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Gordon Rugg

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From the longer Wikipedia article at [1] which contains a list of his publications.

Gordon Rugg was born in Perth, Scotland in 1955. He has a first degree in French and Linguistics and a PhD in Psychology, both from Reading University, UK. His background includes working as a timberyard worker, a field archaeologist and an English lecturer. He became the focus of media attention in 2004 for his work on the Voynich Manuscript.

His main research theme is elicitation methods – techniques for eliciting information from people, for purposes such as market research and requirements gathering for software development.

Rugg used an informal version of the Verifier method, which he had developed, to re-assess previous work on the Voynich Manuscript, a manuscript widely believed to be a ciphertext based on a code which had resisted decipherment since the manuscript’s rediscovery by Wilfrid Voynich in 1912. Previous research had concluded that the manuscript contained linguistic features too complex to be readily explicable as a hoax, and too strange to be explicable as a transliteration of an unidentified language, leaving an uncracked cipher as the only realistic explanation.

Rugg, using his rugged analysis, "identified" that the assessments of complexity were not based on empirical evidence. He examined a range of techniques known in the late sixteenth century, and found that, by using a modified Cardan grille combined with a large table of meaningless syllables, it was possible to produce meaningless text that had qualititive and statistical properties similar to those of "Voynichese". Rugg replicated the drawings from a range of pages in the manuscript, accompanying each with the same quantity of text as found in the original page, and discovered that most pages could be reproduced in one to two hours, as fast as they could be transcribed. This suggested that a meaningless hoax manuscript as long and as apparently linguistically complex as the Voynich manuscript could be produced, complete with coloured illustrations, by a single person in between 250 and 500 hours.

However, there is debate about the features of the manuscript which Rugg's suggested method was not able to emulate. The two main features are lines showing different linguistic features from the bulk of the manuscript, such as the Neal keys, and the statistical properties of the text produced. Rugg argues that these linguistic features are trivially easy to hoax using the same approach with a different set of tables, and would add about five minutes to the time to produce each page; the counter-argument is that this makes the hoax too complex to be plausible. Regarding statistics, Rugg points out that text produced from the same set of initial nonsense syllables but using different table structures shows widely different statistical properties. Since there are tens of thousands of permutations of table design, he argues that it would simply be a question of time to find a design which produced the same statistical properties as “Voynichese”. Whether or not this would prove anything useful is another issue, since it could either be used to support Rugg’s argument, or dismissed as coincidence.

Further counterarguments are:

  • There is no historical evidence showing that Cardan grilles were used for this kind of purpose at any time in history
  • The radiocarbon dating, codicology and palaeography all indicate that the manuscript was constructed roughly a century before Cardan grilles were devised
  • The mathematical concept of randomness was not yet fully formed in the time period proposed.

The debate continues.

Some postings by him are here [2].

An article on his research can be found here [3] and another here [4].

His Keele University webpage is [5].

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