Physicist releases report on biggest physics discovery since Einstein in Comic Sans font

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Ohhhhh, the irony....

quadibloc's picture

I had thought you were joking, but a Google search found

http://www.rickey.org/god-particle-found-higgs-boson-live-video-stream-announcement/

I can think of a reason why this was done. Of the fonts likely to be handy - and, naturally, scientific and technical types will consider the choice of the ideal typeface to be a secondary consideration - Comic Sans has an appearance which might suggest handprinting in chalk on a blackboard, thus setting the right emotional tone for what is a relatively informal presentation.

Obviously, a more appropriate font will need to be made available to forestall a repetition of this faux pas. There are science and math types who dig type - think of Donald Knuth's Computer Modern - so I think we'll see something appropriate added to the selection of TrueType fonts included in Linux distributions in the next little while without a need for action by the typographic community.

Of course, there may have already been the ideal font for this purpose available as a free font, but "handy" trumps "free" for busy people.

EDIT:

A brief search on Dafont suggests that the œuvre of Kimberly Geswein might be likely to include something helpful in this regard. "Set Fire to the Rain", for example, might have worked. Or "Architect's Daughter". Or "Shadow of the Day".

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

The presentation was mind numbingly formal, using terms and words that a laymen would have no clue about, I certainly didn't. Also, the guy who went before just used the standard (since 2007) Calibri and looked legit, while her presentation looked a lot like a comic book, even if you take Comic Sans out of the picture.

Full talk is available here, but man, it is hard to sit through the whole thing unless your a trained scientist, possibly worth it though, if only to see Professor Higgs crying tears of joy...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAlgX4FNiyM

quadibloc's picture

@Ryan Maelhorn:
The presentation was mind-numbingly formal, using terms and words that a layman would have no clue about,

The former does not follow from the latter; printers as well as physicists can "talk shop" either formally or informally. As this was a very preliminary presentation of results that weren't polished, but instead rushed to the public eye due to the significance of the discovery, I would think that the presentation was at least perceived during its planning as "informal" in some senses of the term.

With members of the Press present, on the other hand, a certain level of formality is indeed inevitable.

Bendy's picture

See Nadine Chahine's article on Huffington Post.

Nick Shinn's picture

Comic Sans definitely has chalkboard appeal for scientists.
No smoke and mirrors (hence the bright color boxes do seem a bit wrong).
A lot of CS notoriety stems from its “funny” name.
Interesting that font choice would be noted, but not, say, the brand of the scientist’s informal attire (but perhaps on some fashion blogs?)

This CERN stuff is all hype, to justify the huge budget.
The relationship between physics and understanding the universe is such that we’ll never get there—always some new horizon.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Interesting that font choice would be noted, but not, say, the brand of the scientist’s informal attire

If she would have been wearing a clown suit there would have been.

This CERN stuff is all hype, to justify the huge budget.
The relationship between physics and understanding the universe is such that we’ll never get there—always some new horizon.

You don't really believe that do you? The study of physics has made our lives sooooo much better..

Nick Shinn's picture

The study of physics has made our lives sooooo much better..

That’s debatable.
But anyway, what’s quality of life got to do with media spin and the philosophy of science?

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Well you could always go back to creating all your faces in metal and limiting yourself to about 1/100 of the market you have access to now. No physics = no computers. Also, no airplanes, no cars, and no air conditioning.

riccard0's picture

Ryan, your vision is pretty naïve. Physics is almost always a post-facto process: first there is the application, then there is someone that tries to come up with a mathematical model of it.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I disagree, riccardo.

JamesM's picture

> Physics is almost always a post-facto process

I don't know the percentages, but in many cases the theory comes first. For example, the development of the atomic bomb in WW II was based on scientific theories that came first.

PublishingMojo's picture

Mathematicians, physicists, and engineers used to rely on a handful of workhorse faces (Times Roman, Computer Modern, etc.), not because they liked them, but because the more decorative fonts didn't include a comprehensive enough set of Greek characters and mathematical symbols for the content they were writing about.

And of course, they carefully avoided sans serifs, since they make it difficult to tell the numeral 1 from the lowercase l and the capital I.

So the choice of Comic Sans for this presentation seems less of a lapse of taste than a tool poorly suited to the job.

quadibloc's picture

@Nick Shinn:
The relationship between physics and understanding the universe is such that we’ll never get there—always some new horizon.

