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Baskerville Is the Greatest Font, Statistically, Says Filmmaker Errol Morris 158

Posted by timothy
from the your-brain-is-vulnerable dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A survey of unsuspecting New York Times readers implicitly answered the question: Does a certain font make you agree or disagree more often than another font? It turns out Baskerville confers a 1.5% advantage towards agreement on a survey question, compared to an average of six fonts. They were asked to agree or disagree to a passage from physicist David Deutsch's book The Beginning of Infinity, and were found to have an optimistic, if Baskerville-favoring, outlook on life. David Dunning, a psychologist awarded a Nobel prize and, separately, an IgNobel prize (for the eponymous Dunning-Kruger Effect), called Baskerville 'the king of fonts.' Sadly, Comic Sans — notable for its appearance in the Higgs Boson announcement — seems to be the weakest font. And why did Lisa Randall, the Harvard physicist responsible for that Higgs announcement use Comic Sans? According to the article, 'Because I like it.'"
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Baskerville Is the Greatest Font, Statistically, Says Filmmaker Errol Morris

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  • Links (Score:5, Informative)

    by clinko (232501) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:42AM (#40930735) Homepage Journal

    Baskerville: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baskerville [wikipedia.org]

    Open Baskerville: http://klepas.org/openbaskerville/ [klepas.org]

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:42AM (#40930739)

    And why did Lisa Randall, the Harvard physicist responsible for that Higgs announcement use Comic Sans? According to the article, 'Because I like it.'"

    Given the mostly fixed number of neurons available to any single individual, the talent for physics must have come from somewhere... obviously, the aesthetics circuits got the short end of the deal.

    • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:53AM (#40930863)
      I majored in physics in college, and spent a lot of time with physicists from world renowned Nobel prize winners to lowly undergraduates. I can testify that physicists, in addition to lacking any appreciation for visual aesthetics, also lack the ability to properly dress themselves, shave their faces, comb their hair, speak to an audience not of their peers, and most of all they have no understanding of proper hygiene. We used to have a lounge out of which at least half a dozen kids were living, toothbrushes and all. The stench still haunts me. I remember walking into the lavatory where 3-4 physics majors were taking a shower out of a sink.

      Oh, and lest you think I'm a-hatin', most of the above applies to me as well.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Feynman being, of course, being an outlier.

      • by thegarbz (1787294) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:30AM (#40931239)

        Having met Lisa Randall at a conference down under I can say fortunately she not only showered that day but also looked quite hot. Mind you this was several years ago and I was single so admittedly so did Margaret Thatcher

        • ...but also looked quite hot... ...and I was single so admittedly so did Margaret Thatcher

          Seek counselling. [wikipedia.org]

        • by Dishevel (1105119)

          Not exactly "hot" generally but a decent looking woman and for a professor of physics we could give her hot in that realm.

          • http://mattnager.photoshelter.com/image/I0000K_JoVscAlwc [photoshelter.com]

            A lady physics prof who looks like that at 50? Hotness indeed.

          • by bware (148533)

            for a professor of physics we could give her hot in that realm

            That's what's known in the physics lingo as "physics hot."

            Standards are all relative, and like good physicists, we are aware of our biases and quantify them.

        • Margaret Thatcher...attractive? What form of sexual perversion / brain abnormality / sight defect is it that you suffer from?
      • by oneiros27 (46144) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:59AM (#40931557) Homepage

        No, not that one [brunching.com]. Or this one [xkcd.com].

        When I started at a NASA center, working with a bunch of physicists for the most part, I found I was being sent to an AAS (American Astronomical Society) meeting. I don't remember exactly what my boss said that was disparaging about astronomers, but I do remember he said something to the effect, 'but at least they're not mathmeticians, as they generally bathe at least once a week'.

        So, just remember -- they might've been cleaning themselves out of the sink -- but at least they were cleaning themselves.

        (and well, during undergrad, I think I had a period of about 10-14 days when I don't think I went above ground ... at least not when the sun was out (and it was summer) ... the problem is, you can't tell just how ripe you've managed to get ... so engineers aren't always the best group, either).

