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When an expert is called for

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.

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34 Responses to When an expert is called for

  1. avatar
    The Magic M June 12, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    It takes an expert to prove the general case, but anyone can come up with a counterexample.

    Unless finding that counterexample requires as much knowledge in the respective field as that of an expert. ;)

    For example, if a counterexample to FLT had existed, it might’ve been beyond mere calculation to find it (unless you expand your statement to include arbitrarily long trial and error, but then you could create the Wiles paper the same way, like the monkeys coming up with Shakespeare ;)), but an expert might’ve made some theoretical work that limited the choice of n to four numbers and the choice of a, b and c to a range that could be tried (say, if a/b/c/n were all between 2^38 and 2^38+10).

    and from what I recall, the proof took some extremely advanced techniques to accomplish

    But thankfully it proved much more than just FLT but the much more important (though less mass-appealing) Taniyama-Shimura conjecture (now known as the modularity theorem thanks to Wiles, Taylor and others). In fact, having proven the latter, the former was a simple consequence that any humble student of the field could find.

    Anyone can find an obvious sign of forgery (like a clear anachronism), but trying forensic analysis with a layman’s knowledge is indeed like claiming you’ve solved FLT on the back of your napkin.

    So, off to proving P != NP again! ;-)

  2. avatar
    bgansel9 June 12, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Birthers wouldn’t know an expert if they ran over one.

  3. avatar
    Reality Check June 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    I always heard an expert was a little drip under pressure.

  4. avatar
    Comrade Fogovich June 12, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:

    Birther claims, however, rely on assertions that something doesn’t exist …

    I was under the impression that the birther claims regarding the Xerox evidence was that they’ve disproved it with secret evidence, but they can’t reveal the secret evidence because it’s a criminal investigation.

    Which, of course, is plain ludicrous. If they’ve got technical evidence, there’s no reason for it to be secret. It either is, or isn’t, possible to re-create the so-called “anomalies” with a Xerox copier.

    Even john understands that much. That’s why he has been bugging the birthers about it. He knows that there shouldn’t be any reason that the Xerox evidence, if it can be refuted, hasn’t been refuted already with technical expertise.

    … and I always heard that an expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can possibly be made, in a very narrow field.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 12, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    I look at that as more of a hand wave than a claim.

    Comrade Fogovich: I was under the impression that the birther claims regarding the Xerox evidence was that they’ve disproved it with secret evidence, but they can’t reveal the secret evidence because it’s a criminal investigation.

  6. avatar
    Hektor June 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    I think it’s worth remembering that one of the bigger birther memes is that the LFBC and COLB are not just forgeries but extremely poor forgeries. In a way it’s a hand-wavy attempt to explain the lack of depth the bither “expert” bench has. They can be relative layman since a child could forge a better phony than the President (supposedly) did.

  7. avatar
    Reality Check June 12, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    I haven’t seen any Birther take on the Xerox WorkCentre explanation at all. That is remarkable and should tell you something. NBC and I have posted the procedure we used down to the model of the machines we used to run test files.

    We know Garret Papit was doing something with a Xerox WorkCentre because he posted a video of someone scanning a document on one. The video was apparently supposed to be private and made to help a technician troubleshoot a network card issue.

    If we assume that Papit eventually got the WorkCenter to talk to the network then he must have run some kind of testing that for whatever reason he has not seen fit to share. I am sure I know the reason.

    What the Birthers fail to comprehend is that any digital image of a document on a computer, whether a file, email attachment, or embedded object on a web page is designed by a software engineer’s to be an acceptable representation of the original while taking as few bits as possible out of precious bandwidth on the network. Engineers have been perfecting these algorithms since we first started ubiquitously sharing images on computers instead of just text documents after the invention of the PC in the 1970′s.

    The file type doesn’t really matter whether the image is a jpg, pdf, png, or whatever. The format is technical minutia. Modern office machines have gravitated towards generating PDF’s files because the majority of documents being scanned are primarily text and PDF’s files by design are fairly Portable. That is they display consistently in different environments.

