This question got reopened and I question its reopening:

Why is LaTeX so complicated?

I can't but see that the question is so opinion-based that it can't be answered objectively. This makes it "bad" in the StackExchange measures. Yes, I know that TeX.SX allows some types of questions that are not allowed elsewhere (for instance, we allow objective design questions, we allow big lists etc.). And while this question may be considered a design question, it can't be considered an objecitve one.

So I want to ask:

  1. What was exactly the motivation of the openers to open the question? (I hope they'll see this meta thread.)

  2. Are we really on the way to tolerating (or even actively supporting) the existence of opinion-based open-ended questions?

  • 6
    I think it should be of concern that such questions garner so many votes and so much attention in comparison with more technical questions. In a way, what I think is that such questions may be OK - even good - occasionally, but it would be easy to have too many such questions. In general, I often see large numbers of votes for poor questions (though I'm not really thinking of this kind of question here) and very few votes for many good questions. [Think of how easily some draw-this-for-me questions seem to get votes.] Technical questions are not very popular. I guess these are.
    – cfr
    Jan 11, 2015 at 1:12
  • 1
    @cfr: I agree with you, but rather I have a technical question on my own with low views/rep change than something like the question yo' referred to. I know very well, that my badge count/rep could be higher if I would answer such questions or post them.
    – user31729
    Jan 11, 2015 at 11:16
  • 5
    If we accept these kind of big-attraction/soft/unanswerable questions (I mean really, it's like going on emacs.SE and asking why emacs isn't more like vim) perhaps we could remove the reputation incentive by making them community wiki or something? Jan 11, 2015 at 12:22
  • @ChristianHupfer I agree.
    – cfr
    Jan 11, 2015 at 16:47
  • @AndrewCashner Indeed, but is that within our power? Even if a question is later made community wiki, that doesn't affect the reputation incentive retrospectively, does it? I do think it is interesting that questions on TeX.SE which appear to be higher quality (according to SE's criteria, as I understand them) tend to score particularly poorly. (Not always: I'm making a claim about how things tend to go and not a claim that is supposed to hold for 100% of questions on the site.)
    – cfr
    Jan 11, 2015 at 16:51

4 Answers 4


I was one of the persons who voted to re-open the posting in question, so let me take a minute to explain my reasons.

Basically, I disagree with the claim that the posting in question is "so opinion-based that it can't be answered objectively". The posting obviously expresses some very strongly held opinions, and I will readily note that not every locution was felicitous. However, as long as one isn't too put off by its tone or, worse, treats the tone as an invitation to engage in a shouting match, a lot can be learned from reflecting on the merits of its claims, bothering to write an answer, and/or reading the other answers that have been posted. The answers that have been posted so far, for the most part, do strongly take issue with one or more of the claims made by the OP, and in a reasoned manner. Taken together, IMO the answers make a lot of useful and interesting points, and "useful" and "interesting" are desirable attributes, in my book.

I will not be drawn into a debate about what the word "objective" may mean. Obviously, the word has a lot of possible meanings, and little is to be gained from claiming that one's favorite meaning of the word is the best possible one. Naturally, I do believe that there are lines that shouldn't be crossed with regard to postings that may fit the scope of this site. Some postings to me clearly lack either objectivity or the potential to elicit objective (or, at least, useful and interesting) answers, and I have no problems with voting to close such postings -- and with resisting calls to re-open them.

I don't know how to address your second question, except to say that I'm confident that I know a non-objective posting when I see one -- and will vote to close it.

