Illustration for article titled Why Wont Birthers Die? Scientists Point To Implicit Social Cognition

Despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, Southern California dentist/lawyer Orly Taitz is busy clogging up the legal system to prove that Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States. Why? Scientific American has a theory.


Today's Washington Post has a profile on Taitz, and it is clear the reporter thinks she is more than a little off:

Taitz has drafted voluminous court pleadings, filing at least five Obama-related cases; a hearing on a California case took place yesterday. In addition to making appearances on radio and television, she blogs and travels the country speaking. She has drummed up supporters at a gun show; joined "tea party" demonstrations against taxation; shouted at, and been shouted at by, MSNBC hosts.

All of which is not to say that her effort is going well. In September, U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land dismissed a Georgia case that Taitz brought on behalf of a military doctor, Connie Rhodes, which held that Rhodes should be spared deployment to Iraq because Obama is not constitutionally qualified to be commander in chief. More than just rejecting it, he excoriated it.

"Unlike in Alice in Wonderland, simply saying something is so does not make it so," Land wrote scathingly in his order dismissing the action. Singling out Taitz for criticism, he accused her of using the legal system to further a political agenda.

Taitz, breathtakingly, reacted by accusing the judge of treason and comparing herself to Nelson Mandela. She fired off a response that suggested the judge was bowing to "political pressure" and "external control." Land promptly issued another order requiring Taitz to tell him why he should not fine her $10,000 as a sanction for her misconduct. Today, a copy of that order lies on the floor of her car.


But as ridiculous as Taitz and others are in their quest to discredit the President, what other motives are at play here?

Scientific American writes that strongly held biases may be the reason for this type of fact-avoidance. Opening the article with an example of when Lena Horne refused to perform at a GI event when German prisoners of war were seated in front of African American servicemen, Steve Mirsky explores how implicit social cognition research summarizes this problem:

At a talk [Harvard University psychologist Mahzarin Banaji] gave in October 2008 to a group of science journalists, Banaji discussed research she did with Thierry Devos, now at San Diego State University, that examined bias against Asians. They found that volunteers linked white Americans more strongly than Asian-Americans with, well, America. Banaji and Devos then decided to do what even they thought was a "bizarre" study: they had people gauge the "American-ness" of famous Asian-Americans, such as Connie Chung and tennis player Michael Chang, versus European whites, such as Hugh Grant.

The study found that white Europeans are more "American" than are nonwhite Americans in most minds. [...]

That result helps to explain how MSNBC's Web site in 1998 could have run the remarkable headline "American Beats Out Kwan" with a story on how Tara Lipinski defeated fellow American Michelle Kwan in a figure skating competition. A Seattle Times article quoted the then director of the Japanese American Citizens League, reaching for a silver lining: "Maybe there's a little progress in that they don't see Lipinski as a foreign name anymore."

Little surprise, then, that in a study done during the 2008 election campaign, Devos found that John Mc­Cain (who, ironically, was born in Panama, albeit at a U.S. naval base) was seen as more "American" than Obama. But even British ex–prime minister Tony Blair was seen as more "American" than Obama, a finding that nearly made me spit out me bangers ‘n' mash.

As Mirsky points out, bias does play a heavy role in what we accept as "fact." So, it is as Liza Mundy - who has also written a biography of Michelle Obama - writes in the Post:

There are those who say that even if Obama were to provide every last record down to dry-cleaning receipts, no proof could satisfy birther proponents. In Taitz's case, there's what she calls "a two-prong test." Bucking the common view that "natural born citizen" — the constitutional requirement for a U.S. president — means, generally speaking, born on American soil, she argues that to be president a person must not only be born here but must also be the child of parents who were both U.S. citizens at the time of his birth. She allows that her decidedly non-mainstream interpretation would knock out her two older sons, born when she had only a green card, before she became a U.S. citizen.


Who needs facts and figures if we can just reinvent reality?

Burden of Proof on Obama's Origins [Washington Post]
Birth of a Notion: Implicit Social Cognition and the "Birther" Movement [Scientific American]


Earlier: Orly Taitz Just Wants To Save Your Tax Dollars
Esquire Takes On Obama 'Birther' Insanity
MSNBC Brings Birther Circus Into Full Public View

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