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Since 2012, SFF's policy on "Is there any...?" questions is that they are suitable for this site; see How should we handle "any" (list) questions?.

However, in some recent comments, meta posts and chat discussions, I've seen several users voice disagreement with this policy, and few (if not none) express support for it.

Should this policy be revised?


By design, this question is awfully plain and not sourced. This is because I am personally of the opinion that the policy should be revoked, and will elaborate on why in an answer; I'm trying to keep the question as neutral as I can, so that the votes on it can reflect a "maybe we should revisit the policy" feeling, and not be interpreted as "keep it/trash it" votes. These will be reflected by the votes on answers.

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  • An unbiased question is good, but it would still be nice to link examples of the type of question you're talking about, even if not the meta or chat discussions. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by an "is there any ..." question. – Rand al'Thor May 8 at 15:22
  • @Randal'Thor "is there any work featuring XYZ" mostly, as described in my answer. Mostly because I think "is there any" questions can have different flavours, and the policy proposal I'm making tackles (I hope) all aspects of it. I think I'm too partial on this to put that reasoning in the question. Folks who may agree that the policy should be revised, but in a different manner than the one I suggest, are thus free to write an answer with how they see the distinctions going :) – Jenayah May 8 at 15:25
  • @Randal'Thor the linked old policy has some examples. Generally an “any” question is one that is a normal list/recommendation one but technically saying “is there any” instead of “works where...” – TheLethalCarrot May 8 at 15:26
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    @TheLethalCarrot That seems like just a classical list/recommendation question under all just the most pedantic of interpretations :-) This policy then seems like a bit of a no-brainer, and I'm surprised that people started following that old 2012 post. – Rand al'Thor May 8 at 15:48
  • "Yes." is not a valid answer on SE. - 'Yes. And here's the examples you requested as per your criteria that limits it to a specific author or intellectual property and is therefor finite.' is a valid answer to a validly worded question. - "Is there any...?" is missing the rest of the sentence which will tell us if it's on topic or not. - Under the "most pedantic of interpretations" is how SE works. - 'cleverly wording' something is how to get away with all sorts of stuff on SE, and why unless I can cite you Wiki or give an empirical answer, idc, until that prerogative is removed via the HC – Mazura May 17 at 23:43
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TL;DR: I disagree that all "is there any...?" questions are suitable for this site, and propose the following:

  • Close "is there any work featuring XYZ" questions as recommendations or too broad;
  • Leave open "What is the first work featuring X" questions (no change here);
  • Leave open "Is there any" questions which are set in a specific universe;
  • Only if the querent can make a very good point, either in comments or on Meta, that their question doesn't have the flaws described below, the question can be reopened.

The reasoning behind the current policy is a bit flawed

The 2012 answer which serves as policy today reads:

Strictly speaking, the answer to an "are there any..." question is not a list, but a "yes" or a "no". To be a good answer, an answer of "yes" needs to be supported by an example or two, but that does not make it a list answer, nor the question a list question.

The above is true, but flawed. First, as a comment points out, this doesn't make sense as in SFF's case, a "no" answer cannot exist:

How could you possibly answer a question like this with an answer of "no"? Absence of evidence is nothing more than absence of evidence. As a result, some of these types of questions would be fundamentally unanswerable.

And indeed, go provide evidence that there is no work with such a plot/feature/twist. There is too much SFF material to browse through; ironically, you'd be back to a list answer of "works XYZ do not match".

Just because it's not a list or worded as a recommendation, doesn't make it a good fit for the site

Generally speaking, large lists and recommendations have no place on Stack Exchange sites. The fact that answers to "is there any" questions do not fall under that category doesn't magically make them on-topic. Communities have some leeway to determine what is suitable or not for their site; this is why SFF allows identification questions, when Movies.SE does not. Point being, there is no upper-policy dictating those should be left open.

It can be abused way too easily

Granted, rules can always be tweaked in some way, but compare:

  • "Please suggest medieval fantasy books with knights fighting dinosaurs": vote to close

  • "Is there any medieval fantasy book with knights fighting dinosaurs?": leave open

Of course there is more to close-voting a question than just its title, but doesn't the above just look weird? Any recommendation question can be made on-topic by wording it as a "is there any" question and letting people post their favorite works as answers.

Granted, it can similarly be bypassed by asking for the first appearance of XYZ. But at least rating which work was "the first" is pretty straightforward: sort by date. It also has some value as a genre evolution type of information.