  • I'm sorting the mess I did with the vote buttons, it wasn't really my intention :( and I apologize for it.
    – yo'
    Jan 10, 2015 at 22:18
  • 10
    +1. On a software forum, it's perfectly reasonable to ask why a certain piece of software is so complicated. There are many possible useful, objective answers to such a question. Q: Why is gcc so complicated? A: Because it supports a lot of languages. Q: Why is PL/I so complicated? A: Because it was designed by a committee, which wanted it to be all things to all people. Q: Why is tax-preparation software so complicated? A: Because the tax code is complicated.
    – user6853
    Jan 11, 2015 at 0:24
  • 2
    @BenCrowell But 'so complicated' is really a comparative term, and the question yo' refers to doesn't make clear what class of things the comparison is meant to cover. At least the first of the examples you give seems to imply a relevant comparison class (compilers) and the second probably would if I knew what you were talking about. The third strikes me as not really answerable without clarification. (You're assuming the comparison is with something like all-software-not-for-tax-preparation, but some of it surely is more complex not less than the software in question.)
    – cfr
    Jan 11, 2015 at 16:55
  • 7
    @BenCrowell I think there could be a worthwhile question in this vicinity, but the question is not a good one without a good deal of tightening up. The answers make this clear: they disambiguate the question in different ways. But that means we have several possible questions rather than one clear question, and that is not a model which fits this site well. (The question could be split with each one improved by clarifying it in a different way. Some of the questions would then be too opinion-based, some too broad, and some a good fit for the site.)
    – cfr
    Jan 11, 2015 at 16:58

I voted to close as "opinion based" (and enough people did the same that it was closed). But since that vote was overturned and people voted to open it, I added an answer.

The answer does of course include subjective opinion, but democracy wins I suppose. It doesn't mean I think it's necessarily a good question (for this site) or necessarily a good answer (even if I got a Good Answer badge for it:-) but presumably the people voting to re-open wanted to see some answers.

So it seems to me the site mechanics of voting to open or close worked more or less well enough in this case. Some people thought it wasn't a suitable question, some thought it was, they won the votes and on the whole the answers are fairly rational when on other sites they could easily have degenerated into a my language s better than yours slanging match.

  • +1 Just I don't agree with "they won the votes" -- the system discourages the close-and-reopen ping-pong in such a way that it encourages the question staying open unless a moderator takes action.
    – yo'
    Jan 11, 2015 at 19:30
  • 1
    @yo' the system's flawed in lots of places, but you need to play the game with the rules as they are. Jan 11, 2015 at 21:03
  • @yo': There should be a 'grace' period for reopening a question. Hoping that some post had fallen into Oblivion ;-)
    – user31729
    Jan 11, 2015 at 22:17
  • Now these comments are what I meant by elitism a few days earlier.
    – percusse
    Jan 11, 2015 at 22:37
  • @percusse ?? I didn't understand your comment, perhaps a link to your earlier comments Jan 11, 2015 at 23:55
  • Not to you but I couldn't find the relevant one anyways. Too lazy to ping and discuss again :P
    – percusse
    Jan 12, 2015 at 0:05
  • @ChristianHupfer Surely you cannot mean that! I have sometimes seen new users discouraged because their (admittedly poor) questions have been closed almost before they could draw breath. (This is not frequent - they are the unlucky ones.) That is bad enough. But suppose such a user edits the question to improve it, and does improve it. How long should that person have to wait before people can even begin to vote to reopen it? Besides, I can't see any general justification for such a policy: why not a grace period before questions can be closed? Note that...
    – cfr
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:59
  • ... I am not accusing anybody of elitism. (I take it that it is intended as an accusation although I don't know the reference.) But 'hard cases make bad laws' and I think they would make bad policies on SE, as well! I feel that the responses to this question are slightly out of proportion and that it might be helpful to take a step back and put things in perspective. It is one question. While not unique, there seems little current danger of the site being overrun with them. I do think there are things to be concerned about, and I would not have voted to reopen. But still...
    – cfr
    Jan 12, 2015 at 23:04
  • @cfr: My comment was more of ironic nature: But I would prefer a grace period for both closing and reopening.
    – user31729
    Jan 12, 2015 at 23:07
  • @ChristianHupfer Fair enough.
    – cfr
    Jan 13, 2015 at 0:28
  • 2
    @ChristianHupfer As you may be aware, the people who design the site architecture are of very much the opposite opinion (their model is that any question that is not good 'now' should be closed, edited then reopened).
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Jan 13, 2015 at 9:44
  • @JosephWright: I am aware of that...My view differs in this point from the design, so I have to live with it ;-)
    – user31729
    Jan 14, 2015 at 13:22

I don't see that we are accepting opinion-based questions. You might be alerted because of the

Is LaTeX used for novels?

LaTeX vs Word; improvements of LaTeX over the years

Why is LaTeX so complicated?

Does LaTeX really perform worse than Word?

