(Page 3 of 4)
Although this evidence looks like a slam-dunk for Dvorak, it is not.
First, it is not clear how the QWERTY typists were picked, or even if members of this group were aware that they were part of an experiment. The participants' IQs and dexterity skills are not reported for the QWERTY retraining group. Were their abysmal typing scores surprising, given their inherent abilities? It is difficult to have any sense whether this group is a reasonable control for the first group. Nor do we know if the QWERTY typewriters were newly overhauled. Nor do we know who retrained these typists.
Even worse, there is clear evidence that the results were altered through a series of inappropriate data manipulations. For example, the initial typing scores for the QWERTY typists were measured differently from the initial scores of the Dvorak typists so as to greatly disadvantage the QWERTY results. The report states that, because three typists in the QWERTY group had initial net scores of zero words per minute (!), the beginning and ending speeds were calculated as the average of the first four typing tests and the average of the last four typing tests. This has the effect of raising the measured initial typing speed, and lowering the measured ending speed. In contrast, the initial experiment using Dvorak simply used the first and last test scores. Using numbers reported in the footnotes of the report, we were able to calculate that this truncation of the reported values at the beginning of the test reduced the measured increase in typing speed on the QWERTY keyboard by almost half. The effect of the truncation at the end of the measuring period also decreases the reported gains for the QWERTY typists, though the size of this distortion cannot be determined from the report. The important thing, however, is that the numbers appear to be cooked in favor of Dvorak.
How can we take seriously a study which so blatantly seems to be stacking the deck in favor of Dvorak? And, indeed, there appears to have been good reason for that deck stacking.
We discovered that the Navy's top expert in the analysis of time and motion studies during World War II was none other than...drum roll please...Lieut. Com. August Dvorak. Earle Strong, a professor at Pennsylvania State University and a one-time chairman of the Office Machine Section of the American Standards Association, reports that the 1944 Navy experiment was conducted by Dvorak himself. Strong was heavily involved with these issues. He was the author of a key test of the typewriter keyboard commissioned by the General Services Administration.
As if the potential for bias were not great enough, we also discovered that Dvorak had a financial stake in this keyboard. He not only owned the patent on the keyboard but had received at least $130,000 from the Carnegie Commission for Education for the studies performed while he was at the University of Washington, a rather stupendous sum for the time.
Of course, the purported Navy results, if true, would be quite remarkable. After those first 10 days in which the investment is made and recovered, the faster typing continues every working day in the life of the typist. This would imply that the investment in retraining repays itself at least 23 times in one year. Does it seem even remotely possible that employers with large typing pools would turn down investments with returns of 2,200 percent a year?
Evidence Against Dvorak
Naturally, these false results were going to get found out. As many businesses and government agencies contemplated changing keyboards in the mid 1950s, the General Services Administration commissioned Strong's study to confirm the earlier results. This study provides the most compelling evidence against the Dvorak keyboard. It was a carefully controlled experiment designed to examine the costs and benefits of switching to Dvorak. It unreservedly concluded that retraining typists on Dvorak was inferior to retraining on QWERTY.
In the first phase of the experiment, 10 government typists were retrained on the Dvorak keyboard. It took well over 25 days of four-hour-a-day training for these typists to catch up to their old QWERTY speeds. (Compare this to the Navy study's results.) When the typists had finally caught up to their old speeds, the second phase of the experiment began. The newly trained Dvorak typists continued training and a group of 10 QWERTY typists (matched in skill to the Dvorak typists) began a parallel program to improve their skills. In this second phase the Dvorak typists progressed less quickly with further Dvorak training than did QWERTY typists training on QWERTY keyboards. Thus Strong concluded that Dvorak training would never be able to amortize its costs. He recommended instead that the government provide further training in the QWERTY keyboard for QWERTY typists.
The GSA study attempted to control carefully for the abilities and treatments of the two groups. The study design directly paralleled the decision that a real firm or a real government agency might face: Is it worthwhile to retrain its present typists? If Strong's study is correct, it is not efficient for current typists to switch to Dvorak. The study also implied that the eventual typing speed would be greater with QWERTY than with Dvorak, although this conclusion was not emphasized.
Much of the other evidence that has been used to support Dvorak's superiority actually can be used to make a case against Dvorak. We have the 1953 Australian Post Office study already mentioned, which needed to remove psychological impediments to superior performance. A 1973 study based on six typists at Western Electric found that after 104 hours of training on Dvorak, typists were 2.6 percent faster than they had been on QWERTY. Similarly, a 1978 study at Oregon State University indicated that after 100 hours of training, typists were up to 97.6 percent of their old QWERTY speed. Both of these retraining times are similar to those reported by Strong but not to those in the Navy study. But unlike Strong's study neither of these studies included parallel retraining on QWERTY keyboards. As Strong points out, even experienced QWERTY typists increase their speed on QWERTY if they are given additional training.
Ergonomic studies also confirm that the advantages of Dvorak are either small or nonexistent. For example, A. Miller and J Thomas, two researchers at the IBM Research Laboratory, writing in the International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, conclude that "no alternative has shown a realistically significant advantage over the QWERTY for general purpose typing." Other studies based on analysis of hand-and-finger motions find differences of only a few percentage points between Dvorak and QWERTY. The consistent finding in ergonomic studies is that the results imply no clear advantage for Dvorak, and certainly no advantage of the magnitude that is so often claimed.
Remington's early commercial rivals were numerous, offered substantial variations on the typewriter, and in some cases enjoyed moderate success. This should come as no surprise. Entrepreneurs in the late 19th century would have realized that the typewriter market was potentially vast, in the same way that Netscape, AT&T, and Microsoft are drooling over the potential of the Internet at the end of the 20th century.
The largest and most important QWERTY rivals were the Hall, Caligraph, and Crandall machines, which sold in relatively large numbers. Two other manufacturers offered their own versions of an ideal keyboard: Hammond in 1893 and Blickensderfer in 1889. Many of these companies went on to success in the typewriter market, although, in the end, they all produced QWERTY keyboards. So manufacturing prowess was not a problem for QWERTY's rivals.
In the 1880s and 1890s typewriters were generally sold to offices not already staffed with typists. Potential typists were learning to type from scratch. A manufacturer that chose to compete using an alternative keyboard had a window of opportunity, since standards were not yet established. As late as 1923, typewriter manufacturers operated placement services for typists and were an important source of typists to businesses. A keyboard that allowed more rapid training and faster typing should have done well. And switching old typewriters to a new keyboard was not particularly expensive--only $5.00 for resoldering in the 1930s.
There were also direct tests of these competing keyboards. Typing competitions, it turns out, were quite common in the late 1800s. The Cincinnati contest was not the rare event claimed by Beeching, and McGurrin was not the world's only touch typist. Once again, the facts have been twisted to make a better tale. We did a search in The New York Times in 1888 and 1889. We found numerous typing contests and demonstrations of speed involving many different machines, with various manufacturers claiming to hold the speed record.