Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Sarah Palin Probably Loves the Two Trigs Theory

Since February of 2010, the Two Trigs theory has permeated the Trig Truther community. This is the theory put forward by Jesse Griffin of Immoral Minority that says Palin, for unknown reasons, presented more than one child as Trig between April and October of 2008. The main evidence for this theory is that the baby clearly had some ear deformity in April and early May, but showed no deformity at the Republican National Convention, nor subsequently.

As I have argued here and elsewhere, comparisons of pictures strongly suggest only one baby has been presented as Trig. Below, for example, is a graphic I created showing how the baby's ear from April 2008 aligns remarkably with the ear after September 2008, even though it is clear the ear was either medically repaired or possibly "unfurled" on its own.

I personally am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that only one baby has been shown as Trig. Even if you don't agree that graphics like this one overcome reasonable doubt, surely you must agree that it's now impossible to seriously maintain the opposite: that it is beyond a reasonable doubt that more than one baby has been displayed.

If I'm right, then how must Sarah Palin view the Two Trigs Theory? I imagine she thinks it's a great boon for her and hopes it will continue to be embraced by many in the Trig Truther community .

One reason for this is that she can easily prove that the theory is false whenever she likes. She surely has plenty of pictures showing the development of the ears over time, and if a medical procedure was done, she could produce records for it. 

Moreover, Palin can use the widespread belief in the theory as a way to discredit the entire movement that aims to expose the baby hoax. I would not be surprised to learn she has done that in off-the-record conversations with journalists and others. 

That is why it is a shame Gryphen (Jesse Griffin's blog name) has doggedly stuck to his theory, despite new ways of looking at evidence that call his theory into serious doubt. Moreover, his refusal to carry or link to evidence that contradicts his theory, such as the above graphic, raises the question whether even he has much faith in the theory anymore.

If Palin is following his blog, and I imagine she is, I'll bet she's rooting for Gryphen to keep flogging that theory, since it could help her keep the hoax buried.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How optical distortion made Trig Palin look smaller in party photo; explanation helps undermine 2 Trigs theory

Here is a composite picture showing Trig at the Mat-Su hospital with Sally Heath, and then at the Kristan Cole party.

I want to point out that there is no objective way to reach the conclusion that Trig in the right-hand photo is smaller than in the other photo. There is not a single common element except for Trig's face. So why does everyone get the impression Trig is smaller in the right-hand photo? Several factors contribute, but the chief factor, I believe, is that the right-hand photo was apparently taken with a wide-angle lens. (H/T to astute reader Susan for helping me figure that out.) Wide-angle lenses have the distorting effect of making closer things appear larger than they should, with the opposite effect for things that are further away. Here's a fun example I found at Flickr:

The photographer included technical information, including that the focal length of the lens was 22mm (anything below, say, 35mm will likely have a discernible effect, and the lower the focal length, the greater the effect). The distorting effect is obvious in this photo: the baby's head dwarfs his legs. (I used a ripple filter over the face, in case that baby reads this blog.)

So in the party picture, what is the effect of this distortion on our perception of Trig's size? Well, his head looks really tiny in relation to the girl's forearm and hand; the head looks about as big as a softball. By contrast, Trig's head (including cap) in the facing photo looks like a large grapefruit in relation to Sally's hand; and that shot looks looks like it was taken with a "normal" focal-length setting, about 50mm.) I think our brains do a quick head-to-hand ratio calculation when we view these two photos and tell us that the party-photo head must be smaller and hence the baby must be smaller. But it's an optical illusion.

Two more things contribute to the impression that Trig to the left is bigger. First, even though we know the baby does not have to fill every inch of that big bundle of blankets and whatnot in Sally's arm, the large size of the bundle suggests the baby must be large. (Who knows, maybe the baby had a lot of wrapping around it because he had been on a car trip that day.) Second, the picture to the left shows a nice chubby baby face because it's a straight on shot; the other photo shows a face that looks much skinnier – and even though we know intellectually that is largely because of the different angle of the shot, maybe our gut reaction is to say chubby-face Trig must be bigger than thin-face Trig. The wide-angle effect probably also contributes how we process those relative face widths.

I teach photojournalism, so I have a sense of how different lenses affect shots. But working backwards – looking at a given picture and deducing what kind of lens was used – can be tricky for a nonprofessional photographer like me. (I did take photographs when I was a working journalist, but I was mainly a reporter.) So for those of you who have a photography background, please weigh in and let me know if you think I got it right in this analysis.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ears, camera angles, and the "null hypothesis"

Today I want to explore how camera angles and the like can make similar subjects look different.

