I've noticed several questions that have a similar pattern, and I'm interested to get opinions on how they should be handled or possibly improved. Basically, they are questions seeking to know if some event, statement, object etc. has ever existed/occurred. Possible forms include (but are not limited to):
- Has ___ ever happened?
- Did (insert political figure) ever say ___?
- Has any country ever adopted ___ policy?
Here are a few examples of actual questions that have this form:
- Has any relevant American politician ever admited the Maine was a false flag operation?
- Is there any example for an individualist anarchist society in history?
- Has any government commisioned a study of whether its people are better or worse off financially with government?
If whatever event/statement/policy they are asking about does in fact exist, then it's a simple enough question to answer in a concise and factual way (assuming that the answer is unambiguous, which can be a big assumption sometimes). The problem is that, assuming the affirmative answer is not true, it is difficult to answer factually because of the fundamental logical difficulty of proving that something doesn't/didn't exist.
Even in the best cases, where what is being asked about is verifiable (and not lost to history or verifiable only with classified knowledge), it might require a ridiculous amount of work to confirm. For example, if someone asked a more narrow/specific question like:
Did (insert political figure) ever issue a press release saying ___?
This is hypothetically possible to confirm if I can get the text of all of this person's press releases and search them for the relevant terms. But, this would potentially require a great deal of work on the part of the answer-er. Of course, that's assuming we want the literal inclusion of some phrase and not a more nuanced interpretation of the subject being asked about (eg. they did not literally say "___", but said something that is similar to or could be interpreted that way).
In most of these cases, the best you can do is to reason inductively by saying that because you can't find any examples of whatever was asked about, then it probably doesn't exist. While there is still room to give a high quality answer by providing context, reasoning, or other relevant information, it just seems somewhat disappointing to be perpetually unable to answer, and the question asker would likely be inclined to agree.
So, my question here is:
What have others done in this situation to provide more meaningful answers and/or what advice have you given to the question asker to help improve this type of question?