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Forensic document stuff (Part 1—Documents)

I’ve used a typewriter since at least 1967 and computerized paint programs since the mid 1980’s. I guess in birther terms, I have 72 years experience as a forensic document examiner. But actually, I am not a lawyer, a doctor, a typewriter expert nor a computer graphics guru, but my position as a blogger entitles me to write on these topics anyway; and while I am not a forensic document examiner, I was privileged to listen to one on the Reality Check radio program and I once attended a talk given by a (reformed) professional forger. I served for two years on the Fraud Prevention Committee of the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems, the national vital records association. As a result of all of my experience, I know enough not to be fooled as easily as some.

One of the things I learned is that forensic document analysis is a scientific process and when properly done, uses the scientific method. The way a real forensic document examiner normally determines if a questioned document is likely to be a fake is to compare it with similar documents that are unquestioned—the more “similar” the better, and the more examples available1, the more certain the document examiner can be about the results. Two things muddy the waters when looking at Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate, the lack of real forensic document examiners, and the lack of real documents—both questioned and unquestioned.

Ideally, one would want to look at the original birth certificate in the files of the State of Hawaii and to compare it to other unquestioned contemporary original documents, preferably typed on the same typewriter in the same time frame. That’s obviously not going to happen for a variety of reasons and it increases the uncertainty of a scientific analysis greatly.

A more realistic scenario would be a comparison of the certified copy of Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate to a certified copy of another certificate from the same time frame and preferably typed on the same typewriter. This approach is also impossible to perform presently because of lack of access to such documents, and the general refusal by the Hawaii Department of Health to issue certified copies of other long form birth certificates. Lack of access to these documents increases the uncertainty of the analysis.

A fallback scenario would be the comparison of the images of documents released by the White House to images of other contemporary certified copies of long form birth certificates from Hawaii, preferably from the same time period and in the best of all possible worlds, typed on the same typewriter. The current lack of good images of contemporary certificates hinders this process. Here are some examples that are unquestioned (click to enlarge):

A brief comparison of the documents above and the White House birth certificate shows that the President’s certificate shares many common characteristics with the unquestioned documents, so much so that it is either authentic, or informed by authentic certificates. That latter is the birther approach, claiming that the White House birth certificate was “digitally constructed” by taking bits and pieces of other certificates and assembling them.

One can ask the question, “is the White House PDF a scan of a paper document or not?” I think that the scientific method could be brought to bear on that question and an answer gotten as to what is most likely. That would involve comparing the White House PDF file to a similar unquestioned file of a scanned paper document. Here’s where birther analysis is unscientific and why one questions the validity of birther results (and in particular that of the Arizona Cold Case Posse). The key word is “similar.” For comparison purposes the “similar” file should be an image of a similar document produced in a way similar to how the White House PDF is represented to have been produced. The Cold Case Posse introduced a “control” document, but it was not an authentic document, but something they printed themselves that superficially looks like the White House file, but has been optimized and smoothed multiple times. The second problem is that the process and equipment the White House used is unknown. One piece of software used by the White House was part of the Mac system: Quartz PDF Context. To my knowledge no birther analysis, and certainly not the CCP)  has used this software.

One of the birther objections to the White House PDF is a “halo” effect seen around the letters. Not having a comparable example, this objection cannot be evaluated. However, I did notice that in Adobe software (not used in the White House process so far as known) there is a suggestion that haloing is an issue, based on this dialog from the “Optimize Scanned Document” function in Adobe Acrobat 9.0.

HaloRemoval_Acrobat 9

So what is “Halo Removal” for if scanned documents don’t have this problem? Perhaps the kind of haloing the birthers find in the White House PDF is different from other kinds. There’s no way to come to that conclusion because birthers are comparing apples and orange. As a result any conclusions based dissimilar documents and processing, such as we see with the CCP, is invalid and unscientific.

Birthers raise other arguments that don’t rely on the assumption that no paper long form birth certificate exists. I’ll talk about one of those in “Forensic Document Stuff (Part 2–Typewriters)”.


1Addional samples help differentiate between significant and random variation.

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16 Responses to Forensic document stuff (Part 1—Documents)

  1. avatar
    Stephen March 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    The first pictured supposed certificate is suspect for two reasons. First, all the names are concealed. On a real certificate there are real names. Second, the purported ages of the parents. The mother is 7 years OLDER than the father? Give me a break. They obviously copied these backwards.

    Sorry, that’s all I could make up. My imagination can question only so much.

  2. avatar
    gorefan March 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    Sorry for duplicate post. I missed richCares comment.

  3. avatar
    Scientist March 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    If I might paraphrase you, Doc, the question comes down to what is the appropriate gold standard for a Hawaiian state certified birth certificate. The answer of course is a Hawaiian state certifiied birth certifiicate. Which is what the President’s document is. In effect, his certifiicate is its own gold standard. In fact, if there were differences between his and some other person’s certificate, we would have to consider his the better exemplar, because his is accompanied by a letter testifying to its authenticity, whereas the other would likely not be. Also, the President iis someone we know something about from other soources, whereas these other people are unknown to most of us.

