Resolving the Obama Birth Certificate Controversy
Accredited experts in a scientific field can be counted upon to conduct a thorough, impartial review of evidence using standard methods and settle an issue with the appropriate level of certainty. Doubting the honesty and integrity of such experts, and ultimately of science itself, is not a rational option.
Thus, the Warren Commission and three subsequent U.S. government investigations concluded that President Kennedy died as a result of shots fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. While Oswald's motives remain unclear because he died before he could be questioned, it is clear that no one else fired on the presidential motorcade that fateful day in Dallas.
Neil Armstrong did indeed utter the famous words "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" on the lunar surface. Detailed explanations why the moon landing was a real event and not the elaborate hoax claimed by conspiracy theorists can be found on the website of the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), a Department of Energy facility.
A National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) investigation determined that it was the impacts of (terrorist) jet aircraft at high speeds in combination with subsequent fires that brought down the Twin Towers -- not controlled demolitions allegedly set off at the direction of President Bush or the Mossad, or any such absurd notion.
On April 27, 2011, an image of what was claimed to be President Obama's birth certificate was posted on the White House website. The claim has been widely challenged, including by analyses published in American Thinker.
Here we are a year later, and the controversy has not gone away.
What is the position of organizations similar to ANL and NIST that have accredited scientific expertise in the field of forensic document examination and could speak authoritatively on the subject of President Obama's birth certificate?
My first attempt to get an answer to this question was to approach an organization whose membership included handwriting analysis experts. Accordingly, I sent an e-mail to the American Association of Handwriting Analysts (AAHA) along with a link to a recent American Thinker article arguing that the electronic facsimile on the White House website was a fraud, and asking if the AAHA had a position on the matter.
A few days later came this response:
In answer to your question, AAHA does not take a position on this issue.
Graphology and Document Examination are separate and very different areas of expertise. Although some AAHA members are certified in both fields, the vast majority of our members specialize in personality-related analysis.
Regardless of the expertise applied, AAHA (and its members) deal exclusively with handwriting.
Region III Vice-President
Fair enough; I had evidently knocked on the wrong door. Ms. Kauffman-Goetz's observation that graphology and document examination were different disciplines led me to what seemed to be the right door: the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE). I found the following description on its website:
The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE), formally established on September 2, 1942, is the oldest and most prestigious organization of questioned document examiners in the United States. The first president and primary organizer of the ASQDE was Albert S. Osborn. Mr. Osborn is considered by many to be the father of the scientific examination of questioned documents in the United States. His Questioned Documents, first edition 1910, and The Problem of Proof, first edition 1922, were widely acclaimed by the legal profession, and public and private agencies concerned with promoting justice in matters involving questions about documents.
Further browsing of the ASQDE website determined that the society's current president is Linton H. Mohammed, Ph.D., in office since 2010, and that the society has been publishing a peer-reviewed journal twice a year and since 1998.
As one might expect, journal articles tend to be highly technical. Here's a sample:
- "Discrimination of Ballpoint Pen Inks by High Performance Capillary Electrophoresis and High Performance Liquid Chromatography"
- "Reconstituting Gradation Using Multiple Photocopier Splits"
- "Awareness of the Potential of the EDD Serving as a Source for Transfer of DNA"
- "Is Atomic Force Microscope a Suitable Tool for Studying Crossing Lines?"
- "Quantitative Hyperspectral Imaging Technique for Measuring Material Degradation Effects and Analyzing TLC Plate Traces"
Before sending another e-mail with the same question about the authenticity of the president's birth certificate, I searched through article abstracts from Vol. 1 to the most recent one, Vol. 14, available in one compilation on the ASQDE site. I used "Obama," "Hawaii," "birth certificate," "typewriter," and "font" as keywords, feeling certain that this search strategy would result in a hit had the journal published articles on the subject.
- "Obama" and "Hawaii" turned up nothing.
- "Birth certificate" picked up only "The Israel Police's Experience with Official Documents from the Soviet Union."
- "Typewriter" picked up only "Using the ESDA to Visualize Typewriter Indented Markings," "Cause of Typewriter Printwheel Damage Observed in the Questioned Document," and "An Update of the Typestyle Classification Program (TYPE) into a Windows® Based Format (WinType)" -- none of which addressed the issue of President Obama's birth certificate.
- "Font" picked up only "Retail Price Marking Devices: Breakaway Slits and Type Fonts," which also did not address the issue of President Obama's birth certificate.
Having done my due diligence, the next step was to send an e-mail asking an ASQDE senior official identified on the website, in this case executive assistant Nanette Davis, to comment on the same question I had sent earlier to the AAHA.
Dr. Linton H. Mohammed himself replied a couple of days later:
Dear Dr. Cusmariu:
Thank you for your inquiry to the ASQDE.
The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE) is a professional membership organization whose goals are to sponsor scientific research, establish standards and exchange experience among public and private practitioners in the field of forensic document examination. The ASQDE does not provide analysis, render findings, or state opinions regarding evidence on individual cases. The ASQDE, as an organization, would not have any position on the authenticity of the Obama birth certificate.
Linton A. Mohammed, PhD, D-ABFDE
What I thought would be the right door turned out not to be after all. I sent a follow-up e-mail to Dr. Mohammed asking him to suggest other professional organizations that might be in a position to answer my question. He obligingly provided links to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) and the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE). E-mails to them drew the following responses:
The Questioned Document Section of the American Academy of Forensic Science, as a group, does not take any position on issues such as this [the Obama birth certificate]. Matters of authentication require an appropriate forensic examination utilizing proper equipment, methodology and exemplars. The conclusions of such an examination are the responsibility of the individual forensic document examiner.
We do take a general position that any examination in regard to the authenticity of any document should be conducted in a manner as set forth above and conducted by a forensic document examiner who has successfully completed a two-year, full-time mentorship training program as prescribed by published standards in the profession. We also recognize the benefit of certification by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners.
Thomas W. Vastrick
Questioned Document Section
American Academy of Forensic Sciences
Though it also boiled down to "wrong door," this e-mail provided interesting information about the document examiner certification process.
The ABFDE response, however, was very helpful indeed.
The ABFDE has no official position on the validity of the internet Birth Certificate that is allegedly President Obama's. We have not been requested to conduct a forensic document examination of the original or notarized copies, and provided with genuine standards for comparison.
For a response to the digital "examination" conducted on the internet, you may wish to contact a forensic digital evidence examiner. ABFDE does not certify that discipline.
So, President Obama, who is confident that the evidence is on his side, can end the birth certificate controversy once and for all by turning over a notarized copy of the certificate to ABFDE forensic document examiners for analysis.
The GOP can now enter the fray with much less concern that the media would slap a "birther" label on Mitt Romney, pointing to the availability of a path to resolution the media would surely accept: the impartiality and authority of science.