Lazy skeptics

I’ve  just read one of the most intellectually lazy accounts of the manuscript that I’ve ever seen.

It includes such bald statements as “Thus it is evident to a layman, even before inspection of the illustrations, that the Voynich manuscript has its origins in European culture”. ..

and being a skeptic of course, this gentleman only reached his conclusion after rigorous, and entirely first-hand investigation of all available evidence (…NOT).

The proof adduced for that extraordinary statement consists of .. You won’t believe this…:

The author [1] of the manuscript wrote from left to right-this can be discerned from the left-aligned formatting. The typeface [2] and size of the characters are inconspicuous,[3] which is not altered by the fact that the text contains no punctuation marks, because this is unexceptional for old texts[4].

Four bloopers in one sentence – is that a record?

[1] – and evidence that the work was composed by an “author” is…. ummm… none. The source for that idea was Wilfrid Voynich.

[2] “typeface” is a description of … you get it… letterset type.   It is never used of medieval documents, which just shows how much we can rely on this gentleman’s opinion of any, let alone one as problematic as MS Beinecke 408.

[3] what exactly does ‘inconspicuous’ mean here?  That the writing is largely concealed behind something else? That it could easily be overlooked by someone flicking through the folios (actually, we don’t “flick” through medieval manuscripts).  I suggest that the gentleman consult a dictionary.

[4] “no punctuation marks… unexceptional for old texts”

– what exactly is this supposed to mean?  “punctuation marks”?   Is that supposed to include diacritics? Has he any idea of exactly how old a document have to be to have “none” at all?  And which documents, exactly, is he speaking about?.


It’s total nonsense – the man hasn’t even bothered to consult a medieval Latin manuscript database, let alone gone to the trouble of actually comparing the manuscript with a range of other forms, times, cultural contexts…  total charlatan.

I think this  “skeptic” hasn’t even much idea of the philosophy he claims to espouse.  In modern terms, the first rule of Skeptic philosophy  – you don’t ring up a mate and take his word for anything. You do the work or you have no opinion.

The  column is in an online magazine which – wisely, if this is it’s contributors’ usual standard for research – doesn’t allow comment.

Very wise.

I won’t even link to the site.

But if you’re a true skeptic, who likes to see the information before accepting opinions about it: The column is recent and on CSI.




  1. Oh – apparently I owe that author an apology. Mr. Schmech has been described by someone or other as an ‘expert’ on medieval manuscripts… no, not medieval manuscripts… or medieval literature, or codicology, iconography or …

    Just on MS Beinecke 408.

    Is that possible?


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