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Mr Doron Witztum and his "scientific" experiments

This is the first of three parts of the long version of the reply to the article "Did they really find codes in War and Peace" by Doron Witztum.

Text which is indented and italicised is quoted from Witztum's article, except that the Hebrew letters have been transliterated according to the Michigan-Clairmont scheme.


We examine the evidence that Mr Doron Witztum is a scientist, honestly studying a phenomenon by scientific methods. We conclude that he is exactly the opposite.

Who is Doron Witztum?

Doron Witztum has a masters degree in Physics, which should have instilled in him the basics of the scientific method. However, whatever is there is well hidden. In the relevant areas of probability and statistics his total lack of basic knowledge is so profound that for years he multiplied probabilities of dependent events without realising that it is mathematical nonsense. (This is something one learns on the second day of a course on probability or statistics.) His approach to the 'codes' has never been scientific in the slightest.

What would a real scientist have done that Doron Witztum has not? The first thing that a real scientist does when appearing to discover something new, especially if it is contrary to accepted theory, is to try to disprove it him/herself! In the case of the 'codes', Doron Witztum was obligated to:

  1. Investigate how sensitive the results were to changes in the distance measure. Doron Witztum did not do that.
  2. Investigate how sensitive the results were to changes in the data. In the rabbis experiment, did Witztum try "Rav" instead of "Rabbi" and report the results? What about the effect of changing the spelling rules? What about all the missing appellations? The other ways of writing dates? Witztum did not report on any of those things.
  3. Investigate the theoretical basis of the method. For example, Witztum uses the "perturbation method" even in places where it is manifestly wrong. He doesn't even indicate that he is aware of it, much less discuss it as a source of error.
  4. Diligently report negative findings. As we shall see below, the only time Witztum reported a negative finding was the only time he had no choice. One can prove, using Witztum's own data, that negative findings must occur more often than positive findings, but Witztum has deliberately suppressed them.
  5. Report the experiments in a non-misleading way. Most people who read the Statistical Science article [WRR1] incorrectly infer that
    1. Doron Witztum had an official position at the Jerusalem College of Technology.
    2. The dates were taken from the Margaliot encycopedia.
    3. The selection of appellations was objective and exhaustive.
    4. All the appellations were found in the Responsa database.
    5. All the reasonable date forms were used.
    All of those are false. People who read more detailed accounts from Mr Witztum also hear that he used the method of analysis prescribed by Persi Diaconis. This is also false (see below).

That is only an initial list. Doron Witztum has had twelve years to start looking like a scientist but he hasn't even tried. Did Doron Witztum ever raise a single critical question about the validity of his own work? No, he did not.

Doron Witztum is not a scientist. He is The Guru of the Codes Cult, which is an entirely different thing. He does not deserve the respect of real scientists, nor any presumption of integrity.

Witztum's experiments

Contrary to the Official History as testified to repeatedly by Witztum and Rips, they conducted experiments with at least some of the same rabbis and their dates before they did the experiment on the first list that was later reported. For proof of this, see the transcript of the lecture of Rips recorded about 1985.

Let us take this opportunity to question another aspect of the Official History, namely the role of Prof. S. Havlin. The first list of rabbis appeared about 1986, and the second list about 1987. It is claimed (and confirmed by Prof. Havlin) that Prof. Havlin made the lists of appellations on his own, without any consultation or hints from Witztum except the headings of the entries in the Margaliot encyclopedia.

It is clear that collecting and checking appellations is a difficult and time-consuming task. Prof. Havlin's effort surely deserved acknowledgement. Moreover, the decision to use an independent expert without interference shows laudable scientific forethought on the part of Witztum and Rips. Surely they would describe this scientific experimental design to their readers.

Let us see how the work of Prof. Havlin is described by Witztum and Rips in the four earliest sources.

Lecture of Rips (recorded circa 1985)
There may be various ways of writing a name. We took every possible variation we could think of. ... If any additional variation comes to mind, we must include it. We simply took every possible variant that we considered reasonable.
1986 preprint (first list of rabbis only)
[Page 40:] Now we list all the names and surnames of the personalities... (There follows a table of appellations organised into columns according to type.)
[Acknowledgements, page 69:] We thank Prof. S. Z. Havlin and Y. Orbach for valuable advices.
1987 preprint (both lists)
[Page 16:] Variations on a person's name including titles have been systematically taken into account in Table 9. (Table 9 is like the table in the 1986 preprint, with the same headings. About 12 of the appellations longer than 8 letters have changed. I asked Prof. Rips why, but he did not reply.)
[Acknowledgements, page 43:] We thank Prof. S. Z. Havlin, Y. Orbach and Dr. Israel Gottlieb for valuable advices.
Witztum's book, 1989 (both lists)
[Preface:] Prof. S. Z. Havlin contributed from his time and from his treasure of knowledge.
[No other mention of Havlin, not even in the chapters on the rabbis experiment.]

