The "any" questions invite a list, which is not permitted.

But we're currently not dealing with them consistently (or I can't see a pattern). Here's a few examples:

How should we handle these list questions? I think it is important to be consistent here, especially given that we want to reach out to new users who might be put off by seeing their questions closed while others remain open.

Update: there were two new ones today, one of which was mine (oops). I don't see any consensus forming in the answers yet.

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    I personally think that questions like the last deleted ones are the most useful and content great on the site, and the site is MUCH worse without them. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 3 '12 at 15:26
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    I'm with @DVK and think the deleted question is a terrific example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I'll also point out that in the 4th one, which was mine, I specifically stated I didn't need long lists, I was just trying to establish if it was a rule that superheros had the situation given to them and it wasn't a choice. It's almost impossible to establish what the rules in a genre are without asking if exceptions exist, which almost always leads to a list -- and I think trying to define those rules is useful. – Tango Feb 3 '12 at 21:43
  • To the downvoter: are you downvoting because you don't want consistency? – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Feb 5 '12 at 9:52
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    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. – Martha Feb 6 '12 at 15:56
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    @Martha: good one, you've articulated what was going vaguely around my mind but couldn't put into words... :) Can you add this as an answer, because I think it is a great way forward? – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Feb 6 '12 at 18:33
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    @Wikis: as you wish... – Martha Feb 6 '12 at 21:40
  • Direct link to the deleted one for those who can view it, as the "try to print on page open" is really annoying – Izkata Sep 24 '13 at 23:56
  • Also, here's another recent one - people seemed to agree with my comment on it – Izkata Sep 24 '13 at 23:58
  • Based on the examples given, it looks like we close them. – Valorum May 7 '20 at 11:45

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.

(I keep seeing this same struggle on all the various stackexchanges. None of them have found a universally satisfactory solution yet: there are always people who see list bullets and knee-jerk vote to close, even though that is clearly NOT what is meant by "list question"; and conversely, people who feel obligated to post their favorite pet example as a new answer, even if the question has already been quite thoroughly answered.)

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    I really like this because it draws a clear distinction between any questions and list questions. The assumption in my question, that they were the same, is therefore not correct. I suggest that we therefore permit any questions where one or two example will suffice, and then limit them somehow, either in time (e.g. after three months) or after a number of different answers (e.g. five). – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Feb 6 '12 at 22:19
  • Martha - thanks also for posting your experience elsewhere - this will help our discussion here. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Feb 6 '12 at 22:20
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    Shame such a well thought out answer has got two down votes without explanation. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Feb 7 '12 at 8:29
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    While there is a semantically correct argument that these questions are not asking for a list, the answers will in fact form a list and these questions will suffer from all the same ills as plain old list questions. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Feb 7 '12 at 19:46
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    @dmckee: not necessarily. A good, thorough answer to an "any" question will list enough examples that any further answers (with other examples) become unnecessary, even redundant. The fact that there are always people who feel compelled to post redundant answers is not (or at least shouldn't be) a reflection on the question. – Martha Feb 7 '12 at 20:03
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    That's how it should work, but not how it does work. Bikeshedding and metooism are forces unto themselves. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Feb 7 '12 at 20:19
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    Even questions that don't involve any sort of list get "me too" answers added to them - that's why it's possible to "protect" a question. – Tony Meyer Feb 8 '12 at 2:59
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    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. – Beofett Oct 2 '13 at 18:10
  • The most recent example of this seems to be generating a list. – Valorum Nov 10 '16 at 11:03
  • Basically, (showing my age that I grew up with set theory), "Is the list of X a set of zero elements?" Thus for the one I asked, "Is the list of sci fi stories involving future Earths where the economic system includes the gold standard a non-zero set?" Thus the answer is 'yes/no', but a good answer includes an example or two. – Vaughn Ohlman Jul 7 '20 at 23:30

Amongst the three open ones, I'm tempted to:

Since we're debating the issue right now, I'm not going to wield the mod close hammer. Feel free to vote to close, but please voice your opinion here as well.

