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What Do We Mean by Authentic?

What's the Real McCoy?

By H.M. Gladney and J.L. Bennett



[1] According to the Random House Dictionary, this originates with an American pugilist, Kid McCoy, distinguishing himself from an inferior boxer of the same name.

[2] This quotes Hans Hofman's summation of a 2002 Forum of archiving experts "search for 'authenticity and integrity'" as, "...there are different communities and may be different perceptions in authenticity although there still might be a more generic idea of authenticity. This may lead to different solutions because the requirements are not always the same."

[3] The parent of a U.S. Naval Reserve officer recently recalled to duty told us of U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) advice that the safest storage of service records might be in the home of each serviceman, as the DoD often cannot find its copy!

[4] To help each information consumer decide whether documents he receives are authentic, he needs provenance evidence which producers and archive managers could provide — a topic beyond the scope of the current article. [Gladney 3] describes how to do this, and [Gladney 4] will explain why this mechanism is efficient.

[5] That two observers of the same objects or the same facts might interpret what they see quite differently is often touched on in Wittgenstein's work, as in:

"Here also belongs the idea that if you see this leaf as a sample of 'leaf shape in general' you see it differently from someone who regards it as, say, a sample of this particular shape. Now this might well be so — though it is not so — for it would only be to say that, as a matter of experience, if you see the leaf in a particular way, you use it in such-and-such a way or according to such-and-such rules. Of course, there is such a thing as seeing in this way or that; and there are also cases where whoever sees a sample like this will in general use it in this way, and whoever sees it otherwise in another way. For example, if you see the schematic drawing of a cube as a plane figure consisting of a square and two rhombi you will, perhaps, carry out the order "Bring me something like this" differently from someone who sees the picture three dimensionally" Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Part I, section 74.

[6] Figure 1 depicts three path types. From the bottom up: with delay (short or very long) in a network of stores; via a digital channel; and by sending (e.g., via the U.S. Post Office) the content on a physical carrier, e.g., a book.

[7] Conventional language for this is "the state of the object", a representation of the conceptual object, as discussed by Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus propositions 2.1 through 2.225.

High-energy physicists use their notion of a timeline — an object trajectory in 4 dimensions that include time — to talk about a sequence of conceptual objects that is the history of some object under discussion.

[8] Misleading language would jeopardize clients' trust that an archive needs to be effective. We stay as close to ordinary usage as is feasible without distorting what is needed, but must recognize when ordinary language is insufficient for the task at hand.

[9] An eloquent argument for careful language is Martin Gardner's comment on the following Through the Looking Glass passage:

'I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said..., 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all
.'  Lewis Carroll, [Carroll]

Even in logic and mathematics...enormous confusion often results from a failure to realize that words mean "neither more nor less" than what they are intended to mean....
On the other hand, if we wish to communicate accurately, we are under a kind of moral obliga­tion to avoid Humpty's practice of giving private meanings to commonly used words
. Martin Gardner, [Carroll ]

[10] How important this is can be seen by considering adding a single negation to some statement of criminal law.

[11] The significance of "purported event" becomes clear if you think of the signing of an international treaty, or of legislation.

[12] [Smith] reminds us, "In...Principia Ethica,...G. E. Moore remarked that, in most complex matters, difficulties and disagreements "are mainly due to a very simple cause: namely to attempt to answer questions, without first discovering precisely what question it is which you desire to answer" [1902]."

[13] See [Gladney 3, §2.1] for a brief discussion of what constitutes evidence and the probabilistic nature of evidence.

[14] This would combine several judgmental factors, including "What is the incentive of someone to mislead me?", "What is my risk if I mistakenly accept this document as authentic?", and "How much will it cost me (time, $) to perform more rigorous tests?"

[15] For instance, evidence that a fan accepts for a Britney Spears performance copy is different from what a producer of a Britney Spears retrospective might demand, different from what one might offer in a copyright litigation over that performance, and different from what the judge and jury eventually accept in such litigation.

[16] We might treat such further words in this article, but choose not to do so. We do point out that many of them can be elucidated with pictures like Figure 2 and the Section 2.0 language that alludes to it.

[17] Whether to treat both objective and subjective factors is an author's decision that should be clearly communicated to readers. For instance, in [Gladney 3] we choose to treat only objective aspects of authenticity management.

[18] "Common sense suggests that something either is or is not authentic, but authenticity is not absolute." [Thibodeau] This notion opens the possibility of sudden and unannounced shifts in which version of "something" is under discussion.

[19] §2.4 extends to physical artifacts in §2.4.5 and even to natural objects in §2.4.6 primarily to show the connection with tradition.

[20] A criterion used by some authors (e.g., [Thibodeau]), "essential characteristics", is in the domain of values, not facts. It always depends on what the producer and consumer are trying to accomplish. Furthermore, the consumer's objectives are not always to understand what the producer intended to convey. We therefore exclude this notion from our definition for authenticity.

[21] For instance, communication by speech always has specific pitch (tenor, soprano,...), but pitch is mostly irrelevant to the conceptual message. Pitch would be relevant if the communication were an operatic performance.

[22] "We can also think of the whole process of using one of those games by means of which children learn their native language. I will call these games "language games" and will sometimes speak of a primitive language as a language-game."   Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Part I, section 7.