That may be. But, even if it is true that we will never totally understand the Universe, how does it follow from that premise that it is not worthwhile to work so that we understand more rather than less?

It is a good thing to have computers instead of doing calculations by hand, it is a good thing to have comfortable homes with central heating, it is a good thing to have modern dentistry and other aspects of modern medicine, it is a good thing to be able to read and write.

Of course, new physics doesn't seem to be required for new technology, which is more of an engineering matter. But our current feats of engineering do rest on scientific discoveries, even if they are relatively old ones like electromagnetism for the most part.

It's true that science has made wars deadlier, and while the "green revolution" may have saved a billion lives, science can't make it possible to follow our instincts and increase the size of our population exponentially forever.

But science should be valued because of what it can do: it gives us the power of having more and better choices. It can't make sure that we will make the right choices, or that other people will make the right choices, but that is no reason to throw it away.

enne_son's picture

I can't get too exercised about the use of Chalkboard / oops Comic Sans in the Fabiola Gianetti part of the presentation, just like I can't get too exercised about the use of PowerPoint, which Edward Tufte trashed. It might be that Comic Sans has become kind of a physics vernacular. It would be fun to have Fabiola say why it was used. I kind of like the ironies. Especially in comparison with the way new iProducts are rolled out. I'm reminded of a ppt by Sarah Rosen, one of Denis Pelli's students which takes a “graphic novel” approach!

Would I like to take the presentation and work it over from a information graphic and fine-typographic point of view? I don't know. I kind of like it as an artifact.

What does excite me is the narrative exemplification about how science works. You can hear about it at the end of the video [link posted by Ryan] at about 2:02:25, when Peter Higgs himself speaks. A longer version of the story is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apto_-b1oOo&feature=related starting at about minute 5.

Role-unit neurons with a triplex sensitivity in one of the higher levels of the visual cortex would be my Higgs boson. But the lack of them may be my Waterloo.

Also listen to Gerald Garulnik, from about 2:06:50, especially what he says after 2:08:15.

Nick Shinn's picture

…how does it follow from that premise that it is not worthwhile to work so that we understand more rather than less?

Who said it did?

Té Rowan's picture

What, ye worry? I'm sure they will use a proper Palatino in the final version.

oldnick's picture

So, what's the problem?

If you read the news articles carefully, the eggheads know that they've found something that might be the Higgs boson—or, at least, one of the five or six different variants that people said to be on the lookout for over the past forty-eight years—but, frankly, they are not sure. It may take months—or even years—to figure that out.

But, hey: they found something novel, so why not keep it light? After all, they could be wrong and the joke would be on them for making such a big fuss about it in the first place.

So, what says "only kidding" better than Comic Sans? Sometimes, the way out is the way in.

quadibloc's picture

@Nick Shinn:
Who said it did?

I'm glad to hear that you didn't. But your phrasing did lend itself to that misinterpretation.

dumpling's picture

I didn't like it because I found it hard to read, but maybe it's just the limited video resolution.

I would almost wonder whether anyone at the presentation itself even noticed. I would think that they would have been paying too much attention to the content to notice / care.

Of course, nobody would dare complain about her accent, even though it's at least as bad as the font.

hrant's picture

Why, was she on helium?

BTW, laymen might not consciously notice, but their brain does see everything.

hhp

bowerbird's picture

hrant said:
> laymen might not consciously notice,
> but their brain does see everything.

but, of course, their brains are concerned
solely and completely with laying women.

-bowerbird

oldnick's picture

Bowerbird,

Hrant is absolutely correct: your five external senses DO actually see what is REALLY happening.

Unfortunately, we humans are both blessed and cursed with a Sixth Sense—the sense of Self—which can be utterly confusticated about what "what we see" actually MEANS.

Which, if you actually understand what I am attempting to convey, is a pretty scary prospect.

Especially for you: you live in California, which has taken the concept of "alternative reality" to some pretty amazing and entertaining heights. If you don't actually LIVE in the state. Which, unfortunately, you do, so you're pretty much screwed.

However, take comfort in the fact that I feel your pain…for a safe distance of about three thousand miles.

quadibloc's picture

@hrant:
Why, was she on helium?

I didn't watch the one hour video yet; I saw a shorter one which had one of the other speakers; the graphics there used a different
typeface, which looked to me like one that would get general approval here. That speaker had an accent, which was obviously because his first language was German.

