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Invisible evidence

Characterizing invisible evidence

I made a list last July of 34 things the Cold Case Posse hasn’t released or explained and included it in my article, “Waiting for Zullo.” The most prominent item on the unreleased evidence list is of course the Reed Hayes report.

What I would like to do now is make another list of the ways Zullo has characterized the evidence he won’t show. Here are the first three. Can you think of more?

The irrefutable nature of invisible evidence

The Cold Case Posse and Joe Arpaio used to be all about releasing the results of their investigation, with no fewer than three news conferences plus other group evidentiary presentations, seminars, even a book jointly authored by Jerome Corsi and Mike Zullo. There were reports. There were videos.

How’d that work out for you Mike?

Cold Case Posse evidence fell apart under scrutiny and nobody, beyond birthers who will believe anything, saw anything persuasive in it—just the opposite. What we found was evidence of the incompetence of Zullo’s birther brand of brothers (AKA the Cold Case Posse). Folks like me enjoyed a killing field, a virtual orgy of debunking. In one case, with a fake race code table, Zullo demonstrated that he could be easily fooled by other birthers, and that he was willing to lie to try to prop it up.  News coverage, such as it was, accurately described Posse claims as “long discredited.”

One commenter aptly pointed out that so long as the Cold Case Posse doesn’t release the evidence, it cannot be refuted, and that seems to be Zullo’s more-recent strategy, substituting claims about the strength of the evidence for the evidence itself, and stringing out supporters with ever-lengthening time frames for evidence to appear—March is the last target I’ve seen given.

The risk

The risk, however, is that Cold Case Posse supporters will get tired of being strung along. That pressure is bound to increase as time goes on and Obama inches towards the end of his term of office. Still birthers are an optimistic lot, undaunted by defeat, yet some cracks are showing, such as this from a prominent commenter at Birther Report:

Zullo must be dumber than I imagined.

That same commenter, however, expresses an irrational estimation of the state of anti-Obama activism , saying:

Wow – the O-Holes are certainly worried judging their comments on the last thread. And they have plenty of reason to worry.

I’m banned at Birther Report, so the comments referenced aren’t mine, but I cannot even begin to imagine what anti-birthers could possibly be worried about. Invisible evidence? :roll:

The most important evidence

I had an exchange with someone who has a lot of experience in debunking other conspiracy theories, but who is not part of the usual anti-birther cohort. I appreciated very much him offering his perspective but I was a little jarred by his views on the relative value of evidence as to where Barack Obama was born.

I come from a professional career that started in a health department, and ended working with state and local health agencies as a vendor of data systems. The way I think, those records as reported officially are the “gold standard.” A Certification of Live Birth such as Barack Obama released in 2008 (in its original form, not the copy on the Internet) is what gets you a driver’s license and a US Passport. My correspondent basically wrote that off as just something printed from a database. Since I spent my adult life trying to insure the integrity of those databases, such a view goes against the grain for me, but with a little effort I can appreciate it.

The second shock came when he said that certified copies of the birth certificate in the vault in Hawaii weren’t much use because no qualified expert had ever authenticated the original. (Remember, this is NOT a birther talking.) That one was difficult for me too. But we to have to admit that fake documents have been fabricated by governments, and while I would afford huge credibility to state vital records officials, some of whom I have personally known and worked with, not everyone looking at the question objectively would agree.

For him, the “killer evidence” was the two contemporary newspaper announcements  of Obama’s birth in Honolulu newspapers in 1961. That evidence essentially wipes out every birther gambit of modern forgery, collusion of present Hawaiian officials, and questions about what’s in the files in Hawaii.

Birthers have tried mightily to discredit the newspaper accounts, but their arguments don’t stick. I’ll just outline them below as they have been discussed already in other articles.

  1. Hawaiian birth announcements are ads by parents. Statements by the newspapers contradict this, and the very title of one newspaper column calls them “Health Bureau Statistics.”
  2. Out of state births appeared in the official Health Bureau registrations. Birthers just lie about the law, either citing earlier laws that do not allow out of state registrations, or laws that do allow out of state registrations but didn’t exist in 1961.
  3. The announcements don’t mention Barack Obama by name. So what other Obama do they think was born in Honolulu in August of 1961.
  4. All the microfilm copies in the world have been replaced by fake ones. Really?
  5. Obama was fraudulently registered in 1961. Recall that Obama’s published birth certificate clearly shows he was born in a hospital and not at home where there is a slim opportunity for fraud. In order for Obama’s original birth registration to have been fraudulent there has to be not one but two separate conspiracies at different times and involving different people: one to fake the registration in 1961 and one to replace the original documentation of it 2011. That’s really a stretch.

I was going to point out also that the birthers do not have any smoking gun of their own, but then I am reminded that modern firearms really don’t smoke.

Speculation on the Hayes report

or

Is handwriting analysis a science?

