Saturday, May 4, 2013

Peter Sturrock approaches authorship question mathematically with book, AKA Shakespeare

by Linda Theil

The anti-Stratfordian faction of Shakespeare lovers is replete with those who have been trained to study evidence: lawyers, doctors, and scientists of all fields. Peter A. Sturrock, PhD -- emeritus professor of applied physics and emeritus director of the Center for Space Science and Astrophysics at Stanford University -- has brought his mathematical genius to bear on the topic of the Shakespeare authorship with his self-published book, AKA Shakespeare: a Scientific Approach to the Authorship Question (EXO Science, 2013).

Even though I sat through a calculus course in high school, this reader must confess that the mathematics involved in Professor Sturrock’s thesis eluded my understanding, so I cannot comment on its value as ammunition in the authorship battle. I can attest, however, to the lucidity of Sturrock’s prose and the freshness of his approach.

In an article titled “Who wrote Shakespeare's plays? Stanford professor lets you decide” by Stanford news intern Paul Gabrielsen in the March 18, 2013 Stanford Report, Gabrielsen said:
In his new book, AKA Shakespeare: A Scientific Approach to the Authorship Question, Sturrock explores the argument through the eyes of four fictional characters, each with a different perspective on the debate. They voice their opinions on 25 pieces of evidence, but Sturrock invites readers to weigh in as well and arrive at their own conclusion. . . .  Years before, while studying pulsars, Sturrock devised a new method to process information using statistics. His method was based on a statistical concept known as Bayes' theorem, which states that probabilities change depending on the information you have.Sturrock describes the concept in his book: If you reach into a bag with 99 white balls and 1 black ball, you would say that the odds of picking the black ball are 1 in 100. But if you know the black ball is cracked, you have new information, and your odds improve dramatically. Using Bayesian statistics, Sturrock can incorporate information from both theory and data in his analysis. . . .
 As his book progresses, Sturrock's characters weigh in on 25 questions surrounding the authorship controversy. Was the writer of the plays educated or not? Could Shakespeare write legibly, given the quality of his known signatures? Is there a secret message on a monument in the Holy Trinity Church at Stratford-upon-Avon? Each response is factored into the character's "degree of belief" in each of the three candidates. Sturrock invites readers to tabulate their own responses and beliefs into charts in the book. An online tool, "Prospero," connected to the book's website, allows readers to calculate their final degrees of belief. (Ed.:The website is located at
Sturrock, 88, who lives in Palo Alto, says he has had positive response from colleagues about his book and he anticipates publishing the data from readers in six to eight months. The book is available in a $9.99 Kindle version as well as paperback from Amazon at The book was preceded by a 2008 article titled “Shakespeare: the Authorship Question, a Bayesian Approach” published by Sturrock in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 529-537. The article is available at Shakespeare: the Authorship Question, a Bayesian Approach by P.A. Sturrock in Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 529–537, 2008

Peter A. Sturrock, PhD, is emeritus professor of applied physics and emeritus director of the Center for Space Science and Astrophysics at Stanford University. He has received numerous awards, including prizes from the American Astronomical Society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Cambridge University, the Gravity Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences. His other publications include five edited volumes, three monographs, and three hundred scientific articles and reports.