I’ve had a dissatisfying, rubbish day today: but given that every day I’ve previously had that involved some kind of interaction with Stephen Bax had been a bad day, perhaps there should be no element of surprise involved.

Bax To The Future

In the case of the Voynich Manuscript, there are at least ten reasonable arguments I can see (even if I happen to disagree with all of them) for a linguistic reading: what frustrates me so much about Bax is that the arguments he puts forward aren’t any of them (or even close to them). Hence he inevitably finds the best form of defence is attack: and given that I’m just about the only person not fawning over him, guess who gets attacked?

Frankly, I’d rather stick flaming needles under my fingernails than experience any more of his wit, wisdom, and whatever in the absence of any effective moderation: so goodbye to voynich.ninja it has to be, sorry.

Doubt With The Old

Of course, Bax himself isn’t the root cause of all this: the real problem is that almost all genuine Voynich experts seem to doubt the depth of their confidence in what they know, and so choose silence over confrontation, no matter how foolish the provocation or how malformed the argument.

Yet even though I’ve been saying for over a decade that we now do know enough to take a principled stand against Voynich pseudoscience, pseudohistory, pseudolinguistics and enigmatology, it’s been a long wait for anyone to show any kind of solidarity with this point of view.

I therefore note with great interest that Rene Zandbergen has recently – after a decade of Rich SantaColoma’s incessant possibility-based argumentation – put up a page dismissing the modern hoax theory. This is, in my opinion, a huge milestone in Voynich discourse: but whether Rene or others will follow up with similarly comprehensive rebuttals of Rugg, Bax et al remains to be seen. When all you can see are vipers, where’s theriac when you really need it?

Dead Drunk On The Beach?

Cipher Mysteries readers will probably see a lot in common between the above and what passes for debate in The Somerton Man world. Even the straightforward disproof of the whole microwriting claim seems to have been overlooked by all the loudest shorts at the poolside: so please excuse me if I sip my Camilla Voodoo elsewhere.

Anyhoo, given that most historical-cipher-inspired songs seem happy to look no further than the Voynich’s surreality, today’s aural treat-ette for you all is a song from South London’s own JerkCurb called “Somerton Beach” (review here), where the wobbly guitars try to capture a kind of alcoholic pre-death haze. Which is nice, if oddly apposite, though I couldn’t easily explain why.

40 thoughts on ““Somerton Beach” by Jerkcurb…

  1. Emma May Smith on September 16, 2017 at 10:27 pm said:

    I don’t think you’ve been well served by the mods at Voynich Ninja, if that’s any consolation. Bax came over as a nice guy and very personable in the interview, but it’s clear that he’s a) no further in his research than he was when he published his paper, and b) happy to personally attack you.

    Also, I know what you mean about people unwilling to put their foot down. I took a break from that forum for a few months after they refused to ban a notorious crackpot poster. I came back to find that not only had they banned him eventually, they had banned his multiple follow-up accounts!

    Oh, and SantaColoma infuriates me too. What a waste of intellectual energy.

  2. Emma: I’ve only ever had cause to permanently ban a single commenter from Cipher Mysteries, and that was Stephen Bax. If anyone on voynich.ninja opposes his (manifestly faulty) presumptions, observations, logic and conclusions in anything like a sustained way, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    The bigger issue is that, from what he said in the interview, his mission now seems to be to reconfigure Voynich research as a long term linguistics-driven study built on top of his specific methodology. Which would seem to be a very effective way of setting it back forty-plus years. 🙁

  3. Oh, do cheer up Nick. You’ll turn into the Victor Meldrew of Voynich research if you’re not careful!
    On a different note, do come along and do an interview with us, it would be fascinating to discuss your many years of past research and your personal ideas. What do you say?

  4. Nick: he called you a shock jock, so what? Is that really worse than the things you say about him? Just look at the first line of this very blog post: “every day I’ve previously had that involved some kind of interaction with Stephen Bax had been a bad day”.

    Can we start behaving like adults again and leave the overly emotional out of the discussion?

    Bax is proposing an approach to tackling the VM. There is no guarantee that it could work, and the methodology can and should be debated. But it would be the best for everyone if we’d focus on the arguments instead of feuds.

    It’s like I said to Santacoloma a while ago: I don’t believe in the modern hoax theory, but I’m glad he’s on it, he’s turning up some interesting stuff along the way. At least he and Bax are focusing on the manuscript, in the way they both think is the one most likely to bear fruit. The best way for you to prove them wrong is to show us a better alternative instead.

