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The Birther movement has progressed from claiming that other people are involved in an elaborate hoax, to promoting a hoax of its own. The leader of the Birthers, Orly Taitz, has produced what she claims is a birth certificate proving that Obama was born in Kenya.

Debunking of the document has already begun. For instance, skeptics note that "Kenya was a Dominion the date this certificate was allegedly issued and would not become a republic for 8 months."

Also, the name of the registrar listed on the document is "E.F. Lavender." Maybe this is someone's real name, but it also seems to be the name of a type of detergent (Earth Friendly Lavender).

But all that analysis isn't really necessary, because the first thing a document expert would ask is what is the provenance of the document. i.e. Where did it come from? As far as I can tell, the document came from someone called Ed Hale who, in turn, said he paid a woman named Shirley $1000 for it. That doesn't seem like a very reliable source.
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 04, 2009
Comments (31)
The Sri Lankan government recently arrested the astrologer Chandrasiri Bandara. Unfortunately, it wasn't because he was peddling pseudoscience, but because his predictions had political implications they didn't like. He had foreseen that a planetary change on October 8 would be inauspicious for the government, and that it wouldn't be able to contain rising living costs. [BBC]
Categories: Future/Time, Politics
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 27, 2009
Comments (4)
Catching up on all the stuff coming out of Iran in the wake of the election:

The Minister's Secret Letter
Photocopies of a letter allegedly from the Iranian minister of interior to Iran's Supreme Leader have been circulating throughout Iran. The letter discusses "your orders for Mr Ahmadinejad to be elected president," and states "for your information only, I am telling you the actual results." Supposedly, the actual results show that Ahmadinejad lost badly, getting only 5,698,417 votes, compared with 19,075,623 for Mousavi and 13,387,104 for Karroubi.

Assuming the election was fraudulent, this letter still doesn't seem plausible. Why would an official openly admit in a letter that the election was fixed? And as The Independent notes, "however incredible Mr Ahmadinejad's officially declared 63 per cent of the vote may have been, could he really – as a man who has immense support among the poor of Iran – have picked up only five-and-a-half million votes?"

The Photoshopped Crowd
The official state-run Iranian newspaper, Keyhannews, ran a picture of a crowd at a pro-Ahmadinejad rally. However, the picture appears to have been photoshopped to show a larger crowd than really was there. An image highlighting the cloned sections of the crowd has been circulating online. (PC Authority)

Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 22, 2009
Comments (2)
Cognitive psychologists have found that people have trouble inventing truly random numbers. Invariably their numbers will have more of some digits than others. Armed with this observation, a couple of political scientists examined the numbers from Iran's election and found that they aren't random. They found too many 7s and not enough 5s in the last digit.

Also, people have a tendency to prefer adjacent digits when creating strings of numbers (i.e. they prefer 123 to 926). Sure enough, the election figures from Iran contain a suspiciously high percentage of adjacent digits. Washington Post
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 22, 2009
Comments (0)
Someone circulated a bogus press release claiming that rap star Lil' Kim was running for mayor of Hoboken. Local media in New York duly reported it as fact. But in a world where Ronald Reagan became president and Arnold Schwarzenegger is Governor of California, I can understand why they took it seriously. [NY Daily News]
Categories: Celebrities, Music, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 13, 2009
Comments (0)
Car and Driver's April Fool's Day hoax claiming that President Obama had ordered that Chevrolet and Dodge withdraw from NASCAR seems to have been one of the few AF hoaxes this year that actually fooled a significant number of people. [USA Today]
Categories: April Fools Day, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (1)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of his new government posed for an official photo in Jerusalem on April 1. But when the photo appeared in the ultra-orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman, all the women had been digitally removed from the photo. Apparently ultra-orthodox Jews don't like the idea of women in politics and seem to believe that if they can't see them, then they don't exist. [Suomen Kuvalehti]
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (4)
I received the following email about the photo in the Hoax Photo Database of Pres. Bush holding a "Trophy Turkey" during his 2003 Thanksgiving trip to Iraq:

you claim that the turkey George Bush is holding is plastic. This urban myth has been debunked a thousand times and yet still keeps resurfacing. Even the New York Times was forced to print a retraction of this myth back in 2004... If you want to maintain a reputation for accuracy I suggest you amend the caption accordingly. The turkey was real and not plastic.

Naturally wanting to maintain my "reputation for accuracy" I immediately looked into this. The New York Times did indeed print a retraction in 2004:

Correction: July 11, 2004, Sunday. An article last Sunday about surprises in politics referred incorrectly to the turkey carried by President Bush during his unannounced visit to American troops in Baghdad over Thanksgiving. It was real, not fake.

Unfortunately, what's missing in that retraction is an explanation of what evidence made them change their mind. Who did they interview? What's the source?

I figured someone must have dug deeper into the story and found someone who was there who could attest to the fact that the turkey was real, but all I could find was a lot of conservative sites linking to that one NYT retraction. Though in my search I did come across a Turkey Dinner George Bush doll on Amazon (plastic Bush holding a plastic turkey).

Eventually I took a closer look at the Washington Post article in which Mike Allen (who traveled to Baghdad with Bush on that trip) made the original allegation about the turkey, and that's where I found it:

In the most widely published image from his Thanksgiving day trip to Baghdad, the beaming president is wearing an Army workout jacket and surrounded by soldiers as he cradles a huge platter laden with a golden-brown turkey.
The bird is so perfect it looks as if it came from a food magazine, with bunches of grapes and other trimmings completing a Norman Rockwell image that evokes bounty and security in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.
But as a small sign of the many ways the White House maximized the impact of the 21/2-hour stop at the Baghdad airport, administration officials said yesterday that Bush picked up a decoration, not a serving plate.
Officials said they did not know the turkey would be there or that Bush would pick it up. A contractor had roasted and primped the turkey to adorn the buffet line, while the 600 soldiers were served from cafeteria-style steam trays, the officials said. They said the bird was not placed there in anticipation of Bush's stealthy visit, and military sources said a trophy turkey is a standard feature of holiday chow lines.

Allen notes that the turkey was a "decoration," but he also notes that it was "roasted and primped" (i.e. it was a real bird). Apparently a lot of people (including myself and the New York Times) focused on the word "decoration," not "roasted." In fact, I had to read that paragraph several times over before I noticed the word "roasted." Funny how the mind can make us ignore some details and focus on others. Must have been my liberal, anti-Bush bias clouding my judgement.

Anyway, I've now corrected the entry in the hoax photo database. Thanks to the correspondent for correcting that error.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 02, 2009
Comments (31)
I swear this is a real news story. It's not from The Onion:

Silvio Berlusconi, the flamboyant Italian Prime Minister, played a practical joke on the German Chancellor today by jumping out at her from behind a lamppost when they met for an Italo-German summit in Trieste. Slipping away from the welcoming committee, the Italian leader hid behind the lamppost and emerged with a cry of "Cucu!" when Angela Merkel stepped out of her official car to enter the regional council headquarters where they were to meet. Reports said the German leader, who appeared amused, opened her arms and replied "Silvio!".

Bonus: There's video footage of this great moment in international diplomacy.
Categories: Politics, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 21, 2008
Comments (7)
Martin Eisenstadt, who describes himself as a former campaign adviser to John McCain and a Senior Fellow of the Harding Institute, has been in the news a lot lately. First it was for outing himself as the guy who leaked the story about Palin not knowing Africa was a continent. Now it's for being non-existent.

The NY Times has the details. Turns out that Eisenstadt is a fictitious character created by two filmmakers, Eitan Gorlin and Dan Mirvish.

Media outlets fooled: MSNBC, The New Republic, the Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

Additional details at the Huffington Post.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 13, 2008
Comments (8)
This photograph, which supposedly shows Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his wife, has been circulating online for a few months. It's often linked to with teasing, tongue-in-cheek phrases such as "Ahmadinejad's wife is a hottie!" or "Ahmadinejad's wife is hotter than Palin!"

But is the image real? Is that really his wife? If so, why and when did Ahmadinejad pose for the photo? It hasn't been easy to find any answers to these questions.

One source claims the image came from the German magazine Bild, though I can't find any confirmation of this. Instead, I think the source might have been the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, though I have no idea what the text accompanying the picture says, and Google doesn't offer Turkish to English translation.

The only other pictures of Ahmadinejad's wife that I could find were taken when she accompanied him on a state visit to Kuala Lumpur in 2006. They were posted on

IranFocus also provides this small piece of info about Iran's First Lady:
Iranians have hardly caught a glimpse of Mrs. Ahmadinejad, and her first and maiden names rigorously resisted exposure after an hour of determined Googling in Persian and English. In the President’s official biography and website, there is no reference to Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being married, let alone to his wife. One ultraconservative website reports in Persian that the President married a mechanical engineering student in Tehran’s University of Science and Technology in 1980, when he was 24 - you would have to guess her age - and that he has three children.

The woman in the top picture and the Kuala Lumpur pictures does seem to be the same, though it's interesting that she's showing more of her face in the Kuala Lumpur photos. So I'm going to say that the photo of Ahmadinejad and his wife is real. However, I still have no idea when the photo was taken or why.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 11, 2008
Comments (17)
A recently released photograph of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was supposed to prove that he's alive and well. Instead, it's raising even more suspicions about his health because the photo seems to be doctored. As the Times Online notes:

While the legs of his soldiers cast a shadow at a sharp angle, the shadow of the “Dear Leader” is dead straight. In addition, there is a black line running horizontally behind the soldiers’ legs, but it mysteriously disappears behind Mr Kim.

The lack of the black line behind Kim Jong-Il is what confuses me. Why would it have been deleted? The shadow of the soldier to his left falls across that section of the step, and yet it falls at the angle one would expect. If that section of the step was deleted, the photo forgers must have recreated the shadow of the soldier. But it's strange they would have placed the shadow of the soldier at a correct angle and screwed up the Dear Leader's shadow. So perhaps that's how the step behind him really looks. (Thanks, Hudson!)

Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 07, 2008
Comments (19)
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