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This is essentially a duplicate of 27153, from math.SE.

I have noticed that there is a bunch of users that consistently refuse to use MathJax in their answers. One of these users, in particular, has been a member for more than six years and has posted several thousands of answers.

On math.SE the user Simply Beautiful Art asks what to do with these users, and essentially everyone agrees that the best course of action is to downvote and move on. I really don't want to do this, in part because I appreciate the effort these users put into this site, and in part because physics is not math: here words are often more important than formulas.

So, my question: what do we want to do here?

Is badly typed math (in the form of, say, F=ma^2 or a poorly cropped/pixelated image) acceptable at all? Or should we discourage this kind of behaviour? Do we agree that downvoting is the way to go? Or is there perhaps a better solution?

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  • $\begingroup$ Is there a way to 'force' edits that can't be reversed? $\endgroup$ – user172864 Nov 28 '17 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Phase not really. Mods can lock posts so that they cannot be edited no mo'. But, ideally, users would typeset their math themselves. Going around fixing posts is no fun -- especially when it is always the same user who is refusing to use MathJax. $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Nov 28 '17 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ Answering only the sub-questions in the last paragraph: I'm strongly against equations in images. The funny thing about your example of a plain text equation is that as with much of the plain text math on the internet it is in something approaching latex notation, so the user gains little by not slapping the $s around it. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Nov 28 '17 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ Note that a math.se answer might look confusing w/o MathJax while a physics.se one might be quite readable without, so there is a difference between the two sites $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 29 '17 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ Does anyone have good examples of posts that would be good if they were formatted properly? Essentially every post I've ever seen was either "Good, in spite of the formatting issues" or "Would be bad even if the formatting were fixed." And the former tend to be edited by someone pretty quickly anyway. $\endgroup$ – Chris Mar 31 '18 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ As someone who has only ever posted one answer with an equation in it (as an example from a particular scientific website) I have to admit I wouldn't have a clue how to put it into a mathjax format. Yes, I have read the instruction pages for it, but it's a complex equation and I have no idea how to make it work. $\endgroup$ – Rory Alsop Jan 6 at 0:03
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I see two relevant classes of users here:

  • The user in question is a relative newcomer, and they've come to rely on other people fixing posts with substantial amounts of mistyped math for them as if by magic. After a first few occurrences, a sharp indication that they need to do the formatting themselves is in order, followed by downvotes if the poster refuses to do that formatting.
  • The user in question has a long-running record of high-quality contributions, which for the most part don't involve math, and only use simple constructs when they do, and which are easy enough to edit in those cases. Here, while it would be nice if the user did that formatting themselves, I'm more inclined to let it slide, particularly when I gauge the user's likelihood of learning MathJax to be low.

I'm only aware of one user in that second class with over a thousand answers, and for that person I have yet to find an answer where the lack of MathJax annoys me.

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    $\begingroup$ I suppose I can get behind this. For the users in the first class, once they have a consistent history (i.e. more than a couple instances) of failing to use MathJax and aren't responding to comments asking them to do so, it's definitely okay to ask the mods to deliver that sharp indication. $\endgroup$ – David Z Nov 28 '17 at 21:32
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The hat fits me, and also it would fit older users . Everybody ages, and with age memory is not the same, particularly short term memory. I do try to use dollar signs around simple formulae, (since I found out that two $*$ in the paragraph turn everything into italics and destroy the simple formula ! ). The same care I take in spelling and syntax. (syntax sometimes is atrocious in some questions).

I use simple math and / and x and ^ . When more complicated formats are needed I use screen shots. I am grateful to edits for replacing screen shot formulas, even the simple small ones, (I guess people gain points by doing that).

The effort for remembering a new format grows with age.One of the reasons I participate here is to keep my physics memories alive, and I enjoy the effort. I do not think format is all that important , these answers are not going to a publisher to become a permanent book. If physics.SE wants to stick to format as the mathematics.SE does, it should be clearly stated.

Edit after comments:

I made the last sentence in bold.

In a comment blind and people with difficulties in vision were mentioned ( also older ones) where using mathjax would enable them to magnify the formulae in a tablet or screen sensitive device.

