Monday, December 05, 2005

A palaeontologist's view of manuscripts

Can a palaeontologist really work out how many copies of a work there have been? Has anyone looked at Cisne's work?


Peter M. Head said...

Cisne, J. 2005. How science survived: Medieval manuscripts' "demography" and
classic texts' extinction. Science 307(Feb. 25):1305-1307. Available at

Well, call me an old sceptic, but I don't think this is going to help anybody.

The modelling is both too complicated and too simplistic. It is too complicated in the general sense that it involves mathematics (something I repented of long ago). It is too simplistic in the sense that it transposes population growth assumptions onto the manuscripts (e.g. each manuscript is equal in its ability to reproduce - something that I doubt is true).

I suppose it is worth thinking about what variables to input into the modelling. The response article has some useful reflections:

Gilman, S.L., and F.E. Glaze. 2005. Enhanced: "How science
survived"-medieval manuscripts as fossils. Science 307(Feb. 25):1208-1209.
Available at

Thanks to Wieland Willker for posting the titles to the textualcriticism email group.