      • by bitt3n (941736) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @11:23AM (#40931913)

        I majored in physics in college, and spent a lot of time with physicists from world renowned Nobel prize winners to lowly undergraduates. I can testify that physicists, in addition to lacking any appreciation for visual aesthetics, also lack the ability to properly dress themselves, shave their faces, comb their hair, speak to an audience not of their peers, and most of all they have no understanding of proper hygiene. We used to have a lounge out of which at least half a dozen kids were living, toothbrushes and all. The stench still haunts me. I remember walking into the lavatory where 3-4 physics majors were taking a shower out of a sink. Oh, and lest you think I'm a-hatin', most of the above applies to me as well.

        this is how I learn I'm a physics genius?

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      Given the mostly fixed number of neurons available to any single individual, the talent for physics must have come from somewhere... obviously, the aesthetics circuits got the short end of the deal.

      Or perhaps it is a rather clever method of weeding out people who look beyond the aesthetics towards the actual content (i.e. people who are actually capable of understanding the presentation in the first place) from those who are unable to distinguish appearance from content and thus are unlikely to contribute much of anything of note towards the scientific discussion. Probably not, but maybe.

    • by gdr (107158) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:59AM (#40931551)
      Every time I ever get an email or printout using Comic Sans it's from a woman. I got a name sign for my cubical in Comic Sans and I had to print myself a new one because I don't work in a f***ing kindergarten.
    • Fabiola Gianotti was responsible for using Comic Sans, not Lisa Randall. Summary is wrong.
    • obviously, the aesthetics circuits got the short end of the deal

      I take it you've never seen Ms. Randall. Her wonderful ability for writing and teaching aren't her only assets.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:47AM (#40930787)

    and Lisa Randall was not the responsible for the announcement.

    Lisa Randall, a Harvard physicist, kindly e-mailed Fabiola Gianotti on my behalf. Gianotti, the coordinator of the CERN program to find the Higgs boson, provided a compelling rationale for why she had used Comic Sans. When asked, she said, “Because I like it.”

    Lisa *asked* the responsible.

    Oh editors, I miss the times where at least you read the submitted articles. Now the anonymous guy can write whatever he wants in the summary and you'll publish it.

  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:50AM (#40930819)

    Where are the error bars?

    • A statistic where they measured out of 6 fonts which one made you *agree* to something the most.

      ==> Article Title: "The Greatest Font"

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@noSPam.hackish.org> on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:54AM (#40930881)

      They don't seem to represent the sampling uncertainty graphically as error bars, but if you scroll down to the paragraph that starts with "Are the results the product of chance?", they do a basic statistical analysis, and find that Baskerville performs better than average with p < 0.01 (and still p < 0.05, if you do a Bonferroni correction).

      • I'm a little bit concerned that they might not be properly accounting for multiple comparisons. The test involves six fonts, and the correction that they suggest assumes that this means there are six comparisons. Is that really the correct approach?

        There are actually fifteen pairwise comparisons possible (A-B, A-C, A-D, A-E, A-F; B-C, B-D, B-E, B-F; C-D, C-E, C-F; D-E, D-F; E-F). Using the - admittedly conservative - Bonferroni correction, the result is no longer significant.

        • by Trepidity (597)

          I believe they're testing each font's performance against the average performance, rather than looking for pairwise differences between a specific pair of fonts.

    • On 7500 sample you are looking at a std dev of around 0.5% ... so error bars (at 95% confidence) would be VERY ROUGHLY plus/minus 1%

  • Almost everyone has a reaction to it, positive or negative. Few people see it and just read it.
  • I think that an interesting follow-up study would compare subject matter and typeface pairing. That is, I believe that an article in physics is more likely to be taken seriously if it is set in a typeface (not a font, btw) like Baskerville than in comic sans. But what if you're subject matter is meant to be humorous? I suspect that people find it funnier if it is written in the comic sans than if it is written in Baskerville. Also, what typeface are people accustomed to reading such material in? Exper
  • by fondacio (835785) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:54AM (#40930877)

    The summary misstates the person responsible for using Comic Sans in the Higgs boson announcement. The full quote:

    Lisa Randall, a Harvard physicist, kindly e-mailed Fabiola Gianotti on my behalf. Gianotti, the coordinator of the CERN program to find the Higgs boson, provided a compelling rationale for why she had used Comic Sans. When asked, she said, “Because I like it.”