But first, credit where it is due: around June of 2010 (I think), Palin's Peyton Place posted this graphic at Flickr to make the argument that "Ruffles" was simply Trig with his ears fixed:

The note in the middle of the graphic refers to surgery being done; the Earwell and Ear Buddies procedures that I mentioned in an earlier post do not require surgery, but other than the use of the word "surgery," I totally agree with the argument the author is making. 

To see this graphic and a few related ones, go to: In one related graphic, the author argues (despite rejecting an earlier swap) that a baby swap must have happened at the Republican National Convention, based on differences in Trig's ears in two photos. I think she (or he) is wrong on that. Here is the graphic:

First note that the photos at the top of the graphic were taken at very different angles: the first one was shot very much at an angle below Trig's ear, while the second one is more straight on. Trig's ears, in fact, do bent outward at the top, as the second photo shows – but you cannot see the bend in the first photo because of the extreme angle. Moreover, Trig's sweater is pushing up the bottom of his ear in the second photo, making earlobe comparisons problematic. But my heavens, look at the rectangular shape in the middle! Even though the ears were shot at different angles, that very distinctive shape tells me this is the same child (or twins – but that way madness lies.)

The apparent difference in the ears in those photos can be accounted for by the different angles at which the photos were taken.

Next, here is the 3-panel illustration I posted earlier to show the progression of Trig's ears:

Note that the second and third pictures show an irregular shape mid-ear that looks (in the middle picture, at least) somewhat like a heart. The key to resolving the difference between that mid-ear shape in the second and third pictures is to understand that that the photos were taken from much different angles. Here are the two photos again, starting with the Bailey picture:

Note that this photo was shot more from the front than the side, which would cause that space in the middle to appear shortened. Now here is the VP debate shot:

This shot is straight onto the ear. So to get a sense of how the two ears are truly equivalent, you have to "rotate" in your mind's eye the middle photo. Therefore, I see no reason to question that the second and third photos are the same baby. And the stunning similarities at the tops of the first and second pictures convince me those are the same – at least they are stunning when you "rotate" the middle one mentally. The first picture is also fairly straight on, as you can see:

As I hope the foregoing has made clear, comparisons ears or other body parts can be made difficult by different camera angles. But that's not all. Different lighting can change apparent skin color, for example. Lenses with different focal lengths can seem to "lengthen" or "shorten" a given subject. For example, is the baby at Mat-Su Medical Center too "big" to be the baby in the picture just above? Answering that would be very difficult without having a common reference point, which is lacking, plus the lack of technical information concerning the photos makes it hard to even guess.

Let me also bring up the idea of the "null hypothesis." Whenever you form a hypothesis that something happened or routinely happens, the null hypothesis is that it did not happen. For example, a hypothesis is that smoking causes cancer. The null hypothesis is that it does not. We can "reject the null," as social scientists say, because of the mountain of evidence over the years that smoking does in fact cause cancer.

In the case of the baby-swap hypothesis, the null is that Palin did not present different babies as Trig in 2008. To reject the null, you would need very compelling evidence. Typically in the social sciences, you need to be at least 95 percent confident before you can reject the null and assume your hypothesis meets the standard threshold for "significance" – termed "statistical significance" when numbers are involve. We don't have precise probabilities assigned to the events surrounding the baby-swap hypothesis, but I think we all have a gut-level sense of what it means to be 95 confident that something is true: that's pretty darned confident! 

Now I know some people will not accept my judgment when I say I am 99 percent confident that the three ears in the composite above come from the same child. That's fine. If you don't, then my question to you is this: are you at least 95 confident the ears come from  at least two different children? If your answer is not a resounding yes, then you probably should put the baby-swap hypothesis on the back burner. If you can't make a great case for that hypothesis, you may start to appear like a tin-foil hat wearer to people who are sophisticated about research. And in light of the counter-arguments and evidence I have present, I don't think an unbiased person could be 95 percent confident the pictures come from different babies. (Bias, by the way, can come simply from a desire not to change your mind once you have staked out a position.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The "missing link" picture nails it: "Ruffles" was simply Trig before his ears were fixed

