Recently there seem to have been a lot of "prove the negative" type questions. For example, the question on Egyptians recording defeats. The poster asks, "Did X ever happen" where X is some possible event in hundreds or thousands (Egypt) of years of history. In other words, the poster is hoping someone will dig up an example/counter example.

In some cases these questions are easy because there are many obvious examples of which the poster wants, but other times the question is more difficult because it is hard or impossible to find examples. Also, sometimes the poster will phrase the question in a way that makes it difficult to answer. For example, the poster might ask "Prove that the ancient Egyptians never forged steel". So, you get into this prove-the-negative problem.

Should there be some kind of guidance about prove-the-negative questions in the help?

2 Answers 2


I've actually posted a couple of those myself:

Is 529 the largest simultanious death penalty verdict ever? and Were there ever actual organizations of pirates?

I think the problem comes in when the poster thinks there most likely is an example (and thus answering the question should be easy), but in fact nobody can find one, turning the question into a "prove a negative" problem.

In some cases, like the first question I linked, I think its probably safe to give a weaselly negative answer. Something along the lines of, "Yes, that appears to be the largest known simultaneous death penalty verdict ever". If a true counter-example pops up, accepts can be changed.

The second question is actually a good example of that. One of the answers is a pretty good exemple of how to answer a "prove the negative" in the negative (and in excellent pirate patois as well!). Unfortunately, I happen to know of one, so I never selected that answer. (I don't usually post questions I know the answer to, but it was a special post for Talk-like-a-pirate day.)


Close > Too Broad.

A stackexchange can't present the totality of human interactions, or documented human interactions, as a counter example. The question is "Too Broad" and needs to be closed until it is written as a positive, not negative, claim.

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