Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Voynich Manuscript: Hoax?

Joyce has an important update on the Voynich Manuscript, a rather fascinating document written in a thus-far indecipherable code and accompanied by a series of intensely bizarre illustrations (for a bit more background, see my review of The Voynich Manuscript by Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill).

Back in 2004, Keele University professor Gordon Rugg concluded that the manuscript could be an elaborate hoax, probably cooked up by English mystic/alchemist Edward Kelley. Now an Austrian physicist, Andreas Schinner, has published an article in Cryptologia in which he concludes "that the manuscript’s statistical properties were consistent with a hoax consisting of meaningless gibberish."

Rugg adds: "This does not prove that the manuscript is a hoax, but it strongly suggests that the hoax theory is correct. If there is meaningful coded material in the manuscript, then either there is only a small amount, surrounded by large amounts of meaningless padding – otherwise the statistics would have come out differently, or if there is a large amount of meaningful coded material, then it must have been encoded using a method which just happens to produce the same statistical properties as a quasi-random gibberish generator."

There are some excellent, detailed articles on the Manuscript and much more background on Rugg's methodology here. There's still much more work to be done in my view (and still some explaining to do - why go to all the trouble?), but it does seem like this might finally be some progress toward solving a longstanding literary mystery.