Two astute readers (colacarat and search4m0re) made the suggestion that I put a picture of Trig from Frank Bailey's book into my lineup showing Trig's ears. So let's do that. Here are the three original pictures we will use: first, the ruffled ear baby from the Kristan Cole party in May 2008:

Next, the Bailey book picture of Trig later in May, which is the "missing link" photo:

Finally, Willow holding Trig in November 2008 at the vice presidential candidates debate:

Now here are the ears from those three photos, all rotated to a similar upright position:

With the first two pictures, the top halves of the ears make the case they are the same: there is an unusual double notch in the rear, plus each ear displays the same odd shape in the top half of the helix, which looks like four distinct planes joined together. With the second and the third pictures, it's the bottom halves of the ears that make the case: the very distinctive central shape, almost like a leaning heart, plus the batwing shape below that. (Note the two photos were shot are at very different angles – one much more from the front – resulting in perspective-related differences in those shapes from one photo to the next.) 

Let me also direct your attention to the very bottom of the ear in each photo. In the first photo you can just make out a piece of skin curling over the edge of the blanket, but it looks floppy and elongated. In the second picture, you can see how the skin has been shaped to look almost normal, although it comes to a point. In the third picture, Trig's shirt partially obscures the ear lobe, but you can make out enough to see the similarity to the lobe in the second picture.

Of course, the ears in the three pictures are NOT identical. That's the point. The middle photo shows the transitional shape of the ear halfway between the first and third photos.

The progression from the first picture to the second picture probably happened within two weeks. If begun early in infancy, good results in reconstructing malformed ears can be achieved in less than a month. And in fact, infancy is absolutely the best time to do it.

One of the leading technologies being used for ear reconstruction, the Earwell Infant Ear Correction System, is described here, in case you’d like to read about it:

Good results have also been achieved with Ear Buddies splints:

There are plastic surgeons in the United States who advertise that they will use these products in reconstructing the ears of neonates.

I'm sure some people will disagree, but I'm over 99 percent sure that's the same ear. The the similarities simply cannot be due to chance.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Trig's vs Ruffles' Ear: What are the Odds of Similarities Due to Chance?

Here is the overlay I posted a few days ago:

"Ruffle's" ear is to the far left, Trig's ear around age 1 is next to it, and the third and fourth pictures show Trig's ear halfway and then all the way on top Ruffle's ear. I wrote that there was a remarkable correspondence of elements that aligned in the two pictures. Some folks wrote they did not see the similarities.

So what I would like to do now is try to make clearer what the elements are that I see in common in the two ears, and then ask if chance can account for the similarities. First, here are the two ears side by side:

Next, here are the same two ears with sections highlighted or darkened to show the shapes that I see in the ears:

What I called Y-shapes the other day I have covered over with triangles. Directly under the triangles are trapezoids. And under those, batwing (or boomerang) shapes.

Note that the position of the top two elements in relation to each other stays relatively constant in each picture (although that pair of elements on the right side seem to have been rotated counterclockwise, as compared to the pair on the left). The batwing shapes in the two pictures are of different sizes and are not positioned in the same way relative to the top pair of elements. 

My hypothesis again is that the top of the helix in the left-hand picture is pulled down and buried under the scalp (a condition known as cryptotia) just above the batwing shape, causing the distortion in the size, shape and location of the batwing shape. My guess is that releasing the buried portion of the ear caused the entire ear to rotate counterclockwise, which would allow the elements in two pictures to align even better and allow the batwing shape to enlarge and be repositioned. However, the resolution of the photo on the left is such that pinpointing the cause of the malformation is dicey; I'll gladly concede that something other than cryptotia may have caused the malformation.

Still, if we can assume that the three elements highlighted on the left-hand picture belong to an ear (rather than say, the lower shape being a hole in the scalp), then a fair question is: How likely is it that you would find (from top to bottom) a triangle, a rectangle and a batwing shape in any ear selected at random? One commenter said that he (or she) had been looking a people's ears after reading my earlier post, and his view was that we are dealing with fairly common-looking ears; in other words, even if those similar shapes exist in the two ears above, perhaps we are still dealing with two different babies since chance can account for the similarities.

To "test" that idea, I found the following illustration of 30 male ears, essentially chosen at random, from people arrested in New York City (flipped to put ears in same orientation as those above):

To my eye, not a single ear in this collection has the same three elements. No doubt if we looked at enough ears selected at random, we would find an ear similar to the two above. But I think it is safe to say the odds of getting, by chance, two ears that match up the way the two above do is less than 1 in 30. Which means we can have a high degree of confidence we are dealing with the same baby.

