facts of the Obama-Ayers relationship, Sunstein apparently accepts Obama's campaign dismissal of Ayers as just "a guy who lives in my neighborhood." In fact their relationship was long and deep. Obama's political career was launched via a fundraiser in Bill Ayers' living room; Obama was appointed the first chairman of the Ayers-founded Annenberg Challenge, almost certainly at Ayers' request; Ayers and Obama served together on the board of the Woods Foundation, distributing money to radical left-wing causes; and it has now been reported by full-access White House biographer Christopher Andersen (and confirmed by Bill Ayers) that Ayers actually ghost wrote Obama's first book Dreams from My Father.

Whenever free speech is attacked, the real purpose is to cover up the truth. Not that Sunstein himself knows the truth about anything. He just knows what he wants to suppress, which is exactly why government must never have this power.

Soulmates (cue music)

You, on the other hand, are the enemy

In climate science, there is no avoiding "reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role." The Team has always been sloppy about concealing its machinations, but that doesn't stop Sunstein from using climate skepticism as an exemplar of pernicious conspiracy theorizing, and his goal is perfectly obvious: he wants the state to take aggressive action that will make it easier for our powerful government funded scientists to conceal their machinations.

Cass Sunstein may be the most illiberal man ever to present himself as a liberal. He also holds the most powerful regulatory position in existence, overseeing every federal regulation. For a sample of his handiwork, realize that he oversaw the EPA's recently issued transport and MACT rules, which will shut down 8% of current U.S. electricity generation.

Maybe you don't think it's a good idea to unplug critical energy infrastructure just to achieve marginal further reductions in micro-particulates that have already fallen to well below half of their 1980 levels:


Sorry but there is no place in Sunstein's EPA for such doubts and, as far as he is concerned, no place for them in the realm of public debate either. The environmental bureaucracy has everyone's best interest at heart. To question that is the very definition of conspiracy mongering.

Next people will be claiming that Obama actually intends for energy prices to "necessarily skyrocket." Such vile rumors need to be silenced, and this can easily be done. Once the SOPA/PIPA machinery is in place, it will only take one line in some future omnibus bill to extend it from copyright to criticism.

Crossposted at WUWT.

Addendum: Sunstein's version of constitutional interpretation

How to overthrow the clear language of the Constitution in two easy steps. Sunstein, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard, claims to know what end the authors of our Constitution were pursuing when they established freedom of speech as their means. From there he simply claims to have a better means to that end, as if his opinion of what is the better means could in any way alter the means that is framed in the Constitution:
Sunstein quoted Felix Frankfurter as saying, “Freedom of the press is not an end in itself, but a means to the end of achieving a free society.” After offering some examples in which uninhibited press freedom leads to the destruction of other freedoms, he proposed a reconsideration of the idea of the ‘chilling effect’”:

“Many First Amendment questions in this domain are resolved by reference to the ‘chilling effect’ concern. Indeed, it has become quite clear that references to the ‘chilling effect’ have had a very serious ‘chilling effect’ on engagement with the constitutional question …The question shouldn’t be whether there’s a chilling effect and how to avoid it, but how to achieve the optimal chilling effect.”
Sunstein wants to chill those views (theories even) that the courts judge to be wrong. Instead of letting the contest of information and argument reveal where truth lies, Sunstein wants to let these government overseers decide. But the Constitution establishes the exact opposite answer to the problems that speech can create. The founders didn't want government deciding what is true and what is false. They knew that free exchange advantages truth, while censorship is the handmaiden of falsehood, so they laid down that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech."

Sunstein thinks by divining the objective of this constitutional requirement, and claiming to have a better way to achieve it, he is thereby justified in replacing that constitutional requirement with its opposite: Congress shall make laws abridging the freedom of speech. His On Rumors book is short on details of how his system would work, but it is clear from the quoted remarks that he does not consider Supreme Court precedent to be any kind of fixed barrier. He thinks the Constitution should be interpreted differently, in a way that gives people like him a free hand to establish what they think are better means than those actually written in the Constitution.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Interesting paper by Hans Jelbring: The Greenhouse Effect as a function of atmospheric Mass

Does gravity induced atmospheric pressure warm the atmosphere going down? On the one hand, this would seem to be the mechanism behind the adiabatic lapse rate (the temperature change of a parcel of air as it rises through the atmosphere in the absence of any heat exchange with surrounding air parcels):
As air descends through the troposphere it experiences increasing atmospheric pressure. This causes the parcel volume to decrease in size, squeezing the air molecules closer together. In this case, work is being done on the parcel. As the volume shrinks, air molecules bounce off one another more often ricocheting with greater speed. The increase in molecular movement causes an increase in the temperature of the parcel. This process is referred to as adiabatic warming.

