In this forum I asked

  • Whether there exists an FAQ on TeX usage for people posting to math.stackexchange.com;
  • Whether it might be worth mentioning in such a manual, if it exists, that insted of writing \sum_{n} \int_{a}^{\infty} x^{2}\;dx, they could omit the braces, writing instead \sum_n \int_a^\infty x^2\;dx, since braces are needed only when more than one character is in the subscript or superscript;
  • Whether the manual, if it exists, prescribes the use of \mbox, which, I argued, should be omitted.

My posting got nine down-votes, which I take to indicate disagreement with what I wrote.

Can someone say something specific about what is objectionable in the above? I still don't understand the value of indicating disagreement while leaving everyone to wonder specifically what is disagreed with.

  • Are some people trying to say there should be no such manual?
  • Are they trying to say it should mention \mbox; i.e. that I was wrong to say that shouldn't be there?
  • Are they trying to say no mention of braces in subscripts or superscripts should be there?

If anyone can explain that, I would appreciate it.

(I cannot post this query in the same thread in which I posted before, since someone wanted to confuse the discussion and start a fight there.)

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect many of your downvotes are sparked by tangential contentious remarks that spice-up your posts, such as the final sentence above. My impression, after spending much time here over the past year, is that there are many folks here who desire that the forum be much more civil than unmoderated forums such as sci.math. Such folks will downvote your posts simply because they don't approve of your manners. So if you wish to attract votes only on the issues it would be best to try to avoid such tangential remarks and strive to discuss matters in the abstract inasmuch as possible. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2011 at 4:18
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    $\begingroup$ I upvoted Bill's comment because I agree with the content. I also think you're taking things (i.e. votes) to personally. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 0:45
  • $\begingroup$ Since I voted up, not down, perhaps I should not comment. Some guidelines would be useful. I would not include the one about braces, since when a brace is required somewhere, it is convenient to cut and paste, and a nuisance to then eliminate superfluous braces. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 2:15

2 Answers 2


No one can speak for all of the downvoters on that question. Based on the upvotes to Phira's answer, I would speculate that many agree that the particular concerns you raised regarding \mbox and superfluous braces are not important concerns for users of this site.

I downvoted in part because of the behavior demonstrated in reaction to Phira's answer. I have no reason to believe that that answer is anything other than honest opinion, albeit with a phrase, "preaching against", that you seem to find offensive. Reacting by asking whether the answerer is trying to twist what you wrote, dramatically apologizing for contributing, and calling the answer dishonest are not, in my opinion, contributions to civil discussion.

  • $\begingroup$ This system of anonymous voting is uncivil. Here's what happens: A poster says "Where is the error in this proposed proof of the Riemann hypothesis?" Someone else responds: "I disagree with this proposal to sacrifice babies to the gods." Within five minutes teenagers who have been convinced that down-voting things that are wrong and who have not read the original question is the only way to maintain justice in the world take action. I've seen this both here and on mathoverflow. It was fairly frequent there for a while because....... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ .....there was an elderly grump who was in the habit of commenting negatively on postings that he hadn't read and a lot of teenaged graduate students. One of the latter actually asserted that anonymous down-voting is the principal means of maintaining quality. As if that's not loony enough, another suggested that abolishing that system would destroy the forum. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ And your proposal does not explain all the down-votes that happened before that particular user misrepresented what I wrote. At any rate, unexplained down-votes are not useful since they keep secret what is considered objectionable. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ It is true that I did not explain all of the downvotes, nor do I intend to try. I would guess that some simply disagreed that the concerns you raised are important, which of course may well happen before someone posts an answer making such disagreement explicit. I can only tell you why I downvoted. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ It is difficult not to think that what happened is what I describe in comments above. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ I find it easy not to think that. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ It's easy to say that. You're saying they were downvoting what I actually said rather than the absurd straw man that Phira attacked. What is so absurd about saying a manual should omit \mbox and should mention that braces are unnecessary in some situations that it was incite such passion? It's easy to see how an attack on a proposal to preach against \mbox, rather than to omit mention of \mbox, things could do that. I would be gullible if I didn't see the difference. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Michael, I find it hard to respond to your question because we are starting from very different premises. I do not think that downvotes mean anything about passion in general. I have also been trying to say that I cannot tell you why, nor do I want to tell you why, anyone else downvoted your question. Perhaps it was my mistake to mention speculation on possible reasons. One thing I hope we can agree on is that those who downvoted before Phira's answer did not do so based on Phira's answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 20:22

At the risk of coming across as belittling, I can't help but feel that you're reacting to this more strongly than you ought to. As the FAQ says:

On Meta, voting is often used to express agreement or disagreement, not to point out a lack of quality or helpfulness. Please don't be concerned if you receive downvotes – members of the community may simply disagree with your bug, feature request, support issue, or the nature of the discussion.

In the end, whether here or on the main site, it's worth remembering what downvotes really are: mouse clicks on a website that cost you two of those imaginary points that you've managed to accumulate 12.6 thousand of (or none at all, here on meta), not kicks in the gut. As effective expressions of disapproval, they're probably somewhere on the weaker side of a really serious frown. Just ignore them.

I also get the feeling that there's been some general miscommunication all around. Specifically regarding Phira's answer, if you're going to use words like "hideous abomination" in your post (whether sincerely or tongue in cheek), I'd certainly see "preaching" as merely following the same theme. (After all, one rarely sees the word "abomination" in modern English outside of the Bible or references to it, or hears it spoken outside a pulpit.)

Also, after going over your original post several times, after having read your later comments, I finally realized while composing this answer that one possible interpretation of your question was "Do we have some page somewhere encouraging these bad LaTeX habits, and if so, should it be removed or changed?" Now, I don't know about (and can't speak for) anyone else in either of these threads, but I do know that my initial interpretation was that you were proposing the establishment of a FAQ page specifically to advise against those habits (overuse of braces and inappropriate use of \mbox) that you highlighted.

You might want to at least consider the possibility that others may have interpreted your question the same way as I did, and re-read their responses to see if they make more sense in that light.

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    $\begingroup$ Your answer seem to suggest that the reputation is affected somehow by votes on the meta. It is not the case. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf: I actually hadn't realized it wasn't. I added a mention of it into the answer, but left it otherwise as it was, since I meant that paragraph to apply to the main site too. Honestly, even on the main site, downvoting only has a noticeable effect on rep for utter newbies. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ I find that downvoting is somewhat of a psychological effect. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf: Yes, of course it is, and I suppose that's what I was trying to say -- that often the psychological effect can be totally out of proportion to the actual, or even the intended, effect of the downvote. YMMV, but I find that saying "It's just -2 (or -0) rep." to myself helps when it happens to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 21:32

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