In any case two of them passed hundred votes and the others are around twenty. Now saying well it can be highly voted but still opinion-based is one thing, but a hundred vote is not something that five users would decide (order of magnitude!!). Especially with this stupid review system. I do think they are opinion-based but at the same time I won't bother if they are left open. Plus I think these are good publicity for the site. (See this comment Why is LaTeX so complicated?)

And to get regular users rant about TeX is pretty nice. Because then we have a chance to modify some of the misconceptions that they might have been carrying over since the last decade.

Besides I think this is somewhat your personal dislike in disguise. I don't see the point why these are bothering you since if you compare with the number of regular questions that are asked in the same time frame, these are not even high enough to be called negligible. I think you are overreacting.

There is a much bigger problem that 10-15 users keep closing every mildly mis-asked question. And I don't see the same grunt from hi-rep users and it is worrying me and annoying me at the same time. If you accept that review behavior, then you should not worry about these being reopened/kept open.


»Why is LaTeX so complicated« could be answered on facts. The OP has asked a good question, he gave quite a few examples for his assumption (»LaTeX is complicated«).

You could start an answer with a reminder of some LaTeX packages and come to the obvious conclusion that things are hard to understand because TeX is a complex beast and even LaTeX does not work without some complex approaches. Then you could compare to another programming language and then to using indesign.

To answer the question why things are so complicated you need to investigate whether complexity hints at a severe error in the design of TeX or because the task was demanding a complex answer. You could consult the books and interviews of D. Knuth and L. Lamport to study their opinion. You'd e.g. find an interview with L. Lamport where he says, he missed the opportunity to convince Knuth to change some more things in the next version of TeX to the benefit of LaTeX.

On the background of such considerations I gave a very short answer and tried to generalise: Too little apprecation for the users' demands is the most serious obstacle to many open source projects.

Now, let's ponder in which subject of study you could write such a thesis. Obviously such a thesis would need the skills of a IT guy (or girl) and some skills you acquire in the humanities.

Here in tex.sx the engineers and IT people are the majority. To many of them, it seems, everything that can not be answered with an MWE is opinion based.

  • 2
    You hit the nail on its head by saying "You could start an answer with a reminder of some LaTeX packages ..." -- this clearly shows that the question is opinion-based.
    – yo'
    Jan 13, 2015 at 8:47
  • 1
    @yo' Complete misunderstanding. Where on earth is the link between the incredibly complicated code of microtype, KOMA-script or longtable (a proof for the complicated facts) and opinion???
    – Keks Dose
    Jan 13, 2015 at 13:56
  • Because I don't think that their code is incredibly complicated. To me, it's much easier to read than the C++ STD header files, for instance, and that's the simpler thing in that language. You see what I mean? This is where the "opinion based" comes from.
    – yo'
    Jan 13, 2015 at 14:10
  • 1
    @yo' I doubt that anyone understands KOMA-script by reading the code. Besides that, you have to judge from the view of a user. And finally, you make exactly the error I described: Not everything outside mathematics is opinion.
    – Keks Dose
    Jan 13, 2015 at 16:17
  • 3
    @yo' As percusse wrote in a comment here ( meta.tex.stackexchange.com/q/5895/4736 ): there are too many trigger happy people here! -- Who don't understand that you better allow a hundred questions too much before gaging somebody who doesn't share your views.
    – Keks Dose
    Jan 13, 2015 at 16:30
  • If your last comment is correctly stated, it seems to undermine the point you are using it to support. That is, if it is a question of silencing people who have different views, then it sure looks as if the difference is a difference of opinion. (What else is it to have different views if not a difference of opinion?) There is equivocation here, because you make it sound as if it is the views of the people asking the questions which are the subject of disagreement. But, actually, that is not what you need to say here at all. The disagreement has to be at the meta level. Otherwise, ...
    – cfr
    Jan 20, 2015 at 4:06
  • the questions really must be a matter of opinion. If the disagreement is at the meta-level, though, I see no evidence of anybody attempting to 'gag' anybody else.
    – cfr
    Jan 20, 2015 at 4:08
  • I'm a pretty new user, and I have had a couple of my questions closed. I have never felt "gagged" here though. To the contrary, I am impressed by the generosity of the community, and the restraint that I see before a question is closed. For instance: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/299923/…
    – A Feldman
    Mar 20, 2016 at 14:29

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