July 06, 2012

A Substantial Image

What's in a name? Would a font by any other name be as hated, or would it convey the content of the words any differently? I'm talking about comic sans font, its detractors, and the scientist who use that font. You see, CERN decided that it was high time to admit that they have possibly found something that could be a Higgs Boson (this is how a scientist talks when they're only 99.9998% sure about something). They decided to use comic sans in their presentation slides. This has not been taken well by the internet.

Now, the sci-ence comic isn't that big a deal - They're a comic; they're allowed to make snarky comics about such things. But really, Verge, 256 comments, many of them vitriolic? Yes, comic sans is slightly whimsical. But it is also easy to read, is widely available, and starts with 'c', so it's near the top of the list of fonts you need to scroll through to find a font.  I haven't heard of CERN science teams submitting research to journals using comic sans. Nor has there been a ruckus raised over their use of comic sans for their press releases. No, the only time they used comic sans was in their presentation to an auditorium of people who worked on the project. They were jubilant, and can be forgiven for feeling slightly whimsical.

Or maybe they just wanted something that was easy to read. This was being presented to a fairly large crowd, with a video feed to the internet. Legibility may have been an important factor. Or maybe the creator of the slides wasn't concerned too much with the font, and went with the first one they liked.

This whole thing seems rather shallow. "Oh my!" cries the internet, "the particular shape of these perfectly readable letters is not to my aesthetic satisfaction! Quick, we must write about this absurdity, for that is far more important than what those scientists were actually talking about!" Apparently form is everything and content is nothing. Image far outweighs substance.

And isn't that what really matters? The discovery of a new fundamental particle is truly historic. Thousands of people have spent uncountable hours of their lives in pursuit of this discovery. It has taken decades, and there were many setbacks. But they kept at it, steadily plugging along until finally, at the end of all that hard work, they had a graph with a bump right where they expected a bump to be. This is far more awesome than I just described. Ultimately, I don't care what font is used to present amazing new discoveries; I care that the discovery was made. So long as the slides are legible, I am happy.