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I was reviewing an answer to a question asking for references of books in Real Analysis. The answer was very brief saying "Lalji prasad" was the best book. I never heard of Lalji prasad before ... so I went to search for it. It seems there are several mathematics books written by this author, which I assume must be popular in India but not elsewhere. I wanted to add a comment to the answer, asking the author to add the title of the book (I suspect is Real Analysis – K. K. Jha / Lalji Prasad) but then I got the message the answer was not eligible for comment on the basis it was either deleted or closed. I do not have enough reputation to find that answer. I can not tell whether the question was deleted because it was very short but there were other answers that just listed some books (not by title) but rather by author name. I may be wrong but it seems some maybe too "trigger happy" to delete legitimate answers.

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to link to the question the answer belongs to, a 10k user or mod could then provide details about who deleted the post. It could also have been self-deleted by the author (which is not that rare). $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Jul 24 '14 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ I guess this question, and the answer read "Lalji prasad.. Is one of the best book i have ever read..."? $\endgroup$ – Daniel Fischer Jul 24 '14 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielFischer: Yes this was the answer. In my comments above I was unfair/inaccurate with the other answers (they are way more complete than this one) but again at the time I wrote my discussion/question I did not had access to them. $\endgroup$ – Sergio Parreiras Jul 24 '14 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ It was deleted by a moderator, @MadScientist. I guess "poor answer to an old (almost two years) thread + flag $\mapsto$ deletion". $\endgroup$ – Daniel Fischer Jul 24 '14 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ That fantastic answer was clearly targeted by culturural bias. I am shocked. $\endgroup$ – gnometorule Jul 24 '14 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ Given the profile of that user, the book or author mentioned may not refer to a mathematics book. Well, compare this: book.oodja.com/a/detail.do/… which is high school level; always possible this author also wrote some college level books. $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy Jul 24 '14 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ bookadda.com/author/dr-lalji-prasad $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy Jul 24 '14 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with gnometorule that the title is unnecessarily accusatory. The downvotes may be attributed to that. I edited the title to better reflect the substance of the question. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 24 '14 at 21:38
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I deleted that answer, but I do not believe that "Western bias" came into my decision.

In my view the answer itself was woefully inadequate. Without prior knowledge of this author one must resort to Google (or some other search engine) in order to discover anything further about the unnamed intended text. This may be worse than a link-only answer: at least a link would presumably take you to the relevant information without any further effort.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the explanation: it makes perfect sense. $\endgroup$ – Sergio Parreiras Jul 24 '14 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ The answer could be improved. Sergio was trying to help improve it by asking the name of the book. The deletion made that impossible. On the other hand, I don't know if that poster will be back to reply to questions. Doesn't seem likely. $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Jul 24 '14 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ Recently a moderator undeleted an answer that was woefully inedaquate (and had been deleted by 3 users), commenting that deletion should not occur based on judgements of helpfulness. I don't mind that; I'd rather err on the side of leaving inadequate things undeleted in general. I wonder why this post required moderator deletion. $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Jul 24 '14 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ (@JonasMeyer Do you have a link to the answer mentioned in your last comment?) $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 24 '14 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ @JonasMeyer: I agree that the answer was possibly salvageable (albeit, as you point out, given a 1 rep user, user might never come back); but the title of the question puts Arthur (as it turns out) unnecessarily on the spot by dropping the bias hammer which strikes me as clished and unnecessarily antagonistic. It's also often an attempt at a one-step suppression of dissent. I think we should keep that in mind. $\endgroup$ – gnometorule Jul 24 '14 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @AndresCaicedo Perhaps this answer? It's the only one I see recently that has a moderator undeletion overriding a three-user deletion. $\endgroup$ – user61527 Jul 24 '14 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ @T.Bongers Well, that's a nonsense "answer". Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 24 '14 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ @JonasMeyer: (Sorry. I've been ill for the last day or so.) Another factor I considered was the source of the answer. In this case, an unregistered account whose creation-time was exactly the same as the posting time of the answer, and had no further interaction with the site (not even looking at another question, and this is still true today). Could the answer be salvaged? Perhaps. But only the original answerer would really know what book was being intended, and I felt (I still believe correctly) that this user would never be seen again. [cont...] $\endgroup$ – user642796 Jul 26 '14 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ [..inued] As to the second issue: an incorrect answer is not "woefully inadequate" in the same manner. The deletion of answer attempts that are incorrect are unevenly applied by the community, and one particular user seems bears the brunt of this more than most. That this user doesn't "react well" to critiques and downvotes is still no excuse, in my eyes. The moderators are here, in part, to try to moderate the behaviour of the community. Flagging obnoxious behaviour is more likely to yield results, since the moderators have more tools at their disposal to see that users act well. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Jul 26 '14 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Arthur: That helps clarify, thanks! $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Jul 26 '14 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ @JonasMeyer Tangentially: in the definition of VLQ, where it says "post is unlikely to be salvageable through editing", I understand this part as editing by others. Leaving a comment and hoping the author will add information is not salvaging; the hope is usually in vain. Ideally, such posts would be flagged VLQ and get deleted through review without 20K users being involved; this allows the post owner to single-handedly undelete if they care. If they care, they usually improve the post. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 26 '14 at 17:34
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Recommendations are tricky to get right. Where is the line between an acceptable answer and VLQ-flaggable?

  1. User read the book and supports the recommendation by explaining why it fits the objectives stated in the question
  2. User read the book and offers generic praise of the book.
  3. User read the book and offers only some combination of its title/author/link.
  4. User searched Amazon for keywords in the question and posted some titles/links that showed up.

I would consider 1 an acceptable answer, 2 a downvote-able answer, and 3-4 as VLQ-flaggable answers, barely distinguishable from spam (and completely indistinguishable from each other). But that's just me. By the way, there was an earlier discussion along these lines.

Another aspect to consider is that it's hard to judge the adequacy of an answer when the question is insufficiently specific. Quoting Shog9 (who else):

when the question is: "Suggest me some tutorials where i can learn quick" [...] it's still a bad answer - but when the question is kinda asking for bad answers this is to be expected. Close or flag the question and move on - this is much more efficient than hanging around to babysit it by deleting every crap answer that inevitably shows up.

Many book recommendation questions are vague to the point where the answers and their upvotes mean as much as a popularity contest. Everyone feels free to post a book they like, and others upvote if they also had positive experience with the book. The result is a poll-type question from which one may be able to tell which books are better known among Math.SE users, but not which books are better for any particular use.

If I had my druthers, book recommendation questions would be required to contain a minimum set of features:

  • prerequisites
  • topics covered
  • intended use (course supplement, independent study, teaching a class...)
  • maximum price (if it is a constraint)

and answerers would be required to demonstrate that their recommendation meets those criteria.

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  • $\begingroup$ I liked your previous user name better. And the one before that even more; and the one before that even more. You show a consistent decline in quality of username. Is the next one going to be plain offensive to everyone possible? :-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 25 '14 at 0:00

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