It would be interesting to see how many users of physics.SE consider themselves in this group. In my case, resistance to mathjax is accompanied with resistance to newfangled screens where not so steady fingers have to manipulate tiny areas.

It is the same as resistance to new cars, with oodles of electronics, give me a gear shift one any time. All of these new things need a lot of memorizing, motor memory too.

So I can just promise to use the dollar signs for simple expressions, and give links for any screenshot formulae I use. If mathjax becomes a rule, too bad. I will have to look elsewhere for my physics fun.

Edit

I thought this coincidence interesting:

Just saw on TV a young blind boy on the fourth year of a physics course in Thessaloniki university who won a summer student place in Oxford for astrophysics! the link is in greek. Last year he had won a place at MIT ! He plans to go for a PhD in the states. His professors talk of an exceptional mind. It seems there are computer based tools which can transcribe books to Braille.

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    $\begingroup$ One thing to keep in mind about math in images is that it is generally inaccessible to those using assertive technology, such as screen readers, whereas Mathjax equations can be read and explored even by those using assistive technology. If that is a community you care about, then that is a reason to use MathJax, even for simple equations, because it makes the distinction between math and text explicit, something that is important to such users. For example "ma" would be read as "em-ay" if marked as math, but "ma" if not. $\endgroup$ – Davide Cervone Mar 31 '18 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DavideCervone The community in general seems quite willing to edit posts to add MathJax, though. We certainly should make a point to add MathJax where necessary, but that doesn't mean every contributor necessarily needs to learn it- particularly those whose contributions don't involve that much math in the first place. $\endgroup$ – Chris Mar 31 '18 at 9:06
  • $\begingroup$ @DavideCervone screen shots cannot be used assertively or not, they can only be seen. Complicated formulae need to be accompanied by links for the screen shot. It is like reading the book. $\endgroup$ – anna v Mar 31 '18 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ @annav, sorry, I meant "assistive technology" not "assertive technology" (I hate autocorrect sometimes). I meant for things like screen readers, an image is not accessible. "They can only be seen" is the problem; they can not be read aloud. That is why I was encouraging the use of MathJax rather than images. I understand that not everyone will be able to do so, but wanted to point out one of the consequences of using images. I'm not sure what links you are intending, but how does that help blind users who can not tell what the image includes at all? They could if it were in MathJax. $\endgroup$ – Davide Cervone Mar 31 '18 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Chris, agreed, not everyone has to learn it. I wasn't trying to say that they did, and was only trying to point out one down side to using images that not everyone thinks of. It wasn't meant as an insult to anyone, only something to keep in mind. And also that it is a reason to use MathJax even for small or simple equations. f=ma will be misread by screen readers, whereas $f=ma$ can be read correctly. Similarly, the ax in ax+1 will be misread, while $ax+1$ can be read correctly. $\endgroup$ – Davide Cervone Mar 31 '18 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ @DavideCervone you are talking of a program that will read not the page as it appears on the screen when we say "post", but of the draft. But is that available? And anyway, is the number of blind physicists who still want to read physics using formulae a large one? I have never met one. $\endgroup$ – anna v Mar 31 '18 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ @annav, no I don't mean of the draft, I do mean the actual post. MathJax can turn the TeX notation you enter in your post into MathML that can be read by a screen reader (and has other support for assistive needs). This is done on the same page you are looking at when you read the posts, so blind readers can "read" posts with MathJax and get the full meaning in a way they can't when there are images. $\endgroup$ – Davide Cervone Mar 31 '18 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ @annav, I am not active in this community, so I don't know it very well, but I do not think that professional physicists are the only clientele. How about students (a larger group than just practicing physicists, and so more likely to include the blind)? Is this site only for physicists? Also, blindness is not the only reason to need assistive technology. Dyslexics also are helped by MathJax, and some colorblindness can find MathJax more useful than images (depending on the quality of the image). Also, MathJax output can be zoomed to larger sizes better than images. $\endgroup$ – Davide Cervone Mar 31 '18 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ That zooming can help people who can see, but not as well as they used to (e.g., the aging). $\endgroup$ – Davide Cervone Mar 31 '18 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ To rephrase Davide's point: we do realize that typesetting mathematics is an accessibility concern and that it is not easy to learn past a certain point, but please realize in turn that it does also impact other people's ease of use of the site, often in situations quite similar to your own. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Apr 1 '18 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty, thanks, that says it much more concisely than I did. $\endgroup$ – Davide Cervone Apr 1 '18 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty please se my edit $\endgroup$ – anna v Apr 2 '18 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ @DavideCervone with age I have discovered I am a bit dislectic, interchanging letters . My thoughts and my fingers get out of phase. Think what fun that would be writing formulae with a new language like mathjax. $\endgroup$ – anna v Apr 2 '18 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ Technical note: there's been no reference to tactile screens or tablets. All of the technology we've mentioned works just as well on desktop computers, which are a more natural home. A screen reader is simply a desktop application that will take a web page as displayed in a browser and read it out loud (which does not work with screenshots). It is also perfectly possible to zoom in on web pages on desktop browsers, in which case MathJax stays crisp under the zoom and formulae don't. None of this requires new technology and it can be done on a 1990s PC if one is so inclined. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Apr 2 '18 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ @annav, I sympathize with your situation. I am also somewhat dyslexic (e.g., when writing at the board, I often mix up "p" for "d" or "b"). I also sympathize with not wanting to learn something new (in my youth, I would learn new computer language just for fun, but those days are long past). I am not saying you need to use MathJax. You seemed to indicate, however, that using images was just as good, and I wanted to point out that that really isn't the case. It is still your decision, however, and one that I can't make for you. Do what works best for you, while keeping others in mind. $\endgroup$ – Davide Cervone Apr 2 '18 at 11:21
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If a user's posts are still a net positive to the community, there's no need to "deal with" them. Edit in the MathJax if you have the inclination, and, if not, someone else will probably do it eventually. Looking through the history of the Suggested Edits queue, it seems like we have a decent number of people willing to typeset a few equations here and there.

