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I thought I’d share with you the following email I recently received via an anonymous remailing service:

This is being written to you on behalf of a large group of Voynich theorists. Even though we disagree amongst ourselves on everything to do with the Voynich Manuscript itself (which some of us prefer to refer to as the “so-called Voynich so-called Manuscript”), the two things we do all whole-heartedly agree about are (1) how much we despise your pathetic crusade against us, and (2) how much we abhor your ridiculous insistence on primary evidence and testable hypotheses.

Be assured that when one of us does eventually manage to prove definitively that it is a Mongolian shamanic handbook, a heretical medieval suicide manual, or a stranded alien’s diary, the short term pain of finding out that the rest of us was wrong will be amply wiped out by the long term pleasure of mocking you derisively for the rest of your stupid, pointless life.

You just don’t seem to realise that proper ‘Voynich research’ is in no way historical or scientific. Don’t you understand that it is we who established the one basic ‘fact’ of the discourse long ago? The thing that we made true (by repeating it so many times that it became a fact) is that nobody knows anything definite about the Voynich Manuscript. This is the frame of reference everyone is now compelled to use, and neither you, Wikipedia, René so-called Zandbergen, or indeed anyone else can move outside it: howl at the moon all you like, you’ll achieve nothing.

So you’re just wasting your time trying to make (what you conceitedly and falsely like to think of as) ‘progress’. Anything you try to assert, we deny immediately: it’s just physics, stupid. Moreover, anything you can conceive of asserting, we have probably already denied ten times over. Assert/deny, assert/deny, assert/deny: you really bore us.

Look, can’t you get it into your thick head that we theorists pwn the Voynich big-time? The Beinecke may be the institution who owns the Voynich Manuscript, but that means diddly squat against our total pwnage. Why, when there’s no obvious shortage of rent-a-mouth academics out there, do you think Yale struggled so badly to find anyone to write anything remotely sensible in their recent so-called photofacsimile? They were wasting their time swimming against our tide, just like you’re wasting yours.

OK, we’ll admit there was a brief period during which you were marginally useful to us: that was back when having a post in Cipher Mysteries putting down one of our theories was a bit like a badge of honour. We even had special gamified medals produced, to show off which one of us had had the smarmy Cipher Mysteries treatment (how we laughed): but since you’ve stopped doing even that, we’ve all got tired of your meanderings and not-so-funny posts.

So this is just a collective email from us to say goodbye to you. Even though Voynich research is still stalled in the same cul-de-sac it ever was (which is, by our reckoning, is about a perfect a scenario as can be hoped for), we’ve all moved on from you and your stupid blog. You’re yesterday’s man, if not the day-before-yesterday’s man: not interested, la la la.

Why don’t you go research the Phaistos disk or something else unbelievably lame, and leave the Voynich to the people who really own it? Maybe you’ll find some saddo historians out there who want to read your useless drivel: we certainly don’t.

What is the difference between theories and metatheories? Given that the former can sensibly range from hand-wavy general theories (“the Voynich Manuscript was written by a mad alchemist“) to specific theories (“the Voynich Manuscript was written by a young Leonardo da Vinci, using his right hand“), the debate is more whether we can usefully differentiate between metatheories and general theories.

For me, however, the key attribute that distinguishes Voynich metatheories is that they have a certain ‘turn’ to them, a kind of pivoting self-referentiality that their proponents use to explain away just about everything difficult. For example, hoax theorists (such as Gordon Rugg) respond to almost any attempted historical objections (e.g. those surrounding the apparent paradox of using a 16th century mechanism to create an apparently 15th century manuscript) by saying that “well, obviously the hoaxer was so clever that he/she deliberately made those apparently discordant details look that way”.

They then often go on to point out that the more discordant details the hoaxer had to fake, the more obviously brilliant the hoax: and therefore the more we should admire the brilliance both of the hoax and of the man (yes, it’s normally a man) who was clever enough to notice such a brilliant hoax. And so a Voynich metatheory is a thing that arguably focuses more on explaining away that which doesn’t fit than positively accounting for anything it does sort of fit.

Omphalos

It shouldn’t require particularly deep contemplation before you notice more than a flicker of similarity between the structure of this argument and Omphalos creationism, courtesy of the naturalist Philip Henry Gosse in his 1857 book Omphalos.

“Omphalos” is the Greek word for navel: at the time of Gosse’s book, it was widely believed that Adam (in the Garden of Eden) had a navel despite not having come from a mother’s womb. The conclusion that Gosse famously drew from that is that when God made Adam, He made him complete with a navel: an argument that Gosse then triumphantly upscales to all the geological and fossil evidence that superficially seems to argue against the clearly well-proven Biblical History that showed that the Earth was created in 4004 B.C.

God, then, was something like the ultimate hoaxer: for rather than merely hoaxing some ‘ugly duckling’ unreadable book, He actually hoaxed the entirety of time and space to make it look as though the Earth was older than its ‘actual’ age (6021 years or so). As hoaxes go, you’d have to admit that this is top drawer stuff.

Of course, modern creationists have (ironically enough) evolved far more sophisticated arguments than Gosse ever did: but, frankly, I have to say that I’m not wildly interested in either Gosse or them. All that’s important for us here is that Creationism is, similarly, designed far more to explain away that which doesn’t fit the Bible than to explain that which does.

And what holds for Voynich hoax theories broadly goes for other Voynich metatheories focused on explaining all the difficult stuff away: for example, that the Voynich is glossolalia, or channelled, or some kind of otherwise inspired gibberish, or even a shipwrecked alien’s diary (I kid you not, *sigh*). Or even, with more than a half-nod in Stephen Bax’s direction, that Voynichese is composed of the scattered polyglot fragments of so many different languages that we can only recognise a tiny handful of words here and there: all of which anti-linguistic turn is also a metatheory, because it seeks not to explain the few words it grabs but to explain away the 99.9% or more of the other words it fails to account for. Foolishness.

There is, of course, already a large literature on a large field of constructivist mental endeavouring very similar to these metatheories: it is, by another name, pseudoscience. There, the whole point of pseudoscience isn’t to produce theories that can be tested (and possibly disproven), but instead to produce metatheories that are logically impervious to criticism – i.e. that use their central ‘turn’ to invalidate counterarguments.

This also has the effect of making those metatheories impervious to testing, and to refining, and to improving: and thus leaves them far more akin to something handed down in a Very Important Book Indeed. But you knew that already.

In the end, the only thing that separates Voynich metatheories from pseudoscience is that the people putting forward Voynich metatheories tend to be more interested in the postmodernist self-amusement of their ‘turn’ (a kind of awesome wonder that nobody else seems to have noticed how much their metatheory explains away) than in actually engaging with proof or disproof.

And if that’s a good thing, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Or he’s mine. 🙂

Surely hoping to emulate the stunning success of sideburns and urban beards in recent years, Gordon Rugg is now apparently trying to revive his old papers on the Voynich Manuscript, along with the fame on the world stage that they brought him before.

He has therefore recently co-authored a paper in Cryptologia – Gordon Rugg & Gavin Taylor (2016): Hoaxing statistical features of the Voynich Manuscript, Cryptologia, DOI: 10.1080/01611194.2016.1206753 – which I’m perfectly happy to cite, simply because I immediately append my opinion of it, both then and now: that it is specious quasi-academic nonsense that only an idiot would be convinced by. And any academic referee who read the paper and thought it sensible is an idiot too: sorry, Cryptologia, but it’s just plain true.

Rugg once again argues – just as he did 12 years ago – that the Voynich Manuscript must surely have been hoaxed using a set of tables and grilles (broadly similar to Cardan grilles, a mainstay of popular books glossing 16th century cryptography) to ‘randomly’ select word-fragments from those tables, while yielding the visual appearance of the ‘Currier Languages’, specifically the Voynich Manuscript’s two main ‘dialects’ (or, as Currier himself would have preferred to say to avoid being misunderstood, ‘statistical groupings’).

Because these tables and grilles allow people to quickly generate hoaxed text mimicking the structure and statistics of Voynichese, he and his co-author Gavin Taylor triumphantly conclude (much as Rugg did before):

“The main unusual qualitative and quantitative features of the Voynich Manuscript are therefore explicable as products of a low-technology hoax, with no need to invoke an undiscovered new type of code and/or the presence of meaningful text in the manuscript.”

In my opinion, this was a dud argument in 2004, and – given all we have learned about the Voynich Manuscript in the decade and more since – it’s an even bigger dud in 2016. Specifically, I think there are Four Big Reasons why this is so:

Reason #1: Rugg’s History Doesn’t Work

Given that nobody used a Cardan grille before Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) invented it in 1550, Rugg’s requirement that his putative Voynich hoaxer’s “low-technology” mechanism uses a sophisticated Cardan grille variant necessitates a post-1550 date.

But opposing that is (a) the radiocarbon dating of the vellum to the first half of the 15th century, (b) the mid-15th century ‘humanistic’ handwriting that is used on every page, (c) the 15th century handwriting used for the quire numbers, (d) the 15th century handwriting used for the back page, and (e) numerous Art History arguments pointing to a 15th century origin (which I get bored of reprising, and of defending against Diane O’Donovan’s endless sniping).

So, to shore up his wonky historical timeline, Rugg has to start by saying that the Voynich Manuscript is not only a hoax, but also an extraordinarily sophisticated late-16th century literary forgery, where all these distinctive 15th century features were codicologically layered on top of one another (and using century-old vellum) in order that the finished hoax artefact resemble some unknown kind of 15th century herbal manuscript.

In 2004, we already knew enough to say that this made no sense and was manifestly wrong (I certainly did so, even if nobody else did): but by 2016, this side of Rugg’s claim alone shouldn’t stand up for even a New York second.

So… does his 2016 paper fix this problem in any obvious way? No, sorry, it doesn’t. (Italian playing cards, really? I don’t think so.)

Reason #2: Digital Mimicry Is Insufficient

Unlike the recent herds of Bax-inspired historical linguists roaming wild across the arid Voynichese plains, a-hunting for dry tufts of linguistic tumbleweed lodged in the statistical cracks to feed upon, Rugg initially constructed his clever tables ex nihilo: for a long time, he considered the problem of Voynichese as a purely forward construction issue. That is, all he was trying to do was to mimic the statistics of Voynichese: his claim was therefore not that he could reproduce Voynichese, but that his tables and grilles could produce something that resembled Voynichese (if you didn’t look too closely).

This was, of course, an extremely lame ta-da to be passing off as any kind of über-theory. And so, after a great deal of prodding, he then went on to claim that it should be possible to work backwards from the Voynich Manuscript to try to reconstruct the tables that were used locally. But – to the best of my knowledge – he has retrofitted not even a single paragraph’s worth of tables and grilles in all those years, let alone an entire bookful. (It turns out that Voynichese is much less regular and well-formed than it at first looks.)

Rugg then back-pedalled once again, saying that all he was trying to do was to prove the possibility that a mechanism along these lines could conceivably have been used to generate the Voynich Manuscript.

Yes, and the Voynich Manuscript could conceivably have been found in the middle of a giant golden egg, laid by a space turkey on the Pope’s lap. “Conceivability” isn’t a particularly useful metric, let’s say.

Reason #3: Rugg’s Computer Science Doesn’t Work

At its core, Rugg’s idea of using tables to generate the ghostly immanence of historical signal is a kind of anachronistic computer game hack (and I speak as someone who wrote computer games for 20 years). Beyond the comforting surroundings of his basic word-model, he adapts each and every exception case (and Voynichese has plenty of these: paragraph-initial, line-initial, line-final, A, B, Pharma-A, Bio-B, labelese, etc) with layer upon layer of yet further improvised explanatory hacks.

But even if you – somewhat trustingly – accept that these multi-layered CompSci hacks will collectively coordinate with each other to do the overall job Rugg claims they will, they still all fall foul of the basic problem: that prior to computers, nobody used tables to generate text in such a futilely complicated manner.

Don’t get me wrong, using tables to simulate cleverness is a great hack (and Rugg understands completely that a Cardan grille is nothing more than an indirection method for selecting a subset of a two-dimensional table), and one that sat at the heart of countless late-1980s and 1990s computer games (the Bitmap Brothers were particular masters of this art).

But it’s at heart a great modern hack, not a 16th, 17th, 18th, or even 19th century hack.

Reason #4: Rugg’s Arguments Don’t Work

Even though the preceding three reasons are each gnarly enough to throw their own Herculean spanner into Rugg’s works, this fourth reason is about a problem with the entire structure of his argument.

Rugg claims that his solution of Voynich Manuscript verifies his “Verifier Method”, the approach he claimed to have used to crack it (and on top of which he has built his career). But all he has actually proved is his ability to retrofit a single bad solution to it that is, though not historically or practically credible, conceivably true. This is, in other words, an extraordinarily weak conclusion to be drawing from a hugely rich and complicated dataset, comprising not only the Voynichese text but also all the physical evidence and provenance information we have.

I’ll happily admit that he has produced a possible solution to the Voynich Manuscript’s mystery: but this has come at the cost of discarding any vestige of historical or practical likelihood, an aspect which was just about visible in 2004 but which should be glaringly obvious in 2016.

And if that’s what the poster child for his Verifier Method looks like, I shudder to think what the rest of it looks like.

The way the modern world works is that I can’t possibly send you all a Christmas card without falling foul of some data protection or anti-stalking legislation. And that would be a Very Bad Way Indeed to finish the year.

So the next best thing I can think of is to send you all a downloadable Voynich Christmas card from me as a PDF for you to print out and to put on your mantelpiece. Or to put next to all the other cards you get from people you don’t know very well but who keep sending you them every year, even though you never send them one back in return. Or to just briefly look at on the computer. Or to just ignore, it’s your call, really.

christmas-card.png

To get the full Christmassy effect you need to print it out and then fold it twice so that the above image is on the front sheet. This is about a hundred times easier than the way I’ve just described it, but never mind, you’ll see what I mean. 🙂

Note that the nymph on the left is from f80v of the Voynich Manuscript: she is plainly holding some kind of clever basting device for cooking her festive turkey, though I have to say that she also seems to have had a bit of an accident with the extra-wide foil for wrapping her bird in. (I think you’ll find that “Wolkenband” is the German word for “cooking foil”, if you check your dictionary extremely selectively). And why ever she’s trying to cook it without any clothes on I just don’t know. Perhaps it was too hot in the kitchen? “And then all my clothes fell off”? Riiiight.

But all the same, I think we can safely conclude from all this that the Voynich Manuscript is clearly not the memoirs of a stranded alien (as the Internet would currently have you believe, *sigh*) but is instead an early modern cooking manual.

Who would have thought it, eh? Merry Christmas! 😉

Anyone with a reasonably capacious memory for Voynich trivia will probably recall Tim Mervyn’s name. He has appeared in various Voynich TV documentaries, and has been grinding away on his ‘K:D:P’ (Kelley:Dee:Pucci) theory for many years (this was briefly summarized in Kennedy & Churchill’s book).

He has now resurfaced with six reasonably substantial essays (though not yet fully published yet, I think) giving his version of his three protagonists’ stories, as well as how he believes that these separate strands came together to yield the twisted and tangled shape of the Voynich Manuscript. In short, he thinks that it was Kelley:Dee:Pucci who created it, but that rather than being a hoax (e.g. via Gordon Rugg’s CompSci-inspired Cardan grilles), it’s actually a real cipher (albeit a rather complicated one).

I have to say that one hugely annoying thing about the way he presents his arguments is that he spends a whole lot of time specifically rubbishing Rene Zandbergen, for reasons that are neither accurate nor fair. Mervyn seems to believe (a) that Rene is hugely dogmatic about a 15th century dating (he really isn’t), and (b) that the only evidence Rene could possibly rely on to support such a dogmatic dating is the radiocarbon dating (it isn’t).

In fact, Mervyn’s arguments against a 15th century origin for the Voynich Manuscript are particularly superficial (he comes across as thinking that everything after D’Imperio is essentially nonsense), while his external arguments (e.g. against people proposing such obviously-crazy non-16th-century dating) are of the “well-they-would-say-that-wouldn’t-they” variety. This unfortunately weakens and cheapens what he’s trying to do, whereas I think he’s got quite an interesting story to tell, one which will take me a fair while to properly deal with here. For what it’s worth, I think he should have put more effort into bullet-proofing his own arguments rather than airily dismissing everyone else’s.

Still, I’m really excited about what Mervyn is doing, though for a reason he might not have expected. Without going all TL;DR on you, I have long argued that almost all John Dee literature tends to fall into exactly one of only two very precisely defined camps:

* “John Dee the magus, astrologer, angel summoner and esoteric magician”
* “Dr John Dee, the independent scholar and wannabe Elizabethan courtier”

Yet for me, though, there’s a third side of Dee that has almost no literature at all:

* John Dee, the would-be Court cryptographer

For example, many sections of Dee & Kelley’s angel séance texts boil down, in my opinion, to nothing more complex than accounts of experimental cryptography, a reading which fits both main camps extremely badly. And yet nobody has stepped forward to write about this at all, which I think is a large lacuna in the literature landscape.

So to my eyes, then, even if Mervyn’s six essays fail to give a satisfying account of the Voynich Manuscript (which I have to say from my first read-through looks broadly to be the case, though there is much of specific 16th century interest there all the same), they may well prove to be the first modern examples of the cryptographic Dee literature I’ve been waiting for for such a terribly long time.

…or are there more Dee-as-cryptographer books out there? My old friend and virtual sparring partner Glen Claston was himself very much taken with Dee’s cryptography, but never published anything (to my knowledge): so please let me know via the comments sections here if you know of any papers, articles or even book sections that cover this. Thanks!

I’ve just got back from holiday, and I’m very sorry to say that there’s a whole heap here of cipher stuff waiting to be written about. 2014 has seen a yeast-like explosion in Voynich theories: Torsten Timm, R. Sale, a Russian engineer and the whole Nahuatl thing (never mind Stephen Bax’s nine little words)… plus at least ten more Voynich theories and a fair few Voynich novels to cover. All in all, I’m something like twenty posts behind where I want to be: so apologies to all. 🙁

As the years crawl by, though, I have to say that I increasingly find almost all cipher mystery theories unhelpful at best, and tiringly time-wasting at worst. Historical speculation is fun for faux-historical novelists, or as a 10pm pub game for academics: but pretty much every time I’ve seen it applied to an unbroken historical cipher (particularly the Voynich Manuscript), it turns out badly for everyone. By squinting at Voynichese in a certain way, it may indeed resemble (say) a kind of demented cross between Latinized Occitan and mirrored Middle German: but how exactly does that help us decrypt it? Does Theory X make even a single prediction about how the oddly-behaving Voynichese ‘language’ works, or what any of the Voynich Manuscript’s inscrutably unfathomable pictures are all about?

And yet I find Voynich theorists now increasingly try to goad me, to try to get me to fight back against their theories, so that they can lock intellectual horns with me in some kind of sad parody of Roman arena sport. (Stephen Bax managed to pull this sad trick off to such a ridiculous and annoying degree that I ended up deleting every single one of his foolish comments, plumbing a depth even beyond the sweariest of Tamam Trolls.) In fact, I’ve been told that some Voynich theorists now see having a flat-out Cipher Mysteries rebuttal as a rite of passage, a badge to be worn with pride. It’s not a proper Voynich theory until Nick’s shredded it a little, etc etc.

And so the question arises: for whose benefit do I write these supposedly-blood-soaked reviews of Voynich theories? Certainly not for the people who propose them, because I don’t believe that any Voynich theorist takes a blind bit of notice of what I say. And from the fawning media coverage that Stephen Bax continues to receive for his Voynich non-theory (which, as ever, remains several sandwiches and a basket short of a picnic), I’d say that few journalists take much notice either. And it’s not for SEO reasons either – if page hits were that important to me, wouldn’t I be blogging about lolcats and making Minecraft videos, hmmm?

When John Matthews Manly demolished William Romaine Newbold’s foolishly optimistic Voynich theory, his main motivation was to stop Newbold’s imaginative “decryption” from trashing the history of the Middle Ages. More recently, John Stojko’s ridiculous “proto-Ukrainian” ‘decryption’ of the Voynich Manuscript has been used by some Ukrainian nationalists to try to support their cause, in a country assembled from random jigsaw-like pieces during the 20th century, a country that is arguably suffering more than most right now. Have such people actually read any of it? I mean…

[f18r] 1. What slanted Oko is doing now? Perhaps Ora’s people you are snatching. I was, I am fighting and told the truth. Oko you are fighting mischievously (evil manner). Ask this. Are you asking religion for your clan?
2. We renewed the information (news) and told to the world. He wrote and I am writing. You broke this slanted eye of God. Oko Bozia (Baby God) answered.
3. In believe she is holy and you should believe and welcome our religion and Miss. The holy told in slanted way. Is that the evil that will be victorious?
4. In religion we decide for Ora and Ora will welcome the renovation. What a news you and Bozia told.
5. That in religion I will believe in god’s emptiness. Empty (vain) is your calling, we caught (snatched) and carted away.
6. What I am writing you should believe. Perhaps now that what you are calling you will relinquish, Oko is fighting, Oko is victorious and Oko was.
7. In one religion only one is gods. For what reason Kosa (slant) is telling us? Oko is calling slanted, praise the God’s Oko.
8. In believe her holiness is asking for freedom. Kosa has the freedom. You were slants and now you are taking Oko.
9. You are saying but you were idlers. You were alone but you are writing and talking.
10. Oko is fighting for one religion. You told this. Do you won’t this God’s Oko?
11. Where do you wont in Steppe? Tell and write. Kosa should ask for freedom in religion.
12. Every one was vain in the marked place. God’s Oko and (she) holy one is writing this emptiness.
13. Vain believers are wishing one religion. You are vain therefore you are taking Oko that was.
14. Write this to Pontia and wish him.

But actually I’m not that high-minded. Ultimately, the real reason I review Voynich theories is that I feel outraged for the original cipher-makers, whose lives and works get hijacked and rewritten in such obviously stupid and pointless appropriations. To me this is a form of theft (i.e. credit/reputation being stolen, the kind of thing Pamela O. Long describes some Romans as being preoccupied with), albeit one that many people nowadays seem lazily content to go along with. If you do, well… that’s your choice, but please understand that it’s really, really not mine.

Might the Voynich Manuscript be a Finno-Baltic birth registry? Might the names of some of the nymphs really be “Ellda, Sellai, Saisa, Saillar, Sia, Ella, Sara, Saisa, Rllai, and Eillkka”?

On the positive side, Claudette Cohen already has more words decrypted than Stephen Bax (she has a plucky ten to his stodgy nine), so she should clearly take some comfort that her brave-hearted Finno-Baltic decryption is numerically more of a success than his plainly inferior effort. And she also thinks that she has found thirteen points of similarity with a 1910 map of Sortavala, though with more than a passing nod towards “Karelian embroidery” (it says here).

Cipher Mysteries readers surely don’t need an advanced diploma in telepathy to know what I’m thinking here.

“Good for you, Claudette Cohen – even though you’re wrong for about a thousand different reasons, I’m happy for you that this is how you’ve come to the Voynich Manuscript. Enjoy your stay, and try to have some fun with it!”

Modern life plainly has me stumped: I now can’t even tell email spam and Voynich theories apart. Both seem to be generated from long lists of largely comprehensible phrases, before being dumped in my inbox as self-evident truths: both make my head hurt.

So with that gushing introduction over, here’s this week’s Voynich theory, courtesy of Jimmy Craig on starseeds.net (don’t ask what that is, you can guess enough to tell from its URL that you probably don’t want to know), who believes “that the Voynich Manuscript is describing “Food”, as in the “Mana from Heaven”, that Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat.” Moreover,…

The Characters in the Voynich Manuscript, are a description of the process that removes time. All the language in the Voynich Manuscript is apart of this algorithm based description, because of the complexity of the argument itself, the algorithm is parsed. This is probably the correct way, or more correct way of addressing the algorithm itself. The Process that Removes Time is Nibiru the Star Wormwood, Star of David. It is the great flood at the end of time, that brings mankind into Forever Night. The characters of the Voynich Manuscript are this Ocean, that is Nibiru the mechanism that removes time.

Craig then refers to the dragon picture on f25v, where the little dragon seems to be vacuuming up a giant plant into its snout:-

The Green Flower is Nibiru, the dinosaur in white below it is “Time”, the Star Nibiru is consuming “Time”, consuming the Dinosaur that is vomiting out the Flood Waters. Time is being destroyed by Nibiru we see the food or mana from heaven being produced thus some have concluded the Voynich Manuscript was a recipe book, when in fact it is a description of the translation of the universe. Therefore, it is a difference in the description of potential for the portion of man inheriting the new universe.

My own meta-theory is that there is a Voynich theorybot out there on a cunning, distant server, busy cranking out Voynich theories. You may think that this is a lousy hypothesis to explain the current near-Biblical flood of Voynich theories but… where’s your disproof?

Tonight (23rd March 2014), Coast to Coast AM talk host George Noory will be discussing the Voynich Manuscript with “spiritual artist and musician Stuart Davis” and PR-hungry Voynich theorist Stephen Bax.

Well… at least the musician guy sounds credible. 😐

I have to admit that, not so many years ago, I would experience a frisson of excitement whenever I heard about the Voynich Manuscript’s being picked up by the media. Back then it would get no more than one or two genuinely substantial mentions per year, whether in Cryptologia, Nature, New Scientist, or wherever: and I was fascinated to see how the Voynich cultural meme developed over time.

But over the last few months it has been mentioned in so many goshdarned articles that the same phenomenon instead induces a wave of nausea – my stomach sinks and I wonder “how are they going to misrepresent Voynich research this time?”

For instance, Stephen Bax seems doggedly determined not only to recapitulate every single error made in Voynich research up to 1970 (e.g. …
* reading Voynichese as an obscure-but-lost-or-maybe-polyglot language;
* parsing Voynichese as if it were a simple letter-for-letter language;
* looking for obscure language matches for possible herbal cribs;
* assuming that any published research must have some Rastafarian-truth-in-all-truths viability; etc, etc),
but also to represent his own nine wonky words as if they somehow define cutting edge Voynich research.

In fact, the mistakes Bax has made (and indeed continues to make) are about as stolidly retro as rockabilly quiffs.

But, of course, the chances of anybody outside the Voynich world having the history and cryptology chops to call him on this are terribly slim. Would George Noory ask him why he is so certain that Voynichese is actually a language, when…
* the dictionary statistics are all wrong, with words often differing by a single letter;
* different letters have different preferences for positions on the page;
* indeed, “p” gallows tend to occur in pairs halfway along the top line of paragraphs;
* frequently occurring groups like “aiiv” and “aiir” are apparently the same as medieval page references;
* and so on?

Incidentally, Bax’s most recent ‘find’ is that the plant depicted on f6v is Ricinus communis, the castor oil plant. Father Petersen, Ethel Voynich, Ellie Velinksa, and even Mazars and Wiartz (2006) all think this is a good match, so he’s kind of kicking at a long-opened door here. However, when Bax suggests that EVA “qoar” (which recurs 11 times throughout the manuscript) might be the name of the plant, I think he’s just being equal parts overoptimistic and foolish, and showing his ignorance about how Voynichese works.

Perhaps at any moment in history we get no more and no less than the Voynich ‘experts’ we deserve. What a horrible thought. 🙁