  • At first glance, I like your answer. But then I realised that 1. closing these questions will potentially remove some interesting questions - is that desirable and 2. rewording does not change the fact that it is still a list question, i.e. there are multiple, valid answers. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Feb 3 '12 at 11:33
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    I have to agree with @Gilles. Plus these are questions that can have infinite variations on a theme. If we don't close them, we're inviting a certain type of person to flood the site with various permutations of these questions in order to gather up reputation. – HNL Feb 3 '12 at 11:47
  • @Wikis The intent of rewording is to make the question constructive, so that mentioning one item makes for a poor answer, and mentioning one item with no explanation is clearly not an answer. For evidence of flooding: 1 2 – user56 Feb 3 '12 at 12:38
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    Wouldn't it be preferable to close the invisibility question, and ask a new, reworded question? The current one has a bunch of answers that would all look like terrible answers to a reworded question. – user1027 Feb 3 '12 at 15:38
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    @Keen - I think that may be a correct assessment, but is a bit tangential - the main issue is, should a question with such content exist or not, as opposed to should that content be in udpated old question or a new one. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 3 '12 at 15:55
  • @Keen Yes, probably. The accepted answer is actually ok, because it shows that the seminal work on the topic dealt with the issue, but the rest are not very good. – user56 Feb 3 '12 at 21:19
  • I closed the first 2, not quite sure what to do about the third. It's been long enough, this seems like the policy to deal with. – PearsonArtPhoto Feb 23 '12 at 20:19
  • @Pearsonartphoto Thanks. It occurs to me that the second question is an old one that definitely should have been closed in the list purge, we just missed it at the time. I've reworded the invisibility question to make it less listy. – user56 Feb 23 '12 at 21:13

TL;DR: Let's NOT jump to conclusion of how to make this decision based in 1 year old list of list questions - let's try and see if things have improved by now that we CAN handle some list questions without damaging the site.

Gilles' (and other here-from-the-start power users and mods) opinion is heavily influenced by a 1-year-old growing pains data.

Given the old examples of lists and their ratios, I could only leap to the same conclusions as they did then: "STOMP THE VIRUS OUT!".

However, I'm worried that the data they base their opinion on is not fully applicable to the site 1 year later. What changed?

  • We have a lot more "power" users (by which I mean active users who grok the site's ideas and purpose, and are willing to put in effort to maintain the site and improve the content and the community).

  • We have a lot more great non-list content so that occasional not-terrible listy question doesn't dilute the site's value by nearly as much, and is therefore less risky to keep and re-word and improve as necessary for a little while as opposed to immediately whacking like a mole. (mind you, some list questions aren't of much benefit and CAN be whacked).

  • A lot of questions nowadays that are closed as list seem to be in a form that CAN - with enough effort - be salvaged to be good for Q/A format.

I would VERY much like to base any decision on an actual scientific experiment.

Let's open up the rules slightly, for a week or 2 or a month.

  • instead of immediately deleting - with prejudice (that is, by moderator's binding vote) - anything that even remotely smells like it could become a list, we let it go through a normal community work process. Those that feel it's bad should downvote. Those that feel it's a list, should COMMENT as such, and let either the asker or other users work on addressing the question's problems.

    Specifically, anyone who is on record as supporting the idea that some rule relaxation is needed has to put in the effort to improve the questions. IOW, this shouldn't be Gilles' (or new moderators') job!

  • If NOBODY steps up to the place to improve the question or defend it on Meta, we can close after a brief period (that should be at least a day - not 5 mins!)

  • CAVEAT: if the question starts generating a list of answers and isn't immediately fixed so it doesn't - WHACK!!!

Then, at the end of trial period, we see whether we end up with the same ebola-like spread of bad content from listy questions like what Gilles had to deal with a year ago, or it's a manageable (by comunity) trickle which allows some good content to be added to the site.

If the former, we go back to 2011 rules. Personally, if we see a flood of lists of useless answers, I fully pledge to support continued banning using the old rules.

If the latter, we hammer out new, less stringent rules on META based on what we've learned.

