I have no data to back up this observation, but it's something I have noticed consistently in research talks and teaching material: People from the theoretical CS community seem to use Comic Sans a lot, a font-face that emulates the look and feel of hand-drawn fonts in comic books. Is this merely a convention or is there a deeper reason behind it?

EDIT1: Since a couple of users requested examples, here's what I came up with in a 5-minute search:

EDIT2: The point of this question is not to collect opinions, but to find out reasons why TCS people use Comic Sans (and the answers so far already did an excellent job in this matter).

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    @Coder I don't think I've seen a math talk with slides in comic sans even once in my life. In fact it's very rare for the slides to use any font other than "Computer Modern" (the default LaTeX font)... – user9646 Apr 15 '17 at 6:18
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    I never (I mean ever) saw any TCS presentation using Sans Serif. Are you sure you talk about TCS? and are you sure you talk about SansSerif and not Euler Math font of latex? – PsySp Apr 15 '17 at 8:58
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    There are subfields in TCS. Would you please specify your subfields in TCS? Or give us some examples? I myself never noticed it just by reading online ppt/LaTex pdf files. Maybe I missed it? – scaaahu Apr 15 '17 at 9:46
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    As a comic book reader, I take offense when people say that Comic Sans "emulates the look and feel of hand-drawn fonts in comic books". It doesn't look or feel like actual comic book lettering. – jamesdlin Apr 15 '17 at 11:21
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    @gnasher729 Well, what does it say about you that you interpret my interest in the TCS research culture as complaining? – lighthouse keeper Apr 15 '17 at 19:15

There's no deeper reason behind it. I think people just like it, particular its informal feel.

Theoretical computer science is a pretty informal and laid-back field. Although in many fields Comic Sans would be considered unprofessional, the standards for "unprofessional" in TCS are much more relaxed. For example, I've observed that it's far more common for professors and students to be on a first name basis with people in the TCS world, and the tone in which papers are written are much less formal. It is typical for times problems to be described with little narratives or jokes, and often problems retain names based on how they were originally presented. For example, there’s the Handshake Lemma, the Traveling Salesman Problem, and the Arthur-Merlin Protocols. That’s not to say that informal names and presentations of theorems don’t exist in other fields, but in TCS I would go as far as to say it is typical.

Heck, in his recent landmark paper on Graph Isomorphism, Laszlo Babai wrote something that could very reasonably be interpreted as a sex joke. In many fields innuendoes such as the one found in his paper would be considered wildly inappropriate. I don't know if the sex joke was intentional, but the line (although it's been noticed by many people) hasn't seems to cause any blowback or embarrassment.

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    "and the way papers are written are much less formal" I disagree with that, at least in the scientific content (unless you mean on the tone of the paper, which I agree and which you should clarify to avoid obvious misunderstandings) – PsySp Apr 15 '17 at 8:56
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    "Theoretically computer science" or "Theoretical computer science"? I don't know about any theory that predicts the formality of an academic field. (Is an academic field like a magnetic field but emitted by academies?) – user253751 Apr 15 '17 at 11:23
  • @PsySp Fixed, and same to Immibis – Stella Biderman Apr 15 '17 at 12:24
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    +1 for making me read a graph isomorphism paper to spot a sex joke (as a non-native speaker, I only got it because I watched the Austin Powers movies). – lighthouse keeper Apr 15 '17 at 12:32
  • Hmmm. Most of us use Macs and have since 1984. And we are very funny. – Buffy Jul 15 '18 at 12:51

This phenomenon is not limited to theoretical computer science or academia.

The reason for this is plainly:

  • Most users do not think longer than a few seconds about their font choice and its effect. Thus it happens that they think using a comic/quirky/sloppy font is a good idea for a professional talk – even though it’s the typographical equivalent to giving your talk in a clown costume.

  • Once they made this choice, this kind of users wants to realise their intention with minimum effort. Hence they browse through their list of fonts – which is most likely the same as the operating system’s default. On many popular operating systems, this will inevitably lead to Comic Sans – even though it’s rather ugly and worn-down for a clown costume.

