Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Monday, December 29, 2014

\(\bf\LaTeX\) vs. Word

According to research by psychologists, a controlled experiment of \(\rm\LaTeX\) vs. Word found that \(\rm\LaTeX\) users were slower and made more mistakes. There are many things I could say about this but others have already said most of it, so I will make only a few points.

First, they had pathetically-small sample sizes (10 in each group). This might even be related to their testing method, since they apparently wanted research published as fast as possible and the time needed to gather and test an adequate sample would interfere with that. (In other words, this is the scholarly equivalent of an all-nighter.)

Second, it looks like they didn't test the propensity to use \propto where \alpha belongs, or vice versa (the basis for this tweet).

Third, consider the following objection:

For anybody who has experience with both systems, it would be trivial to set up examples where MS Word utterly fails and LaTeX shines:

  • Set up 50 numbered equations, refer to them throughout the text, then change the equation order.

  • Have figures and their captions float to appropriate locations at the top or bottom of pages.

  • Change the order of figures in a document and fix all references to those figures.

Word supporters can reply by pointing out that it's possible to have soft-coded cross references and citations in Word. On the other hand, I only know this because it sometimes goes wrong (i.e., missing reference error messages where the cross reference belongs). On the gripping hand, those soft-coded cross references are used very rarely (i.e., most of the time when I check references in Word files in the course of my day job, they're hard coded), which might mean they're even harder to use than in \(\rm\LaTeX\).

Fourth, and most important: The article ends with:

And, second, preventing researchers from producing documents in LaTeX would save time and money to maximize the benefit of research and development for both the research team and the public.
In other words: We have ways to make you use Word. This is what is meant by Nudge. This is what we libertarians are talking about when we warn of the disadvantages of depending on grants. This is the problem with assuming that disagreement means the Other Side isn't fully informed. The step after that is to decide for others based on what they would have chosen only if they were Rational Like Us.

Finally, arrogance is not limited to physicists or engineers.

Addendum 1: Instead of Nudge, maybe the right term is Prick.

Addendum 2: I have an abridged version of this post at Small Sample Watch.


Anonymous Vader said...

Bah. FrameMaker is the way to go.

11:45 AM  

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