One of my favorite anecdotes regards the emperor of China. So the story goes, a controversy arose as to the length of the emperor’s nose, a question hard to answer because no one outside the court had ever seen the emperor, and those who had seen the emperor were forbidden to speak of the emperor’s visage. So it was decided that the people of China would be polled to decide the question. Untold millions were asked the length of the emperor’s nose and the results were tabulated, giving a final figure precise to 7 decimal places.

Since Mike Zullo, the only one besides Reed Hayes who is reported to have seen his report on Obama’s  birth certificate, isn’t sharing it, and has reportedly even copyrighted it, I feel a little like one of those Chinese subjects surveyed about the emperor’s nose when talking about the Hayes Report.

Unlike the emperor’s nose, we have a little bit to go on, some comments by Reed Hayes on a notorious murder case noted by a commenter1 here.

I was not a follower of the JonBenét Ramsey murder case but a little boning up at the Wikipedia (they need money by the way) yielded the necessary background. A central element of the story was a handwritten ransom note left at the Ramsey home. Speculation abounded as to who had written the note. A grand jury determined that sufficient evidence existed to charge the parents of child abuse leading to death, but the district attorney refused to sign the indictment (this only learned in 2013), and there remains unmatched DNA evidence pointing to an unknown male (along with an unmatched palm print and a pubic hair).

The ransom note had to be a magnet for every graphoanalyst and graphoanalyst wannabe and Reed Hayes proved no exception and here we get into the question of whether handwriting analysis is a science, because if it is a science, its results should be repeatable. Consider this little vignette from The Rocky Mountain News:

A well-known national handwriting expert said Monday he is 99.9 percent certain John Mark Karr wrote the ransom note found near the scene of JonBenet Ramsey’s murder. … Curt Baggett, the Texas-based co-founder of the School of Forensic Document Examination [said comparing the ransom note to a high school yearbook signature] “That there are so many similarities pushes the odds up into the seven digits.” …

One person who could find himself on the other side from [Baggett] … is Honolulu document examiner Reed Hayes, author of a textbook on forensic handwriting analysis.

"I do see a few similarities between the writing in the yearbook and the so-called ransom note, but not enough that I would identify him as the writer.

"In fact, I would lean more toward him not being the writer."

Ronald Morris, who spent 23 years as a document expert with the Secret Service said both where getting ahead of themselves, criticizing conclusions based only on copies.

Hayes later told CNN, “there`s a problem here in that my colleague seemed to be reaching these strong conclusions of identification based on improper comparison material. You know, we`re looking at…” (the clueless reporter didn’t let him explain), but by Hayes own statement, an analysis has to be based on proper comparison material, and that should be a factor considered when and if we see the actual Hayes report. I do not think Hayes has any original documents.

Hayes didn’t give a percentage, but he has an opinion as to who wrote the Ramsey ransom note, reports the Honolulu Star-Bulletin :

[Hayes] makes it clear that he is not working on the case in an official capacity, but says the note is a ruse, basing his opinion on copies of the note and handwriting samples sent to him by fellow graphonanalysts. He says Ramsey’s mother Patsy was the likely note writer, although no consensus has emerged among his colleagues.

Hayes said then that handwriting analysis is 80-90% accurate, and this from someone who is reportedly saying now that Obama’s birth certificate is a 100% forgery.

A handwriting expert will say that their conclusions are base on experience and training, but a discipline that yields unrepeatable results and relies heavily on personal judgment is not solid science. The National Science Foundation on study on Forensic Science stated:

Although there has been only limited research to quantify the reliability and replicability of the practices used by trained document examiners, the committee agrees that there may be some value in handwriting analysis.

The other thing we can conclude about the Hayes Report is that it must be based on faulty analysis because it is wrong. The document he claims is a forgery is about as well-authenticated as any document you’re likely to ever see.


1Commenters provide valuable contributions and in a sense this blog is “crowd sourced.”

Certified forensic expert?

On this blog and in the Obama citizenship debate, there is a lot of talk about experts. Birthers have put forward a number of people they call experts by virtue of their own claims or their “above average” familiarity with something (scanners, typesetting, photography, Adobe Photoshop). Anti-birthers deny the expertise of those people, saying that none of them are “certified document examiners,” no recognized scientific methodology was used, and that they are biased.

Most recently Mike Zullo has claimed that a “certified document examiner” (and a Democrat to boot), Reed Hayes, has done a report that in some way says the PDF of Obama’s long form birth certificate released by the White House is not authentic. Mr. Hayes is certified by a national organization, the National Association of Document Examiners. Mr. Hayes describes himself as “court qualified” which I understand to mean that one or more courts have allowed his testimony as an expert witness. I hasten to add that Mr. Hayes’ report has not been published, but in an email to RealtyCheck, he seems to confirm Zullo’s general claim.

Mr. Hayes’ report on Obama’s birth certificate either will or will not be published. If it is, there will be a debate over his certification, his methodology and  his expertise. Certification is what I want to focus on (the others unknown at this point). The NADE certification requirements appear to be quite stringent, including a proctored written exam, an oral exam, references, and the submission of a work-up on an assigned case. Once certified, the member may provide services from this list:

  • Handwriting Identification
  • Deciphering Obliterations
  • Detecting Alterations
  • Restoring Faded Writing
  • Investigating Line Sequence
  • Development of Indented Writing
  • Ink Differentiation
  • Examinations and Reports
  • Document Photography
  • Exhibit Preparation
  • Deposition and Court Testimony
  • Consultation

Nowhere is the NADE certification related to electronic documents, so for the purpose the PDF file from the White House, I would not call Mr. Hayes “certified,” and unless he has testified in court about electronic documents (and no one claims he has), I would not call Mr. Hayes “court qualified” for the purpose of authenticating Obama’s birth certificate in electronic form.

Let’s put aside Mr. Hayes and the NADE completely for the rest of this discussion.

I, probably along with most people, thought that a certification in forensics by a recognized national organization is an assurance of expertise. I thought that all such organizations have stringent training requirements, do rigorous testing, have continuing education requirements, and discipline members for misconduct. I was wrong. The largest forensic certification organization in the US, the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute, is, according to a recent Frontline/Pro Publica documentary, little more than a diploma mill with  an open-book test so easy that 99% of those who take it pass. A Journalism major from UC Berkeley with no forensic training watched a couple of videos, read a small packet of material, took the open-book test and became a Certified Forensic Consultant in a day.

Even among experts, highly-regarded and rigorously trained fingerprint experts, it has been shown that the same expert will determine that a pair of prints match, and later that they don’t match based on other information about the crime. If the best experts can be influenced by bias, how could we ever expect the birthers to get it right. The point is that certification does not guarantee expertise, nor does having ones testimony admitted in court guarantee expertise (I once sat on a jury and heard two court qualified expert witnesses come to different conclusions). Even real experts can be influenced by bias.

I watched the Frontline/Pro Publica documentary, The Real CSI: How reliable is the science behind forensics? and I am still a little stunned by what I learned about forensic certification, and what is and is not real science in the field. I strongly recommend you watch this. Also see the National Academy of Science report mentioned in the video, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: a Path Forward.

Obots make stuff up too

Birthers make stuff up all the time, and will say pretty much whatever is needed to justify their position. Since birtherism is in essence a big lie, one would expect a lot of what is said in support of it to be lies too. We anti-birthers pride ourselves on being right and having the facts, and I have over 2,000 articles on this web site that I believe are factual and well-supported – and when someone claims they are not, I check it out rigorously.

That said, there is no divine law that says that people who are right in their conclusions can’t fall prey to the same errors of thinking as people who are wrong. Case in point, this comment I found on the Internet:

The eminent biographer Dave Maraniss new book, "Barack Obama: The Story," underscores how stupid, unnecessary and misguided this whole birther thing and issues about President Obama’s birth certificate are.

In the book, Maraniss interviews several OB-GYN physicians concerning complications with Stanley Ann Dunham’s pregnancy with Barack. She consulted with doctors in Hawaii and in the continental U.S. They fill in the details about Obama’s gestation and birth in Hawaii.

I have the book, and I can tell you that no physicians were interviewed, there is no discussion of the Dunham pregnancy, and certainly nothing about consultations with mainland doctors. That’s totally made up. The only two doctors mentioned are both deceased: Dr. Sinclair who delivered Obama, and Dr. West who is reported to have mentioned the odd name of Obama’s mother (“Stanley”) to a family friend.

I don’t see things like this a lot from anti-birthers, but they come up from time to time, providing us with a cautionary tale against letting wishful thinking get the better of us. If it’s “too good to be true” it’s probably time to check sources.

Grading the American Thinker

I was intrigued by the title of a post at The American Thinker blog by Jason Kissner, titled: “Bayes’ Theorem and Mr. Obama’s Literary Agency.” Dr. Kissner is reported to hold a Ph. D. in criminology. Bayes’ Theorem is a result from probability theory.  The Wikipedia article gives one interpretation1 of it: “it expresses how a subjective degree of belief should rationally change to account for evidence.” “Obama’s Literary Agent” refers to a 1991 publicist’s author portfolio brochure that says Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

I’m a mathematician by training and in graduate school I taught math and graded papers. I thought I’d see if there were something I could grade in this paper at The American Thinker. In order to grade a paper, one must first get inside what the writer is saying and understand the argument. I’ll save everyone a lot of time and say that Dr.  Kissner concludes that the answer to how likely it is Obama was born in Kenya is about 50%, which is remarkable, to say the least.

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