Monday, July 20, 2009

On Rebutting Polarik's "Research"

I'm sure it's escaped no one's attention that while I've been dissecting the "Doctor" for a little while now, I haven't had much to say about his "research." I've had a reason for this.

First and foremost, it's a chump's game. Polarik may claim that "Frauds do not produce 160-page reports with 140 images," but he's dead wrong. Conspiracy advocates regularly produce reams of paperwork and tomes of supposed documentation to back up their claims. To cite an extreme example, you may have heard that James von Brunn, the Holocaust museum shooter (and part-time Birther) had written an entire book that was supposed to document the Jewish conspiracy. 9/11 Truthers have also created websites, written tons of papers, and conducted whole conferences in support of their pet conspiracy theory. The mere fact that effort was expended and cherry-picked "evidence" was presented is not, in itself, a sign of legitimate research.

Now Polarik likes to brag that nobody's gone through and defeated all of his arguments. That's essentially true. And it's true for the same reason that nobody has gone through and dissected every Truther argument or every claim in von Brunn's book; it's a waste of time. Normal people already don't need a rebuttal because they already dismiss the conspiracy, and people who already subscribe to the conspiracy will simply reject any rebuttal as biased or faked or incomplete. Limited rebuttals are common (like the Popular Mechanics rejoinder of 9/11 myths), but full-length counter-arguments require a level of obsessiveness that's more likely to be found among the conspiracy advocates than the opponents.

One particular reason why thorough rebuttals are a waste of time is that conspiracy theories tend to adapt themselves around strong counter-arguments. For instance, last week, after seeing photos of a letter the White House sent to Obama's birth hospital, Polarik wrote of a White House letter: "This letter is a f**king joke! totally bogus!!...Ya gotta be kidding me! Who did this? A third grader?" He followed this up with a lengthy list of supposed signs of phoniness, alleged features that distinguished this letter from real White House letters. I rebutted him on all these aspects, and while rationalizing away his earlier position, he revised his stance to "I don't have to get everything right. All I need is for one thing to be right." He went from claiming it was a horrible and obvious fake to claiming it was a shrewd fake, but remains unswayed as to his belief that it's fake. Imagine that approach translated to a 160-page document.

And let me say a little more about that document. Here's what else Polarik's had to say about his "Final Report":
"Anyone who reads this report thoroughly will know that it was written by a genuine researcher using sound, scientific methods to explore these forgeries in depth. Frauds do not produce 160-page reports with 140 images that fully document the steps taken, that clearly explain the phenomena under investigation, and more importantly, provide sufficient information to allow other researchers to validate the findings."

Based on this description, you'd think he'd written a professional-looking paper. But it's not. He starts off with a 6-page "Forward" that's terribly overlong and padded with unnecessary information. When he finally reaches a section he entitles his "Executive Summary" around page 7, he never quite sets out a clear thesis for the "research" that follows. Then the ~160 pages of "research" aren't organized into any discernable format; there's the occasional subheading, but for the most part it's just a hundred pages of rambling argument, with one point bleeding into the next. There's no table of contents, no itemized listing of discrete arguments, no clear organizational scheme at all. And when he reaches the end, there's no clear conclusion or final summary. It just kind of...stops.

In short, it sure doesn't read like a true "research" paper. It's overly long, overly padded, and utterly disorganized. It's nigh-impossible to rebut his arguments because without reading the entire darn thing, I can't even discern what his specific arguments are. It's like reading a legal brief written by a non-lawyer who's representing himself pro se in court. It sure doesn't read like the "final report" of someone with two doctorates.

Also, despite Polarik's claims that he fully documents his work, I'm inclined to disagree. He avoids specifically identifying the hardware or software that he's working with, which would seem to be highly relevant in this context. And he often doesn't fully document the steps he's taken.

I happen to think this type of presentation reflects on Polarik's credility with regards to his alleged "expertise," but I'll leave it up to the reader to decide how to weight that for himself.

Still, despite all this, I feel like I should make some effort to take on Polarik's "research." Mainly because of the hypocritical and inconsistent response that Polarik and his defenders have towards critics.

On the one hand, should you attempt to discredit Polarik by attacking his credibility, through examples of his lying and history of making inconsistent statements, and by disputing his alleged "credentials," and you're making ad hominem attacks on Polarik by focusing on him instead of his written work.

On the other hand, if you choose to focus on discrediting Polarik's report and the arguments he makes, then he responds by claiming that you're not qualified to argue with someone who has his credentials. Even if you're someone like Neal Krawetz, who is a documented expert in digital image manipulation.

So argue credentials, and he falls back on the research. Argue the research, and he falls back on the credentials. It's a no-win situation.

But as long as I'm puncturing Polarik, I might as well try to find something in his "research" to poke a big hole in, just for the sake of thoroughness. This, unfortunately, has proven surprisingly difficult.

Not because Polarik's work is airtight. Hardly. The vast majority of Polarik's "research" is to single out some feature of Obama's birth certificate, and throw suspicion on it. It's not unlike the 9/11 Truthers who would point to photographs of the Pentagon crash that didn't obviously display plane wreckage and say "Look! Isn't that suspicious?" Their photos weren't manipulated, but their jump-to-conclusions reasoning was faulty. So if you wanted to rebut them, you had to counter their conclusions. And their conclusions, like Polarik's, violated the heck out of Occam's Razor.

The problem with Polarik is that even after reading a lot more of his "research" than I wish I had, I'm honestly still not sure exactly what his conclusions are. He'll appear to make a strong determination ("This letter is a total joke and looks like it was made by a kid"), and then will retreat back into a more ambiguous position when challenged ("Maybe it's not that unusual, but it could still be fake"), while pretending that he hasn't actually moved at all. His research will lead him to an absolute finding of fact, and then later he'll reach a different absolute finding of fact. It's impossible to pin down a conclusion to attack him on, because he's reached so many incompatible conclusions. If I shoot down one, he simply needs to fall back on another, or act like he never made the original one to begin with.

For instance, in one post he stated his conclusion (rather clearly) to be:
"I can prove that the KOS image, and all of its offspring, are originals that were altered. What I cannot prove is what, exactly, was changed in them to make them different from the paper document in the possession of someone authorized to receive it.">

Which is true enough (the black box over the Certificate number was obviously and admittedly added digitally), but this runs totally against every other claim he's made about alleged specific changes in the image. It's a claim so generic and pointless that it's not even worth rebutting. It's just "I can't say how the document might've been altered, but I can say Photoshop was involved somehow, and isn't that suspicious?"

I thought I'd finally stumbled across a good, firm rebuttable conclusion that Polarik shared on August 12: "the forgery is a drop-dead clone of DeCosta's COLB." And on August 10: To put it another way, the Kos COLB is a CLONE of the PD COLB. It is such a dead-ringer for it..."

That's a pretty strong position to take. "Drop-dead clone" isn't very ambiguous. So let me compare the DeCosta COLB to the...oh wait, Polarik was less decisive in other posts.

Elsewhere he wrote: "Except for the bogus Kos border. I never said that the Kos cOLB copied everything from the PD COLB." Or "So, the presence of a seal, "hidden" or otherwise, that was not the same size and not in the same position as the DeCosta image turned out to be the conssequence of copying the background from a second COLB."

So it's a "drop-dead copy" except for the background. And the border. And the seal. And the date stamp. And the Obama-specific text. And at least some of the boilerplate text (PD's says "Date Accepted by State Registrar" where Obama's says "Date Filed by State Registrar").

Which leaves us with some of the words printed on the background, and the big black Hawaiian seal at the top. Is Polarik's argument, then, that Obama's people cut-and-pasted the boilerplate text from the PD Certification onto a second background? Or that they used the PD Certification merely as a guide for text-placement? Neither seems to justify "drop-dead clone."

One of Polarik's arguments in support of a PD forgery was that it was the only Hawaiian COLB available online, and thus the only one they had to work from. So where'd they get the second background? If it was a blank background, where'd the seal and date stamp come from? If it was a full COLB with text, why replace the boilerplate text at all? What use is the PD COLB then? Did they supposedly cover up the boilerplate text and then replace it with identical boilerplate text based on the DeCosta document?

See, I can rebut "The Obama COLB is a drop-dead clone of the PD COLB." I can't rebut whatever Polarik finally ended up arguing, because it seems to have eventually degenerated down to a similarity in word placement. Which, of course, isn't really unusual with government documents. Like with the 9/11 photos, it boils down to "Look at this! Isn't that suspicious?"

So is there anything in Polarik's "research" that's worth attacking? There is one thing. And given the length that this post has reached, it'll be getting its own post.

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