12
$\begingroup$

It's very common for users to want to find about a specific topic in machine learning, statistics, or probability. Often, these questions start from a place where the user doesn't know what they want to know, so it is challenging to give a good answer.

  • A vague question - a question with little context or explanation of what kind of information is sought - is very likely to be closed as "Needs details or clarity."
  • A question that asks about a broad or general topic (e.g. "computer vision" or "machine learning") is likely a duplicate.

So how should a user who does not know what they want to know about ask for references (books, articles, tutorials, websites) about an area with which they are unfamiliar?

$\endgroup$
3
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is very unfair. Of course people who are still learning don't know what they don't know. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 20:46
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Blaze it is very well possible to know what you don't know. This is not a logical contradiction because the meaning of the two times 'know' in the sentence are different. For instance: "I know that I don't know the proof of the Riemann hypothesis". $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 13:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ See my answer below. For folks beginning their journey, it's best to ask them what their specific goals are rather than answer specific and potentially unhelpful questions. This is what's done on other stackexhanges $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:35

2 Answers 2

15
$\begingroup$
  1. Search. The first thing to do when asking any question, but especially a question, is to do a site search. At this point, the site has a robust collection of questions providing references for a rich variety of topics. A comprehensive outline of how to search the site can be found in FAQ: Best Practices for Searching CV

  2. Specificity. If you've done a search and have not found anything that is specific to what you want to know, then the next step is to articulate what makes your question distinct from similar reference requests you've already reviewed (if there are any relevant questions).

    1. If you're asking about a specific aspect of a topic, please clearly state what that is. For example, if you're asking for references about "computer vision" or "neural networks" or "machine learning" (without elaboration), then it's very likely to be closed as a duplicate of existing threads. But a question specific to a certain aspect of a topic may not be a duplicate, especially if you can be explicit about what aspect is not covered.

    2. If you're looking for "more recent" or "more current" literature on a specific topic, then you're actually hot on the trail of finding what you need.

      1. If you found a thread containing relevant but older references in (1), then check whether the authors have published a newer edition. It often happens that authors will write a high-quality book and then revise and expand it at a later date for precisely the same reasons that you want a more recent text. The authors are acutely aware that there's more to know about their topic, so they've obligingly expanded and updated their text.

      2. Even if a newer edition of an older reference doesn't exist, it's easy to find books and texts published after a certain date. For example, Amazon has an advanced book search that allows users to specify subject matter, keywords, and publication date (among other fields). Carefully using these filters can turn up a promising crop of books published in the past several years. Reading over the tables of contents gives overview of their contents. Google Scholar also has date filters.

      3. If the older literature doesn't address your question and there are no updated texts, then you need to be specific about what you want to learn from a newer text. Other than the publication date, what distinguishes a more recent resource from an older one? Why is recency important, and how does recency relate to what you want to know about?

  3. Literature Review. If you can answer the questions in (2), then you have all the material you need to write a good question. On the other hand, if find yourself thinking "But I don't know what I don't know!" or if you don't know how to answer (2.1) or (2.2), then you need to do a literature review to understand what topics exist. I've found that the best way to do this is to do a Google Scholar search for "review", "survey" or "overview" articles. Google Scholar has a special filter for review article. Also, Google Scholar supports the usual Google search syntax, so you can do things like exact phrase matching, use boolean operators, and so on. Additionally, Google Scholar lets you filter results by publication date, so you can focus on recent articles. Finally, Google Scholar also lets you search within the resources that cite an article, which can be helpful if you want to know about what people have written about a topic since the publication of the document.

Finding good references on a topic is an iterative process. Once you've reached (3), you should be able to identify the key terms that you want to know more about. Now you can return to (1) and search CV for these topics, to find anything that wasn't turned up the first time around. If you've done (1) and not found what you need, then you can proceed to (2) and write a specific question that is explicit about what you what to know about and explains why any similar threads are not responsive.