If their posts are so poorly formatted as to be a net negative to the community (i.e. if they require so much fixing that no one wants to do it, if they're unreadable, or if they have issues besides formatting), treat them as you would any other low quality post.

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Tell them it's easier than it looks. They can copy most of what they want from Wikipedia (in a lot of questions), and they can use the left key to read as Mathjax when they hover over the correctly formatted text.

A bonus point might work, for long sessions of slogging through it, but it will never get into the current system, I acknowledge that.

But most of what they want to say is already available, they just don't realise it.

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Is it possible for moderators or admins to deduct or withhold reputation points to users who repeatedly offend ?

Perhaps a "penalty" system should be considered if it's not possible now, so that mods could take action to make it and other repeat offenses clear ?

If not reputation could privileges be removed ?

I appreciate Mathjax and Latex may be a bit of an overhead to learn if you're not a regular user, but it's a pretty straightforward system and there is an entire Latex forum on SE as well as a help page on Mathjax. Once you get into it it's pretty easy to use and I see no excuse for regular users skipping it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well the "penalty" AFT says is done at Math.SE is for generic users to downvote and move on, but I don't think anyone here wants that. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 30 '17 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ It is possible for any site member to deduct rep from other users for posting content that's deemed 'bad' ─ it's called downvotes. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Nov 30 '17 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you both for the staggeringly obvious info, but I meant additional penalties for repeat offenders, i.e. outside of downvoting. We're discussing people who seem to not be affected and/or bothered by regular downvotes, so I'm wondering about more "kick in the pants" action to bring home the issue to them. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 30 '17 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ There is no such penalty system available to moderators - the sole penalty we can impose is suspending a user from the site entirely for a time, which I don't think is appropriate for the offense of failing to use MathJax. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Dec 1 '17 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind If we suspend them they can't fix the problem, but if we e.g. rescinded their reputation points or removed some privilege until they fixed the problem might it be more effective at getting the point across ? $\endgroup$ – StephenG Dec 1 '17 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ There's currently no mechanism for that and it's unlikely SE will implement one, so it's kinda moot to speculate about that. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Dec 1 '17 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenG That's called an answer ban, which is only triggered when the majority of a user's posts are below 0 votes. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Dec 3 '17 at 10:22

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