I guess everybody who has taken Algebra in school has heard of Fermat’s Last Theorem, a proposition in number theory simply stated:
No three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two.
It took mathematicians 358 years to prove it was true and from what I recall, the proof took some extremely advanced techniques to accomplish. Even understanding the proof is beyond the knowledge of all but a few individuals, but it would take no advanced knowledge to show that it was false if that were the case. To prove it false would only have required 4 numbers and some multiplication.
I present the example of Fermat’s Last Theorem as a metaphor for examination of Barack Obama’s PDF copy of his birth certificate. Knowing exactly what every possible photocopy machine, scanner, and PDF generation software combination can do is limited to perhaps a handful of experts. Concluding that Obama’s PDF is not a simple scan of a real document is not something a 10-year old can do. Anyone can open the document in Adobe Illustrator and drag parts of it around, just as anyone can multiply numbers together. What they cannot say is what’s normal or not in general.
However, just as any school child with 4 numbers and multiplication could have proven Fermat’s Last Theorem false (if it had been), any school child with a Xerox WorkCentre could scan something that looks like Obama’s birth certificate to PDF, open it in Illustrator and move elements of it around, and prove FALSE the proposition that no real scanned document has elements that can be moved around.
It takes an expert to prove the general case, but anyone can come up with a counterexample.
Of course the work done by NBC, Kevin Vicklund and RC in providing the PDF counterexample to birther claims involved much more than just moving objects around, and their work displays significant expertise in showing how many other birther claims are disproven simply by scanning something on a Xerox machine. Still, their results do not rely on their expertise, but rather on the concrete examples they provided. Birther claims, however, rely on assertions that something doesn’t exist and such claims are only as good as the expertise of the ones who make them.