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Re: Mathematica notebooks the best method for technical communications (Was: Another stylesheet question)

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  • Subject: [mg87025] Re: [mg86975] Mathematica notebooks the best method for technical communications (Was: Another stylesheet question)
  • From: Andrzej Kozlowski <akoz at>
  • Date: Sat, 29 Mar 2008 04:24:14 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <fsd6lf$9fn$> <fsg6t7$jdd$> <>

I agree that the persuading the academic and publishing establishment  
to add Mathematica to the so called "publishing standards" is going to  
be an uphill struggle and probably not worth the effort. But I do not  
agree about the reasons for this and of course I totally disagree with  
the final statement.

The academic establishment is one of the most conservative  
"establishments" there are. The reason for this is clear: it consist  
mostly of people who are oldish or quite old and thus  reluctant to  
learn ways of doing this different from those that they learned in  
their youth, particularly if they lie outside their own academic area.  
In so called "research institutions" young people are expected and in  
fact have to, if they are going to stay around, concentrate on  
research and being concerned with stuff like publishing formats is not  
going to get one tenure at Stanford. So naturally the people who  
dominate this area are the older, tenured staff. The publishing world  
is even worse. The reluctance to adopt technical innovation in  
academic publishing would be a good subject for a comedy if it wasn't  
so depressing in its consequences. I have also had quite a lot of  
contact with this for a number of years. For example I still remember  
the days when one of the leading mathematical journals started using  
TeX. Even after they started it, they continued to demand that authors  
submit printouts of their articles which were then retyped in TeX by a  
professional typist. I think I must have been one of the earliest  
Springer authors who used TeX and I remember how none of the editors  
knew what it was and how much trouble I had when I wanted to modify  
some of their macros. It was years after TeX had become standard for  
writing mathematical research. The same thing is happening nowadays  
with the transfer to electronic publishing. So I agree, the chances of  
convincing the academic or publishing establishment that they should  
try to adopt another format are pretty slim.

However,  there is another way, and I hope WRI is pursuing it.

A long time before TeX was adopted by journals and before most senior  
academics understood how it it suppose to be pronounced, it had become  
de facto standard among students and young researchers. Being young  
they learn new things much faster, are much more likely to experiment  
with them by themselves (so usually they do not care about printed  
manuals) and appreciate genuine innovation as oppose to hype. What  
they are mostly concerned with is price and whether the things they  
learn would be of advantage in their future employment. This suggest  
an obvious strategy for WRI: ignore the academic establishment and  
concentrate on the students and their likely future employers. I don't  
know much about the latter but from the statistics I have seen  
Mathematica is doing not to badly in this area, at least compared with  
its major competitors. As for students, what is obviously needed  
access to cheap copies, other than through piracy (though I hope WRI  
is not completely blind to the benefits it gets from that latter  
phenomenon as long as it is restricted to students). By the way, the  
current system of "student versions" isn't really sufficient since it  
requires universities to have site licenses, which in turn requires  
winning over "the establishment". A time limited cheap student version  
available to any student, whether at an institution that has a site  
license or not, would make an enormous contribution to the adoption of  
Mathematica, and would make opinions like that at the end of the OPs  
post largely irrelevant.

Finally, I would like to point out that "publishing standards" are not  
set in stone. For several years I have witnessed PDF visibly loosing  
ground to djvu in the mathematical preprint area. I like with many  
other things I learned about it first form students, who quickly  
understood its technical superiority over PDF (most of all, much  
smaller file size). Now I see that a number of on-line mathematics  
journals are offering djvu as an alternative to pdf.

Andrzej Kozlowski

On 28 Mar 2008, at 09:13, AES wrote:
> In article <fsg6t7$jdd$1 at>,
> "David Park" <djmpark at> wrote:
>> Mathematica notebooks are the best method there is for
>> technical communications
> Would this were true.  It's not.
> Making Mathematica notebooks become the primary method for both
> preparing *and communicating* technical communications (broadly
> interpreted to include teaching, writing, presentations, and
> publications) in both the academic and professional worlds might be a
> laudable goal, and a number of people (David Park very much included)
> have put sincere and laudable efforts into trying to make it be the  
> case.
> Sorry, it's _not_ going to happen.
> Wolfram is partly to blame for this -- very much including the  
> currently
> ongoing version 6 documentation disaster.
> But there are also very major and fundamental reasons why this goal  
> very
> possibly should not happen, or should not be attempted, or simply  
> could
> never happen in any case.
> To focus on just one aspect of this topic (out of many), I would point
> out that major professional societies have (since Isaaac Newton's  
> time!)
> carried the burden of developing two of the major worldwide channels  
> of
> technical and scientific communications, namely scientific and  
> technical
> journals (and archives), and scientific and technical meetings
> And, these societies are struggling to adapt, and in many ways
> successfully adapting, today to the Internet, electronic technologies,
> "open access", and other emerging complexities of information
> transmission and communication.  It's an expensive and
> resource-consuming struggle
> The primary "communication methods" or formats for user input of
> technical material  to essentially all such journals and meetings  
> today
> -- "user input" being of course the primary source for all such  
> material-- are TeX (or LaTeX), PDF, and (unfortunately, but it's the  
> reality) MSWord.
> I've been heavily involved with a couple of these societies, and a  
> close
> observer at least, if not a major contributor, to the major and
> stressful evolution of professional society publication and meeting
> activities and methods in recent years.  I've also been a heavy  
> personal
> user of Mathematica since I heard Steven Wolfram introduce version 1  
> to
> an overflowing auditorium at my university several decades ago.
> I can only say that I would be a vehement opponent of any proposal
> within these societies to divert resources to an effort to add
> Mathematica notebooks to the format list above.
> [And, given the current situation, I'd be a vehement opponent of any
> efforts within my university to spend university resources on making
> Mathematica a *preferred* and heavily university-supported  
> computational
> and communications technology within my university.]

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