HTML5 and alt: The editors new clothes
The HTML5 editor has recently stated in his defence of the alt being optional:
“We truly do believe in research, hard data, and analysis, rather than hypotheticals; and we truly do believe that evidence suggests that what we are arguing for is going to improve the accessibility of the Web.”
Problem is, no “research, hard data, and analysis” has been provided.
If the editor has such detailed research, please provide it so that the members of the HTML working group and those groups within the W3C WAI that have a stake in this issue, can use the “research, hard data, and analysis” to inform their decision.
Show us the goods
To put the matter in perspective:
What we don’t need from the editor is more Google code statistics and a bit of pseudo scientific prose, dressing the statistics up as facts to support his argument. What is required from the editor to back up his claims? A proper scientific study that is based on scientific method. Research with firm aims and objectives stated up front, with an agreed methodology.
For the sake of clarity, I have reproduced some information about the steps involved in the scientific method:
The scientific method has four steps
- Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
- Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
- Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
- Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.
If the experiments bear out the hypothesis it may come to be regarded as a theory or law of nature (more on the concepts of hypothesis, model, theory and law below). If the experiments do not bear out the hypothesis, it must be rejected or modified. What is key in the description of the scientific method just given is the predictive power (the ability to get more out of the theory than you put in; see Barrow, 1991) of the hypothesis or theory, as tested by experiment. It is often said in science that theories can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory.
If a scientific study with firm aims and objectives stated up front, and an agreed methodology is not forthcoming, we are in the position of reliance on expert opinion, rationale argument and the hope of concensus within the HTML WG or if not a vote on the issue. Whatever route is taken, let’s get this issue sorted so we can move on to other important accessibility issues within HTML5.