Monday, January 03, 2005

CJR Monitor, part 2

Corey Pein has a piece on the CBS memo flap up that I found rather unconvincing.

"The bottom line, which credible document examiners concede," writes Pein, "is that copies cannot be authenticated either way with absolute certainty."

Hmm. What about Joseph Newcomber's analysis, which seems pretty certain - and convincing - to me? What about Thomas Phinney, who told the Washington Post that it was "impossible" for a typewriter to produce an exact replica of the documents?

Pein doesn't deal with Phinney at all, and chides Newcomber for making a conclusion with "absolute certainty." ("bold bordering on hyperbolic")

Paf! I'm not a fan of Little Green Footballs, but their animated gif is devastating. There's no other reasonable conclusion to draw but that the documents are fakes ...

Pein quotes Newcomber:

Based on the fact that I was able, in less than five minutes . . . to type in the text of the 01-August-1972 memo into Microsoft Word and get a document so close that you can hold my document in front of the ‘authentic’ document and see virtually no errors, I can assert without any doubt (as have many others) that this document is a modern forgery. Any other position is indefensible.

Red flags wave here, or should have. Newcomer begins with the presumption that the documents are forgeries, and as evidence submits that he can create a very similar document on his computer. This proves nothing — you could make a replica of almost any document using Word. Yet Newcomer’s aggressive conclusion is based on this logical error.

  1. The document is not just very similar, it identical, pixel-for-pixel!
  2. You are able make replicas of many documents using Word, yes. But by using all of the default settings? I've performed the LGF experiment myself ... just opened up a blank document in Word & started typing, and presto, you get a document that matches the "1973" memo. No, this alone doesn't "prove" anything - but it's very very strong evidence.
  3. Any analysis is going to look at how easy it is to create the "1973" document by modern methods. This doesn't mean the examiners have "beg[un] with the presumption that the documents are forgeries."


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