  5. Hello Nick and Emma (and all others of course)!
    In my opinion, purely scientific results are not published on blogs, youtube and other forums. That’s why I personally prefer to put a same water in my wine and I expect the same from others. So I put all these passionate discussions around publications in newspapers or on youtube on the account of distractions and not obligations. Nick, you have a great blogging experience, I hope you find an appropriate tone (I mean more detached) to keep following the evolution of the search on the Voynich manuscript.
    Best regards

  6. Koen: Bax repeatedly asserted that I know basically nothing about linguistics, whereas I actually know a great deal – far more than enough to see how all the linguistic holes in his theory combine to form a single giant hole.

  7. David: I don’t like personal attacks on me or on anyone else – and yet people of all stripes continue to think that because I boldly express technical opinions about (usually their own) faulty historical reasoning that I’m fair game for personal attacks. As I’m sure you remember, this is a seamy, unpleasant side of the Voynich community that I raised in the early days of voynich.ninja (when I was, yet again, on the receiving end of unnecessary and insulting personal attacks). I have to say that the moderation has been excellent ever since, right up until this interview with Stephen Bax, which made it all the more disappointing.

    I’d be perfectly happy to do an interview… when the dust has settled.

  8. milongal on September 17, 2017 at 8:51 am said:

    Without meaning to be personal you’re an asshole….I thought there was a new SM post.

    INB: I assume you saw the microwriting has now spread to TK’s letter (which might even have that ‘Danetta’ on there that all those ‘jadu-jadu’ mystic crypto methods yielded….(I’ve noticed PI Fedosimov (even though he was categorically not the same PIF that I kept finding in the 60s) has fallen off the radar).

    Personally, I still liked it when the Microwriting said ‘SEGA’.

  9. milongal: I’ve stopped tracking tomsbytwo and Gordon Cramer’s blog, too much extravagant handwaving around too little of genuine research interest. But I’m far from surprised that microwriting has continued its Japanese knotweed-like spread, can’t be long before it is found to be in the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence too. 😐

  10. SirHubert on September 17, 2017 at 11:25 am said:

    David: if by the Victor Meldrew of Voynich research you mean someone who thinks “I don’t believe it!” when they read something by Stephen Bax, may I have that title if Nick doesn’t want it?

  11. SirHubert: perfectly happy to share. 🙂

  12. Ruby: I think I perhaps have to accept that it would be for the best if Bax and I don’t share the same room, whether physical or virtual. Though who is Batman and who is the Joker I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader. 🙂

  13. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on September 17, 2017 at 12:33 pm said:

    Hello, buddy Nick.
    Of course I know what Bax is writing. And so I can write to you.

    Bax writes wrong. Bax he does not understand the manuscript.
    Bax never find the key. Bax never find the algorithm.
    Bax is no opponent.

    Do not be sad. 🙂

  14. James R. Pannozzi on September 17, 2017 at 1:45 pm said:

    One of those “dissatisfying rubbish” days !!

    Yes, I’ve had a few of those.

    As for Bax, i don’t know what he said about you because i stopped reading his nonsense a long time ago. I don’t plan to resume any time soon.

    Keep up the great research and scholarship, and … if it makes you feel any better, I’ve already had a few big rubbish days cleaning up the mess hurricane Irma deposited, mostly tree branches all over the place, here in Florida.

  15. Davidsch on September 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm said:

    >> the real problem is that almost all genuine Voynich experts seem to doubt the depth of their confidence in what they know, and so choose silence over confrontation, no matter how foolish the provocation or how malformed the argument.

    I have some ideas why that is:

    * English is often not the native language; any discussion will be lost there already
    * any (new) theory will or can be slashed immediately by any nitwit
    * discussion on Internet becomes quickly personal and not on contents
    * only 10% of the amateurs really have something to tell, 90% is noise
    * only 1% of those 10% information is new, the rest is repeating old information
    * typing and posting is real hard labor, why do it, if it’s only frustrating

  16. Davidsch: my question wasn’t about the 90+% of amateurs, but about why the actual Voynich experts stay silent. In the case of Gordon Rugg’s (non-)theory, people have had more than a decade and I’m still just about the only person to have said openly that I think it is nonsense (and why).

  17. Mark Knowles on September 17, 2017 at 7:08 pm said:

    Nick: I would not call myself a genuine Voynich expert, though I am not sure if such a person can be said to exist.

    I have been told recently that I don’t like confrontation, which is probably on the whole true. Of course this is sometimes a shortcoming of mine, I am sure.

    Anyway, I must confess I don’t see the point in engaging with Bax or Rugg. My attitude is let them plough their furrow and you your’s. Who knows they might stumble upon something useful.

