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The Two Epistemologies

Juan Non-Volokh operating in the other epistemic sphere expresses mock concern for the state of the Kerry campaign: "if the memos at the center of this week's revelations turn out to be politically motivated forgeries -- as appears increasinly likely -- Kerry may take the blame in the public's eye."

In my epistemic sphere things look rather different. The White House has not disputed the authenticity of the documents even though it's headed by a person who would be in a position to know whether or not the underlying facts alleged in the documents are wildly off-base. And there are credible handwriting experts who vouch for the authenticity of Killian's signature. As a result, the memos have a presumptive validity. Those who want to challenge the authenticity of documents under circumstances such as these must do one of two things. They could produce evidence that the documents cannot be genuine that, for example, it would have been technological infeasible to generate documents of that sort in the early 1970s. This is not the case. The would-be debunkers have, however, presented a good deal of evidence demonstrating that the documents might be forgeries in the sense that it is technologically feasible today to produce things that look just like the memos. This, however, doesn't really get you anywhere unless you can produce some actual evidence of forging. Pretty much any document "might" be forged in the same sense that the Killian memos might be -- one could forge such a thing were one so inclined. But if they are forgeries who forged them? Obviously, one can name some people in a random manner (Terry McAuliffe! Michael Moore!) but there's no actual evidence that any particular person did any forging, nor any evidence to believe that they must be forgeries. As a result, if for some reason your thinking about George W. Bush hinges crucially on what the Killian memos allege, you have very good reason to think poorly of him.

It's not clear to me, though, that anything really does hinge on the Killian allegations. Among other things, the general relevance of Bush's Guard service is not manifestly clear. I'm not going to pretend that this is the reason I don't think he deserves reelection, though I wish Bush supporters would have exercized the same courtesy when they were busy uncritically repeating lies about John Kerry's war record. What's more, if it is important to you to know whether or not Bush conducted himself in an honorable manner, it's manifestly clear -- Killian aside -- that he did not. We have from Ben Barnes that he got out of 'Nam and into the Guard by pulling strongs. We have from Bush himself that he did this not out of opposition to the war, but out of a personal desire not to engage in service ("I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun....") that others were forced against their wills to endure, we know that he did not show up as frequently as he was required to, and he did not, as required, join a Massachusetts Guard unit upon matriculating at the Harvard Business School. We also know that he has lied on various occassions about various aspects of all of this.

September 12, 2004 | Permalink

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» Duelling epistemologies from Majikthise
Matt Yglesias writes: It's not clear to me, though, that anything really does hinge on the Killian allegations. Among other things, the general relevance of Bush's Guard service is not manifestly clear. I'm not going to pretend that this is [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 12, 2004 5:55:53 PM

» What color is the sky in your epistemological sphere? from The H-Bomb
Normally Matthew Yglesias is more reasonable than this: Juan Non-Volokh operating in the other epistemic sphere expresses mock concern for the state of the Kerry campaign: "if the memos at the center of this week's revelations turn out to be [Read More]

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» Two epistemologies reprise from Majikthise
Matt Yglesias responds to my post, Duelling Epistemologies. He writes: I note for the record that what I was trying to say in the post [Lindsay] criticizes is that the Bush/Guard doesn't especially hinge on the authenticity of the Killian [Read More]

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