Now the field influences how “professional” people are. In a field where formal attire is customary, I would expect Comic Sans to be less likely – but I have already witnessed professors for medicine giving talks in tie, suit, and Comic Sans. Also the field’s predisposition to LaTeX may have an effect as it’s a little bit more difficult to use Comic Sans there.

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    Not related to computer science, but Comic Sans is supposedly a good font to use for teaching children to read. – astronat Apr 15 '17 at 8:06
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    @astronat: There are much better fonts for that purpose. Keep in mind that Comic Sans was created in a very short time without that particular goal. There is no reason to expect that it hit the bull’s eye and is the best choice for this purpose. (Further reading). – Wrzlprmft Apr 15 '17 at 8:12
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    "even though it’s the typographical equivalent to giving your talk in a clown costume" - thankfully typography probably isn't even in the top 20 most important things to think about when giving a talk :-) – Rob Grant Apr 15 '17 at 11:58
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    This answer makes me wonder what clothes would be the "typographical equivalent" of Computer Modern (with and Sans Serif), Arial or Times New Roman. – Dirk Apr 15 '17 at 12:47
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    @JouniSirén : I suspect many LaTeX users do not know how to change font even if they did want it :) – Mark K Cowan Apr 15 '17 at 17:06

I don't use it in slides, but I did consciously choose it for use for some time. My reason was that because of its design, it is very much easier to distinguish different letters visually that could be confused (i/I/l/1 etc) at first glance, and for computer based work that can be very important. The instant clarity of what I'm looking at was worth it and it was otherwise easy to read. (Spend 3 hours trying to figure out an issue only to find it's a 1 not an I, or an i not an l somewhere ..... I removed the problem by choosing a font for my text editor that excluded the problem entirely)

It was the closest widely available font to otherwise-"standard" fonts like arial, to clearly shape these letters differently enough to be immediately clear.

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  • What font did you choose for your text editor? (And what is your text editor?) – aparente001 Apr 16 '17 at 17:15

The reason I heard from a professor who does this is that slides in Comic Sans are more memorable. Apparently during an exam students are more likely to remember the poorly placed explanation with the spelling mistake in Comic Sans than the perfectly aligned, worded and spelled explanation in Computer Modern.

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    What you say there is either ridiculous, or it is true. Or both. I wonder if there are any citations for this. – gnasher729 Apr 15 '17 at 19:06
  • @gnasher729 There is actually some research in this direction. – lighthouse keeper Apr 16 '17 at 11:31
  • @lighthousekeeper - I'm confused. I skimmed the article you cited, just a bit, and it looked as though the authors used Arial as the "easy to read" font and Comic italicized grayscale as one of the harder to read fonts. That seems contrary to what Stilez said. – aparente001 Apr 16 '17 at 17:21
  • @aparente001 Indeed, this seems to be a methodological problem of this study - the authors assume that Comic Sans is hard to read (like the professor in nwp's answer did), without providing a rationale for this assumption. – lighthouse keeper Apr 16 '17 at 17:59
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    @aparente001 But then, this problem wouldn't affect the interesting finding that the subjects performed better with Comic Sans Italized than with Arial. – lighthouse keeper Apr 16 '17 at 18:05

I think the reason is that a lot of academics and academic disciplines are by nature anti-establishment. What better way to show that then Comic Sans as a font.

I think of it is the equivalent of academics wearing shorts or Hawai shirts to work etc. Basically it's saying judge us by our work not by looks, dress, fonts or other such secondary features. In a slightly different sense it's mocking the establishment with their suits and ties and cow-towing to convention and authority. Universities pride themselves on being iconoclasts.

Now even within academia individual Departments can be less or more conservative. e.g. Economics / Business would run on the conservative side. On the other hand programmers etc. are on the liberal side.

And hence the comic sans.

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    academics and academic disciplines are by nature anti-establishment What on Earth are you talking about?! – user9646 Apr 18 '17 at 7:47

While the evidence on Comic Sans and dyslexia may still be anecdotal, there is indeed evidence that some fonts are easier for dyslexics to read. That's why I prefer Verdana. Plus, Verdana clearly distinguishes lower-case "ell", upper-case "eye", and number "one".

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