[23] Avoiding flawed tacit understanding, at least partly, of both provenance and integrity is prominent in auctions of fine art.

[24] This notion of "what is essential" is at the core of the 1990s lawsuits about "look and feel" of screen presentations by software, such as the Apple vs. Microsoft lawsuit of 1988-1994. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers calls this the essence of the work, and often alludes simply to "essence".

[25] In the literature, a collection of concepts or abstractions is often called "the conceptual object". See [Thibodeau], for instance. [Smith] uses "virtual object" for the same notion. OAIS calls a particular schema for such an object its "conceptual structure."

[26] The definition here applies only to one kind of object. This and the other partial definitions are gathered into a complete definition in §3.0.

[27] The provenance of an object might further include records of historical events affecting the object between its creation event and the present. However, such events will be seen [Gladney 3] to be unimportant for digital documents, and are therefore not addressed in this article.

[28] What is considered important is a producer's subjective decision.

[29] We insert "probably" here because we cannot be sure we know what any attorney truly believes.

[30] For instance, the owner of a photographic portrait of his wife might write the date and her name on the front, further information on the back, and enclose the whole in a glassed frame. His wife would probably still consider it her authentic portrait if the name and date were close to correct. Thus, all the metadata and packaging discussed in [Gladney 3] are here subsumed within C(y).

[31] "Differences will always be introduced in [analog] copying; the trick is to regulate the process sufficiently so that the resulting differences are of little or no consequence and that the properties of greatest consequence are shared. Determinations of which properties matter are made in the context of purpose and use." [Levy]

[32] It is always prudent to be ready to provide such an explanation, since inquiries and challenges often occur. Much of the work of audio engineers is measuring, describing, and reducing distortions and noise such as that alluded to here.

[33] "Professor Duranti...had doubts about 'fixity'. She said that the InterPARES project had...presumed fixity to be an essential element of authenticity....'But the reason for the InterPARES project 2 is that we are discovering that by stabilising records that, by their nature, are dynamic we, in fact, end up forging them. That is, we are eliminating their authenticity.'"  [Steemson]

[34] "...we cheerfully extend the notion of authenticity to much more than objects — in fact, we explicitly apply it to the experiential sphere, speaking of an "authentic" performance of a baroque concerto or an "authentic" Hawaiian luau. To the extent that we can make the extension and expansion of the use of authenticity as a characteristic precise..., these statements seem to parallel statements about integrity of what in the digital environment could be viewed as experiential works, or performance."  [Lynch]

[35] An old artifact is never unchanged from what it originally was; to see the change we merely need to look closely enough. For instance, the varnish on the Louis XV chair will have hardened as traces of the solvent gradually escaped from the solid matrix.

[36] Natural language notions of resemblance were surely part of what Wittgenstein had in mind in the Tractatus quotation introducing this article. It reappears in his Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics (Cambridge 1939) and, differently expressed, in:

"I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc., etc. overlap and crisscross in the same way....
"And for instance the kinds of number form a family in the same way. Why do we call something a "number"? Well, perhaps because it has a direct-relationship with several things that have hitherto been called number; and this may be said to give it an indirect relationship to other things that we call the same name. And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.
"But if someone wished to say: "There is something common to all these constructions — namely the disjunction of all their common properties...."  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Part I, section 67.

[37] The extent society will adapt authentic for the case of cloned animals is yet to be seen. Notice that Dolly, the cloned sheep, was an obviously imperfect copy of her sole parent.

[38] §3.0 collects into one place what §2.4.1 through §2.4.6 illustrate and present incrementally.

[39] This description needs to be sufficiently complete so that a consumer could perform the transformation accurately. (In the case of noise-adding transformations, the consumer should be able to perform a statistically similar transformation.)

[40] What is a meaningful change is a subjective judgment. In contrast, the metadata called for become objective facts.

To what extent it is practical and affordable to add such metadata is unclear. To the extent that important metadata are missing, the authenticity of the output object comes into question. As is the case with most subjective aspects of object transmission, to discuss this aspect is beyond the scope of the current article.

[41] Our choice of language here mixes what is traditionally thought of as provenance information into the definition of integrity. Perhaps the wording can be changed to preserve the traditional distinction between integrity and provenance. Within a definition of authentic, doing so is relatively unimportant.

[42] "...authenticity and integrity...are elusive properties. It is much easier to devise abstract definitions than testable ones. When we try to define integrity and authenticity with precision and rigor, the definitions recurse into a wilderness of mirrors, of questions about trust and identity in the networked information world."  [Lynch] in [CLIR 92]

[43] We present this model as relevant to digital and analog signals. We suspect that its extension to material artifacts and natural objects could be a helpful aid to thinking. However, such an extension would be outside the scope of this article.

[44] As David Levy has emphasized, digital objects are nearly always copies of other digital objects. One can create derivatives without disturbing their sources. Similarly, analyzing a concept into components does not destroy the original concept. Thus, reductionism does not necessarily imply deprecating gestalt views.

[45] This kind of information is not in fact intended to help judgments of authenticity, but is mentioned here for practical reasons. It is discussed in detail in [Gladney 2].



Copyright© 2003 H.M. Gladney and J.L. Bennett



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