    The XeroxWorkCentre processor uses a proprietary compression algorithm based on Mixed Raster Content (MRC) compression that aggressively compresses raw scanned bitmap images into remarkably compact files. What you had was a group of ignorant, biased and motivated amateurs misunderstanding the output of a modern large office work center. It was cargo cult science as much as Birther attorneys like Taitz and others practice cargo cult law.

    These amateurs started from the false premise that a human forger would work in possibly the last file format a forger would use (PDF) and assumed that this same forger would neglect to take the simple step of printing and then digitizing the image again. Of course these same amateurs ignore the incontrovertible facts that the issuing authority that has the last word by the Constitution verifies the documents.

  8. avatar
    Comrade Fogovich June 12, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    When the first, short form BC was published, the birthers took it as gospel that you couldn’t analyze an image on the Internet. They even had an affidavit of a real document examiner to that effect (the name escapes me for the moment). The reason they don’t claim the same thing about the PDF is the name – Portable Document Format. But the fact is, a PDF is also just an image of an actual document. It’s no more a document than a JPG, or in fact, than my Aunt Herman is. Because of that word “Document” in the name PDF, they thought they had a document they could analyze as if it was the paper document it never was.

  9. avatar
    Slartibartfast June 12, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    Nice article Doc!

    I would say that the Xerox results (along with all of John Woodman’s results) relied on methodology rather that expertise. This is something that is typical of science in general. Scientific work is judged by whether or not the methodology, when repeated, produces the same results. It is never, or at least should never, be judged on the basis of its author’s expertise. This is why what Foggy said is exactly right.

    Comrade Fogovich: I was under the impression that the birther claims regarding the Xerox evidence was that they’ve disproved it with secret evidence, but they can’t reveal the secret evidence because it’s a criminal investigation.

    Which, of course, is plain ludicrous. If they’ve got technical evidence, there’s no reason for it to be secret. It either is, or isn’t, possible to re-create the so-called “anomalies” with a Xerox copier.

    Even john understands that much. That’s why he has been bugging the birthers about it. He knows that there shouldn’t be any reason that the Xerox evidence, if it can be refuted, hasn’t been refuted already with technical expertise.

    … and I always heard that an expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can possibly be made, in a very narrow field.

  10. avatar
    ASK Esq June 12, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    Hektor:
    I think it’s worth remembering that one of the bigger birther memes is that the LFBC and COLB are not just forgeries but extremely poor forgeries. In a way it’s a hand-wavy attempt to explain the lack of depth the bither “expert” bench has. They can be relative layman since a child could forge a better phony than the President (supposedly) did.

    Yeah, I still run up against birthers who make this claim. When I ask them why it is that none of the actual experts who have examined the scan and spoken publicly about it have been able to see it is such an obvious fake, they never seem to have an answer.

  11. avatar
    Reality Check June 12, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    Now I should say that Henry Blake, aka Hermitian did make a lame attempt at refuting the Xerox WorkCentre theory. His line of attack consisted of pointing out minute differences in PDF files that NBC and I produced from the WH LFBC PDF. He ignored of course that we were doing these tests without having access to the same document but instead working with printouts of the LFBC image or in my case a document made by printing the AP JPG image on a sheet of SImpson green basket -weave security paper generously supplied by Doc C. Henry ignored the fact that even working with these makeshift paper documents were able to produce PDF files remarkably similar in construction to the WH LFBC PDF even to the point of containing a non-functional binary comment string that shows up in every Xerox WorkCentre color scan.

    Henry often raised arguments that were completely erroneous and never acknowledged those errors when they were pointed out. When he claimed that the AP JPG image could not have been taken with a camera I contacted J. Scott Applewhite the photographer at the press briefing. Applewhite said it was photo he took with his camera and even supplied the model number. and make. Hermitian said Applewhite was lying. Hermitian took the straw man argument to levels previously unknown to mankind.

  12. avatar
    Keith June 12, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    Reality Check: I always heard an expert was a little drip under pressure.

    I thought an expert USED to be a drip under pressure.

  13. avatar
    nativeborncitizen June 12, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

    Reality Check: I haven’t seen any Birther take on the Xerox WorkCentre explanation at all. That is remarkable and should tell you something. NBC and I have posted the procedure we used down to the model of the machines we used to run test files.

    Understandable given that the evidence is now irrefutable :-)

  14. avatar
    nativeborncitizen June 12, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    Reality Check: Now I should say that Henry Blake, aka Hermitian did make a lame attempt at refuting the Xerox WorkCentre theory.

    He did not even get close although Vicklund and I got to debunk some of Hermie’s myths and misunderstandings.

  15. avatar
    JPotter June 12, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    Comrade Fogovich: The reason they don’t claim the same thing about the PDF is the name – Portable Document Format.

    I have to disagree, Comrade. The reason PDF Madness took off is because an MRC PDF offers so much more than a simple raster image does in terms of bits and pieces to tinker with, bamboozle with, speculate upon. There is literally more hooks to hang projections on.

    In terms of cloudspotting, a plain vanilla raster is a clear sky. A complex PDF is a turbulent spring sky, thunderheads swelling up, corkscrewing into vortices, little puffy rain blobs scudding around, all under a high ceiling of cirrocumulus.

  16. avatar
    JPotter June 12, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

    Reality Check: Hermitian took the straw man argument to levels previously unknown to mankind.

    That is his raison d’etre. You should see his current antics at Amazon, centered on his misuse of the homophones ‘populous’ and ‘populace’. With anyone else, it would have been a simple neural misfire, a type, a grammar flub, perhaps a betrayal by “smart”phone. But oh no, not with our good friend Hopalong!

    If you see him again, be sure to work a “populous” or two into your conversation ;)

  17. avatar
    Reality Check June 12, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Thanks for the tip. I will do that. ;)

    I do not understand some of the commenting on Amazon book reviews. Most of the Birther discussion is on reviews of Corsi’s POS book. I just will not go there.

    JPotter: If you see him again, be sure to work a “populous” or two into your conversation ;)

  18. avatar
    JPotter June 12, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

    Reality Check: I just will not go there.

    I don’t recommend it either. Used to be a real hotbed there … Herms hangs out on a forum dedicated to WTBC? that, for some unknown reason …. still exists! :D

  19. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 12, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

    Sandra Ramsey Lines.

    http://www.obamaconspiracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Affidavit-of-forensic-Document-expert-Sandra-Lines.pdf

    Thanks for bringing that up, because the link to that document had gone bad. I uploaded my own copy and fixed several bad hyperlinks.

    Comrade Fogovich: They even had an affidavit of a real document examiner to that effect (the name escapes me for the moment).

  20. avatar
    RanTalbott June 12, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

    Hektor: In a way it’s a hand-wavy attempt to explain the lack of depth the bither “expert” bench has.

    They see no need to explain the lack of depth, because they don’t see it. As Clarke said, it’s all “magic” to them, and anyone who can convince them that he/she has mastered _any_ of it must be some sort of all-knowing “wizard”.

    Another favorite line of theirs is “A 10-year-old can see it!”. At which point I remind them that 10-year-olds can also see fairies and leprechauns, and that’s why we don’t allow them to testify as expert witnesses.

  21. avatar
    Dr Kenneth noisewater June 12, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    JPotter: That is his raison d’etre. You should see his current antics at Amazon, centered on his misuse of the homophones ‘populous’ and ‘populace’. With anyone else, it would have been a simple neural misfire, a type, a grammar flub, perhaps a betrayal by “smart”phone. But oh no, not with our good friend Hopalong!

    If you see him again, be sure to work a “populous” or two into your conversation

    Didnt he misspell a persons name and then blame that person for having a name he couldnt spell?

  22. avatar
    JPotter June 12, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    Hektor: the lack of depth the bither “expert” bench has.

    The Empty Chair™ trumps the Empty Bench every time. You’re oh-so-quietly fired.

    (Many apologies. I am procrastinating.)

  23. avatar
    The Magic M June 13, 2014 at 5:05 am #

    Dr Kenneth noisewater: Didnt he misspell a persons name and then blame that person for having a name he couldnt spell?

