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.)


  1. Good post, Brad. I'm finally seeing "the light" on this one. Thanks.

  2. Good post Brad. Thank you this very interesting.

  3. Brad, "null hypothesis" works for me. I learn something valuable every time I stop by.

    One thing I'm not sure we should be accepting as fact is the date given for the shower. (Never trust a Palin or a Johnston to site correct dates.) Can anyone prove when that was?


  4. I don't know for sure when it happened. The pictures were posted in Masy 2008, I believe.

  5. The shower was May 3, as was dated on Kristan Cole's website.

  6. Brad, your post at Politicalgates has the photo of Sarah in her cream silk blazer holding Trig in blue stripes. That date was Sept. 3, 2008, the night she spoke at the GOP convention.

  7. Leadfoot and B: you guys know your dates!

  8. The third ear in the 3 ear graphic is not from the same child as the first two. I will send Brad close ups of the ear from August 29 and then from the debate in October. In my opinion, it is not the same child. I don't know who the August 29 baby is (but have a theory). I believe that the debate Trig (and Ruffles) is the Trig of today.

  9. Brad, you are presenting a false dilemma. I am not 95% certain that there are two babies but I am also not 95% certain that they are the same baby.

    *My* null hypothesis is that the images we have access to cannot prove this point one way or another.

  10. Ghost says: *My* null hypothesis is that the images we have access to cannot prove this point one way or another.

    Exactly. That being true, you would be ill-advised to push the argument that there are different children involved. That is precisely the point I want everyone to take from this series I have done.

  11. But by that logic, Brad, you would be ill advised to push the argument that you can determine that those pictures are of the same child. "Virtual Proof", to quote your own words, used in the headline of your post over at politicalgates.

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    You can make an argument that the different looking ears at different points in time do not necessarily mean they are different babies, but that in itself does not prove that they are the same baby.

  12. Nuts, I posted this on an old thread. So I've copied it here.

    My problems with your argument, Brad:

    --You do not have the opinion of even one MD in this field to support your views re fixing the ear. For a layman to do an internet search and draw a conclusion is far weaker than the opinion of an MD who has been around this particular block multiple times. If it was that easy, an MD degree would not take so long. Even MDs can differ, but an MD confirmation following a look at the actual ears would be a start.

    --There exist other MDs who HAVE looked at the ears and have said "no way." (There's another ENT quoted on IM's comments just now, giving reasons that that seem credible to me.) Of course they could be wrong. But so far they are more credible to me than your "first time out" conclusions that lack the background of training and experience in ear issues. Experience re practicality, outcome, etc., counts for more than reading about internet claims.

    --The size of the baby in the photos is also a factor in thinking there were two.

    --If the small baby was as small and fragile as the photos suggest, being fed via tube, any surgery on a cosmetic item like ear shape seems unlikely.

    --There is no evidence to suggest that any baby ever wore earforms or splints, which would be very visible. Only SP's use of the word "earforms" when she meant "earmarks." That could tell us nothing, or that she was thinking about earform treatment, or something else. But it is not support for the idea that any baby actually wore them.

    --The idea that you "believe" there is 95% probability of something does not mean there is 95% probability. It just means that is your opinion. Probability has to be based on more than a wholeheartedly held opinion.

    You could be right on all counts. But there is just too little expert opinion, too much heartfelt nonexpert opinion, and zero rock-solid data for me at this point. This is another case of SP facts that we cannot trust because they are not rock solid. And there are so many such factoids that one can build way too many scenarios upon them, without landing upon the actual one, which we still have no assurance of knowing.

    You brought up the idea of identifying a doll maker who claims to have supplied a reborm doll to SP. Did that pan out?

  13. Amy: I've been contacted by medical folks who agree with my analysis.

  14. Brad,

    Amy1 wrote:

    "The size of the baby in the photos is also a factor in thinking there were two"

    People have believed there were 2 babies for a long time. That belief is based on the ears and the size of the baby in the photographs. If you want to convince people there weren't 2 babies then you should extend your research to sizing the babies in each picture. (see my long message to you about 2 posts ago)

    If you want to pursue it then I would suggest you concentrate on Levi, Mercede and Palin's mother. They are all holding the baby in famous photos which were taken very near each other in time. Many people believe these photos show 2 babies of different sizes. If you can prove that isn't the case then that supports your argument.

