Scientific publishing with HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript

15 Nov 2014

This post accompanies the experiment in scientific web publishing that I published today on this website (see also the papers section of the website).

The experiment explores, among other things, rendering of mathematical expressions and equations (written as LaTeX directly into the HTML document) using MathJax (a Javascript library). Depending on the horsepower of your device it may take some seconds to render the mathematics. In addition, the experiment demonstrates automatic equation numbering and referencing, as well as bibliography and citation generation, multi-column layouts and automatic hyphenation (the last two being CSS3 features).

Go ahead and explore that document by clicking here. Jump between sections, equations, references etc. - the browser's Back and Forward buttons are your best friends in this exploration. (I debugged the document using Firefox, and also checked that it renders well on mobile versions of Firefox, as well as mobile and desktop versions of Chrome and Opera. The document also renders well on other Mozilla derived browsers [SeaMonkey, IceWeasel etc.]. For printing and print preview, please use Firefox or another Mozilla browser. Only they got the multi-column layout right.)

Pay special attention to:

  1. Math typesetting, both in the text and as standalone equations.
  2. Automatic numbering of the standalone equations. Clicking on an equation reference inside the text takes you to the equation. Press the browser's Back button to continue from where you left.
  3. Right-clicking on math expressions opens the MathJax menu which allows you to zoom in on the expression as well as observe the underlying TeX source.
  4. Clicking on a citation takes you to the corresponding entry in the bibliography list. Press the browser's Back button to go back to where you left from the main text.
  5. Now change a device (e.g, if you were using your desktop, switch to your phone), and repeat the above. Notice how the layout automatically adjusts to the width of the screen and/or browser window.
  6. Finally, on a desktop choose to print preview the document. Explore different printing layouts, such as, landscape vs. portrait and different zoom levels. Observe again how the layout of the entire document automatically adjusts to paper width and font size. Also observe how the navigation items do not appear on the print version.

I hope that this experiment convincingly makes the point in favor of web publishing of scientific work. From a technical point of view all the typesetting niceties are there, with the added benefits of interactivity inherent to webpages. Converting the web document to paper is truly done seamlessly and with much added flexibility, compared to the traditional fixed typeset documents. You can choose your preferred font, font size, text width, etc., by simply changing the web browser settings.

Last, but not least, this is truly OpenAccess publishing, in the true sense of the words "Open" and "Access". As a faculty member or research student you are probably able to host your research on a website, so why not do it using the truly open web technologies. What about peer review, you say?! That is an issue for a different post, but in short, it is the community that owns the peer review process not any given organization or company.