Tom MacWright


This will be a short one. This is one of many periods in recent history when important things are happening and it’s silly to write about programming. Your attention is better spent elsewhere, right now.

Things happened. I read MBS and Bird by Bird (great!) and Trick Mirror and Brotopia (less great!). I wrote Second Guessing the Modern Web and everyone agreed with me so much that I’m a little nervous.

An update to my November 2018 Recently where I expressed concern that Sans Forgetica, a font “scientifically designed to help you remember,” didn’t have any verifiable scientific evidence for its claims. I feared that it would be hyped and included in software and used by desperate students and then we’d discover that it didn’t work.

That appears to be the case. The first peer-reviewed study was published in mid-April and indicates that the font has a neutral or negative effect on memory.

Furthermore, adoption of these fonts could have more serious ramifications. After all, if students put their study materials into Sans Forgetica in the mistaken belief that the feeling of difficulty created is benefitting them, they might forego other, effective study techniques. Instead, we should encourage learners to rely on the robust, theoretically-grounded techniques developed by scientists working at the forefront of cognitive psychology and education, that really do enhance learning.

RMIT’s own research hasn’t been published. This wasn’t a case of journalists overstating the results of a preprint article to the chagrin of researchers. RMIT actively promoted Sans Forgetica with the help of an ad agency, and with the language of science.

Anyway, there are bigger issues right now. 👋 Stay safe out there.

June 1, 2020  @tmcw