On "is there any" questions, there's no restraining new one-liners answers, meaning you could have a thread of "title answers" going on for quite a time, depending on how tropey the thing is. That's not, in my opinion, the level of quality I want to see on Stack Exchange sites; this is more suitable for platforms like Reddit or Quora.

2020 SFF is not 2012 SFF

Simply put, some people may have voted on this policy with the 2012 state of SFF in mind, and think differently now. Some of the users who wanted this policy in 2012 may be gone. Some new users may disagree with it.

Voting periodically on whether to keep or change something is a good thing. It lets people express their opinion and possible desire for a change; no policy has to be set on stone forever. It's like saying electing a President in 1983 makes them President for life; it's broken.

Also, pretty much all "is there any" questions seem to generate close votes and policy-reminders in comments, sometimes by folks who disagree with said policy but want to abide by site rules (I'm one of them). For instance, check the lengthy comments, revisions and timelines of:

And many others; the goal isn't to have an exhaustive list, it's to show that people are torn; I say let's vote again, to see what the current batch of SFF users want for the site.

Some "is there any" questions are fine though

All the examples linked to above have in common that they are asking whether something exists among all the SFF material ever created by humanity. That's too broad for you. However, I see no problem with reasonable "is there any" questions set in a specific universe, or written by a specific author, etc, keyword here being specific. That narrows the question's scope and avoids it being open to the above clutter. In fact, the community already receives those pretty well:

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  • Your reasoning for closing "is there any" questions which are applicable to all SFF works is that they are too broad and couldn't reasonably be answered no. I agree. But allowing "is there any" questions that are limited in scope could still cause problems. Where do you draw the line? For instance would you consider it reasonable that someone could answer no to "is there any ... in Marvel works, including comics, cartoons and films?" – K Mo May 8 at 16:10
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    @KMo common sense. You can't always translate every aspect of a policy into written words. "Any forbidden tech in Star Wars" is fine. "Any brune woman in SW?" will be too broad. At some point it'll be down to the subject experts to argue whether yes or no, this is suitable for the site. (and we'll still have meta to discuss specific questions) – Jenayah May 8 at 16:15
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    I was just about to say the same thing, but with one clarification: “is there any [name of work] fan fiction where x?” is also off topic. – Laurel May 8 at 21:15
  • I think that in a within universe context, this kind of questions should be left open, they could have a large scope, but that scope is clearly finite (both in the possible answer and in the source material); a single definitive answer is usually possible, even if it would be the old "we do not know". – Sekhemty May 9 at 17:43
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    As a side note, I think that having unwritten rules, undocumented common practices, rules based on some old posts on meta, and generally speaking any rule that is not explicitly explained in the help center, is a problematic practice. There should be a way to have some clear information about these things, both for new members, or even more experienced ones that are not always present on the site and do not partecipate much in chat and meta. – Sekhemty May 9 at 17:53
  • "explicitly explained in the help center", +1. Like feature requests? Ways to improve and promote Science Fiction and Fantasy - Don't hold your breath. It is by-design, not by-design, that we 'design' it, and keep trying to redesign it, where the only thing left to examine is the original design, which hasn't changed in 11y (presumably, as I can't see the timeline for the HC's revisions) – Mazura May 17 at 22:49
  • What are all the books written by Terry Pratchett that have dinosaurs in them? - that's a finite list (if, any) and not explicitly against the rules as explained in the help center. [author or IP] + [subject in question] = finite list. New users are expected to read a post from 2012? IDTS. Meta posts are for, omg, why did I get downvoted?!? - And not, 'why is my question closed?' (lmgtfy the HC) – Mazura May 17 at 22:50
  • How about revisiting? Again? Then I'm going to have to say what I said above for the... fifth (?) time. This is the same finite list vs list discussion we've been having for years, and moot, because people who think (read: don't like) finite list questions are probably... (most of the people who care or have the power to do something, and are the same people who don't like 'first' questions)... are not going to help change anything. Spencer has it right with curation. My word would be curtail (through back-door meta policy, crap 'we' don't like). – Mazura May 17 at 23:07
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It's clobberin' time!

This question wouldn't exist, except for the crazy culture of sophistry that permeates curation on SE sites in general and makes it exasperating for people to interact with them.

Early in my own interaction with SE, I got a little exasperated with SFF questions, and analogous questions on other SE sites. I was tempted many times to write a sarcastic meta question titled

When was the last time a superlative was used to mask a list question?

but thought better of it. It became clear to me that allowing "what was the first" and other superlative request questions was some sort of compromise worked out in the early history of SE and it worked, so I left it alone. Now there's a proposal that will upset that balance.