Let me know if you see flaws in my analysis.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Illustration of normal ear over ruffled ear

Several folks in the comments yesterday said they did not see what I saw concerning correspondences between the normal ear vs the "ruffled" ear. Take a look at the composite below.

We see the ruffled ear on the far left; then the normal ear from yesterday rotated forward, turned bluish and made somewhat transparent; then the bluish ear slid partway over the ruffled ear; and finally the blue ear on top of the ruffled ear.

Note the the areas of correspondence that I mentioned yesterday: the Y-shapes near the tops of the two ears align, the trapezoidal shapes in the middle align, and the batwing shapes near the bottom align – in truth, I was amazed at how well they all aligned. The ear lobes do not line up, but that could be due to the malformation or simply because the white blanket is pushing the ear lobe forward or covering part of it.

Now, again, I think the ear to the left shows uncorrected cryptotia, with the top of the ear curving downward and being buried under the scalp just above the batwing shape. The "fix," as I picture it, would involve releasing the buried section of the ear, which I'm guessing might require a slight snip, then using tape or "earforms" like Earbuddies (see yesterday's post) to hold the ears in their proper shape. (Recall how Palin used the word "earforms" when she meant "earmarks" in the fall of 2008.) I do think that the ruffled ear must have rotated counter-clockwise a bit after the buried part was released. I had to rotate the blue ear forward before I could get the ear parts aligned.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Is "Ruffles" really just Trig before getting his ears fixed?

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Is "Ruffles" just Trig before he got his ears fixed?
I recently became fascinated with Trig's ears. And after looking at lots of photos, I came to wonder if the baby many of us have called "Ruffles" is really just Trig before his ears were fixed.

Let me note that I am not the first to raise this question. I missed it at the time, but Palingates had an excellent post on the subject in April:

Many people, including experts, have looked at a baby pictured at Kistan Cole's party in May 2008 and concluded that the "ruffled" ear of that baby, shown below, could not belong to Trig.

I think people have been fooled by a what might be called a trompe-l'œil: a trick of the eye. What we see above is a very tiny ear with a strange hole just to the right of it ... or is it? Take a look at the following, which shows the above photo cropped and rotated, and placed next to a picture of Trig's ear from when he was about 1 year old:

Suddenly it seems possible that the hole next to the ear on the left is not really a hole at all, but rather a batwing shape in the lower ear – one which corresponds to a similar batwing shape in the ear to the right. Plus there is a Y-shape near the top of both ears, and in the middle of each ear is a trapezoidal shape. Note the circled areas below, red for batwings and green for Y-shape:

The Y-shapes in the green circles do not correspond very well; the one to the left looks as if it has been rotated clockwise and down relative to the one on right; plus the ear to the left obviously has other anomolies. But I have a hypothesis as to what may have caused those anomolies: a condition known as cryptotia, which is shown in the left-side panel below.

With cryptotia, the top of the ear gets folded under the scalp. I think that is what may have happened with Trig. As I look at the middle picture just above, I kinda, sorta think I see the top of the ear being folded under the scalp, as happened to the ear to the left. And if so, and if the folded part were unfolded, I kinda, sorta could imagine that the middle ear would look more like the ear to the right, especially if the Y-shape were rotated counter-clockwise 25 degrees, which I suppose might happen if the possibly buried part of the ear were released.

If Trig did have cryptotia, then during his infancy would be the best time to take care of it. Here's a product, EarBuddies, that the makers claim can correct cryptotia in newborns in about two weeks.

How confident am I that I got this right. Maybe 50 percent – which is a flip of the coin. I'm not a medical doctor (although some students call me Dr. Scharlott, especially if I bribe them). I'd love to have some medical people look at what I have posted here and tell me if this line of thinking seems right.

Holy moly! I think I just spotted something else. Looked at what I have circled below:

It looks to me as if that little bit of skin could be the lower ear lobe – doesn't it look like the skin goes over the white material? Cool. I guess I'm up to 60 percent confidence now. (In the social sciences, you generally don't try to publish results until you are 95 percent confident – but since this is a blog and not a peer-reviewed academic journal, we can go to press with less than 95 percent.)

Be sure to see follow-up illustration: