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 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.