For the Birthers to assert that Barack Obama was born overseas, they must deal first with his certified Hawaiian long-form birth certificate that says he was born in a Honolulu hospital in 1961. Some Birthers simply deny the authenticity of the certificate, despite repeated confirmation from the State of Hawaii to the contrary. A minority deny that the certificate, even if authentic, means what it says and that minority position is the subject of this article.
Authors Penbrook Johannson and Daniel Crosby at The Daily Pen, argue that the necessity of gathering data useful for predicting future population trends somehow forces birth certificates to contain false birthplaces, and makes birth certificates in general useless for determining a candidate’s eligibility for President. Their article is: Vital Records Indicate Obama Not Born in Hawaii Hospital (Part 3).
In Part 1 of this article, I examine Johannson and Crosby’s statistical argument and show that it is not only wrong, but contrary to law. In Part 2, I examine their claim that births occurring in a foreign country in 1961 were registered as if they had happened in the US, and I uncover a startling fact.
Any normal person looking at a birth certificate that says:
- 6a. Place of Birth: City, Town or Rural location – Honolulu
- 6b. Island – Oahu
- 6c. Name of Hospital or Institution (If not in hospital or Institution, give street address) – Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital
would conclude that the person named on the certificate was born in a Honolulu hospital. It’s right there on the form: “if not in hospital…give street address” and there is no street address. However, that conclusion is not acceptable to authors Johannson and Crosby, who publish an extremely long article that attempts to convince their readers that “born in a hospital” can mean “not born in a hospital.” Given their self-contradictory conclusion (“born in a hospital” = “not born in a hospital”) one knows from the start that there is a fallacy, and my purpose here is to point it out.
I previously showed the first two parts of the Johannson/Crosby series were false (see: “More Birther certificate numbering BS” and “Decoding the Long Form (Part 1)”. Now I point out the rather obvious problem in their third offering. (As I went through their article I found a number of questionable items, but the write-up was getting too long, so I deleted a lot to get to the main point faster. While I deleted my section on the Model State Vital Statistics Acts, I refer the reader to my May 2010 article on the subject. The reader interested in a more in-depth understanding of vital statistics is urged to read that article and the external links it references.)
Despite claims to the contrary, Johannson and Crosby have a fundamentally insufficient grasp of vital statistics practice (despite having obviously read a lot on the Internet). This is apparent to someone like me who spent his whole career in vital statistics and public health, because Johannson and Crosby do not understand (or pretend not to understand) the most basic concept: vital records are comprised of two parts, the legal record and the statistical record, corresponding to the two purposes they serve. This is one of the first principles that vital records subject matter experts drummed into my head decades ago as I worked to design software that would be used in a series of statewide vital statistics data systems.
Because a birth certificate is first and foremost a legal record and the information on it defines the legal status of the certificate holder (for example establishing his name, age, birthplace and his parentage), it is essential that everything on that record be true and verifiable before the birth is registered. Changes to the legal portion of the record are strictly controlled by regulations and statutes (some changes requiring a court order) and the idea that a hospital (or a State vital records office for that matter) would falsify the legal portion of a birth certificate for statistical purposes is absurd on the face of it.
Perhaps this is a good time to quote from the Model State Vital Statistics Act, 1977 version, where the objectives of the Model Act are listed, and in particular:
(2) to promote the uniformity of these policies and procedures to the end that all vital records will be readily acceptable in all places as prima facie evidence of the facts therein recorded [emphasis added]
Johannson and Crosby’s ignorance of vital records leads to the fallacy, which is clearly exhibited here:
Though commonly practiced by vital records data collection agencies of federal and state governments as a means of defining “residency” in birth data reporting, the policy completely disqualifies birth records as the only source of information about a candidate to determine Natural-born eligibility to hold the office of the presidency.
The birthplace shown on a birth certificate is entered as the result of the mother’s place of residence, not the location of the occurrence of the birth. [emphasis added]
The sleight of hand is conflating “residence” in the first paragraph with “birthplace” in the second paragraph (a statement which itself is an outright lie). As a sanity check, I invite all of the readers here to pull out their birth certificates and refer to the “birthplace” item to see whether it is their place of birth or their mother’s place of residence. If Johannson and Crosby’s assertion were true, then a birth certificate would be useless in proving place of birth for obtaining a U. S. Passport – only a birth certificate is the precise proof of citizenship most readily accepted in obtaining a passport.