    It is pretty unlikely that you will persuade Bax or Bax you, so I wouldn’t waste any energy on it or spoil your day. I think you would be much better placed turning your keen intellect towards the kind of interesting Voynich research you have been engaged in and kindly shared with others.

  18. Nick, I would say 99% of us are amateurs. Or to put it another way, who are the actual Voynich ‘experts’? We could count them on the fingers of one hand, and I think all of them have expressed their opinions about Rugg (or Bax).

    I would count myself as an amateur (despite being ‘in the business’ for a while now) but I’ve commented on Rugg, as have others. But there is only so much you can do and only so much repeating oneself over the years. I’m frankly in awe people like you or Rene still have the energy for it, I don’t.

  19. SirHubert on September 17, 2017 at 8:09 pm said:

    Well, I can’t post on Voynich Ninja because my account somehow got permanently blocked for spamming before I’d actually posted anything. But I look in as a guest occasionally and from what I’ve seen the moderation seems quite robust. You’re much more tolerant, generally speaking – especially of thread hijacking and off-topic posts.

    Bax’s stuff is four years old. If he feels sufficiently bothered about your opinion to take personal offence at it, you’ve probably made your point well enough.

    ‘Voynich experts’ tend to be self-appointed rather than generally acknowledged. But I suspect one reason more don’t produce systematic debunkings of drivel is because they know they’ll just get people who’ve spent half an hour on Wikipedia telling them they’re wrong. Not something confined to Voynich studies of course – ask any doctor – but your reaction to Gibbs is symptomatic, I think.

  20. SirHubert: half an hour seems like a gross exaggeration. 🙁

  21. Greg: anyone who understands the basic evidential landscape as per voynich.nu AND ALSO has a good practical grasp of the limits of all that knowledge should be more than qualified to form a worthwhile opinion, whether or not they consider themselves an “expert”.

    You may not happen to place a high value on your own opinion, but I do. 🙂

  22. SirHubert – you probably got caught up in the “Chinese spam wave” we tried to protect against. I’ve reactivated the account I assume is yours and sent you an email. Drop me a line at webmaster@”the website we are talking about” if you don’t get it.

  23. Hi Greg,

    “I’m frankly in awe people like you or Rene still have the energy for it” .

    Well, I don’t …
    Or rather, I prefer to spend my energy on other things.
    There are too many unproven theories, and in 99% of the cases it is opinion against opinion.

    The page arguing why the Voynich MS is a genuine old MS is of general interest, I think, and has been written as much as possible in a constructive way (i.e. arguing “for” things rather than “against” things).
    I did not publish it for quite a while, since there has already been way too much attention to this.

    Any good theory will stand the test of time.

  24. Thanks for the implied vote of confidence, Nick 🙂

  25. Hi, Rene,

    Even so, putting up the genuine-page and all your other efforts show a considerable and commendable level of dedication on your part.

    As for the unproven theories … if only it was just down to those. But we keep getting reruns of the disproven ones, see the latest microwriting saga on ninjas.
    If we can’t even put that to rest, what hope is there?

  26. Hi Greg,

    what we can’t change is that inside the amateur world of the Voynich MS there are lots and lots of useless things happening, while from time to time there’s also the occasional “pearl”.
    I’m as interested in progress as I’ve always been, and prefer to concentrate on the latter part.
    There is very much still to be discovered and explained.

  27. Davidsch on September 19, 2017 at 9:23 am said:

    Not silly, and if there’s ever to be criteria for “Voynich Experts” then let me start by making one:

    Answer the following from top of your head:

    1- which folio is the circular one with the characters in bands
    2- how many characters are inside the repeated band there
    3- how many times those chars are repeated
    4- on which folio number is the lilly
    5- what contains last assumed page on the VMS
    6- how many herbal pages are there (margin of 10)
    7- how many points do the stars have (mention the 3 variations)
    8- how many “active” characters are there
    9- which characters do occur only at the end of words and which only at the beginning
    10- which word is repeated the most
    11- in which section can you find the “pangolin” creature
    12- how many circular entities are there on the rosette page
    13- how many characters are there in the manuscript? 5000, 7500, 10000, more

    For every question you get 1 point.

    If you have all points, you are an expert.

    1 mistake: not quite
    2 or more mistakes: amateur.

  28. “Why the actual Voynich experts stay silent…”

    To speak for myself, I do not think there is much point speaking out each time somebody goes down one of the same old blind alleys. The days are past when new Voynich discoveries were a frequent occurrence. It is getting like Shakespeare or Stonehenge: years can pass without anything very new coming to light.

  29. Philip: but what should experts do when a new person arrives on the scene, declares the ineffable rightness of their (actually badly broken) perspective, and – through their credentials and/or persuasiveness – proceeds to reshape much of the discourse and community around themselves?

    No matter how slowly things progress, is silence always the best policy?

  30. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on September 19, 2017 at 11:09 am said:

    Nick and ants.
    ” Why the actual Voynich experts stay silent ….”
    Why is he silent ? Well I think experts do not know much. That’s why he’s silent.
    How it looks so silent will be a long time. The manuscript is written in Czech language. That’s why he’s silent. Understanding the handwriting is very difficult and very complicated for experts and scientists.

  31. Perry D. Edwards on September 19, 2017 at 11:21 am said:

    There are no experts. We still didn’t know enough about the manuscript.

  32. Perry (if Nick doesn’t mind)

    The term ‘Voynich expert’ tends not to mean what it would normally do. That is, no-one claims to be an ‘expert’ on one single medieval manuscript: you have experts in medieval history, palaeography, codicology, art and its analysis as aid to provenancing , or art as explanation and dating for the pigments and subject-matter.. and so forth.

    They then apply that knowledge base to any mss that was made, and/or composed within the limits of their specialisation.

    What is actually meant by the term ‘Voynich expert’ is a person who cannot claim expertise in medieval manuscripts overall (that is, they wouldn’t presume to apply for a job as assessor with Christie’s or as keeper of manuscripts with the British Museum), but they do know quite a lot about the past century and what ideas about this manuscript have arisen in that time. Some also have a speciality they feel relevant to better interpreting text or imagery.

    But there’s no such thing as an ‘expert’ in just one medieval manuscript, and it follows there can be no such thing as a ‘Voynich expert’. Unless it’s someone who has researched the life and wisdom of Wilfrid Voynich himself. 🙂

  33. Perry: for me, the three key attributes that Voynich experts would need to have are 1) wide-ranging domain knowledge, 2) a careful understanding of the limits of all that knowledge, and 3) humility in the face of the extraordinarily difficult challenge we continue to battle against.

    Those who do not genuinely realize it is Everest they are climbing but with neither oxygen nor warm clothing are not experts. :-/

  34. So far, I have found no mention of the purebred horses which were to be given to Rudolph II (in addition to the giraffe and a couple of other very strange animals. Rudolph had no interest in animals of any kind. Because of his underslung jaw, he was only able to eat cooked and mashed fruits and vegetables. Rudolph also had an extraordinary art collection. HIs favorite work of art was his portrait — all vegetables and fruit which portrayed him with a huge smile !

  35. The experts on climbs up mount Everest are the sherpas, whose lives have been lost most often.

    Not such a bad metaphor. Not true, of course, about Beinecke MS 408. It’s not mount everest, just a manuscript among the many thousands which remain to us from before 1440.

    If I had my ‘druthers, it would be transferred from the Beinecke to the Schøyen Collection, whose staff include specialists in comparative codicology, ancient and modern languages, sciences of the book and plenty of practice identifying where an unusual item fits in the spectrum. Ah well.

  36. Perry D. Edwards on September 20, 2017 at 9:38 am said:

    We didn’t even know the correct domain. While some claim that it is a linguistical problem, others argue that it is not.

  37. Perry: anyone arguing for an encryption or obfuscation of a real language plaintext is also implicitly arguing for a linguistical problem, albeit indirectly. It’s only denialist linguists who cannot countenance anything less than a ‘pure’ linguistic solution as being acceptable who are stuck in the 1940s. 😉

  38. Rene: for many years now, I have similarly been trying to invest my Voynich research time into things that answer very specific questions, almost all of the form “what happened to leave this particular feature looking this way…?”

    My opinion is that more or less all the questions that tend to get asked about the Voynich are non-productive and non-expert questions. Perhaps the real test of Voynich expert-ness is simply the ability to ask productive questions. :-/

  39. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on September 24, 2017 at 10:30 am said:

    Nick : Questions ? As an expert and scientist, I ask.

    Why is not a letter character in the manuscript – U,V,W,X.
    Try logically to think.

    Whoever solves it, I praise it. 🙂

  40. Nick: In the beginning there were so many questions where you could not answer because you were still looking for the answers.
    Personally, I have joined myself to Wiki/de and I myself specialize in answers to the plants. Facts, and separate from too much imagination.
    In the course of time the interest became less and less, that one had set it and later cleared everything.

    Later, I posted my data in a Yahoo blog. The result, about 4 years ago was the last person on this site.

    To not delete all the data I have it on Facebook now. The important data I have also posted at Bax, since you can bring not only text but also pictures. Since the blog is running and the data is appreciated.

    What’s happened ? Today you have to answer, but no more people ask where. There are always the same people, and that in every blog.

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