Whitehouse.gov - Birth Certificate Long Form (Web Archive)

This is the one. I tried asking in my normal channels (hacker news, IRC) but am getting bombarded with accusations of being a Birther.

I am definitely not. Someone showed me there are separate layers for the text and the rest of the document, and also that the font didn't make sense.

I am just hoping you could find evidence one way or another.

Screenshot of Obama's birth certificate

  • 13
    It would seem that no amount of proof will satisfy the conspiracy theorists; they always have the ad hoc argument that the CIA has conspired.. Or something. The CNN investigation showed the original newspaper birth announcement, as well as the fact that these announcements were taken from the hospitals and not parents.... Just as with UFOs and Bigfoot, some will always believe.
    – M. Werner
    Apr 29, 2011 at 0:40
  • 2
    On the other hand, remember that faked letter asserting that President GWBush had skipped his National Guard service or whatever it was? Even with all the tools available, it was a terrible fake. The fact that the materials are available to make good fakes doesn't prove that someone won't make a bad one. (And I'm not a birther either.)
    – Kyralessa
    Apr 29, 2011 at 1:42
  • 4
    @geoff: Welcome to the Skeptics-SE community. Fortunately this sort of question is on-topic around here! Do you have any links to the specific claims about the separate layers for the text, and the font problems, so we can evaluate them? Normally, the onus for proof is placed on the side making the extraordinary claims. Maybe it is arguable, but I would think that claiming a US President has faked a certified document from state archives would count as extraordinary.
    – Oddthinking
    Apr 29, 2011 at 2:33
  • 2
    Here’s an album showing the different layers.
    – Josh Lee
    Apr 29, 2011 at 6:27
  • 3
    The layers look entirely normal to me. The main form will be printed in advance. When the child is born details will be filled in, it will then be signed by the people who need to sign it and then after that has happened it will be processed and the department of heath number will be stamped on. What is contentious here?
    – Ardesco
    Apr 29, 2011 at 7:46

2 Answers 2


It looks to me like the scanner that was used to make the PDF split the image into several layers during construction of the PDF in order to reduce the file size while maintaining sharp text. If we look side-by-side at some writing that was not separated into a separate layer and some text that was, we can clearly see the effect (note that I have moved the writing around to get a good side-by-side example):

Hi-res text from one layer next to low-res image from Obama birth certificate

This is a very common feature of scanners that produce PDFs, since your documents tend to look horrible otherwise (or are huge). Here's an example taken from my local copier (again with text moved next to writing that was not recognized as requiring hi-res):

enter image description here

Thus, the existence of multiple layers in no way is evidence that the document is not authentic. This is the standard way for scanners/copiers to handle scanned-document-to-PDF conversions.

Upon review of the document, I can't find an instance of the font "not making sense". Looks like a typewriter to me, and the same one used for the whole document (complete with artifacts that I recall seeing before, like partially shifted caps).

Edit: this site shows all the layers (thanks to geoff for finding it). You can verify them for yourself by loading the PDF into a vector graphics tool like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape and ungrouping the pieces.

Another edit: This site presents the same conclusion (thanks to fred for finding it), albeit without a clear demonstration, and with some technical inaccuracies.

  • Acrobat has a lot of processing options for documents regarding readability and optimization that could influence this as well.
    – Josiah
    Apr 29, 2011 at 16:13
  • 1
    Thank you for this; I couldn't imagine why a scanned document would have layers, but as an optimization technique it makes perfect sense. Would you add a link to imgur.com/a/DwfgP in your answer, it shows all the layers in a way that meshes perfectly with your answer.
    – geoff
    Apr 29, 2011 at 18:49
  • I've read (but can't find the article at the moment) that often in pdfs, there is an OCR component that picks the text up into different layers. That is what lets you select and copy the text while still letting you have a background image.
    – fred
    Apr 29, 2011 at 19:47
  • @fred - That's a different process entirely; PDFs contain embedded graphics and text, and when you select a section of the document, the text components displayed at that location get copied out as text. Although OCR could be used for this on pure images, that's (to my knowledge) always done during the generation of the PDF from an image, not the display of the PDF via Acrobat reader or other tools.
    – Rex Kerr
    Apr 29, 2011 at 20:08
  • 1
    I like to say that conspiracy theorists are "halfway"-skeptics. It is good to question things, but then you should not stop with the first thing that seems weird to you.
    – Lagerbaer
    May 3, 2011 at 19:16

This video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcWQw2AAIho does a great job of showing how this is an artifact of the scanning and compression process.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .