I have noticed that those of my questions with downvotes are exactly those beginning with the words "what is known about..." or "is anything known about...." For example:

  1. Stationary many subsets of $\kappa^+$ whose order type is a cardinal and whose intersection with $\kappa$ is an inaccessible cardinal

  2. Absoluteness of "$\kappa$-homogeneously Suslin" for sets of reals

I will be the first to admit (well, technically the second to admit) that these two are not great questions, and I'm not here to complain about the downvotes.

My question for meta: Is this "...known about..." wording is frowned upon in all cases, or only if the question is otherwise overly broad?

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    $\begingroup$ I think the downvotes in both cases are ridiculous. My advice: Think of them as noise, and pay no mind. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 3:57
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    $\begingroup$ There are lots of questions with a phrase like "What is known about…" that are poorly thought out and worth down voting. However, while I don't know much about logic or set theory (and thus can't say anything definitively), your questions look like perfectly good ones to me. Like Andres said, I'd just ignore the down votes. All of us manage to get random down votes from time to time! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 4:22
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    $\begingroup$ mathoverflow.net/questions/146139/… has 15 upvotes, no downvotes. mathoverflow.net/questions/141706/… has 6 upvotes, no downvotes. mathoverflow.net/questions/127303/… has 8 upvotes, no downvotes. mathoverflow.net/questions/118324/… has 9 upvotes, no downvotes. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ And mathoverflow.net/questions/23391/… has 22 upvotes, no downvotes. Case closed. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the encouragement, @Andres and Andy. I was initially inclined to ignore the downvotes also until I noticed their relation to the wording of the questions. But it could certainly be a fluke. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson Thanks for collecting those. That is some significant evidence against my theory. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 5:37

2 Answers 2


First, let me state that the downvotes on these examples are hard to justify and the following is not a criticism of these questions.

That said, "what is known about" is a common premise for a "fishing expedition" (to borrow a legal term). These questions should be discouraged since the only correct answer is an encyclopedic one, which imposes unnecessary burden on the community unless the context is very narrow. In general, fishing expeditions should be closed as "too broad", preferably with a suggestion to ask a more focused question.

Though it is very possible to write a focused question starting with "what is known about", it is better practice to avoid this kind of formulation because of the associated stigma. See how to write a good MathOverflow question for tips on how to get around this problem.

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    $\begingroup$ However, in fishing, many individuals (even some lawyers) are often satisfied after catching the first two or three fish, and don't need to fill a cargo hold. What is the community feeling about "Is anything known about...", especially if it is made clear that what is wanted is only a starting point and not necessarily a tome? Gerhard "This Assumes The Community Feels" Paseman, 2013.11.20 $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ Seems to me that "is anything known about..." is a different question altogether, and much closer to the mainstream question style. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 20:02

I experienced something similar: asking for what is known about a subject seemed to provoke downvotings, while asking for references related to the subject seemed to be more acceptable, but that is only an impression I have.

  • $\begingroup$ I think there's a difference between, "What is known about $X$?" and "I'm interested in $X$. I read the Wikipedia page, went on MR and saw that so-and-so wrote a paper in 1957 and further research looks like it has proceeded in $Y$ direction, have I missed anything?" $\endgroup$
    – Neal
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 13:16

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