$\endgroup$
12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ These are good answers for someone who has a very specific and well defined gap in their knowledge. I can promise you, such a person really has no need for this q/a you've self answered. A word of advice - maybe wait for someone else to answer it. You might learn something useful. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 20:48
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ My advice is to learn how this site works. But more generally, the most valuable skill you can learn is learning how to learn. This answer outlines a general procedure that you can follow to figure out the main areas in some unfamiliar topic. Instead of focusing on online courses about statistics and machine learning, perhaps you would find it more helpful to read about research skills and become familiar with your library. $\endgroup$
    – Sycorax Mod
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ Yesterday, I read and surveyed over 30 different papers on the topic of bioinformatic and deep learning. I am a university graduate with over 30 years of working experience. I can assure you - I know how to learn. What I don't know is where to get good recommendations for online courses about statistics and ML. Now here is my advice - rather than giving advice, I strongly recommend that you take some time off and reflect on why you are giving advice. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 21:32
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ "What is a website that gives recommendations for online courses?" is not a statistics question as described in the help center. I get it, you're mad that your question was closed, but it's a real stretch to make the act of closing a question as off-topic some kind of profound mark against my character. $\endgroup$
    – Sycorax Mod
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know you, so I can't make a mark against your character. I do know however that folks need to figure out their motivations if they really want to help. The question wasn't for recommendations of online courses, but rather recommendations of online courses about stats and ML.. IT's very telling you purposely misinterperted my words, imho. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ As for the question being closed, it was closed because people don't know the answer. For universities, it's easier, because there are well known resources for reviewing and picking out the best universities. But ML / stats online courses, I don't know where to go. It is however a profoundly important question, because these courses have the potential to be great sources of learning. The majority are not great, but there are likely some fantastic gems out there that only experts like you could help judge. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ My guess, if I had to guess, is that you agreed with the closing because either a) you some personal bias against ml & stats online courses or b) you are unfamiliar with them, or most likely both. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:24
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Since you insist that I deliberately misinterpret your words, there does not seem to be a way for me to have a productive conversation with you & I will withdraw. Indeed, it may be impossible for anyone. Your comment says "The question wasn't for recommendations of online courses, but rather recommendations of online courses about stats and ML." But the first sentence of the question is "This isn't a question for a recommendation of online courses for statistics and machine learning." How can anyone interpret your words fairly when you say one thing & later insist it was the opposite? $\endgroup$
    – Sycorax Mod
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ It wasn't a question for a recommendation of online stats courses! It was a question about where/how I should go about getting recommendations It's unfortunate you simply can't just admit you were wrong, at least in part. I can start though, I realize now that I should have explained what my goals were and that might have avoided all the drama here. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:40
  • $\begingroup$ The reason I got frustrated was I saw so many questions being closed as duplicate with pointers to deeply obsolete and outdated answers. Maybe if someone provided an updated answer on the original question before closing the dupe, that would have been less frustrating to see. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ stats.stackexchange.com/questions/599477/… $\endgroup$
    – Sycorax Mod
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:52
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ It is best not to prolong this unhappy exchange, except by underlining that it is perfectly standard practice for people to accept their own answers. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 14:54
-8
$\begingroup$

I found the selected answer exceedingly unfair.

The only possible audience for this self answered q/a is someone who is still learning about the topic at hand. They are struggling to ask a question for learning resources and it's very likely because they are early on the journey to deeper knowledge and require guidance on how best to make it.

For them, I'd like to say that the simple reality is - you won't know what you don't know. But that's ok, instead of worrying about what you need to learn, think more deeply about what you want to do with what you learn. What are your goals? How will you utilize what you want to know?

Try to be as short term and specific as possible, though some longer time frame context can help.

If you don't wish to answer that question (some don't), then the answer above will be your only alternative.

