Friday, January 16, 2015

Urantia Book Stylometry

This post might be a little bit lazy, but I want to outline the main points while they are in my head. It appears that three, non-peer reviewed studies (although the results should be relatively "easy" to reproduce) have been done on the Urantia Book regarding distinguishing multiple authors. As a very brief summary, the Urantia Book is claimed to have come from divine beings that dictated their messages through a human mouthpiece. With the history of the book claiming many original authors and one (or perhaps two) dictators, it presents very similar stylometric claims to the Book of Mormon. We've seen how several different studies, including some using the most exacting and revealing criteria, reveal multiple authorship for the Book of Mormon. If the Urantia Book shows the same features when faced with the same scrutiny, then in my mind the result would favor the hypotheses that the Book of Mormon was channeled, revealed, or invented by Joseph Smith rather than translated from ancient writings. It wouldn't technically contradict certain forms of the "translation" hypothesis, but it would weaken the hypothesis that I favor; namely, that there really were texts written by ancient authors and that Joseph transmitted them as faithfully as he was able into English. He thus preserved some evidence of different modes of speech among the original authors, while shaping the text into his 19th century, pseudo-biblical language for the sake of communicating the message most effectively.

Two of the studies on the Urantia Book are only easily available in summary form as published in newsletters and on the Urantia Book website. The third study examined the Urantia Book using the Delta method employed by Jockers and coworkers as part of their examination of the Book of Mormon, and was performed by a Latter-day Saint rather than a follower of Urantia.

Science, Anthropology and Archaeology in The Urantia Book, Part 3

by Dr. Ken Glasziou

Who Wrote the Urantia Papers?

One of the newsletters cited in the above article

Delta method paper   by Christopher Smith

I'm just going to summarize what I see as the most telling points of "Who Wrote the Urantia Papers?"
  • Analyses of non-contextual function words and their usage are able to distinguish among at least 5 narrators and potentially 9 with high degrees of certainty.
  • None of the Urantia Papers are in the normal writing style of one proposed 20th century author.
  • Writing sample sizes are mostly large enough to give statistical confidence as long as application of the statistical tests is deemed justified.
Without access to more of the original data, and unwilling to redo the analyses myself, I'm going to rely heavily on the paper by Christopher Smith. Mr. Smith used an approach very similar to that employed by Dr. Glasziou in that he examined a list of single, non-contextual function words. It isn't completely clear, but Glasziou's work may have had the advantage of using an open-set analysis as opposed to the closed-set Delta analysis, however, since Mr. Smith included the internally identified narrators as candidate authors in several of his tests, he effectively turned the closed-set problem into one that allowed for unknown authors. The results are interesting. As seen by Glasziou:
  • Each of 8 authors with sufficient papers for testing was statistically identifiable.
  • When tested against a few 20th century human authors, the styles of the Urantia Papers were matched mostly with control authors who were in no way connected with their production (Freud and Mr. Smith).
As you can see in this figure, the Delta analysis shows significantly changing styles as the Urantia Book was produced. The Delta measure for each of 197 papers is plotted in the chronological order that each paper was produced:
So multiple authors appears to be a distinct possibility at this point. But we need to remember two concerns identified in previous stylometric studies: 1. changes in genre can change word usage, and 2. authors' styles can change over time. The Urantia Papers cover three broad genres identified by Mr. Smith as Cosmo-Theology, Earth History, and Pseudo-Biblical Narrative. They were also produced over a matter of years, giving sufficient time for possible shifts in authorial style. So Mr. Smith divided the texts into the three genres and again plotted them by time of production. Look at what we see:

In each case the style within the genre is more uniform than the style between genres, and the style changes linearly with time. The conclusions strictly dictated by these data seem to be that function word stylometry reveals three genres, and doesn't lead to any strong conclusions regarding the number of authors within each genre. So from evidence of eight or more authors, we are reduced to evidence consistent with one single author changing his style over genres and time--both phenomena that we have seen before with Joanna Southcott and Sidney Rigdon.

It is possible that higher resolution methods, like non-contextual word pairings used by Hilton and his colleagues, or the combination of four types of stylometric features as used by Schaalje and Fields, would reveal multiple authorship in the Urantia Book, but I think some comparisons with the Book of Mormon can be usefully made even with these limited, non-peer reviewed results:

Could a Single Author Produce the Variety of Stylometric Features?
Fooling Stylometric Measures
Mormon Scripture
Urantia Book
6500 word reference samples
Multiple 10000 word reference samples
Multiple papers of at least 1000 words
500 word samples for classification
10000 word samples for classification
At least 1000 words for classification
1000 is better than 500, but weaker than 10000
Simple, familiar topics
Complex, unfamiliar topics. Joseph Smith is reported to have told stories about some topics treated in the Book of Mormon, but had not previously written anything of significant length.
Complex topics of unknown familiarity.
Saddtler was demonstrably well read and previously or simultaneously wrote on several topics related to the Urantia Book.
Written in short times
Written or dictated in short times. No time available for significant, subconscious shifts in authorial style.
Written in unknown amounts of time (possibly short), but over many years, thus allowing for observed linear shifts in authorial style.
'Dumbed down' to obscure personal style
Less rich vocabulary in Mormon scripture than in Joseph Smith's personal papers.
Styles changed to match genre, a conscious decision influencing style available even to untrained authors.
Distictive authorial style for imitation
No historically verified texts being imitated
Saddtler is known to have read and possessed numerous texts on topics treated in the Urantia Book, however the only clear imitation is the Bible, similar to the Book of Mormon.
Closed set of authors
Open set of authors
Adversarial authorship attack known
No direct evidence of fraud
No direct evidence of fraud
Machine translation doesn't disguise style
Claimed to be translations, suggesting authorial styles should be preserved.
Claimed to be revelations.
We don't know what to expect stylometrically from revelations from different sources.
Genre controlled
Genre controlled for in some studies, revealing multiple authorship.
Genre controlled for in one study, consistent with single authorship.

That's it for now. Out of time.

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