The Montemurro and Zanette Voynich paper: summary and update

By Gordon Rugg

Researchers in various relevant disciplines have started writing about the M&Z paper. The responses I’ve seen so far vary from sceptical to scathing, as described below.

I’m planning to hand over to the specialists from other fields, since I’ve already covered my concerns about this study in previous blog posts, and to return to the usual subjects of this blog.

There’s a scathing review of the Montemurro and Zanette paper here:

Some key quotes from that review:

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The Voynich Manuscript: Non-random word sequences as a byproduct of hoaxing

By Gordon Rugg

This article shows how non-random sequences of words are likely to be produced as an unintended side-effect of the table and grille method for producing hoaxed text.

These mechanism can be expected to produce non-random correlations at the level of:

  • Sequences of consecutive words
  • Sequences of words within a line
  • Sequences of words within a page
  • Sequences of words within a multi-page section of the manuscript
  • Sequences of words between different multi-page sections of the manuscript

These effects would not need to be planned by the hypothetical hoaxer(s). They would arise as a side-effect of the table and grille mechanism, and would probably not have been noticed when the manuscript was produced.

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The Voynich Manuscript: Emergent complexity in hoaxed texts

By Gordon Rugg

This article is a short summary of an article by Laura Aylward and myself, originally published online in 2004. The full version is here:

Our article is about producing meaningless gibberish text using the table and grille method, with a view to producing text similar to that in the Voynich Manuscript. We found a variety of complex side-effects from various ways of using the table and grille method, which would affect the statistical properties of the output.

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The Montemurro and Zanette Voynich Manuscript article: A detailed discussion

By Gordon Rugg


There’s a new article about the Voynich Manuscript, by Marcelo A. Montemurro & Damián H. Zanette, on PloS One: Keywords and co-occurrence patterns in the Voynich manuscript: an information-theoretic analysis.

The authors claim to have produced evidence for the presence of real, meaningful text within the Voynich Manuscript. Unfortunately, the authors appear to have misunderstood some key issues. This article is a detailed discussion of some of these misunderstandings and their implications. It also addresses some unfortunate omissions in the Montemurro & Zanette (M&Z) article.

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Verifier, Voynich and Accidental Complexity

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a widespread belief that complex outcomes are always due to complex causes. The theological argument of Paley’s watch uses this approach, for instance.

There’s a similar belief that complex outcomes are always due to deliberate action (again, as in Paley’s watch).

The reality in both cases is very different. Complex outcomes can easily be due to very simple causes, and complex outcomes can easily be produced completely by accident, or by natural processes without any deliberate agency involved.

It’s an important issue in human error, and I think it’s a common mistake that people make when trying to make sense of the Voynich Manuscript.

This article describes some examples of how complexity can arise by accident or by natural processes.

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The Montemurro and Zanette paper on the Voynich Manuscript

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a new article about the Voynich Manuscript, by Marcelo A. Montemurro & Damián H. Zanette, on PloS One:

Keywords and co-occurrence patterns in the Voynich manuscript: an information-theoretic analysis.

The article has some serious flaws. This is a brief description of those flaws.

The authors’ finding that the Voynich Manuscript’s text is non-random is already well known. In addition to the Landini paper which they cite, there is also work by Stolfi, Perakh and others reporting similar findings.

Its claim that this finding is inconsistent with the hoax hypothesis, because hoaxes would produce random text, is based on a serious misunderstanding. The whole point of the hoaxing mechanism that I described in 2004 is that it produces non-random text. This is the starting point of Schinner’s 2007 article in Cryptologia, which is about using the appropriate form of statistics to deal with the type of non-random text that I described. I also described the non-random features of this text in my paper at the 2012 Voynich centenary event in Italy, in a blog article this year on the Search Visualizer blog site (link below) and in my book “Blind Spot” which came out a couple of months ago.

Montemurro and Zanette conclude that they’ve found evidence for “genuine linguistic structure” but they do not mention the very substantial and well documented arguments against the Voynich Manuscript’s text being in an unidentified real language. Neither do they mention the constraints that such “linguistic structure” would place on possible cipher cystems – again, a significant and well-documented problem, and one of the main arguments against a code hypothesis.

In summary, this paper reports a finding that’s consistent with a lot of well-accepted previous work, but not radically new; they make a seriously incorrect assertion about the implications for the hoax hypothesis; and they do not mention the substantial well-accepted set of arguments that pose problems for their conclusion.

I’ll post a more detailed discussion soon.


Blind Spot is available here; it contains the backround story of my Voynich work, and much more:

My Scientific American article, describing the table and grille method, is here:

My blog article about textual structures in the Voynich Manuscript, with reference to the table and grille hoaxing hypothesis, is here:

There’s an excellent recent overview of Voynich Manuscript research here:

A comprehensive overview of Voynich Manuscript research is René Zandbergen’s site:

Rich SantaColoma’s site contains some extremely interesting material and insights:

There’s a summary of the broader body of my work here:

Some real codes…

If you want to try your luck on a couple of real codes that haven’t been cracked yet, you’re welcome to try these.

They’re codes that I’ve created, both of which deliberately break conventional assumptions of most modern codes. Neither of them is a super-code, but they should provide some entertainment. One of them, the Ricardus Manuscript, is deliberately modeled on the Voynich manuscript.

A Card Sorts Tutorial

By Gordon Rugg

Card sorts aren’t as widely known as they should be. They’re a neat, efficient method for finding out about how people categorise their world. They also make it possible to investigate topics that are hard to describe in words, which is particularly useful when you’re investigating perceptions of visual items such as web pages and physical artefacts.

This article is an introductory tutorial; there are links to further reading in the notes at the end. If you’re encountering problems when using interviews or questionnaires or focus groups, then you might find that using card sorts will give you new insights. Card sorts are popular with research participants and with novice researchers, because the procedures are easy to grasp; for experienced researchers, card sorts are a powerful, flexible tool.



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The Verifier Framework: Visualisation

By Gordon Rugg

The truism that a picture is worth a thousand words is true, but profoundly unhelpful. It doesn’t provide any guidance about which types of picture should be matched with which types of words.

This problem is the focus for one of the virtual toolboxes in our Verifier framework for spotting errors in expert reasoning. This toolbox deals with systematic ways of mapping data, information and knowledge onto the appropriate type of visualisation, or feature of a visualisation, such as line length or pattern or shape.

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