    I was already wondering why a Harvard physicist would be making the announcement of a discovery by CERN.

  • Very interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcmonkey (96054) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:55AM (#40930891) Homepage

    Time to update my resume.

  • by Vintermann (400722) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:57AM (#40930933) Homepage

    This is probably a result of an occupational hazard, but I know very well that I pay more attention to text typeset in Computer Modern. Even though it is the default font in LaTeX, to that what Times New Roman is to Word.

    • by mark-t (151149)

      I recall reading somewhere that Knuth considered his computer modern typeface to be "ugly", but yet I find that cmr is quite consistently a favorite among people who work with scientific or technical documents.

      Was Knuth being needlessly modest, or did the industry that was most likely to be using software like TeX simply get so accustomed to seeing it that it started to look attractive to them?

      • Re:Computer modern (Score:4, Informative)

        by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:38AM (#40931315) Homepage Journal

        The reason for Computer Modern's ugliness isn't apparent until you know what it's imitating. This [imgur.com] is a comparison of CM and Bodoni 12, a font from the early 19th century. So-called "Modern" typefaces were frequently used for setting professional and mathematical treatises (and Slashdot's had an article in the past about how being difficult to read slows down the reader and gives them time to absorb the material.)

        Essentially, the problem with CM is that it has straight flat parts on the sides of curves (e.g. the bowls of d and b), which make the font feel synthetic, like Chicago [identifont.com]. The rigidity of the figures makes the letters feel as though they were assembled out of parts (which they were), rather than organically drawn.

  • So, basically, world history might have taken a different turn if Al Gore's campaign had used Baskerville. And wouldn't Comic Sans have been the perfect match for 43? Ah, democracy, lead us onwards.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:59AM (#40930957) Homepage
    I'm really fond of the Dunning-Kruger effect to the point where I mention it almost daily and people get annoyed with me. So I was really surprised to hear the claim in summary that Dunning had a Nobel. What would it be in? The last time a psychologist got a Nobel it was for work related to economics. Sure, enough 10 seconds of fact checking, verified that he's not on any list of Nobel Laureates, such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_laureates [wikipedia.org] or the official lists at Nobelprize.org. The claim about Dunning getting a Nobel isn't in TFA so I'm not sure where it came from.
  • Testing... (Score:5, Funny)

    by jones_supa (887896) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:01AM (#40930987)
    <p style="{font-family: Baskerville;}">You should send 10M€ to my bank account.</p>
  • Its really depressing that with all the new fonts, studies of perception, cognition, etc, the greatest font is one that was designed in 1757 [wikipedia.org].
  • So what this study really tells us is that Baskerville is the greatest (most trustworthy) font out of the six chosen for the experiment - and one of those was Comic Sans.

    compared to an average of six fonts

    Err, what? I think it was compared to exactly five other fonts.

  • Just plain courier, it was good enough for gramps, it's good enough for me too. No need worry about your fancy proportional fonts like you're king of France or something.
  • by Reasonable Facsimile (2478544) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:42AM (#40931365)
    "Yo, Baskerville, I'm really happy for you, and Imma let you finish, but I just got to say Helvetica is one of the best fonts of all time."
  • by eulernet (1132389) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:47AM (#40931407)

    I'm a french guy, and I never saw the Baskerville font used in France.

    I'm pretty sure that this font has a cultural connotation for english people, but not for the rest of the world.

    When one reads a text in Baskerville, one probably unconsciously associates it with ancient books, and with ancient wisdom.

    An interesting experience would be to write a "modern" question (using recent words) with Baskerville, and measure its impact.