    In effect, the experiment has been done and the document passed vs the control (which really is itself).

  4. avatar
    donna March 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    wouldn’t ONE THINK that, IF obama were to present a forgery, it would be PURR-FECT to ANYONE’S estimation?

    heck, i would find the number one forger in the WORLD, have a “birther proof” document prepared and then bump the person off

    but I’M sicilian

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    I worked half a day on this article and I am NOT going to let some crap-hole birther hijack it to bring up a long-discredited thing about the Parent’s Race. This is covered in the Debunker’s Guide.

    http://www.obamaconspiracy.org/debunk

    I moved the comments to the Open Thread and I have suspended veritas for a week.

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    Hey, I have seen REAL birth certificates where the mother and child were born on the same day. I saw one where the mother was 1 year old. I saw one where the mother was born before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Those are obvious errors. This one, just maybe.

    Stephen: The mother is 7 years OLDER than the father? Give me a break. They obviously copied these backwards.

  7. avatar
    J. Potter March 24, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Hey, I have seen REAL birth certificates where the mother and child were born on the same day

    Doc, I really appreciate the series you’re cranking out. And admire your patience. There’s a lot of effort here!

    Stephen was jesting. Apologies for feeding veritas. The illogic was too tempting.

  8. avatar
    gorefan March 24, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Hey, I have seen REAL birth certificates where the mother and child were born on the same day.

    So who came first the mother or the child?

  9. avatar
    Thomas Brown March 24, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

    gorefan: So who came first the mother or the child?

    The chicken.

  10. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 24, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    Can’t tell. The mother’s time of birth is not on the form. By the way, I have seen children born at 14:30 AM.

    gorefan: So who came first the mother or the child?

  11. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    What I am most interested here is any criticism of the article’s accuracy.

  12. avatar
    traderjack March 25, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Criricism of the article, Ok, as far as it goes, but, Dr., it is also important to not let your inherent biases screw the thinking.
    For instance:”For comparison purposes the “similar” file should be an image of a similar document produced in a way similar to how the White House PDF is represented to have been produced.”

    As there is little information as to how the document was produced, if , in fact, it was produced instead of copied, then any control document can be challenged as to whether it was produced the way the WH said it was produced.

    Now, although Polland is a bad word to many posters, he has shown exactly how he can reproduce the document in a video, and still people with said it couldn’t be done!

    Perhaps we should analyse Polland document to see if it was an accurate reproduction of the creation of the original bc.

    But, that would solve nothing.

    The other thing to look for, as these are produced by governmental workers, clerks , or typists is to compare the actual techinque of recording data from one source to another.

    My experience in government shows that the Senior Clerks want the documents to look the same to the naked eye,
    In other words , the entered words must be inserted into the forms in a specific place , and the typewriters, when working on similar documents , are tab set to enable the words to start at the same place on each and every place, with a variation of 1 space or so for the start of the word.

    Examination of the forms seems to indicate that the copies are similar to a great degree with at least on of the forms not being filled out using tab sets for the starting place of the entries.

    Fonts can vary, type size can vary, but tab setting is typically used by typists performing routine typing of form entries

  13. avatar
    gorefan March 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    traderjack: Fonts can vary, type size can vary, but tab setting is typically used by typists performing routine typing of form entries

    By tab settings I assume you mean the horizontal placement of words should roughly the same. But when we look at the Nordyke twins BC side by side even they show differences.

    http://nativeborncitizen.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/nordyke-61.gif

    Look at line item 7a Usual Residence of Mother, on Susan’s “Honolulu” is almost on the right hand edge of the box but on Gretchen’s “Honolulu” is in the middle of the box. Same thing with Box 7c County, State or Foreign Country. There appears to be a full tab stop difference between the placement of “Honolulu, Hawaii”. Box 12a and 12b show similar differences.

  14. avatar
    Keith March 25, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    traderjack: As there is little information as to how the document was produced, if , in fact, it was produced instead of copied, then any control document can be challenged as to whether it was produced the way the WH said it was produced.

    In fact the entire process, from go to whoa, was documented precisely.

  15. avatar
    J. Potter March 28, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    traderjack: Now, although Polland is a bad word to many posters, he has shown exactly how he can reproduce the document in a video, and still people with said it couldn’t be done!

    Silly Jack, missing the point as always. Maybe your logic circuit is faulty or missing, or you’re intentionally disingenuous, the effect is the same, and it’s for the Lord to judge your intent.

    Recreating a document and recreating a particular image of it are two different things entirely. Polland indulged in imitation, not anything approaching an autopsy and reconstruction.

    The only people saying that can’t be done, are … birthers.

  16. avatar
    J. Potter March 28, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    Keith: In fact the entire process, from go to whoa, was documented precisely.

    I assume Jack means the technical parts, how the PDF was produced from the paper document. Only a person questioning the chain of custody docs would care … and perhaps those with extreme Presidential trivia obsessions. Guess which category Jack falls into?