Book of Mormon Authorship examined by new study

Here’s a post from “CraigC” at RfM. He states he has been involved in a new study on Book of Mormon authorship, and has some interesting things to say. For any mormons who land here, please read this with an open mind.  You might learn something.  Here is the post:

Over the past week, I’ve been tracking some of the on-line threads written on our publication. Some of the posts I’ve seen have included speculation about my colleagues, about me, and about our motives.

In this post, I would like to explain how we came to work together, who did what, and why. 

I would also like to make a request of those who cite this paper in future posts. 

In the Fall of 2005, I posted an essay “Sidney Rigdon: Creating the Book of Mormon” at two locations on the internet. In that essay, I explained my background and biases with respect to the Book of Mormon, and I explained how I came to the conclusion that Sidney Rigdon was its likely architect. I based my conclusion on the evidence summarized in that essay. Among other things I had noticed word usage patterns in the Book of Mormon that seemed to me to be consistent with Rigdon’s style. 

While I found some intriguing patterns, I did not have the expertise to carry out a more detailed text analysis. In particular, I was not knowledgeable in computerized text analysis. I was actually manually calculating word frequencies, using the word count feature of Microsoft Word, combined with Excel tables.

Frustrated by that process, I typed the key words “computer text analysis Stanford” into Google, to see whether a colleague at Stanford might have the necessary expertise. I received hits for Matthew Jockers in the English Department. So I emailed Matt. I told him that I had a hypothesis regarding the authorship of the Book of Mormon, and that I was looking for a collaborator with expertise in computer text analysis. He was interested. So we met, and I showed him what I had. Matt knew very little about Mormonism and nothing about the Mormon scriptures, but he was familiar with authorship attribution scholarship and intrigued by my hypothesis that one or more 19th century authors potentially authored the Book of Mormon. He was also very knowledgeable in text analysis and had the computer tools and know-how needed to understand the problem and extract the word frequency data from texts. After some discussion, he agreed to do the analysis for me; at that point we had not discussed co-authoring a paper. 

With the help of friends, I was able to obtain most of the texts we needed for analysis, but I was not successful in obtaining reliable text for Joseph Smith (which we are still hoping to obtain). Matt took the texts I provided, segmented and encoded them into the xml that his tools require. He did the same with two control texts that he obtained.

Initially, Matt provided me some lists of frequently used words, bigrams, and phrases in the Book of Mormon and in the other texts. I ran some tests using my amateur methods, and Matt ran some tests of his own using his methods. We had some similar outcomes, with Rigdon appearing as a likely major contributor. This led Matt to believe that the theory was worth rigorous testing using more sophisticated methodologies. He decided to organize and lead a team effort with an eye toward publication of the research. We both understood the need for a bona fide statistician, and Matt recruited Daniela Witten, a doctoral student in Statistics with expertise in machine learning and classification. 

Matt organized and directed regular meetings of the three of us in which we discussed how to proceed. Matt wanted to conduct tests using the Delta method, a method commonly used for authorship attribution. Daniela proposed additional testing using the method of Nearest Shrunken Centroids (NSC), a pattern classification technique developed at Stanford. 

Matt and Daniela then did the analysis, applying both Delta and NSC. I was not involved in that part of the work. We all recognized that I had a bias issue, and we agreed that we would let the chips fall as they would: if the results came back negative for Spalding-Rigdon theory then that’s what we would report. But the results came back supportive of the Spalding-Rigdon Theory. 

Matt then wrote the first draft of our manuscript and sent it to me and to Daniela for our additions. I added my expertise in Mormonism and the historical context. Daniela wrote the sections on statistics and NSC. The manuscript went through more than 20 revisions thereafter. We also solicited help from a small group of informal reviewers and incorporated their suggestions.