    Sounds like LDS’ cousin. ;) Po-tay-to, po-tah-to, Helton, Heltan…

  24. avatar
    roadburner June 13, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    Slartibartfast: This is something that is typical of science in general. Scientific work is judged by whether or not the methodology, when repeated, produces the same results. It is never, or at least should never, be judged on the basis of its author’s expertise.

    ok, so why does this seem apt this morning when i´m trying to sort out the electrics on a kawasaki ZX9R that has had 15 years of `experts´ working on it and has finally given up the ghost.

    test, check results, test again, check results…pull hair out….test, check results….go for a smoke and mutter curses…..test and ….oh! here we are!

    yep, 10 mins procrastination on OCT gives the brain a break ;)

  25. avatar
    Comrade Fogovich June 13, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    JPotter: I have to disagree, Comrade. The reason PDF Madness took off is because an MRC PDF offers so much more than a simple raster image does in terms of bits and pieces to tinker with, bamboozle with, speculate upon. There is literally more hooks to hang projections on.

    Also true, and a most excellent observation. Yes, JPG images don’t have layers and so forth. I still like my explanation, but I agree it’s incomplete without your observation included.

    And Doc came up with the estimable Sandra Ramsey Lines. I once had an exchange of emails with her. I wonder what she thinks of Irey, Vogt and Zebest’s masterful analysis? :D

  26. avatar
    Keith June 13, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    roadburner: ok, so why does this seem apt this morning when i´m trying to sort out the electrics on a kawasaki ZX9R that has had 15 years of `experts´ working on it and has finally given up the ghost.

    Trying to cut the grass at the Croquet Club today. F’ing 30 year old lawn mower won’t start and there’s gasoline leaking all over the ground. Consarned, razzacraps, 15 minutes to pull the air cleaner off to get at the carby, another 20 minutes while Geoff runs home to get a socket set to get the rest of the air cleaner off. No loose hose and its still leaking like a sieve. Pull off the bowl to check the gasket, nothing wrong. Little bit of gunk in the bottom of the bowl, nothing important.Wiggle the float a couple of times. Scratch head, wished we hadn’t scratched head with hands covered with gasoline. Put the bowl back on, no leaks! Pull the rope, fires up immediately. Kick the darn thing, put the air cleaner back on and get the grass cut just before sun down.

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH.

    Musta been the float valve got stuck. Mumble, mumble, mumble.

  27. avatar
    aarrgghh June 13, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    Keith: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH.

    you rang?

  28. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 13, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    My electric mower starts every time.

    Keith: Musta been the float valve got stuck.

  29. avatar
    Daniel June 13, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    I mow my lawn with geese.

    They leak a little

    For the really crappy stuff I use a scythe

  30. avatar
    JPotter June 13, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    When it gets stupid hot (and lately it does every year), I mow my lawn with a tank sprayer. It stays ‘mowed’ all season! ;)

  31. avatar
    Keith June 13, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    My electric mower starts every time.

    We used to mow the croquet lawn with an electric mower, but it was heavy as all get out to pull the wire around and didn’t have enough torque to turn the cylinder if it struck an obstruction – like 2 leaves stuck together.

    The electric one was built in the 1930′s I think. The gas one we have now was probably built in the mid 50′s or 60′s at the outside. The two are identical except that one has a electric motor instead of an gasoline engine. Can’t find a photo of our machine, but its a cylinder cutter, not a rotary cutter and it has a heavy roller that acts as the drive wheel.

  32. avatar
    Keith June 13, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    aarrgghh: you rang?

    Sorry. I meant.

    *_(*&(^%@$!%^^$^^@%^$!@_&(*_&_(*_+)(%&

  33. avatar
    RanTalbott June 13, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    Keith: *_(*&(^%@$!%^^$^^@%^$!@_&(*_&_(*_+)(%&

    Your parentheses are unbalanced. Perhaps your mower choked on the syntax error.

  34. avatar
    Keith June 14, 2014 at 2:42 am #

    RanTalbott: Your parentheses are unbalanced. Perhaps your mower choked on the syntax error.

    That is not an APL (or any other computer language) program.

333333 44444
5555555
6666666