Tuesday, October 05, 2004
  Rathergate and Syllogisms

Some people, notably the lackwits at this site, are still going on as if Prof. David Hailey's risible hack job on the Rather/Burkett/CBS memos hasn't been busted wide open by Kevin and Paul at Wizbang. But let's throw some formal logic at Hailey's hypothesis. From what I understand, he's played about with some sort of typewriter font in Photoshop and concluded that because (in his opinion) he can resurrect the metrics of a long-dead typewriter font via...I don't know, a Ouija board...that the Bush TANG memos were typed. OK, OK, laughable on its face. Charles Johnson and Jeff Harrell have already disposed of this from an Occam's Razor point of view. Dr. Joseph Newcomer's work has been dispositive (and the interest in it appears to have taken his site down pro tem). But let's say that there existed some magic word-processing typewriter five years before Erik Estrada got the casting call to play Ponch in 'CHiPs'. Now in formal logic there's a thing called modus ponens. It's a syllogism. It says. "if A then B, A, therefore B. No argument there. But it has an evil twin, known as affirming the consequent. This one says: if A then B, B, therefore A. It's the formal logic equivalent of 'begging the question'. Simply put, subsitute for A 'there exists 1972 technology that could create 21st Century-looking documents' and for B 'the documents look 21st century'. Then you see the fallacy: even if these documents could have been created in the 1970's, their existence does not prove that they were.

OK, that's a bit dry. But it shows what a false trail all the amateur 'forensic document examiners' with their My First Forgery Detection Kits from MB Games are following. So what if, by some miracle, you find a machine from the era of Watergate and The Joy of Sex (1st Ed.) that can re-create Microsoft Word documents? The Arrow of Causality is pointing in the wrong direction. Your job isn't to prove that a document from the twenty-first century can be reproduced in the 1970's. It's your job to prove that a document from the 1970's can't be reproduced in the twenty-first century.


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