Subject: Re: 8-space indents considered harmful
To: der Mouse <mouse@Rodents.Montreal.QC.CA>
From: Ian Dall <>
List: tech-kern
Date: 01/24/2000 23:49:25
der Mouse  <mouse@Rodents.Montreal.QC.CA> writes:

> > As I see it, what we have here is academic research that tells us
> > that 2-4 space indents are superior to 8-space indents.
> Severely flawed - "broken", even - research.

And not even qualified by a "possibly". This rather smacks of a knee
jerk reaction based on it not confirming your prejudices.

> - It started out trying to show what it ended up showing.

Be realistic. Every experiment is done to prove or disprove a
hypothesis. In this case it seems there hypothesis is not really about
code at all but about how human perception works. I can't imagine a
bunch of psychologists would have a vested interest in a particular
coding style.

> - It was done for a very different language (Pascal).

But human perception no doubt hasn't changed. It would be interesting
to see the experiment duplicated for C and other languages but in the
absence of those results, using the results one does have instead of
blind prejudice seems reasonable.

> - There were apparently no expert coders involved (this inferred from
>    the observation that even their supposed experts had nothing bad to
>    say about completely unindented code).

I thought they rated it low on readability. What are you looking for
a tirade? I think your measure of expertise is flawed.

> - The deeper-indented code was not written that way, but rather was
>    mechanically generated by reformatting code written with smaller
>    indentation levels.

That does indeed seem to be a deficiency. Whether you view it as a serious
one is up to you.

> More like, it seems to me, why should we pay attention to badly flawed
> research

Again, thats a pretty serious accusation to make about some work you
don't know much about!

> [...] in the face of (a) a
> notable lack of support from more than one person

Ah well, this does smack of tilting at windmills on the part of Mike
Cheponis, which is why I, and probably others haven't participated
before.  I think he has no chance of getting this through, but I
think he is right and applaud him for trying anyway.

I can't help but think that 8 spaces was based initially on lazyness.
In the days before smart editors, tabs were a lot easier than counting
spaces. The original reason no longer exists and the likelihood of
such a pragmatic decision being anything near optimum for other factors
seems slim to me.