james souttar questions whether digits in tables really do have
to align. he wonders
Perhaps this usage is a legacy of the days when columns of figures
had to be calculated manually (four and carry two, etc.). Of course,
there are many instances of tables where figures are not totalled, as
in timetables. In these cases the greater legibility of non-lining
figures would surely be beneficial.
i'm sure this usage is indeed a legacy of those days. but i still
believe that lining figures are useful in certain situations.
in a "former life" i was introduced to some of the techniques of
numerical analysis, and in summer jobs during my college days i
was an engineering draftsman. i had occasion to use the absolutely
monumental work of the u.s. national bureau of standards --
published tables of numerical values of functions. although these
were prepared very, very carefully, nonetheless, errors did creep
in. having the figures in strict columns (we are talking about
some numbers of 10 or more digits) made it much easier to make the
visual comparison between adjacent entries to spot glitches than
if the digits had simply been their natural width and left-,
right-, or decimal-aligned. granted, with computers now doing
most of the drudge work there are very few people still involved
in this arcane pursuit. but i believe the principal still holds.
or for another view, ask someone who is responsible for preparing
or vetting a corporate annual report.