Johannson and Crosby essentially argue that vital statistics practice is to falsify the information about place of birth and to make it not prima facie evidence of what it says. And that is absurd, and if this were not enough, Hawaiian law today, and in the 1945 version in effect in 1961 (following) says otherwise:
So why would any government model law or real state law deliberately make birth certificates contain false information and render them useless for their intended purpose? Johannson and Crosby answer: “statistics.”
Johannson and Crosby correctly state:
The allocation of births to “place of residence” protocol was implemented sporadically beginning in 1935 to provide for statistical integrity between decadal Census data collection and more frequently collected natality rates taken from real-time birth registrations.
For statistical purposes the place of birth is more or less an accident that doesn’t reflect the birth rate in the community where the mother lives and is useless in projecting future population. If someone tabulated births according to birthplace, virtually all births would be in a few tiny spots (hospitals) and towns with no hospitals would have no births, and hence no growth.
However, all this says is that births are now tabulated according to the mother’s residence, not where they give birth. This does not imply that the child’s place of birth is discarded and this legal fact birth is falsified to assist in federal reporting. Statistics can be tabulated according to the mothers’ residence without altering the place of birth on the birth certificate. Duh. It’s not as if there were some divine ordinance limiting the number of informational items in a birth record so that they have to collect mother’s residence or child’s birth place but not both! This is why on a Hawaiian birth certificate there are TWO SEPARATE AND DISTINCT data items, the birthplace of the child and the usual residence of the mother. In fact there have been separate entries for birthplace and mother’s residence on every U. S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth since 19001!
The Daily Pen article in its totality is so ridiculous that I was concerned that I didn’t understand it, and that there was some other subtle (but fallacious) argument that I missed. What I found were a number of curious false statements:
The  revisions allowed coding and data collection from the “Location of Birth” and “Usual Residence of Mother” entry boxes from all certificates in the same manner, not just for those recording births occurring in the U.S., but also for births occurring to U.S. residents, anywhere.
The first certificates for out of state births were not authorized by Hawaiian statute until 1982.
They assert further:
The standard certificate used for births occurring in the U.S. must also be used for births occurring outside of the U.S. to resident mothers, but both circumstances had to provide the same formatting of information for data classification. Therefore, the location of the birth must state that the birth occurred in the U.S. in order for data from the certificate to be reported as a birth which impacts U.S. and state population figures. Simply stated, there is not a separate certificate for births occurring in the U.S. and births occurring outside of the U.S. to residents of the U.S., but both circumstances are recorded as births which, obviously, impact the population and municipal services of the U.S. [emphasis added]
However, there is no statement of where this claim comes from except an earlier reference to to the 1956 U. S. Standard Birth Certificate. Previous claims from Johannson and Crosby included fraudulent citations from documents they believed were not available for others to check. In this case, I can’t find a copy of the 1956 Standard Certificate. (The rationale given is silly because the number of American residents who give birth abroad is small enough to have a negligible effect on the need for municipal services. In fact, the NCHS reports that even the number of persons who give birth in neighboring states is not significant.) While the 1956 U. S. Standard Certificate is not available, the Model State Vital Statistics Act of 1977 is available and it describes the Birth Registration (page 12) process as:
Section 7. Birth Registration
(a) A certificate of birth for each live birth which occurs in this State shall be filed with the (Office of Vital Statistics) , or as otherwise directed by the State Registrar, within five days after such birth and shall be registered if it has been completed and filed in accordance with this section. [emphasis added]
You can read the rest of the section for yourself. There’s nothing about births that occur outside the state. This is consistent with the 1945 law in Hawaii in effect in 1961:
Note the phrase “in which the birth occurred.” There is no authority in 1961 for registering any child born outside of the state.
In a very long article Johannson and Crosby repeat the same mistake over and over and over, confusing place of residence with place of birth.
I hope that I have proved the obvious to everyone’s satisfaction, that a birth certificate means what it says. By law, it is prima facie evidence of the facts it states. If a birth certificate says somebody is born in Hawaii, it means that they were born in Hawaii.
Just when I thought it was safe to hit the “Publish” button, The Daily Pen article swerves into new territory, and that has to do with they describe as “Foreign Birth Transcript Exchange.”
That section of their report raises the claim that foreign births were registered in the United States based on reports from foreign countries. That doesn’t mean that all US birth certificates magically don’t mean what they say and that nobody gets a passport any more, but it does go against what I have said about the Vital Statistics of the United States only including births IN the United States (its territories and possessions). So stand by for:
- U.S. Vital Statistics System: Major Activities and Developments, 1950-95
- Revisions of U.S. Standard Certificates on Vital Events (1967)