On April 5, 2008, Matt submitted the manuscript to the Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing. The anonymous peer review process took six months. On October 7, 2008, we finally received notification that the paper was accepted pending an adequate response to the reviewer comments. We completed our response to the reviewer comments and submitted the corrected manuscript on November 6. On November 24, we received word that the manuscript was accepted. At the same time we received page proofs. We corrected them and returned the article on November 27. It was published electronically on December 6.

I would like to make a couple of points.

First, this manuscript should be referred to as the “Jockers et al. (2008) study” or as the “Stanford authorship study,” not as the “Criddle wordprint study”. Yes, I did contribute significantly, but Matt led and coordinated the team, and he is the corresponding author. That is as it should be. Without him, nothing would have resulted. Daniela’s expertise as a statistician and skills as a writer were critical to the paper, so her contribution should not be discounted either. This is important for all to understand. 

One reason I am making these points is because, as many apologists have already (correctly) pointed out, I am the team member with bias. Matt and Daniela were unbiased, and had very little knowledge of Mormonism before they became involved with this project.

While I contributed expertise as a former Mormon, Matt and Daniela carried out the data analysis and the results are what they are, independent of my participation in the research. 

I am hoping that by providing this background, it will become clear to all that this work should not be referred to as “the Criddle word print study”: it was a team effort led by Matthew Jockers. I was a member of that team, and, while my expertise was important, I did not carry out the analysis itself. 

Craig Criddle

UPDATE: The study is now available as a free PDF download for those interested in learning more.

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24 Responses to “Book of Mormon Authorship examined by new study”

  1. Seth R. Says:

    Let me get this straight. You ran a computerized textual analysis of the Book of Mormon, but deliberately excluded Joseph Smith as a possible author because you could not find “reliable texts” for him (probably due to how much of his stuff is actually written by scribes). Correct?

    Isn’t it kind of a foregone conclusion that such a study would conclude that Smith didn’t write it – considering that you excluded him as a possibility in the first place?

    Do you ever expect to get any reliable texts for Joseph Smith? Is there really any point in running an analysis like this without such texts?

  2. measure76 Says:

    Yet if Rigdon wasn’t the author, the analysis would have ruled him out instead of confirming it.

    In order to disprove this theory, all you have to do is get a peer-reviewed paper published that confirms oh, say, William Shakespear as the Author.

    That would blow this study out of the water. Without that, you’re going to have to accept Rigdon as Author. Please accept the new reality.

  3. Seth R. Says:

    What kind of reality has a scientific test leave out one of the most likely authors? It almost looks like you were deliberately trying to cook the results.

    So, you are not denying that your study deliberately ruled out Smith as an author from the start?

  4. measure76 Says:

    Not my study, the “Jockers Study”. I am not even Craig Criddle, who posted the above. If you read the first paragraph, that will be clear.

    A good place to ask Craig these questions would be the RfM board, where he participates.

  5. measure76 Says:

    I would reiterate, however, that ruling out one potential author isn’t a big problem.

    In Smith’s case, Mormon doctrine holds that he translated, not wrote, the book. This would be consistent with any attempt to rule him out as the author.

    In ANY case, I can say “I think person X wrote the BoM” and then study that possibility.

    What’s intriguing about this study is that it looked into one such possibility, and found some very strong evidence to back it up.

    It appears that Rigdon was indeed the Author of the BoM, or at least major portions of it, from what I’ve read about the study so far.

  6. Seth R. Says:

    Mormon doctrine does not rule out Joseph’s own personal style and voice being present in the Book of Mormon. In fact, most Mormon scholars expect to find his voice present, right along with the voices of the original authors.

    Incidentally, By Common Consent is having a discussion of this very study right now.

  7. measure76 Says:

    While that is a possible interpretation, This study seems to indicate that Rigdon’s writing style correlates very well with what is actually in the BoM.

    If there are no other source documents for Joseph’s writing, it may indicate that he wasn’t a prolific writer, and therefore not the source for the BoM.

  8. Seth R. Says:

    Or it may indicate a divine brain surge. Which is what people were trying to determine in part. Correct? It just seems like science with a foregone conclusion in mind. Which any scientist could tell you, is simply bad science.