[This website does not relate the temperature gain to the loss of potential energy from descending the gravity well, but I think they should be equal.]
On the other hand, Willis Eschenbach over at Watts Up With That has offered a proof that gravitational warming of the atmosphere would violate conservation of energy:
I hold it can be proven that there is no possible mechanism involving gravity and the atmosphere that can raise the temperature of a planet with a transparent GHG-free atmosphere above the theoretical S-B temperature.
"The theoretical S-B temperature" is the theoretical equilibrium temperature of the planet's surface in the absence of an atmosphere. Thus Willis is claiming that an atmosphere can only cause warming through the mechanism of heat trapping green house gases (GHGs), and his argument seems airtight. (Check it out here.)

I have a few naive comments to offer, but my immediate purpose is just to make a 2003 paper on the pressure-warming side of the debate more available. Tallbloke has the whole thing posted but Willis, feeling that Tallbloke has engaged in censorship of contrary views, just censored MY link to Tallbloke's posting of Hans Jelbring's 2003 paper. (Hellooo Froma Harrop!)

If Han's gives me permission, I'll post his full paper. (Done. Thank's Hans.) Here is his abstract:

The Greenhouse Effect as a function of atmospheric mass

The main reason for claiming a scientific basis for Anthropogenic Greenhouse Warming (AGW) is related to the use of radiative energy flux models as a major tool for describing vertical energy fluxes within the atmosphere. Such models prescribe that the temperature difference between a planetary surface and the planetary average black body radiation temperature (commonly called the Greenhouse Effect, GE) is caused almost exclusively by the so called greenhouse gases. Here, using a different approach, it is shown that GE can be explained as mainly being a consequence of known physical laws describing the behaviour of ideal gases in a gravity field. A simplified model of Earth, along with a formal proof concerning the model atmosphere and evidence from real planetary atmospheres will help in reaching conclusions. The distinguishing premise is that the bulk part of a planetary GE depends on its atmospheric surface mass density. Thus the GE can be exactly calculated for an ideal planetary model atmosphere. In a real atmosphere some important restrictions have to be met if the gravity induced GE is to be well developed. It will always be partially developed on atmosphere bearing planets. A noteworthy implication is that the calculated values of AGW, accepted by many contemporary climate scientists, are thus irrelevant and probably quite insignificant (not detectable) in relation to natural processes causing climate change.

Journal Title
Energy & environment ISSN 0958-305X
2003, vol. 14, no2-3, pp. 351-356

UPDATE: My earlier comment exchange with Hans Jelbring

The lapse rate is a well established real phenomenon, but I've always had a little trouble squaring it with my own experience with altitude and temperature. Riding up Windy Hill near sunset, it always gets much colder towards the bottom when I'm going back down, not warmer. This "temperature inversion" (where the temperature gradient is opposite of the lapse rate) is a ground effect. Local topology creates local cold spots from which cold air flows into local cold air sinks.

I've thought a little about these things while mountain biking, but I never sat down before and tried to figure out how the lapse rate and local ground effects combine to explain my own experience. That is, until about a week ago, when I first saw Han's Jelbring's 2003 paper at Tallbloke's. Reading his paper prompted me to try to figure out the Windy Hill to Portola Valley temperature dynamics, and I left my rumination on the subject as a comment on Tallbloke's Jelbring post.

Han's very nicely left me a reply that filled in a key point. I surmised that the sun dropping behind the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains was creating create a local cold spot on the east slope of the mountains. At the same time, the sun would still be heating the western slope on the east side of Portola Valley, and since the difference in afternoon sun exposure can be a couple of hours, it seemed that a pretty big east-west temperature differential could develop, creating a U-shaped flow of cold air streaming down the shaded slope towards the valley floor, pushing warm air up on the still lit side of the valley.

This would explain why the warmest location in such an area will be well up from the valley floor, but in his reply Hans added another crucial element to this story, explaining why these warmest locations can be surprisingly warm: it is because when the cold air flows down the shaded mountainsides, it doesn't just push air up on the other side of the valley, but it also pulls air down from up above the shaded hillside, and as this air is pulled down, its potential energy is converted into heat energy at the adiabatic lapse rate.

Of course the question arises: shouldn't this air have been colder by the adiabatic lapse rate before it got pulled down? Why would this air from above be warmer than what it displaces? But there could well be reasons for that, maybe convection of air from local hot spots during the day tends to accumulate a certain distance above the hilltops. In any case, there is an empirically documented phenomenon of an especially warm layer that can often be found a few hundred meters above a valley floor.