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    @TangoOversway - I admit I'm significantly more sanguine about downvoting than about closing. The latter has big material and structural impact and is MUCH harder to reverse (especially one modhammer is down). The former is mostly slightly hurt feelings and easy to reverse. In my years on SE, I saw a LOT more examples of people reversing their down-votes when a post is improved, compared to reversing their close votes. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 3 '12 at 16:14
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    Your first point on “what's changed” are wrong: there's never been a shortage of users willing to put in the effort. I doubt your second point, but I agree that we can't tell without doing the experiment. Your third point makes no sense: if you see a question that can be improved, edit it and flag for reopening. We've always waited weeks before deleting questions that weren't total nonsense. Now, I think your experiment is like “let's put our head in a vise because it's the only way to know for sure whether it hurts”, but if the community is massively in favor, go for it. – user56 Feb 3 '12 at 21:12
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    @DVK If you were refering to your own questions, then ok, you had one deleted after 13 days. That's technically perhaps not “weeks”, but there had been no debate, no meta post, no vote to reopen, no activity at all during those 13 days. – user56 Feb 3 '12 at 21:47
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    @DVK No, that's not how it works. Voting to close/reopen a question is based on the question's current state, not on some hoped-for future state. That's why reopening exists. – user56 Feb 3 '12 at 22:04
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    I understand that the general SE rule is 'close quickly, it can be reopened if necessary'. However, it's easy to get a new question closed - there are a lot of people who can vote to close and a lot of people see new questions. It's much less likely that 5 people will look at a question that's already closed to see whether it should be re-opened. If I see a closed question, I will rarely edit it for this reason - the amount of work to get enough people to take a look seems too much (maybe I'm wrong; maybe I should try more now). I will edit a not-yet-closed one to stave off closure. – Tony Meyer Feb 4 '12 at 8:19
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    @TonyMeyer If you've edited a closed question, flag it for reopening! – user56 Feb 4 '12 at 13:38
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    @Gilles -But your entire justification for labeling a question "bad/worth closing" is "it will devolve into multitude of poor answers". That to me (especially given your power to close with one vote) is akin to Judge Dredd shootings someone merely because they are "likely" to commit a crime, to use an on-topic example. This seems like a major contradiction - you are using "many bad answers" as a justification for why you dislike the question, yet you refuse to admit that many such questions can, indeed, produce one good answer, BUT you can't demonstrate what's the harm in waiting for evidence – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 4 '12 at 16:25
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    @DVK: you seem to be looking for a rule that can be applied indiscriminately, without any real thought on the part of those closing beyond "contains keywords". That's no way to run a site... The decision to close, reopen, edit or delete... That needs to be made by folks who care enough about the question and the site as a whole to fight for them. This passive "let's just sit on our hands and hope for the best" attitude leads inexorably to a place where those rare good answers you hope for are buried under an ocean of crap. – Shog9 Feb 4 '12 at 18:00
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    @Shog - sorry, you got my position all backwards. I'm looking for a rule that can be applied discriminately. What I don't want is people making indiscriminate guesses of "I think this question WILL suck" without zero evidence or proof. Your idea of crap and mine isn't always the same. So let's have some objective measurable ways of doing so instead of dictatorship by whoever has the biggest club. If you think it's a bad question, prove it to me. N small answers is a great proof. "I said so" is not. I care about this site just as much as Gilles does, if you haven't noticed. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 4 '12 at 18:08
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    @Shog - Also, I never argued that bad questions that are popular should be left alone because of their popularity. I fully agree that GENUINE list questions are extremely popular AND extremely bad for SE. My problem is with lumping in questions like "favorite joke" and those that are useful yet may either become a list nightmare OR one with a single great authoritative answer. My only request is that the latter don't get closed merely on posiibility of the first outcome, because there are people willing to work on second outcome. You know those people who care about the site. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 4 '12 at 18:13
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    @Shog - The question which started the whole brouhaha: Had ONE close vote, exactly ONE answer (provided same day) for 2 weeks (not a list of them), and zero comments suggesting that something needs to be improved OTHER than "it will become an endless list" (there was a flaw in the question, but it wasn't the reason it was closed and wasn't pointed out in comments). And it has 1 more reopen vote than it had close votes. I use all the tools you listed, fairly heavily. I would appreciate specific ways in which it violated the evaluation criteria in your last comment, I just don't see them. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 4 '12 at 18:37
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    @DVK: your suggestion here ("let's try and see if things have improved by now that we CAN handle some list questions without damaging the site") doesn't jibe with the scenario you describe: 2 weeks isn't hasty (and already matches your proposed grace period), 1 answer isn't a list (potent evidence your favor). If you find a question you feel was incorrectly closed, make a case for that, flag, post here, etc. - no need to change the "rules" for the odd exception; those exceptions are exactly why this is a human-driven system. – Shog9 Feb 4 '12 at 19:12
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    @DVK: If you want less unilateral moderator action, you (that is, users who aren't moderators) need to demonstrate that you're willing to take action with or without moderator assistance. Voting to re-open is part of that: if you take the attitude that "a moderator closed it, a moderator needs to re-open it", then you're implicitly giving more weight to the diamond-moderator interpretation of the site's rules than you are to everyone else's - including your own! Ditto for "I don't vote contrary to rules I disagree with" - 'tis a poor democracy where everyone votes as they're told to. – Shog9 Feb 4 '12 at 20:19
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    BTW: this is what drew me to this discussion in the first place... The idea that, in order to change the rules the site is governed, you first need to convince the moderators... is completely backwards: convince your fellow users! I've now heard both you and Gilles state that you enforce rules on the site that you personally disagree with; for Gilles, that's appropriate - he was elected to enforce the Community's will, not his own. But if both the diamond-mods and the community spend their time acting as they think the other would have them do, the hard decisions never get made. – Shog9 Feb 4 '12 at 20:22
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    @DVK yes, that's an excellent example - note the process Beofett (who is not a moderator!) followed here in response to the closed question: identify the larger issue, bring it up for discussion, state his own (excellent, IMHO) solution as an answer, put it into action (by editing the question that touched it all off). This puts the decision firmly in the hands of the community, with the philosophy behind their actions publicly documented for future reference - if accepted, future instances of these questions can be similarly edited and salvaged without all the overhead. – Shog9 Feb 4 '12 at 20:42

It seems to me pretty clear that the word "Any" in a question doesn't warrant immediate closing, but it does signal that the question should be watched. Here's a few thoughts that I've been putting together. I've pulled in some ideas from the weakly supported idea in the FAQ referenced what is on topic question, and glanced at other ideas in this list.

  1. Questions dealing with a single universe. These are probably okay, so long as the list of things isn't huge. What is the name of every Jedi is probably a bad question, but what are the names of the 12 Battlestars in BSG is okay. Any questions in this sense could be answered by a user knowledgeable about the universe, even if that answer might be no.
  2. Any asking about if a particular twisted example exists in some science fiction/ fantasy. If the answer is yes, then they might get an answer, but if the answer is no, it seems almost impossible that an answer could ever be arrived at. And there's always the "Once upon a time there was a baby zombie. The end" story that would prove it's possible. But these seem to be disguised as a list all of the works that fit a particular medium. Great chat questions, but poor main site questions.
  3. Questions about general trends in SFF, or how to deal with a particular problem. Basically, these are the list type questions that as how or what, and are not looking for a particular work to support it. This is perhaps the hardest group to deal with. I think the key here is to ask things that might be answerable. If a question is asked in a way where it can't really be answered, then it should be closed, or reworded. Examples would be Invisibility should cause blindness: how does hard sf cope? and Is there any down side to being a vampire in modern fiction? .
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    Group 3 can lead to interesting answers if they don't call for a list of "all" or "some" examples but instead encourage an overview of the topic with good criteria for relevance. For example, don't ask "what are the stories that deal with invisibility causing blindness?" or "what are some ..." but "what are the seminal stories on invisibility causing blindness, that a savvy reader might be expected to know, and so a new author should position himself against?". – user56 Feb 17 '12 at 17:32
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    @Gilles - I intuitively like your idea, but I'm a bit worried about "the seminal stories" being too subjective... I usually struggle when I need to restrict my questions to "notable"/"seminal" work in an objective way. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 18 '12 at 12:47
  • @Pearson - I think you may want to consider a 4th category - classification questions. Those aren't asking for a list of works, but a list of distinct classified ideas (and 1 "typical" example work to illustrate each class). IMHO, those can lead to great answers, though need to be carefully watched. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 18 '12 at 12:49
  • Thank you for posting a prompt answer after I flagged this question for needing a moderator policy. I haven't immediately accepted it as I have been giving it some thought. I don't think we are there yet. This seems too complicated to be easily understood. But I don't have anything better yet, either. Is this the policy of all the moderators? If so I will accept it. If not, I would still like to encourage others to help refine this policy into clear, logical summary. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Feb 25 '12 at 13:55

I remember reading a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hopgoblin of little minds." (In Self Reliance.) His point was that if one just performs actions by rote, without thinking about them, there is nothing for the soul to do -- in other words, there's nothing to think about.

While I understand the rule, and understand the reasoning for it, as I've said before, I've spent time going through a lot of old questions on the site recently and found that many don't fit the formats of today.

Now, whenever I say that, some people seem to get upset and say, "The site grows and changes and we have to stay up with what we have." That's true, but people have also pointed out (and I'm one), that sometimes we seem to be headed toward being a trivia site.

We do need guidelines, but when the guidelines are taken as literal and exacting, they get narrower and narrower over time. They control us, rather than us controlling them.

That's why I've advocated leaving questions along this line open for a while, to see what kind of answers they generate. Mods (or others with editing ability) could even add a warning on the end of the questions to avoid "Me too!" list answers. Sometimes such questions lead to good answers.

While, as some say, not many such questions get good answers, the other side is that if some do, then is there a need to close the question immediately as opposed to monitoring it for a while?

As I see it, if a question that is in doubt is watched, and left open if it generates good answers and closed if it looks like it's getting list answers, there's not much risk and the benefit of getting the better material outweighs the small amount of risk.

  • If the rules lead to objectively good content being closed, then the rules need to be refined/redefined. Saying "let's have rules, but not enforce them unless violations turn out to be actual problems" is not an effective way to handle things. – Beofett Feb 3 '12 at 16:03
  • Sometimes rules are like shackles, where they're absolute and sometimes they're like a guide rail that keeps you on the path. It depends on whether they're intended to be taken literally or as guidelines for making a decision. – Tango Feb 3 '12 at 16:13
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    Sometimes there's good reason for absolute, inflexible rules. More often, though, its a sign the rule is worded poorly and needs to be improved. – Beofett Feb 3 '12 at 16:15

My core position is what Martha stated.

Any != All

To answer an "any" question one or two representative samples are needed to prove your point. One or two examples isn't a list. The rest of my answer is addressing the common complaints that I've seen against "any" questions.

1. The myth that there should only be room for one canonical answer. This was expressed by Jason Baker in a comment:

The fact that questions like this tend to generate multiple equally valid answers is the issue I'm grappling with at the moment; the SE model, which is designed for questions to have one and only one correct answer, works great for programming

IMO asking if there is any way to solve programming question X is very similar to asking is there any evidence of X occurring. In programming there is often many ways to solve any given problem. The narrow focus on there being only one right way to solve JavaScript problems gave rise to the jQuery Meme. Another rather silly example on DBA.SE is the Alternative to Where Clause question. While the premise is silly, the multitude of answers shows there are lots of ways to avoid using a core language construct and still get the same output.

Also SE encourages multiple answers to a degree. For example Outdoors.SE's Area 51 page states that the current average of 2.5 answers per question is:

Okay – 2.5 answers per question is good, only 1 answer per question needs some work. On a healthy site, questions receive multiple answers and the best answer is voted to the top.

Personally I think the driver for encouraging multiple answers is because different answers will contain slightly different information, and because of that resonate more with the OP. This is just as valid IMO for "any" questions here as it is for solutions to a programming problem. Regardless, it is clear SE encourages more than 1 answer per question. Also note that 2.5 answers per question is only "Okay." That means a greater average than 2.5 is preferred.

2. The fear that there is ambiguity about which answer is the best. This was also expressed by Jason Baker in an answer:

all of which are perfectly legitimate answers to the question. Which one is "correct"? All of them. How do you choose which one is correct?

As mentioned in the Area 51 quote above votes are the community's way to recognize the better answers, and show consensus on which answer is the best. Keep in mind though that the acceptance of an answer is purposefully allowed to be subjective. For example DVK accepted this answer with a -2 score instead of the answer with a +24 score. That is fully within their right. SE doesn't automatically mark the highest voted answer as accepted because they're giving the power to the OP to exercise their subjective judgment.

3. There is no way to prove something doesn't exist, so these questions are at risk of being impossible to answer.

I agree that is a possibility, but that doesn't mean that these questions should be banned.

4. We can solve points 1 and 2 by requiring people to exchange "any" for the word "first." In a now deleted comment Wad Cheber (I believe) stated the currently accepted (encouraged?) workaround to appease the anti-any question crowd is to ask for "the first occurrence of X."

Unfortunately this exacerbates point 3. If I know X happened in a new story I can no longer answer an unanswered "first" question, because I have no reason to assume this was the "first" occurrence. The fear of too many answers to an "any" question drives people to convert them to "first" questions which in turn makes them seem even more worthless because they can go unanswered. Also I find it irksome that I have to say "First" when I all I care about is if such a thing exists. Finally it is weaselly.

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    Right. Any != List. On the math SE's "Is there any" questions are bread and butter and I never heard of such a question being denounced as a "list" question. – user14111 Nov 6 '15 at 6:26
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    As for Point #3: If the combined expertise on this site cannot come up with any example of X, that is strong evidence (not proof, but strong evidence) that X either does not exist or is pretty obscure, which ought to be useful information to the OP. – ab2 Nov 6 '15 at 12:33
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    Exactly! I never understood people's fuss about multiple possible answers being so bad, because, well, mutliple answers are a damn great thing and all questions having one answer would just be lame. You want a multitude of answers possibly expressing many different ways to approach the problem. It doesn't matter at all if everyone on earth can agree about one single answer being the 100% correct one. I would agree that those questions still run quite a risk for encouraging stupid "oh, here's a cool example" answers. But that is to be tackled by favouring the why over the what. – TARS Nov 2 '16 at 11:17

We should close them

Why? Well…

They’re “list of works” questions in disguise

One of our close reasons is for questions about lists of works or recommendations”:

Requests for lists of works or recommendations are off-topic as they do not fit our questions and answers format. Feel free to ask about people’s favorites in chat.

When they do get answered, these questions almost invariably attract lists of single-example answers. Such lists are often interminable, which is one of the main things we want to avoid. For example, Are there any stories of demons gone good? might “only” have four answers (one of which lists multiple examples), but the list of potential answers is far longer than that. If there are seven stories of demons who turned good, there must be seven hundred more. There’s a long list here, under the heading of “Ascended Demon.” Taken to the extreme, Is there a superhero who is an actor when not on superhero duty?, still open, has nine answers giving many separate examples. We can’t argue that these aren’t legitimate answers, either: they answer the question, which is another sign that this is our friend List of Works in disguise.

Interminable list questions are one of the main things we want to avoid.

These share many of the features that make list questions bad, as described by a CM on the main meta:

Asking everyone to contribute to a large bucket of answers means that it stops being a question of specific expertise and becomes a “poll” of the community. For right or for wrong, answers start accumulating and people start voting on what they recognize as familiar, rather than vetting the relative merits of each answer. Often there are too many entries to even know what anyone is contributing anymore. It doesn’t even matter; There’s usually no expectation that any one answer will be better than any other.

They might be recommendation questions in disguise

They tend to get the same answers as recommendation questions, as partly discussed previously. They are going to be of interest mainly for the same reasons: people will click on them because they want to find out about some cool books with demons who turned good. Perhaps most important, they offer an easy out for anyone who wants to ask a recommendation question: just change “recommend me some” to “are there any” and the community will do the rest.

The “first-of” (“What is the first thinking computer?,” “What is the first universe where P-NP?”) questions share this problem to some degree, but they’re harder to exploit: instead of getting a list of all the cool new books with demons who turned good, you get a bunch of works from the 1800s.

