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I am scratching my head trying to figure out why this question was closed as "too broad."

The OP was asking for a book on probability theory, and he or she listed the topics which, ideally, such a book should cover, based on the curriculum of a class that he or she was going to take. Although I'm no specialist, these all appeared to be topics that one could plausibly see covered in an introductory book on probability theory.

Instead, the question was closed, much as if the voters thought the OP was asking for a book that covered "class field theory, the calculus of variations, distribution theory, homotopy groups of spheres, ..."

Should this question not have been left open?

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  • $\begingroup$ There has been a ongoing trend of similar cases like this. Looking at the bigger picture, this Math Meta question (math.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/26429) is very similar to yours and it might provide some further insight to what you're asking. $\endgroup$ – Toby Mak Jun 14 '17 at 9:54
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    $\begingroup$ I'll just mention that there have been a few discussions on meta about book recommendations (in general - your post is about a specific question). For example, Book recommendation opinion based?, What is the use of tag “book-recommendation”? or Is it appropriate to ask for references and book recommendations? $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jun 14 '17 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ The question has been deleted by its owner. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jun 15 '17 at 4:33
  • $\begingroup$ user49640 Why would you ask a question when you've already decided what you want for an answer? "Should this question not have been left open?" If you were sincere about having a discussion about the matter, the most appropriate manner of doing so would be to ask: "What do others think, should the question have been closed, as it was, or should it have been left open? The fact that the question was inappropriately tagged as "discussion" is your answer, replaying your opinion, as stated in you meta post. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jun 18 '17 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy I don't think there's anything wrong with being clear about what my own opinion is. That doesn't prevent others from expressing theirs. Mainly I wanted to draw attention to what I thought was an incorrect decision that wrongly deprived the OP of the chance to have his or her question answered. $\endgroup$ – user49640 Jun 18 '17 at 2:22
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Instead, the question was closed, much as if the voters thought the OP was asking for a book that covered "class field theory, the calculus of variations, distribution theory, homotopy groups of spheres, ..."

It seems there is a rather fundamental misunderstanding here. The problem is not that the list of topics is "too broad" to be reasonably covered in one book, instead the (perceived) problem is that there are too many books that cover this list, and thus without further information about the specific needs of the asker there are too many possible answers, or one answer covering all the possibilities would be too much to ask for.

To be clear, I do not find the question that bad as a book recommendation. I am not sure I would close it myself. But still I want to stress that the critique mounted in this meta-question seems to miss the point.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you're rewriting what "too broad" actually means. The text says: "Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once." The OP's problem is specific - he needs one book - and the possibility that many answers could exist doesn't mean that no "adequate answer" can be identified. $\endgroup$ – user49640 Jun 14 '17 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ Also, what you say the real objection is, a demand for "further information," seems impossible to comply with. It is difficult to conceive of a better way for the OP to say what needs to be in the book than to say what the syllabus is for his course. $\endgroup$ – user49640 Jun 14 '17 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ Earlier versions of "too broad" where more explicit regarding the fact that what I wrote is an issue. Specifically, the "too broad" reason used to say for a long time (my emphasis): "There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs." // Of course it would be possible to add further info to the Q, e.g., they could say what are the prerequisites for the course, and what courses they already took, to gauge their mathematical maturity. $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 14 '17 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ The level of the course can be inferred from the syllabus, so information about prerequisites would add little of any value. Also, it is questionable whether information about the asker's mathematical maturity would add anything. The asker wanted a book at the level of the course he would be taking, and whether his maturity should factor in at all is certainly something that can be left up to him. $\endgroup$ – user49640 Jun 14 '17 at 10:44
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    $\begingroup$ I have no further interest in discussing the specific question. The point I meant to raise is that you grossly misrepresent (possibly unintentioanlly) the likely motivations of the closers. Further, it is clearly not "impossible to comply" with a request for further information. You now shift the discussion to whether this information would be helpful. If nothing much should play a role, they just could answer their question themselves simply glancing at the table of content with books of the "obvious" title. $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 14 '17 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ I think you're talking about issues that could not have been the real motivation. You're saying that more information could have been added, but considering that all the necessary information is there, this sounds like an ex post facto justification of a decision that is difficult to defend. I think there is a significant possibility that there was a lack of care in the voting, based on a superficial resemblance with questions that really are too broad. $\endgroup$ – user49640 Jun 14 '17 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ "based on a superficial resemblance with questions that really are too broad." Maybe so. But if it were, then it would not be the resemblance with a question of the form you mention in the post, but instead with a question of the form "What is the best calculus book?" And again this is my main point. You misrepresent the motivation. Read up in earlier discussion to see this is not ex post. $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 14 '17 at 11:08
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    $\begingroup$ If the people who voted to close have told you why they did it, maybe it would be better for them to explain their reasons here instead. I am not misrepresenting anything. I said "as if...", which means I am describing what it appears to be. I do not claim to know the real reasons are, and only if I claimed to have this knowledge would I be misrepresenting anything. Commenting on the same set of facts that are known to everyone is not misrepresentation. $\endgroup$ – user49640 Jun 14 '17 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ You are commenting here much as if you by now realized that you are in the wrong but have a hard time to admit it. ;-) But, to end on a positive note, it is good that you expanded your answer and once again I might not even have closed that question. $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 14 '17 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ Your last comment is utter nonsense. Sorry, but it's very difficult to "end on a positive note" with someone who has basically accused me of trying to deceive people. $\endgroup$ – user49640 Jun 14 '17 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ The word I used in the answer is "misunderstanding" and in a comment I wrote "you grossly misrepresent (possibly unintentioanlly)." I went out of my way not to accuse you of trying to deceive people. Although it is not impossible somebody could say you behaved much as if you wanted to do so. ;-) $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 14 '17 at 11:51
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This was a good question and it should not have been closed.

The asker provided all the detail he or she could, within reason, to identify the criteria the requested book needed to meet.

If one cannot ask for a book addressing a specific course curriculum as closely as possible, it is difficult to see what book recommendation one can ask for.

In the present case, the asker identified the subject matter very precisely, and said that they wanted to do lots of problems.

I would like to emphasize that the ability to ask a well-posed question is closely tied to subject-matter knowledge. For someone who has not yet studied probability theory, it may be more difficult to do one's own research in a productive way. For example, one might read chapter headings in a table of contents and not be able to make connections with the published course syllabus with the same ease an experienced probabilist would, if the same precise wording is not used.

That is what MSE is for - for people to be able to get help from experts on questions that by their nature are much easier for experts. Book recommendations are no exception.

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  • $\begingroup$ You already said as much in your "question" (really an opinion). Oh, btw, did you read any of the posts you've been given a link to? $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jun 18 '17 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy I'm not here to prove anything to you. $\endgroup$ – user49640 Jun 18 '17 at 2:24

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