Randy’s Response to the Anti-Dvorak Crusaders

One poorly written anti-Dvorak article has had more press in the last several years than the Dvorak keyboard itself. Written by Stan Liebowitz and Stephen Margolis, it has been published in journals, magazines, and web sites again and again and again — even though The Dvorak Keyboard author Randy Cassingham debunked it years ago. Yet the authors still repeat the same tired old stuff again and again, as if they’ve never heard that many of the things they keep saying are plain wrong!

Here, for instance, is a letter from 1996. The authors did read it at that time and it was published in Reason. Yet their meritless anti-Dvorak campaign continued.

Letters to the Editor
REASON Magazine
3415 S Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 400
Los Angeles CA 90034-6064

30 May 1996

Dear Editor:

The eight rambling pages by Stan Liebowitz and Stephen Margolis ("L&M") in your June issue devoted to slamming the Dvorak keyboard was not up to the standard I expect from REASON. While I agree that Dvorak's slow acceptance may not be a good example of why markets can't be "trusted," L&M first slander "Typewriting Behavior", the 1936 book by Dvorak, et al., presenting the keyboard's design as "a late-night television infomercial rather than scientific work". Rather, the 500+ page book stuffed with charts and design details is, in the preface, clearly noted as part of "a series of commercial education [books] to result from" their studies, which they gratefully acknowledge were funded by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (not the "Carnegie Commission"). L&M claim that they "discovered" this support, as if it were somehow hidden from public view. Hidden in the preface of the book?

They claim the 1944 Navy study was difficult to find, and the author's names were hidden from public view. My publishing company has had copies of the report available for 15 years (and copies of "Typewriting Behavior", for that matter). It clearly shows it was "Prepared by Training Section, Departmental Services Division of Shore Establishments and Civilian Personnel, Washington D.C." -- not an atypical attribution for a government study.

Their coup de grâce, though, is the GSA's 1956 study by Earl Strong. L&M conclude that because there has been "no attempt to ...discredit the GSA study", academics and journalists are not living up to their high standards when writing about the Dvorak. L&M didn't do their homework: Dvorak supporters would simply say "been there, done that." Example: my 1986 book, which L&M could probably have found in their university libraries, spent several pages pointing out gross bias behind the GSA study. Harvard's Richard Land was quoted as saying the GSA test was "poorly designed," that "the conclusions are overstated," and that the data actually showed "great promise" for further improvement by the Dvorak typists which Strong ignored. When other researchers wanted to see the raw data so they could draw their own conclusions, they found that Dr. Strong had destroyed it all! This is an example of the high standards L&M aspire to? Further, Strong was clearly biased: in 1949, he wrote "I am out to exploit [the 'present keyboard'] to its very utmost in opposition to the change to new keyboards," and there is evidence of a personal animosity between Drs. Strong and Dvorak.

I agree with L&M on another thing: there is a need for good-quality, unbiased studies on Dvorak. The best raw data I have access to at present is from KEYTIME, a Seattle-based company which uses keyboard instructional technologies they developed in house. In the past nine years, they have trained several hundred typists on Dvorak, and several thousand on Qwerty, using the exact same equipment and teaching methodologies. They have "repeatedly found" that after 15 hours of training and practice time, existing Qwerty hunt-and-peck typists can touch type at an average 20 WPM. After 15 hours of training and practice on Dvorak, similarly able (Qwerty) typists consistently average 25-30 WPM touch-typing on Dvorak. Further, KEYTIME reports that the Dvorak typists continue to improve at a higher rate. They have noticed a recent "a change in tide" of students wanting to learn Dvorak over Qwerty.

L&M say that "the advent of computer keyboards, which can easily be reprogrammed, ...lowers the cost of converting to Dvorak to essentially zero" (true, yes), but "few computer users have adopted the Dvorak keyboard." May I inquire as to the whereabouts of their "high standard", statistically valid study to support this statement?

Your authors note that "there is further evidence of Qwerty's viability in its survival throughout the world." Indeed: since 1936, this has also been good proof of Dvorak's viability.

L&M close with "the story of Dvorak's superiority is a myth or, perhaps more properly, a hoax." Concluding that there is some sort of conspiracy afoot among the obviously grass-roots 60-year support for the Dvorak is paranoia, not academic theory.



Randy Cassingham
Author, "The Dvorak Keyboard" (1986, Freelance Communications)

Author Randy Cassingham is best known as the creator of This is True, the oldest entertainment feature on the Internet: it has been running weekly by email subscription since early 1994. True is social commentary using weird news as its vehicle so it’s fun to read. Click here for a subscribe form — basic subscriptions are free.