Announcing the Higgs Boson in Comic Sans

Scientists at the European research agency CERN announced recently that they had (or may have) discovered the Higgs boson, a new subatomic particle, which they believe gives mass to elementary particles.

This scientific discovery, which scientists have been looking for since around the middle of the last century, ranks among the most important in history, up there with the discoveries of gravity, of the earth’s being round, the theory of relativity, the TV remote control, and bacon & eggs.

The Higgs boson is so significant it’s often referred to as the “God Particle.” According to The New York Times, it’s “a key to understanding why there is diversity and life in the universe,” and without its force field, “There would be neither atoms nor life.”

With the announcement of such an important discovery, one would expect the news coverage and social media posts to be all about it’s meaning to the human race’s past and future. Much of it was.

But a good amount of the discussion was about the typeface used by the scientists in their slide presentation accompanying the announcement: Comic Sans.

This discussion was not positive.

Comic Sans was developed by Microsoft for a children’s comic package. It is hated by many type enthusiasts because, they say, it’s not a well-crafted typeface; it is, indeed, child-like; and, worse, it is a cartoonish font. Holly Combs, who founded the Ban Comic Sans movement, is quoted in the Guardian as saying “that using it in most contexts is a bit like turning up to a black-tie event in a clown costume.”

The announcement of the Higgs boson discovery is, for sure, a black-tie affair, if being “black-tie” means being the most serious of occasions.

That’s why the critics feel the typeface is completely wrong for the announcement. One tweet said, “Seriously, I’m not a fan of bashing Comic Sans…but presenting your god particle research with it is like playing J.S. Bach on a ukulele.” The Smithsonian.com goes so far as to ask how important we would have taken Newton’s announcement of the discovery of gravity if it had been made in Comic Sans. Another website asks, “Doesn’t the most important scientific discovery of this century warrant the use of a classier font?”

Perhaps something clean and clearly legible, like Helvetica, Georgia, Times New Roman. Or any other font whose appearance matches the seriousness and gravity of the message: the goal, one would think, of any typeface.

2 responses

  1. Michael,
    Thanks for your insight about Bach. I agree with you that the notes put down and the musician who plays them are more important than the instrument on which they’re played.The Chris Thile piece is great. But I’m not sure that anyone playing the Higgs boson on Comic Sans is doing honor to this work.
    David

  2. Congrats on the new blog! I love commentary about font types. You have probably seen the movie “Helvetica” already, but if not, it’s a great watch!

    Also, I know it wasn’t your tweet, but just wanted to take a slight issue with the comparison to playing Bach on a ukulele. I would argue that it isn’t the medium on which Bach is played that is most important. It’s the notes Bach put down on paper and the musician that has the honor of interpreting them that really matter. Maybe the particle physicists felt similarly about the Higgs boson?

    Here’s Chris Thile playing Bach on a mandolin. Arguably just as beautiful and mesmerizing as any interpretation on the violin!

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