  • Garamond (Score:5, Interesting)

    by khendron (225184) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:53AM (#40931475) Homepage

    In the Typography course I took, we were taught that the greatest font of all time is Garamond [wikipedia.org].

    It wasn't even tested in this article.

    • I guess that's why Wikipedia uses it on their logo.

    • by BitterOak (537666)

      In the Typography course I took, we were taught that the greatest font of all time is Garamond [wikipedia.org].

      It wasn't even tested in this article.

      If your typography course claimed any font was the greatest font of all time, you've probably wasted your money. There is no "greatest" font. There are many fonts, of varying quality, some suited for some purposes better than others. And "Garamond" isn't even one font. There are many fonts sold by many vendors with the name Garamond, some more closely resembling the designs of Claude Garamond himself than others. That said, Adobe Garamond, one of the most popular Garamonds today is a very handsome font

  • Determining there is a difference between two things because one is significantly different than a reference and the other is not.

    He also doesn't say what was compared. And the result is pretty marginal. Interesting, but definitely not the law of nature he implies.

  • How would you know, when I viewed the linked quiz it was helvetica. The 1.5% might be linux users!
  • They responded to a passage from asked to agree or disagree to a passage

    Good thing the editors were not involved in this study. They would have had to read the passage... and then respond to a passage from asked to agree or disagree to a passage.

    I mean, honestly.

  • It is Fabiola Gianotti that used Comic Sans because she liked it. Not Lisa Randall. RTFA - or at least the relevant parts.
  • While it is the rare occasion in Slashdot when we are talking about fonts, I gotta mention that I have become really enamored to Segoe UI as a screen font. So this is the default UI font you see in Windows 6.x. I use it even in Ubuntu, heh.
  • the summary is written in another font, so i must disagree.

    Ok, because of that and that the choosing on the font probably is influenced by other things, popular enough (don't know, i.e. old prints of the bible or old style scientific papers) written in that font or similar enough ones in key aspects that rigs our judgement.

  • When I bought Kindle one of the things I wondered is why does this thing allow me change the font? Isn't it supposed to be the part of the book composition?

    Dunno if it helps or hurts in non-fiction books, but IMO it really helps the author to convey the mood in fiction literature.

  • FTA -- "Are the results the product of chance? To address this question, Dunning calculated the p-value for each font. Grossly simplified, the p-value is an assessment of the likelihood that the particular effect we are looking at (e.g., the effect produced by Baskerville) is a result of a meaningless coincidence. [10] The p-value for Baskerville is 0.0068 [snip explanation of P-values]... The conservative approach is to divide 5 percent by the number of tests. Thus, the p-value to dismiss chance falls to 0

  • I'm no fontographer, but I really like Gentium, and have for many years. It's capitals are not as tall as the ascenders, and the bow of h and n give a distinctive flavor to the text. With Gentium the two letters r and n run together (rn) look nothing like the letter m, but with Baskerville it is difficult to distinguish them.

    Any other takers for Gentium?

  • This study just corroborates what I already knew. People are shallow. Especially all you Comic Sans haters. I think half the Comic Sans hatred is just because it has become trendy to hate Comic Sans.

    • This study just corroborates what I already knew. People are shallow. Especially all you Comic Sans haters. I think half the Comic Sans hatred is just because it has become trendy to hate Comic Sans.

      I think Comic Sans hatred comes from having to read things in Comic Sans.

    • by CCarrot (1562079)

      This study just corroborates what I already knew. People are shallow. Especially all you Comic Sans haters. I think half the Comic Sans hatred is just because it has become trendy to hate Comic Sans.

      First World Problems. Slashdot is full of articles about them lately, and people who like to bitch and moan about them.

      Anyone who flies into a rage at seeing a font they don't like has to step back from the screen and get out of the basement/cave for a while...a looong while. Get out and volunteer to be a Big Brother or something, seriously.

      btw, if I could've, I would've written this entire post in Comic Sans, for all the fans out there :P

  • Baskerville is a good font. Maybe not the best for everything, but nice. Definitely preferable to shit like Bleeding Cowboy

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