When it comes to fiction, there is never any way to identify the true first appearance of an idea. There are plenty of early SF publications for which no copies survive. Some story ideas are list in the mists of prehistory.

[digression]In fact, it's too easy to move the goalposts by wording questions to allow mythological or religious works when the focus should be on published fiction. Of course, citing mythological or religious influences on a particular author would be part of a complete answer). There is a Mythology SE that is withering for want of questions.[/digression]

A similar thing happens with vaguely worded questions. A lot of sites have banned identification questions altogether, but SFF still allows them, because the detective work is fun.

This means that for many questions, there is no objective single answer, no matter how they're worded. It's disingenuous to suggest there is one, and changing the wording isn't going to change that. The result is that we allow a list of approximations as answers.

This is a Good Thing. It's a big part of what makes SFF fun.

Nonetheless, superlative-request questions are list questions in disguise.

What does this mean? It's the entire list question policy that should be reviewed if any policy is to be reviewed at all.

I see nothing wrong with allowing questions along the lines of "What are some good (early) examples of X".

Curation doesn't need to be overthought. Recall how Stack Exchange works: The best questions and answers get voted up to the top. Bad answers get voted down. If a "list" question gets too many answers, it can be protected.

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    Curation is what makes SE sites work and the rules that govern them. Protection also doesn’t help in most cases as you only need a handful of rep to bypass it. Closure is there to stop list questions not voting/protecting: they do other things. – TheLethalCarrot May 10 at 19:45
  • @TheLethalCarrot Curation is fine, the mechanisms are fine, it's the execution that makes the wheels come off. And frankly, I'm much more comfortable saying this on SFF Meta than other metas. – Spencer May 10 at 19:52
  • To clarify: do you think the current policy is already too strict? (that’s what I think you’re saying but just want to be 100% sure). – TheLethalCarrot May 10 at 19:54
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    @TheLethalCarrot Well, not actually, it's just inconsistent, because the "hidden" list questions are allowed. I'd prefer consistency one way or the other. – Spencer May 10 at 19:56
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    Hidden lists aren’t lists if you mean story id/history of. They can, certainly the latter, turn into lists but it’s much easier to curate them. Whereas just “recommend x” can’t be curated at all really and just don’t fit with the Q/A format. – TheLethalCarrot May 10 at 19:58
  • @TheLethalCarrot I don't think we're talking about the same thing. But if we're going to revisit policies, let's try to figure out what it is. – Spencer May 10 at 20:06
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    "What are some good (early) examples of X" is a bad question because it's purely subjective. It's opinion and would digress into warfare over defending said positions – NKCampbell May 10 at 23:05
  • @NKCampbell It's the moral equivalent of any of the other question wordings, as I've discussed in my post. I'm OK with the status quo, I just think any distinctions made between the various wordings is artificial. – Spencer May 10 at 23:30
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    The distinctions in the various wordings are important because edit changes the intent and meaning of a question. And as such changes what answers are acceptable. A small change can make something answerable in the format to a completely subjective list. – TheLethalCarrot May 11 at 14:31
  • @TheLethalCarrot I doubt we'll ever agree on that. But maybe you see my point that Jenayah's proposal will upset a balance that's worked for SFF. – Spencer May 11 at 14:55
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    @Spencer all the proposal does, in my opinion, is actually change what we do now to what people try to do now but can’t do because old policy is in the way. It’s just an update to match current attempted practice. – TheLethalCarrot May 11 at 15:02
  • @TheLethalCarrot Again, I disagree, for the reasons in my post. So let's just leave it at that. – Spencer May 11 at 15:08
  • I had to read this twice before I realized it wasn't just a rant, it's reality, +1. Not 'a good fit for the site' does not make it off-topic. "any rule that is not explicitly explained in the help center, is a problematic practice" - Y'all are just looking for a close reason on questions you don't like. - The UV and DV buttons, people; use 'em. – Mazura May 17 at 22:32
  • Help Center addition: Here's a little secret that some users don't want you to know. Finite lists are on-topic. 'First' questions are also on-topic. ("I'd prefer consistency one way or the other." - the consensus is that we have agreed to disagree because no one can cite it being against the rules in the HC because the wording to do so doesn't exist in it) – Mazura May 17 at 23:18

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