One of the basic requirements on this site is that questions must be empirically verifiable.

If a claim is notable, and could in theory be subject to empirical verification, but the likelihood of such verification actually happening in our lifetimes is low, is a question about such claim on-topic for this site?

For example:

Famous politician X claims that there is a library buried 10,000 meters under the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The chances of someone getting sufficient funding, archaeological permits, equipment, personnel, etc. today to actually dig 10,000 meters under a world heritage site is virtually nil, but admittedly not actually zero. How should such a question be handled on this site?

  • Close it as non-verifiable?
  • Admit that it is notable and verifiable, but close it for another reason (e.g. impractical)?
  • Leave it open in the hopes that someday our distant descendants 1,000 years in the future might be able to answer it?

Similar questions could include claims about lost artifacts (e.g. exact size of the Holy Grail), claims about the existence of specific features on faraway planets/moons that we cannot examine in sufficient detail yet to verify (e.g. "There is a 10.3 ton granite rock with a symbol of a triangle carved on it submerged 100m off the coast in one of the hydrocarbon seas of Titan."), claims that cannot be verified due to legal constraints (e.g. documents that would be required to verify the claim cannot legally be disclosed, performing necessary experiments would constitute a criminal offense, etc.), or similar claims with practical barriers to verification.

1 Answer 1


I think you misunderstood that clause:

  • there are claims that are potentially verifiable but we have no clue whether they are verified. Your example is one. Sure -- we have not dug 10km under Giza, but there are other ways of investigating what's under it, including using geological tools or historical analysis. In other words, we might clearly not have the best possible evidence (digging), but it's certainly possible, and likely, that there is other evidence. After all the claim is notable so people are likely to have investigated it.

  • there are claims that while empirical are not potentially verifiable, like Bertrand Russell's claim that there is a Tesla Roadster teapot in orbit between Earth and Mars, Carl Sagan's invisible dragon or a very large part of "miracles" which are indistinguishable from natural phenomena.

What makes the difference is that claims need to be provable and disprovable, and not only provable. Yes, it's easy to prove there's a teapot in orbit once you find it, but until then it's basically impossible. On the other hand, we can eventually look specifically under the pyramid of Giza and see whether the library is there.

We have a number of close reasons which deal with the most common cases of non-disprovable questions (essentially, variations of "primarily opinion based")

  • Questions about current events that cannot have evidence yet, have a close reason for that ("Is X guilty?" while X is on trial)

  • Questions about the future are POB (compare "Will the Earth become warmer by 3 degrees?" vs. "Is climate predicted to become warmer by 3 degrees?")

  • Questions that we know have no evidence because of the answer on another question are closed as dupes of the other question (we know that Jesus existed because of 2/3 marginal citations in ancient historians' works so "Did Jesus do X?" questions are closed as a dupe of "Did Jesus exist?" on the basis that if we could prove that Jesus did X, that would be an answer on the master question).

  • Questions that are basic questions of faith masqueraded as factual because of some logical fallacy are also closed as POB ("Is the Quran a miracle because it has these numerological properties?" is cherry picking evidence)

Here's how to deal with questions of the kind you present.

  1. Look for actual evidence that can answer the question. If there is a positive or negative answer with evidence, provide it. This is a potentially strong answer (depending on the quality of evidence).

  2. If you can find no evidence, look for actual evidence that there is no evidence (e.g. an expert that looked accurately for professional reason and reported, including methodology, etc.). This is a potentially strong answer if the evidence is replicable, but it could become a wrong answer in the future.

  3. If you can find no evidence in both cases, do not answer. No evidence implies no answer.

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