    You might also want to cover how cameras process color in one of your posts too. In the shot of Levi at the hospital with Trig, Levi AND Trig appear to be tanned (or have reddish skin). In the photo at the birthday party at the Palin's house Trig AND Levi have lighter colored skin. I think this is due to the way the camera has recorded the colors and the photos aren't a fair reflection of the real colors. If you go to the immoral minority post today that rebuts your posts, you will see that Gryphen has posted a picture of Mercede holding Trig. In that picture both people's skin appears tanned and reddish. If you compare it with other pictures taken at that event you will see a big difference and it will illustrate what I'm talking about.

  15. Brad: Can't you ask for permission to quote your med contacts here? Even if anonymously, I would sure be interested. Even just paraphrasing their comments,in the aggregate.

    Re doll: you said "someone from NC contacted me saying she thinks a renowned doll-maker down there perhaps made one for SP." Why did she think so? Was it only a hypothesis pulled out of her, um, brain? So are you saying she had no real reason to suggest this?

    Re "I am convinced I am right, . . . ." Brad, we all are, more or less. The depth of our conviction is not related to whether something is true or not. We want reasons and facts, or an acknowledgment when there are none. When you say "There is no reason you should accept my judgment that the ears are the same" I wonder why I even drove up. In contrast to your position, I say there IS a reason you should accept my judgment that SP was not pregnant: the photos. No matter how strong or weak my belief in the hoax, it is the photos (the only unequivocal proof we have) that tell the story, not anyone's sincere belief.

  16. GB: I am sorry, but your obvious hostility is making exchanges here not very useful. I won't respond here anymore, although feel free to vent, if you like. I may respond if you contact me directly at my email address, given in my profile.

  17. Amy, what I meant, of course, is this: after you have weighed my arguments and evidence, if you are still unconvinced, there is nothing I can do about. Since this is a blog, not a paying job, I'm not going to go much beyond what I have done.

  18. Brad -- did you just delete one of your comments? I can no longer find where you said:

    --"I am convinced I am right, . . . ." and
    --"There is no reason you should accept my judgment that the ears are the same"

    It's your blog, but my responses to those comments of yours no longer make sense if you do that. Hmmm.

  19. Amy: I delete a comment of mine b/c one person construed it to mean I willingly was acting in bad faith. Certainly not my intention, so best to delete if ambiguous in that way.

  20. Amy: An MD who goes by Crackling Charlie at p-gates said he thought I got it right; Blueberry T, same place, said the same. I can't recall if she is a nurse or what. I guess I would feel funny citing people without giving real names and credentials. I know that's how the blogosphere often works, but it would feel quite cheesy to me. Also, run of the mill MDs don't strike me as terribly useful. I could see quoting a specialist who uses Earwell or whatever, but not just my own MD. I'm a journalism professor. If I can't get a relevant specialist who will go on the record, I'd just as soon make my own observations.

  21. A recap:

    Brad starts studying ears, esp. inner ears, and muses about Wooten and Trig at Laura's.

    Then he also sees the similarities in ears of Ruffles and Trig and realizes they *aren't necessarily different* babies.

    Then he looks at advances in ear splints in recent years and realizes they substitute for some surgery that would have been required in the recent past.

    He writes up his conclusions as a blog post--not a footnoted research paper, but a thought piece--and offers it to Gryphen as a follow up to The Tale of Two Babies, which it questions.

    Gryphen decides not to post it, so Brad creates his own blog and posts it. Gryphen reacts in a post that accuses the blogger of insanity and "not helping" the Babygate cause. Then Brad disparages Gryphen's research too.

    Brad posts at Politicalgates. Mistakenly suggests he is proving Ruffles and Trig are the same baby.

    Brad further supports his theory with the Bailey book baby as a missing link between Ruffles and Trig and with Next Chapter's ear overlays from

    Gryphen again posts about why he still Believes the Tale of Two Babies. Many of his commenters decide Brad is wrong, dishonest, has too many typos to be a professor, must be selling a book, works for Palin and wants to show how gullible we are, should never have mused in writing about Wooten, has gone to the dark Politicalgates side, is the anti-Christ, etc. (Only the anti-Christ is made up.)

    I am not picking sides. IM is still my daily go-to place for all things Palin. I visit Politicalgates every chance I get. And I welcome Brad (and Allison) to the blogosphere and happen to find him persuasive on this issue.

    WWAD: What would Audrey, the patron saint of Babygate, do? I believe she would say, "Here's some research, but I just don't know the answer. However, I do know Palin wasn't pregnant with Trig." She wouldn't insult either of them for making his case, or insult anyone who who claimed her analysis was wrong. (She never even insulted Dangerous.)

    Let's emulate Audrey.

  22. As usual, B, you are so right.

  23. Thank you, Amy1. I value your opinions, and not just because we often agree. And I miss Audrey.

    BTW,I did not know you were Ottoline until recently. I had thought at least two people--Amy1 and Ottoline--agreed with me that the March 14 photo was proof!

  24. Hi Brad,

    I've been around on the blogs for a long time, I just don't comment as often as a lot of folks but I do read a LOT.

    So - all of this new information is being discussed openly. I think that is the BEST thing and I think it will be fruitful. I am so disappointed with Jesse because his stance is the opposite. I'm not bashing, just making an observation. I don't agree that his way is the best and quite frankly, all of the negative is coming from there :( Not so good...

    But on to the good stuff, right! I wanted to let you know that I am an amateur photographer and competed in contests for years and everything you said about photography is 100% on the money. The length of the lens, the distance from the subject, and the aperture used (a wide or narrow lens opening) can all affect the appearance of the size of a person. Any portrait photographer who wants their subject to look pleasing knows the most flattering settings! I can generally tell what was used in a photo by judging the other objects in the pic relative to the subject. But not always. Lighting also is a big factor in skin tone, with blue and red casts being the most common errors you see. Fluorescent lighting anywhere is almost always a killer (ask any woman in a dressing

    Anyway, all of these new pics have been a real eye-opener for me. Preliminarily, I have to say that what I am seeing is a Ruffles whose ear was corrected. How, I don't know, but I can definitely see it. And I have a medical background as a Paramedic who worked for two years in a Level II Trauma Center in the ER/Trauma Service. I've seen plenty of messed up body parts get repaired.

    One thing it seems a lot of people are saying is that because Sarah couldn't be bothered to make Trig wear glasses to fix his eyes, why would she do this? Well, this correction would have been when he was an infant and not capable of fussing over it and giving anyone a hard time over wearing some device. The glasses came in much later, when he was a toddler, harder to handle, and she was busy on a book tour. I also think it's getting into a territory of pure speculation. Look, I realize that because of how things appear on the surface, it's easy for people to assume that Palin does not care for her children, but in all reality, no one really knows it to be an absolute fact that she is completely negligent, right? And that's what some are basing the other two-Trig theory on: that no way would Sarah do this because We know Her so well. And that's just not a fact. You guys tell me if I am wrong about that.

    That's just my .02. I'm enjoying the discussion guys. Thanks for having me :)

    Susan in MD

  25. Susan, thank you. Will you send your email address to me at I'd like to send my next post to you before I post it. I'd involves photography.

  26. @Susan. Bristol may have functioned as Trig's caregiver until the RNC. Bristol would have taken care of Trig's ears, even if Sarah couldn't be bothered. The glasses came later, maybe Dec. 2008. I also think Sarah wanted a perfect DS baby, for which the mother is "blameless," not one with ruffled ears that might have suggested FAS.

  27. @Search4more:
    "a picture of Mercede holding Trig. In that picture both people's skin appears tanned and reddish. If you compare it with other pictures taken at that event you will see a big difference"

    Cameras "meter" the light in the area where you are taking the pic, evaluating sunlight, overhead lighting, and also the flash that comes off your camera, if you have that on and it will evaluate color balance based on that.