The answer is a foregone conclusion

This is less an argument for closing them, at least based on their similarity to “list of works” and recommendation questions, and more a statement of their low quality. The answer to these is almost always “Yes.” If it makes sense enough for someone to think of it, and ask it on Stack Exchange, someone has likely already thought of it. Even things that contravene the conventions of a genre (the motivation behind many of these questions) have usually been done many, many times before. What these questions bring to the site is often less interesting historical or genre analysis (which sometimes comes out of questions), and more lists of answers saying “Yes, here’s an example.” Occasionally one might get “I can’t think of any, and I’ve read a lot of books,” but that’s not really a definitive answer: there’s still probably a work out there that fits the bill. This is not good for the site.

  • List question != automatically off-topic, and we also don't treat these kind as "hidden list" questions, since the answer is "yes or no" with examples. If they're a "recommendation question" in disguise, then you're not closing them because it's an "any" question, but because it's a recommendation question (and only if it really is a recommendation "What's a good movie that..."). Whether or not the answer is usually "yes" shouldn't matter. – user31178 Nov 1 '16 at 21:32
  • @CreationEdge - People do seem to treat them as hidden list questions (which they are) regardless of the consensus on this question. I will not from now on, though, since this seems to be the current consensus. I'm hoping that people revisit this meta consensus, but there is a lot of inertia to overcome, if opinions really have changed in the last four years. – Adamant Nov 1 '16 at 23:31
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    @CreationEdge - One issue with revisiting this is that no one really has much of an incentive to vote. The consensus already favors not closing these questions, so the people who want to keep them open might not see the need to vote. And the people who want to keep them closed have been pretty successful in doing so (regardless of this consensus), so they might not see the need to do so either. – Adamant Nov 1 '16 at 23:39
  • @CreationEdge - It doesn’t matter that they’re hidden list questions, by the way. It matters that they are (in my personal view) hidden “list of works” questions. Those are off-topic. – Adamant Nov 1 '16 at 23:41
  • How do you figure "Is there any?" == "List of works"? – user31178 Nov 1 '16 at 23:43
  • @CreationEdge - Didn’t I lay out my reasoning in my answer? – Adamant Nov 1 '16 at 23:43
  • You're right that there's little incentive for anyone to vote differently, especially the way that SFF treats meta like a polling booth. We've got some long-standing policies that meta voters won't let be touched (and insta-close as dupe), effectively preventing some discussions from ever being had. – user31178 Nov 1 '16 at 23:44
  • @CreationEdge - Regardless, the meta consensus on such questions (ancient as it may be) is pretty clear, so I think people should hold of from closing until they can shift it .Or perhaps, if they can ask a questions seeking reconsideration that doesn’t get closed and shows a clear consensus, that would be fine too. I still believe them to be pretty bad questions, though. – Adamant Nov 1 '16 at 23:49
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    No, you didn't lay out the reasons why the are instantly equated with lists of works. You linked to some that happen to have multiple, varying answers (which is how SE/SO tends to work), and assert that it's a list question (you've only presented the hypothesis, not proven it). And you don't address the meta I linked, which mentions that list questions are not unilaterally off-topic. – user31178 Nov 1 '16 at 23:49
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – user31178 Nov 1 '16 at 23:49

Treat them like you would other questions about nothing in particular. Close them, pushing them off to delete.

It doesn't matter what date it was posted as the content is ever evolving and if there's a need to keep bad questions around, those heads on pikes only serve as gallery for people to post the same drivel and cry out unfair at dreck still lying about.

People keep saying that with some editing, these list questions can be legitimately not list questions. Adding a disclaimer that the answers should be short lists or that they don't want lists to their call for lists doesn't stop it from being a list question.

That those old questions were able to stick while the network has beaten this grandma into a bloody pulp goes to the want of making this a forum with votes. Throwing hotdogs down the hallway does not make for constructive content.

Basically, apply it equally to apply it fairly.

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    This makes the assumption that any question that fits that format is automatically not a good question. That's quite an assumption to make. – Tango Feb 19 '12 at 6:24
  • The onus is on the question to be written well, had some thought put into it more than sitting at the toilet and not depend heavily on the answers to save it. – Eight Days of Malaise Feb 19 '12 at 14:33
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    You're repeating your comments while totally missing the point. – Tango Feb 19 '12 at 15:39
  • If these type of questions were less half-cocked in their formation they wouldn't seem so ill-constructed – Eight Days of Malaise Feb 26 '12 at 22:20

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