    It’s just stupid to think that anyone can take this study seriously when it doesn’t even consider Smith as an author. I mean, it’s obvious that the whole sexy hook of the study was to refute Smith’s claims. Correct? So leaving him out…

  9. measure76 Says:

    Of course it would refute Smith’s claims. Smith claimed that impossible things happened. Visits from God, Angels, Revelation! ANY sane person would discount much of Smith’s claims. We live in the real world, not the supernatural one Smith claimed to belong to.

  10. Seth R. Says:

    Which simply begs the question of what the study was trying to establish. “We excluded Joseph as a possible author in this study trying to prove BoM authorship. Why? Because obviously he couldn’t have written it.”

    Brilliant. Love the circular logic here.

    If “ANY sane person” would reject Joseph’s story, then what do you need a word study for?

    You obviously know all you need to know already.

  11. measure76 Says:

    Because some people are interested more in actual history than in myth.

  12. Margie Says:

    Another amateur historian and I have been analyzing the Book of Mormon for eight years by taking it apart word by word and examining word patterns but we do not have the expertize or the equipment to do as thorough analysis as this group did. We came to the same conclusions. We have a book in process explaining our hypothesis. This study just confirms our findings.

  13. ABomb Says:

    Commenters seem to have no idea how research or the scientific method works. You start with a hypothesis, then you try to find either 1.) statistical support (note I didn’t say “proof”) for that hypothesis or 2.) that the hypothesis is ruled out. From reading the abstract at http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/fqn040v1 it looks like there were at least seven starting hypotheses (called “null hypothesis”). The goal is to see what the probability is that the hypothesis is contained in the distribution of the data. They do this typically by looking at the variance of the data and breaking it down according to the model specified by the hypothesis, usually with some form of ANOVA model. Then they can say how likely the results are with a given hypothesis. They can measure this with p-values, which is the probability of obtain a result that’s at least as extreme. Not sure what the p-values were in this study because I don’t have access to the full-text version.

    Finding support that one author, like Shakespeare wrote the BoM wouldn’t really do anything to this study or the methods: it would only provide a good example of chance. However, demonstrating that a whole lot of other erroneous people can be supported as writing the text might cast doubt on the methods showing that it’s susceptible to false positives.

    It makes sense not to use JS if you don’t have enough authoritative texts from his pen. The sample size for his writing would be too small and the test wouldn’t be able to correctly classify anything. It would be random chance, which doesn’t make for good science.

    The thing about science. It will never prove anything, but it can disprove dumb theories well. If the Rigdon/Spaulding theory had no credibility, then this study would have killed it.

    Can’t say enough about the scientific method and peer review. It works. It has brought us all of the achievements in science, technology, education, etc. that we enjoy today.

    Just an aside…What did JS bring? Thousands of women and children trapped in polygamy, abuse, and slavery. Without Joe, there would be no Warren Jeffs etc. How could you think God would ever tell a prophet that secretly practicing polygamy was a good idea and necessary for salvation, and “oh by the way I’ll kill you if you don’t,” but at the same time tell him to lie about it in public? Evidence points to the fact that he wasn’t even a saint, much less a prophet. Way to go Joe.

  14. measure76 Says:

    You are right. My example of Shakespear as author would not immediately bring down this study.

    I was using it as an example of how to think about the problem, for those not well versed in how peer-reviewed papers get published, like me.

    Since Science is not the main focus of this blog, I feel at liberty to gloss over the exact scientific method being used. Thank you for the clarification, though.

  15. Seth R. Says:

    ABomb,

    I’ve never come across a negative in polygamy that wasn’t equally a problem for monogamy.

  16. measure76 Says:

    Really, Seth? I never took you for a polygamist. How many wives do you have? In keeping in the Joseph Smith tradition, have you married any women who are also married to other men at the same time?

    Have you married any underage girls, as your Idol Joseph did?

