There recently was a question put on hold that asked for a recommended book on CogSci:

best book for cognitive science

It was put on hold because of the opinion-basedness of the question.

Why? I think, despite different people thinking different books, this is a valid question? In my discipline, Neuroscience, there is basically just one masterpiece. Going up to the level of general Biology, it becomes admittedly more ambiguous, but still I could give good advice to a few general works. This can be valuable to folks of an unrelated discipline without any connections to that field.

Perhaps in Cognitive Science there is a bewildering number of excellent works, or CogSci.SE has a different attitude, so I thought to ask.

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    "In my discipline, Neuroscience, there is basically just one masterpiece" That is why more specific questions have this problem less.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Jan 26, 2015 at 15:49
  • Related: meta.cogsci.stackexchange.com/q/680/21
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Jan 26, 2015 at 15:49
  • More related: meta.cogsci.stackexchange.com/q/36/21
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Jan 26, 2015 at 15:50
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    I think these questions would be useful if a larger portion of our users were professionals or academics in the Cognitive Sciences (this is why I am okay with these sort of questions on research-level sites like cstheory). However, given that most of our users are beginners and interested non-professionals, I fear that these sort of questions will garner a lot of poor responses on our site. Jan 27, 2015 at 2:51
  • @ArtemKaznatcheev - Thanks for your input and I understand. One last 'but,..but..' before taking in your comment as an answer: poor responses can be downvoted or deleted?
    – AliceD Mod
    Jan 27, 2015 at 13:18
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    @ChrisStronks I am with you here, and I would love for our site to be able to sustain such questions, but I really don't see it happening with our community. Sure, we will be able to identify the really bad answers and downvote (although few people do, given the rep cost) and maybe delete (almost nobody casts delete votes, most has to be done by mods, it seems). But what about all the other so-so answers? Questions like this are largely 'good taste' questions and they are useful only if the community largely has good taste. Jan 27, 2015 at 18:36
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    As a case study: consider that somebody gives a crummy but popular pop-sci book as an answer. Everybody who works in the field knows the book is crappy, but there are only 3 of those to give downvotes; the majority of our users only read pop-sci books (if anything at all) and recognize the author/title and upvote it... Jan 27, 2015 at 18:38
  • @ArtemKaznatcheev - many thanks, makes perfect sense now. Admittedly, I can't be of any sensible help on this kind-of question either... It's indeed a critical mass thing, interesting point. Thanks.
    – AliceD Mod
    Jan 27, 2015 at 18:53
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    @ChrisStronks don't take my comments as authoritative, I don't think the debate is completely closed. For example, the biology StackExchange also has a lot of lay public, but they allow these sort of questions: intro, history, algorithms. Those are just ones I gave answers to, they seem to have a whole tag. Jan 27, 2015 at 19:01

3 Answers 3


Based on two closure tests (1, 2) of book recommendation questions that both quickly succeeded, one of which had already been answered and accepted, I would say that community consensus is against book recommendations being within-scope.


Book recommendations are not, in my view, appropriate for a cognitive science SE. Asking what the "best" book for something is does not make sense in cognitive science, though if you are coming from neuroscience, I can understand the sentiment. In cognitive science, such a question usually has infinite answers, and it is impossible to rank them in any meaningful way.

Book reviews, however, are apt for this site. I've tried to give a book review in response to a reasonably well-formulated question here, Is the book “The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance” worth reading? This is a question which, while not possible to quantify, is ultimately still possible to answer objectively by reference to the book's contents and intellectual merit in its proper context. For Artem's pop-sci book example above, I think even most lay readers would recognize the pop-science for what it is under these conditions.

The difference mainly lies in whether the question specifies a (set of) book(s) or not. If it does, then it is appropriate.


Attention was drawn 4 hours ago to a highly upvoted answer to a book recommendation question, hence this edit to my answer.

Questions asking for book recommendations are not appropriate for a Psychology and Neuroscience for many reasons. For one thing, as @ChristianHumeluhr points out,

asking what the "best" book for something is does not make sense.

That is from an objective viewpoint, which is what answers here are meant to be.

The answer to the question linked saved this question for that time, purely because it gave a "required/recommended reading list" for their undergraduate psychology study program.

The thing is, because some theories in psychology change through further study, either strengthening the hypotheses or debunking them (look at the hypotheses surrounding homosexuality or masterbation for example) books can go out of date, so care needs to be taken when accepting old recommended reading lists.

On top of that, generally speaking, we could give you some opinions on what book you may find interesting and hopefully helpful, but being subjective like that, we cannot know from one question what your knowledge level is on the subject for a start.

We could recommend a book which is so advanced that you may not be ready for it because you don't know enough of the subject to understand it. You might pay a lot of money for that book and have to shelve it and buy another one, maybe more expensive books to read up on the information you need to know in order to get the benefit from the first one.

While you may not be wasting your money buying the first recommended book per se as you can return to that book when ready, the money would be better spent on a book which you will get more out of right now.

You may think that you could word the question so it fits by asking for a "good" or the "best" book for someone with a "basic knowledge". But, how basic is basic? Again, that is subjective.

I know a little about Freud's theories

What theories do you know about? What do you know about them? What more would you want to know about them? How far are you looking to take your knowledge of these theories to?

The list of questions needing answers to make a meaningful book recommendation can be endless.

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