If Matt Yglesias is going to use philosophical technical jargon in political debates, he could at least try to be pedantic about it.
After CBS ran the story, the conservative side of the ‘sphere came up with dozens of purported debunkings of their authenticity, almost all of which turned out to be more purported than debunking. Then after a few days of back-and-forth, traditional reporters at The Washington Post came out with a more careful, more accurate, more actually-debunking story. The folks at PowerLine and LGF are, at best, Gettier cases, they didn’t do any of the actual debunking. Instead, it was done by reporters working for major papers.
But these aren’t really Gettier cases, because Gettier cases are instances of justified true belief that aren’t knowledge, while the beliefs of the folks at Powerline and LGF were unjustified false beliefs.
First, Matt may think that these folks were actually justified in their beliefs. If so, he’s at least using the term sincerely, though I think he was wrong. All the reasons why the purported debunkings weren’t actual debunkings seem to me to tell against the justification of the original forgery belief.
Second, the ‘at best’ may be doing a lot of work here, i.e. bracketing the issue of lack of justification. I still think it’s misleading. We can’t say that I’m, at best, as good a baseball player as Manny Ramirez, just to mean that I’m not a better baseball player than Manny Ramirez. So I think it’s, at best, an overly generous qualification.
While on our pedantry high horses, this passage from the Washington Post
“I am personally 100 percent sure that they are fake,” said Joseph M. Newcomer, author of several books on Windows programming, who worked on electronic typesetting techniques in the early 1970s. Newcomer said he had produced virtually exact replicas of the CBS documents using Microsoft Word formatting and the Times New Roman font.
Now what exactly is the argument here? I think it’s of the following form.
If the memos were produced on Microsoft Word, they’d look exactly like this.
The memos look exactly like this.
So the memos were produced on Microsoft Word.
Nevermind that the first premise is probably false, because the distinction between exactly and virtually is pretty darn important here. The argument is the kind of howler that we fail freshman logic students for committing. It even has a fancy name: affirming the consequent.
On the other hand, the other arguments against the authenticity of the documents don’t seem to rely on false premises or invalid reasoning.
On the third hand, the really most interesting charge brought up against Bush in the last fortnight doesn’t rely at all on the Killian memos. That’s the charge that he was required to report for Guard duty in Massachusetts when he started at Harvard, but never managed to as much as join a unit. This is potentially worse than whatever he did or didn’t do in Alabama, where at least he seems to have put some effort into making up the time he didn’t serve. Now there’s dispute over what he was required to do in Massachusetts, but none of that dispute turns on whether folks used Times New Roman or TrippyHippyTopia on military documents in the 1970s.
On the fourth hand, does this whole thing bring back bad memories of Ralph Willis for anyone else?