Not this leads me now to a further speculation: that the warm elevation on the western side of a valley (the east facing slope) might turn out to be substantially warmer than the warm elevation on the east side of the valley, or at the least there could tend to be a systematic difference between the temperature on the two side, because the source of the evening warm-belt air on the two sides will tend to be very different. On the west side of the valley, it will be air that is pulled down from above, replacing the down-slope cold air that is sliding to the valley floor. On the east side of the valley, it would be air from below, pushed up by the cold air coming in from the west side of the valley. As this air gets pushed up from the valley floor it will cool at the adiabatic lapse rate, and if it had already lost its hot-spot air to convection, it might end up on the cool side.

Or maybe the fact that the east side is in sunlight longer offsets, or more than offsets, any such effect, leaving the east-side warm-belt as warm as, or warmer than, the west-side warm-belt. Just the fact that there is a glaring asymmetry in the sources of these warm-belts makes it an interesting empirical question whether there tends to be any systematic temperature differential between east and west side warm-belts.

If there is, it might even be important to know. Current survival advice is for people caught out at night to get themselves well up off of a valley floor should it it be easy enough to do so. If it is actually more advantageous to be up on one side of a valley than the other, serious outdoorsmen might want to know that too.

In any case it could be an interesting exercise for amateur naturalists, if they live in an area where some data points could be collected.

UPDATE II: Jelbring vs. Eschenbach

I also collected some thoughts on Eschenbach's "proof" that gravity induced atmospheric pressure cannot be a source of surface warming. In short, I think he is right, and that the explanation for how this can be squared with the fact of the adiabatic lapse rate is pretty simple: the lapse rate implies a temperature gradient, but it does not by itself imply anything about the level at which this gradient is set. It can shift up or down, and its position is determined by the surface temperature. To think that atmospheric pressure is creating the surface temperature is backwards. It is surface temperature that creates atmospheric pressure by causing the atmosphere to evaporate up from the oceans, at least in the special case world under consideration.

Anyone who wants to bother with this might want to read Willis' post first. Here is my comment. Willis asked for an account of Jelbring's theory that can be summarized in an elevator conversation. I offered instead:

A maintenance elevator story FOR Willis' QED

He already provided a simple enough argument (an express elevator story) but the following working-through of the history of a liquid planet dropped into a uniformly irradiated environment might help flesh it out a bit:

Assume the liquid is just like water, except that it does not freeze, and its gaseous form is not a GHG. Instead of water, call it fauxter. Assume that the incoming radiation levels are such that the SB equilibrium temperature of the planet Fauxter is below the boiling point of fauxter, and that when it pops into existence, Fauxter is entirely liquid and is colder than the SB equilibrium temperature.

When incoming radiation starts to strike Fauxter's ocean, the ocean will begin to warm and some of the surface fauxter molecules will transition to vapor. Evaporation will cool the oceans as energy gets pumped into the atmosphere, but the overall effect will be warming. Both the oceans and the atmosphere will gain heat content, and the more the planet warms, the more readily the surface fauxter will transition to fauxter vapor, building the atmosphere.

In this initial phase, incoming radiation exceeds outgoing radiation. The difference is stored both in the rising heat content of the ocean and the atmosphere, and in the increased potential energy of the atmosphere as it gets lifted up through the planet's gravity well.

Conduction should tend to bring the surface temperature of the ocean together with the near-surface atmospheric temperature. If they are brought fully together then the temperature above would lapse from the ocean surface temperature according to ideal gas law, decreasing with decreasing atmospheric pressure as altitude increases.

This seems to me to be the crux of the issue. The heat content of the atmosphere is all determined by the ocean surface, both through the warming of fauxter into fauxter vapor, and by heat conduction between ocean and atmosphere. If we assume no convection, then the temperature profile from the surface on up just follows the lapse rate, and it is the surface that determines the LEVEL of this profile. The temperature profile can be stepped up or stepped down but the level of the profile is driven from the bottom of the atmosphere, not the top.

This is why atmospheric pressure cannot warm the surface. The causality goes the other way, at least in this GHG-less-atmosphere example. It is surface heat that lifts the atmosphere in the first place and is responsible for the level of the temperature profile going up. That result of the surface temperature cannot in turn be the cause of the surface temperature. The push only goes one way. Atmospheric mass does determine the lapse rate, but not the level of the temperature profile.

Once the ocean surface temperature reaches the SB equilibrium temperature, the system does not gain or lose energy. Solar radiation will still pry fauxter vapor from the ocean, but an equal amount of fauxter should be phase transitioning back to liquid.

The upshot is that atmospheric pressure will not drive surface temperatures above the SB equilibrium surface temperature because the causality goes the other way. It is surface temperature, not atmospheric pressure, that determines the level of the atmospheric temperature profile.

You have now arrived at the Fawlty Towers penthouse. How's the view?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?