    The color difference in those two pictures is off in the second pic because the flash metered the light off of the fridge that was behind them (you can see how the light bounced off it) causing the bluish cast. Look at how Mercede's shirt is white in the first pic but has a bluish look in the second. In the first pic, the camera metered the room light correctly, so the skin tones look normal.

    Not sure about the other two pics you're talking about but if they were taken in a hospital with overhead fluorescent lighting that will also give skin tones a bluish cast (or "wash" the tan or red tones out of skin color).

    Just fyi.

    Susan in MD

  28. B,

    I agree it would have been Bristol managing all.

    Oh and I liked your recap that you did further up in the comments :)

  29. Here's an interesting post from IM in post about SP from OpEdNews...

    RJM said...
    Never posted before. Sorry for bad typing am not good at the i phone. The wife&i are life long Ak residents. We knew from day 1 sarah did not have a baby. Anyone who saw her around knew it. She wasn't just missing the belly she was skinny as a rail. I found out something a couple yrs ago and at first I did not get the significanc&i forgot about it. Wasnt til the custody fight when Tripp name was in the papers alot when I recalled something&went back to check the record. But I been sitting on it since then.
    Been thinking about weather or not I have the balls to say this in a public blog.

    First off this is the only thing I know and its due to my area of employment so don't bother pushing for more detail. This really is all I know.

    But. I think it might be a biggie.
    Gryphen unless Bristol had the longest preg ever tripp's bday is not right. Either that, or she just happened to apply for the personalized LP 'TRIPP' ummm let's see 6-7 months before she announced her preg w/ Tripp. Being the men variety I am not up on all the info re preg. But I saw the wife thru 4 pregs and I am pretty sure its not possible to know you are preg (and know what you will have&what you will name it) a month before you even do the deed.

    There are records of this application. In todds name. It was applied for&approved in march 08.

    I am not sure if it was ever transfered to Bristol legally. But I don't think the name even matters. The important fact is the palin's applied for a PLP with the letters TRIPP in march and i just don't see how that lines up with any of their stories.

    3:48 PM

  30. Thanks, She'sToast!

    It lines up with a July '08 birth for Tripp. By March Bristol could know she was having a boy and decide to name him Tripp.

    Or it lines up with Trig being born by March '08 and first being named Tripp.

    Or it lines up with Todd wanting a license plate with Shailey's name on it. Maybe to taunt Sarah?

  31. Or it lines up with announcing the pregnancy to SP in Feb; making a deal about it (getting the car with PLPs as a payoff) in Mar; Bristol appearing at the April 18 event looking nonpregnant per Bailey; an early Aug birth of Tripp; and postpartum-looking at the RNC. And Tripp looking more the right age on the May 6 2009 GMA video,

    Making the fragile Trig born much earlier, if Bristol is the bioMom. And making the deception of much longer duration than we thought.

    Or not.

  32. @ Amy1 - Good thinkin'!!


    Here is an important question-

    In February, '08, SP told Chris Cillizza in an interview that it would be impossible for her to run for VP.

    Yet just a few short weeks later, in fact, the day after McCain was chosen (3/4/08), SP announcesdthat she was 7 months pregnant. The SP for VP push began overtly on the internet and was discussed in the e-mails.

    So what changed in those few weeks? Could it be the status of a certain baby? Could it be that they were able to find a borrowed baby while another baby was in the NICU? Whatever it was, I feel certain that it relates to babygate(s).

  33. conscious: I'm stepping back from the PLP tip helping us set the pregnancy timetable. March is just when Todd ordered it up -- who knows why or when Bristol got the truck. But that Todd ordered "Tripp" so early sure is a puzzle.

    When I first heard the Cillizza interview -- the denial re the VP spot -- I assumed it was the modesty stance that SP had down pat. In looking at it again, I think it still could be just that. Or not.

    My sense of what changed between the Cillizza interview and Mar 5 announcement was that a higher-up in the campaign had told SP that she was being considered and she'd better fix any loose ends.

    I wonder if SP is on record AFTER Mar 5 as denying her possibility to be the VP pick? In that same modesty-stance manner? It reminds me of Prince Charles' early girlfriends denying to the press that they have any hope at all of marrying him.