    I suppose at this point, you will tell me you are NOT a polygamist, But then, you wouldn’t have much experience with polygamy, would you?

  17. M.Jones Says:

    Anyone out there read and studied the study itself?Amazing.

  18. Josh Sy Says:

    I find your report interesting; however it seems as if you’re trying to grasp at theories to make an assumption of yours override the results of wordprint studies.

    You theory in the end rests to a large degree on Rigdon being an author of the book.

    Rigdon however was converted by Parly Pratt, who was converted by being loaned a copy of the Book of Mormon. Therefore your postulation that Rigdon somehow managed to assist in writing the book seems weak as it’s well documented that he had never met Joseph Smith until he had a desire to meet the translator of the Book of Mormon.

    Indeed many theories about the origins of the plates include him as a likely author; but it’s resting on a false assertion made nearly two centuries ago which was as ridiculous then as it is now.

    You see Rigdon was a Baptist Minister during the time that you think he wrote the Book of Mormon and was continuously employed as a minister and could not have been away for the time that it would have taken to visit Smith (with whom he had no connection or common peers) and get back to his ministry. Nor could a minister come back with a new religion and retain his post.

    I’m fine with people trying to prove their theories about the Book of Mormon but Rigdon as a collaborator really killed your theory.

    Try as you may it’s ridiculous to assume that your theory could be true.

  19. measure76 Says:

    Josh Sy…. you offer no evidence to back up your claims. I assume you have some evidence that proves that Smith and Rigdon never met before the BoM was publsihed?

  20. INTJ Mom Says:

    Actually, Art Vanick (one of the authors of “Who Wrote The Book of Mormon”) gave a presentation at the 2007 Ex-Mo conference where he presented some interesting evidence showing that Spalding and Rigdon lived in the same area at the same time and that Rigdon probably met Joseph Smith before the Mormon church claims that they met. I think you can still download the audio from the ExMormon Foundation archives.

  21. measure76 Says:

    I’ve put this in the post itself, but I’ll put it down here as well. The study is now available as a free download, at the following website: http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/fqn040v1

  22. baptist turned lds Says:

    I would like to extend an invitation to everyone in here to come back to the LDS Church. I myself did not really believe in much of anything until Dec 2007. I was an alcoholic and I used to do some other things in addition to alcohol. The Elders truly rescued me from a fate that was not intended to be my own. You know it is easy to point out things about the BoM that are questionable. You know it is just as easy to say that man cant walk on water and that one man cant raise another from the dead. We HAVE no proof of Gods existence outside of our own faith. FAITH is the biggest proof we have of Gods Existence and the idea that maybe there is a purpose for us to walk upon this earth. While it would be easy for me and for others to discredit the LDS Church and its beliefs I am going to keep Believing. I know what I feel in my heart is true and outside of that nothing else matters. Christ said,”Upon this Rock I will Build my Church, and the Walls of Hell will not prevail against it.” If you are in doubt or if you have gave up your belief, I would like you to revisit the idea of PRAYING for answers. According to Science there is no God. Do you find that to be true? I testify to you that GOD does exist and that he exists in me and in all of us. I testify to all of you that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. The Latter Day Saint Church is Christs Church upon the earth. This is my Belief, This is My testimony, This is My FAITH, My hopes, My Dreams, My existance, and my salvation. IT IS MY SURVIVAL, without it I would surely have died when I was not strong. Lay aside your disbeliefs and come Back. I love you all and so does the Church. Bless you my brothers and Sisters, may you know that we are STILL and ever will be Brothers and Sisters. AMEN

  23. measure76 Says:

    Wow dude. We should turn to a church founded by a pedophile and moved to Utah by a psychopathic killer?

    Even if I was to accept a God, it certainly wouldn’t be the Mormon church I turned to.

    The main problem with any religion, is that GOD IS FAKE.

    If you have conclusive proof otherwise, I’d like to see it.

  24. Patty Says:

    Nice post! I really like your posting.
    i will come back to read more of your posts.

    Cheers

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