[whatwg] Mathematics on HTML5

James Graham jg307 at cam.ac.uk
Thu Jun 1 11:25:49 PDT 2006

juanrgonzaleza at canonicalscience.com wrote:
> James Graham wrote:
>> In this situation, I imagine most scientists will simply write LaTeX and
>>  use a tool to produce the output format that they desire.
> I doubt because LaTeX has not the sufficient capabilities for a full web
> design.

Let me address this one point because it is _by_far_ the most significant point 
of any discussion related to mathematical publishing. The majority of people who 
publish mathematical content know one or zero languages for typesetting 
mathematics. Invariably that one language is LaTeX (they may zero if they rely 
on a tool such as Microsoft Word. For example Blackwell publishing will accept 
submissions only in LaTeX or Microsoft Word format. arXiv.org will only accept 
submissions in LaTeX format. The Astrophysics Journal will accept LaTeX 
(recommended), MS Word or Wordperfect. I could go on but at least in academic 
fields, LaTeX is either the only format accepted for publication or the 
preferred format.

Note also that very very few people have the slightest interest in the 
publishing process itself. They simply wish to achieve high quality results at a 
minimum of effort. This means that they will not be prepared to invest any time 
in learning a new language, particularly one that is not already widely accepted 
(chicken and egg problem) or is harder to use than the language they are 
familiar with. You may think I am overstating this but I disagree - bear in mind 
that a significant fraction of astronomical (chosen merely because it is the 
field I know best) software is written in Fortran 77. For many of these people 
almost 30 years of language design has never happened.

So, in general the people likely to be publishing mathematical content to the 
internet have _no_ interest in writing their content in any format other than 
LaTeX and especially not to a verbose format of the type that fits the XML data 
model. This is why the web is liberally sprinkled with the ugly gif output of 
latex2html. If we want this situation to change, the _only_ solution is to allow 
LaTeX as a document creation format. If, or whatever reason MathML is a poor 
target language for TeX->foo converters then maybe we should talk about 
improving the situation. But authors _will_not_ learn anything other than LaTeX.

I should say that, as far as I can tell, using LaTeX as the input language isn't 
the accessibility disaster that you make out. For example [1] recommends that 
educational software providers supply equations in LaTeX format so that 
LaTeX->Braille converters can render the content for blind users and [2] 
apparently demonstrates a LaTeX to speech converter. Also, there is nothing to 
stop authors with some altruistic or professional desire to add extra 
accessibility information from doing so.

Given that we cannot expect authors to create mathematical content directly in 
an XML language, the verbosity of the output language is almost irrelevant - it 
should be easy to process by the computer rather than easy to read (in the same 
way that postscript, say, is suboptimal for direct authoring but is still a 
useful output format).

[1] http://ncam.wgbh.org/cdrom/guideline2000/6.html
[2] http://www.cs.cornell.edu/Info/People/raman/aster/aster-toplevel.html
"You see stars that clear have been dead for years
But the idea just lives on..." -- Bright Eyes

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