In each case we quoted every mention of Prof. Havlin. Readers are invited to wonder why Witztum and Rips failed to acknowledge that Prof. Havlin made the lists of appellations all by himself.

Another little known aspect of the published experiment concerns the famous statistician Persi Diaconis. Witztum and others are prone to impute credibility to their work by claiming to have performed the statistical test requested by Prof. Diaconis. In fact, they ignored his test and performed another. If they had done it the way they were asked, the result would have been far weaker and the paper would likely not have been published.

More details on this matter are given in another article.

Mr Witztum is fully aware that the "Gans" experiment was based on data provided by Zvi Inbal, a senior lecturer on the codes for the organisation "Arachim" that has close contacts with Doron Witztum. The data is so full of errors that the experiment has to be done over again. Even Eliyahu Rips admits that the experiment needs to be repeated, but Doron Witztum deceitfully continues to claim it as an independent scientific verification of his claims.

One aspect of that experiment permits us to perform another experiment. Gans did not use the names from the original list that started with the word "Rabbi". (The published paper [WRR1] tries the list both with and without them.) This naturally suggests the question of how well the deleted names perform if we use them by themselves. Despite the fact that many rabbis share the same first name, we should see some hint of a phenomenon if there is one. The result is an utterly random 436602 in a million.

Our experience is always the same. Whenever we try the data that is left out of a "successful codes experiment" the phenomenon disappears. Not a single exception has surfaced.

Another example: In the "famous rabbis" experiments Witztum used three of the six common ways to write dates. The three omitted forms give us an opportunity for three new experiments. Here are the ranks out of a million (smallest of P1-P4 statistics) for each of the three omitted forms: 429256, 618128, and 293407. They are totally random, just like every single experiment that has ever been done independently of Witztum's group.

And so it goes.

The main experiment in that paper, the "70 nations" experiment, has been thoroughly demolished. The details are being prepared for publication. The second is a complicated experiment about male personal names, using new arbitrary procedures. The third involves female personal names, about which see below.

Those experiments are characterised by the transparent selection of a few expressions from a large pool of available expressions. There are also other obvious errors. As an experienced professional mathematician I am simply appalled by the total disregard for the basics of combinatorial probability that Witztum displays.

If one wishes to verify the total lack of scientific care in all the work of Doron Witztum, that preprint is a good place to start. In one "experiment" the spelling of a word in Joshua is changed on the grounds that it is spelled differently in the Torah. In another, in the same paper, a different word is spelled as it appears in a modern book even though it appears in Genesis spelled in four different ways. Such inconsistencies are the hallmark of Doron Witztum's work.

More discussion on one of those experiments appears in another article.

The failure Mr Witztum is referring to is particularly revealing. As mentioned above [WRR3] contains an experiment with male personal names that gives a weak positive result. How could they not do the same with female personal names? Alas, both the data and the method for that experiment were completely defined by comparison with the experiment on male personal names. It is the only example we know of where Mr Witztum's experiment was free of the possibility of manipulation, and the only one for which he admits a negative result. This "coincidence" has not gone unnoticed.

One of those additional experiments, concerning the sub-camps of Auschwitz, has been mentioned several times in public by Doron Witztum. He claimed to achieve a result of one in a million. No details were given, so we decided to do the experiment ourselves. The result was totally negative, because we did absolutely no manipulation of the data and used exactly the method described in [WRR3]. In fact, War and Peace does better than Genesis. Details can be found in our article on the subject. We can hardly wait to learn what magical tricks he has applied to turn 289149 into 1.

Aish HaTorah and Arachim are the chief sponsors and promoters of Witztum's "innovations". Our experience on this topic with the people from both organisations shows their acute ignorance on the subject and at the same time, their unquestioning trust in Witztum. They surely have access to all the information necessary to see the profound absurdity of Witztum's claims, but apparently the desire to hold onto what works at any cost (in integrity and honesty) makes them unable to refuse this easy way to convince and manipulate a trusting and innocent audience.

On the contrary, there is no doubt that all the alleged evidence was produced by data manipulation.


Neither Doron Witztum nor his disciples are scientists. There is no sign of any respect for the scientific method in their work. Despite their claims, they have not produced a shred of evidence that hidden codes have been deliberately placed in the text of the Torah.


Astounding Discoveries in War and Peace, http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/chanukah.html (1997).
D. Witztum, HaMeimad HaNosaf (The Additional Dimension), self-published, 1989.
D. Witztum, E. Rips and Y. Rosenberg, Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis, Statistical Science, 9 (1994) 429-438.
ibid, Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis, II. The relation to the text, preprint ca 1995.
ibid, Hidden Codes in Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis, The Statistical Significance of the Phenomenon, Hebrew preprint accompanying a lecture given by E. Rips in the Israeli Academy of Sciences, 1996.

This page was written by Brendan McKay, who wishes to gratefully acknowledge the help and support he received from a considerable number of his friends.

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