$\endgroup$
23
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "you won't know what you don't know" The format of questions and answers is about questions that are specific and this strongly requires that the people that ask questions have at least an idea and that they "know what they don't know". Of the four stages of competence people that ask questions on stackexchange are in the second stage. They are incompetent, but more specifically 'conscious incompetent'; they are aware about it. Questions where the questioner doesn't know what they want to question are very difficult here. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ You can still be very specific - eg, about your goals. For exampe, "I'm trying to solve a problem involving brain cancer detection from mri images - what would be some online courses to take so I'll be better preprared to take on this problem." This is something that comes up on stackoverflow all the time. Instead of asking some particular technical question, instead, explain what you're trying to do. You'll often get much better answers. Folks new to an area who try to ask about some technique unecessarily end up going down a lot of rabbit holes. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree that one can improve the specificity of a question by explaining the goal, which can substitute for the lack of technical knowledge to describe a question. However that goal still needs to be specific or relate to a specific task/problem/issue. We don't know what they don't know and it must become clear with sufficient specificity from the goal description... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 8:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ ... I find it hard to believe that such a broad question about resources on processing/analysing MRI images would be acceptable on stackoverflow. Asside from the temporal aspect and online courses changing rapidly, the subject is not very clear about their needs and what their underlying issue is such that one can formulate a definite answer. Do they need a course on object oriented programming, a training in a specific language, create an user interface, etc.? It can be anything. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 8:12
  • $\begingroup$ For a part, when it relates to software, we have covered such questions about resources and general information in a thread on meta and refer to that thread whenever a person asks a question that is too general or off-topic. stats.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/793/… $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 8:20
  • $\begingroup$ nothing here involves software, so that's a digression, but I will say an underlying problem is that these answers are 'opinion' based, and I see questions for recommendations getting closed because of that. Frustrating,but perhaps understandable, it still leaves the question though - where and how should we get expert opinons about statistics and ML online courses? (for example only!) $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 9:02
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There are dozens of basic courses. I imagine that questions, if they basically summarise a Google search for those courses, then they are not very helpful. On the other hand, for very specific tasks there might be very helpful clues from experts. I remember my professor giving me advice on places to go to when I wanted to learn more about numerical molecular modelling in order to obtain diffusion coefficients of molecules in water. But, I followed a lot of steps from the other answer and did research, and got stuck in software that was a bit alien to me.... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ ... The difference in requiring 'expert' advice (which makes it more ontopic and less prone to a big opinion base random summary) is that the topic is more niche. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 11:18
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ This improves from initial diffuse insults and insinuations. The second paragraph is extraordinary. Smart and knowledgeable people are allowed, even entitled, to feel good about knowing stuff and knowing how to explain stuff, without any contradiction or tension between that and their answers helping people. We are all at liberty to like or dislike style or tone, but comments even in abstraction on who is or is not "sincere" are not helpful here. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 14:51
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ –1 "There are two types of people who answer questions, those who get a shallow and very misleading sense of self worth from appearing to be more clever…" This is a baseless assertion which reads like a bad faith ad hominem rant against members of the community in general. $\endgroup$
    – Alexis
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ There's a deep frustration which goes along with questions which get closed simply because they are difficult to answer. For example, I get that figuring out how to recommend a good online course is very tough and that cs exchange might not be the right place to ask it because it's a matter of opinion. But it is an important question and at the very least, folks who are deep in the subject could try to give pointers on where to ask. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 11:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I've removed my implicit ad hominem. I still strongly encourage folks to reflect on their motivations for answering questions, because sometimes certain types of answers demoralize and discourage folks who are new to a topic, which imho, is a tragic state of affairs and a net negative. Forcing someone to verbalize specifically what they need to know rather than why they need to do will just cause deep frustration and in some cases perhaps cause folks to quit the pursuit of knowledge. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 11:28
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It's not a source of satisfaction if someone whose question is deleted is "demoralize[d]", or "discourage[d]"", but SE is not a help line and it's intended as strongly positive that quality is maintained. Sometimes a poor question is just a poor question, and if you disagree, there are many ways to respond, including answering yourself, commenting or voting, and raising what you think are poor decisions on Meta. To see closure of questions as "tragic" and to assert that people may even "quit the pursuit of knowledge" on closure seem to me both highly exaggerated and utterly unsubstantiated. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 12:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NickCox I will add that sometimes a good question is a bad fit for this (or any) SE, because SE's are not discussion forums or places to curate recommendations (contrast with, e.g., reddit), and not blogs (contrast with, e.g., Tumblr), and not long form essay sites with comments (e.g., contrast with SubStack and Medium). Sometimes it's not newness in statistical knowledge that presents a barrier to effective engagement on CV, but literacy around what a SE is and is not for. Having one's question closed by others is not a moral failure. $\endgroup$
    – Alexis
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 16:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Veterans of the community have already given much wisdom. I just want to add a quick note that SE is a better place than any other weird forum. People here are eager to help provided the queries are not ambivalent, subjective or opinion based & within the scopes properly defined. They are democratically closed on clear grounds - the user gets chance to edit for reopening. Alleging obnoxious thing against users or making outright rant seem to be malarkey. Disagreement is welcome & CV meta is here for amelioration. But at the end of the day, we cherish our community. That's my take as a newbie. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 17:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .