To: Dan Zak, reporter, The Washington Post
Re: The last word on periods, period.
How are you doing, you insufferable twit?
It has been four years since I last wrote to you here about your public suggestion that I am mentally ill for using two spaces at the end of a sentence, an unbreakable habit from the era of manual typewriters that you contended was an indication not just of my advanced age but of my advancing senescence.
I responded with maturity, restraint and equanimity. I admitted error, but pleaded addiction. I appealed to your compassion and empathy, on the off-chance you actually had any compassion and empathy, unlike most millennials, who to my understanding have been known to “moisturize” by bathing in the tears of starving orphans. In short, I was kind to you, even deferential.
It turns out I was too hasty, and far too accommodating.
I take it you’ve read the latest news from the world of academic science, right? If not, let me summarize. Three researchers at Skidmore College did an experiment — in my opinion, one of the five most important experiments in human history, after Pavlov and Pasteur, perhaps, but right beside Galileo — establishing that two spaces after a period is preferable. It enhances clarity. It makes reading easier and faster.
We will pause while that sinks in. To make it easier for you to understand, Dan, I have added an extra space between this sentence and the previous one.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking this is probably junk science, which is why I am currently interviewing Rebecca Johnson, PhD at Skidmore, who led the research team.
Me: Was this a scientific study conducted by actual science people in a science place?
Dr. Johnson: Yes! We have done extensive work using eye-tracking methodology, monitoring the eye movements of readers as they engage in normal silent reading. The amount of time that people spend fixating on the text provides us with an index of the degree of processing difficulty of the text. We used a tower-mounted EyeLink 1000 eye tracker. It samples the location of the eye 2,000 times per second and has a spatial accuracy down to 0.15 degrees of visual angle. It has a 60-degree horizontal by 40-degree vertical trackable range. It uses an infrared illuminator to detect the pupil fixation location based on the corneal reflection. Here are some other big words I know: Heteroscedasticity. Lateral interference. Orthographic uniqueness point. Multicollinearity.
Me: Did you use standard deviations?
Dr. Johnson: We used standard deviations and arithmetic means.
Me: You are the most scientific person I have ever spoken with and I believe you will someday win the Nobel Prize in medicine, physics, or both.
Dr. Johnson: Thank you.
Me: Did you and your researchers wear white lab coats while conducting this experiment?
Dr. Johnson: Excellent question. Actually, because we aren’t typically dealing with human fluids or dangerous chemicals, we don’t wear white lab coats. Sometimes we even wear open-toed shoes. I can see where this could lead to concern and invalidate the results of our study. Come to think of it, I’m surprised that the lack of white lab coats didn’t get caught during the exhaustive peer-review process where multiple experts in the field evaluated my work and provided extensive feedback on multiple drafts prior to its publication in a top journal in visual perception. I can promise you that we will wear white lab coats in our follow-up study so that the science is solid.
Me: On your authority, may I inform Mr. Dan Zak that he is full of it?
Dr. Johnson: Sure, whatever. Who is Mr. Dan Zak and what is he full of, and why?
Me: He knows quite well who he is, and as to the other stuff, he’ll find out soon enough.