Which is to be expected, given the location of the CERN facility in question, the Large Hadron Collider. Complaining about their accents has no point, because they are not residents of an English-speaking country, nor are they pop singers - thus, they spend their time on their science rather than further brushing up their language skills.

hrant's picture

Agreed. And nothing is worse than the results of "accent reduction" classes...
I was just making a joke RE balloons <- clowns <- Comic Sans.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

@hrant:
I was just making a joke

I see no reason to take my post as a criticism of yourself; I could have understood if dumpling did that. Although it wasn't really intended as a criticism of him either, as I am not fond of political correctness, even though I believe in equality: what political correctness ends up doing is giving the legitimate concern for equal rights a bad rep.

This created some confusion in another recent thread, where my noting that Papyrus was popular, and simulation faces unpopular, due to the present climate was interpreted by one poster as a denunciation of simulation fonts on my part... in which I manfully strove to resist rising to the bait.

Accents can be an impediment to communication, even where it would be unproductive to complain about them. And, for that matter, it isn't bigotry for employers to insist that employees have the ability to use correct spelling and grammar when writing, where external communications are part of the job, even if this is a barrier to people for whom English (or whatever other language is local) is a second language. As long as reasonable allowances are made, and qualifications of this nature are not sought when not required, as an artificial means of exclusion, there should not be a problem with employers seeking what they require.

One could, legitimately, criticize English spelling, like Chinese characters, as an artificial barrier to social mobility - but a project of language reform is something one has to expect to be difficult to either initiate or bring to fruition.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Interesting that nobody has noted that Comic Sans is (or was) pretty much THE go-to font for presentations in the high-energy particle physics community. I have this from my aunt and uncle, who are both quite prominent in that community, and have been for a very long time. They found Comic Sans worked quite well for their needs, except they had a complaint about the shape of the lowercase lambda, which I passed on to the relevant folks at Microsoft....

quadibloc's picture

I actually ran across a web page recently where Comic Sans was used in a reasonable and tasteful manner:

http://www.taiwanesedictionary.org/

enne_son's picture

[Thomas] “Interesting that nobody has noted that Comic Sans is (or was) pretty much THE go-to font for presentations in the high-energy particle physics community.”

I thought this might be the case. I speculated above that “[i]t might be that Comic Sans has become kind of a physics vernacular.”

Nick Shinn's picture

…rushed to the public eye due to the significance of the discovery…

Surely they would rather have had more conclusive, more substantial results to announce.
The announcement was rushed out before the purse-wielding powers-that-be took off for their summer vacation.
CERN is desparate to save face and preserve funding during the ongoing international economic slowdown.

Soon, while everybody is still on the beach, the hard results (rather than the PR summary), which will not be quite so impressive as the hype, will be published, to little fanfare, and scientific response (hopefully there will be some really wacky theories) will start trickling in.

quadibloc's picture

@Nick Shinn:
Surely they would rather have had more conclusive, more substantial results to announce.
The announcement was rushed out before the purse-wielding powers-that-be took off for their summer vacation.
CERN is desparate to save face and preserve funding during the ongoing international economic slowdown.

That may be part of it, but the significance of the discovery was a major factor. Because of the great interest in the existence of the Higgs boson, sitting on the results for a greater length of time would have created the possibility of leaks, and hence a need for security precautions that would have been awkward and time-consuming.

And to the extent that funding is an issue, a rushed preliminary announcement creates an impression of a significant discovery, and could thus be viewed as part of the hype, if one wants to be cynical. But the Higgs boson has received enough notice over the last decade that I don't think one needs to go to great lengths to make it seem important.

I've just read recent news reports, though, noting that while the particle detected is definitely a boson - having the right spin - and has the right mass, there are further measurements that are needed to determine if it really is the Higgs instead of just some random ordinary boson in that mass region.

John Hudson's picture

Hype, in my understanding, involves elevating excitement about something that isn't in itself exciting, typically through media manipulation, public relations, advertising etc. So whatever else a bunch of physicists in a lecture hall using Powerpoint to explain their discoveries to other physicists is, it doesn't seem to me hype. As to whether the thing itself is exciting, that seems to me to depend entirely on individual interest. Higgs and his colleagues theorised that in order for the standard model to remain viable there must be a field that gives mass to the particles that go through it, and on the basis of that theory predicted that a boson particle with specific properties would be found if one looked in a particular place. That's really good science: theory leading to prediction leading to experiment. And the announcement this summer is that yes, a boson was found exactly where predicted by Higgs and his colleagues, and now physicists need to determine its properties. Now, I happen to think this is exciting, and would have found an announcement of failure to find the boson exciting too, because either result has major implications for what remains our 'least incomplete' understanding of the physical universe. The fact that, after the experiment, the standard model is still looking pretty good, despite known problems with some aspects of it, is exciting to me because I find it exciting that human beings, through intelligence and ingenuity and mutual effort, have come to understand so much of the nature of physical reality. If that doesn't excite you, that's fine too: I don't think anyone is obligated to be excited by things that don't interest them. If you think its a waste of money, that's a legitimate concern, and there definitely is a debate to be had about the funding of the increasingly costly experiments at the fore edge of particle physics. I don't think one needs to denigrate the results of those experiments or characterise their publication as 'hype' in order to have that debate. I am interested in and excited by the latest CERN results and think the cost might be more than we should pay. On the other hand, as with footballer salaries, there is no guarantee that the money saved by not funding CERN would go to better or more worthy endeavours if not spent in that way.

paragraph's picture

Ohhhhh, the irony....

Over there are the scientists announcing they discovered something new happening, and here are we denouncing their use of Comic Sans? Good grief. This place sucks.

hrant's picture

Over here are the type lovers presenting their opinions on something typographic and here you are denouncing them? Good grief. (You can fill in the last part.)

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

I don't think one needs to denigrate the results of those experiments or characterise their publication as 'hype' in order to have that debate.

I’m not interested in that debate.

I pointed out that the announcement seemed premature (and the fact that CERN termed it an “Update” to the search for the Higgs boson would seem to confirm this), and that the economic situation might have had something to do with the timing of the announcement.

I mean, if you were looking for something and had told everybody you were, and you found something else that was kind of like what you were looking for, and may or may not be exactly that, would you trumpet the fact that you’d made a vague discovery, or wait till you were more sure what it was? If you went ahead and had a big press conference anyway, because your investors need to be reassured their money is producing results, I would say that’s hype, and I did.

Té Rowan's picture

Welcome to today's science world.

paragraph's picture

You are quite right, Hrant. Should not post late at night.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

It could have happened in Texas, in the 1990's. The SSC was going to have 8 times the power of the LHC.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superconducting_Super_Collider

hrant's picture

Thank you.

hhp

Thomas Phinney's picture

The debate on whether to fund the SSC took so many years that some physicists made a t-shirt for the "superconducting slug collider." I still have a T-shirt for it, with colliding banana slugs.

T

quadibloc's picture

Pretty well everyone knew at the time, though, that as soon as it was decided where the SSC would be put, almost all Congressional support for it outside the state in which it would be located would evaporate.

In Canada, this sort of thing doesn't happen - when you vote for an MP, you're choosing which national party to put in power, not to elect someone who has free rein to represent exclusively local interests.

HVB's picture

The banana slug is the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz, home of the management of the Lick Observatory - an older attempt to fathom the makeup of the cosmos.

- Herb

vinceconnare's picture

Actually the irony is that Fabiola Gionotti is the boss of a friend of mine, Professor Brian Cox OBE, who I have photographed for his media profile.

Fabiola Gianotti said she used Comic Sans because ' she just likes it'

HVB's picture

In other words, "Some of my best friends use Comic Sans".

5star's picture

Thx HVB , to know that a hermaphrodite is the mascot of the University of California seems reassuring.

:)

n.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Just UC San Diego. The UC system consists of many universities, each with its own mascot....

HVB's picture

No, Tom, it's just UC Santa Cruz ... not to be confused with the Anteaters of UC Irvine

Khaled Hosny's picture

I like Comic Sans myself, never understood why it is so much hated.

Té Rowan's picture

Comic Sans was very likely the only informal face that many Windows users had, so it got pressed into use for anything and everything informal. Well, that's the best reason I can think of for the highbrows wanting to call down the WAAAGH!!! on it.

Nick Shinn's picture

Think again. Highbrows have hormones too—CS just ain’t sexy enough.

quadibloc's picture

Cute publicity still from "This Island, Earth".

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