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In a comment to a recent question, @Nosajimiki made a good point. The OP had not tagged the question or , so I chastised other respondents for taking a hard-line Real World stance about the OP's premise based on the idea that Real Life cannot be an overriding limitation on any question unless specifically requested.

@Nosajimiki pointed out that the tag demands hard science.

At this time "xenobiology" is strictly defined using the Wikipedia page, which is discussing (and these are my words) the professional study of biology in terms of what chemistry could allow outside of Earth-centric biology. In other words, the Wikipedia page isn't discussing . Far from it.

In fact, the fundamental problem is (since new users never read tag wikis) that users are using the tag based on their own personal expectations and not at all based on what wikipedia says about the academic investigation into the limits of chemistry-based biology.

Question: Should the tag automatically imply the or tags?

"No" would mean rewriting the Xenobiology tag wiki. Frankly, it's a poor wiki right now, relying on another web page which can change and has, itself, nothing to do with worldbuilding to establish the context of the idea for worldbuilding. Honestly, I think the wiki should be improved regardless what decision is made here.


Existing tag short-summary

Use this tag to mark questions related to creating plausible alien biologies that may be close to or far removed from Earthly biology but within the realms of hard science.

Existing tag wiki

See Wikipedia entry. Xenobiology describes a form of biology that is not familiar to science and is not found in Earthly life. Novel biological systems and biochemistries that differ from the canonical DNA-RNA-20 amino acid system, which can include variations on the same these (e.g. different amino acids), totally different systems (such as the SF staple of silicon-based life).

This can include different biochemistry, or different biological systems and organs without regard to the underlying chemestry.

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In General, I believe it's a bad idea to assume the use of , , or

People use tags to contextualize their questions without first reading the tags regularly. This is a behavior we should anticipate as often as possible. Therefore, no tag should assume (either implicitly or explicitly) the use of , , or and when wikis are found to explicitly do so, those wikis should be modified to remove the assumption.

Why? Because we have tags that explicitly scope answers and they should be used. Far too often people use a tag with a preconceived notion of what that tag means. I suspect that if we kept the 's assumption of , then far too many (if not most) of the questions tagged fail the expectation entirely.

You'll notice that I didn't include the tag. I don't believe the default position of this Stack should be . Other stacks already exist for that purpose. Further, the issue has been brought up before and was down voted. I do not know of an existing policy on the matter beyond that question other than if an OP doesn't ask for magic, then we should assume science, which I agree with. But I believe the Stack's default should be .

In specific, I believe that worldbuilding should embrace more in terms of xenobiology than what is defined for the academic study of xenobiology

At this time, I don't appreciate how narrowly focused the tag's wiki is. I'm willing to grant that if we define xenobiology to be something closer to, "questions that ask about the biology of extraterrestrial lifeforms," the result is that and become synonyms.

But maybe they should, because I believe + = and we have a lot of tags already.

OK, I am in favor of making and synonyms with an appropriate wiki review so the merge makes good sense — including a statement that says if the OP wants to adhere to the Wikipedia definition, the appropriate solution is to include the tag.

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  • $\begingroup$ "In General, I believe it's a bad idea to assume the use of hard-science, science-based, or internal-consistency" <- I feel the opposite is true. Every well written world is internally consistent and things will generally follow the laws of nature unless otherwise decided on my the author. We don't preface every question, and open every story by explaining that your world is made of normal matter that abides by the fundamental forces of nature. We assume this every time unless we are told not to assume it. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ Honestly, I think the whole tagging system has always been backwards. It should not be up to tags to say how scientific to be, it should be up to the tags to say how far from reality we should deviate. That would automatically fix 99% of the "best possible answer" problems we have. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Using tags in a reverse context would be better? That's an individual perspective, not a universal truth. If people generally don't use tags correctly now, they wouldn't use tags correctly in another system. There's no practical difference between "how scientific?" and "how fantastic?" other than for individuals such as yourself. Worse, the idea that a well-written world is only one where "things will generally follow the laws of nature" reflects the biggest problem this Stack has today: the science-only trend that makes it next to useless for writing fiction. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Besides, if you assume science-based unless told otherwise (rather than assuming science-fiction, unless told otherwise) then you run into problems with tags like magic. Yes, there are some people in the world who want to try to crowbar science into magic, but the vast majority of magic questions are about balancing a non-science-related power system. Of course, you could say, "assume science unless you think the tag is obviously not about science," but having created the first exception, you ruined the entire rule. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, it justifies the magic tag. If you make no assumptions about reality, then everything is magic, and there is no need to tell people your setting is magical. Whether we think about it or not, the lack of magic is the default assumption. When I describe a walking across a room in a fictional setting, you're go to is not going to be to question if I'm held to the floor by gravity or some other mystical force. But if I say my setting does not have gravity, but this guys walks across the room Now you know I'm looking way outside the box of normal physics. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 17:54
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NO

The xenobiology tag should not imply either hard science or science based. I'm actually surprised that the term "hard science" appears in the tag definition. I do not know for certain, but suspect that most users of this tag probably mean it in its traditional, sci-fi usage: the study of alien / non-terrestrial life. Such as might be found in Star Trek, etc. And thus akin to creature design. I also have the feeling that the phrase "within the realms of hard science" in that tag definition derives from biology itself being a hard science, rather than a reference to a specific science tag.

I argue that tag use is the querent's prerogative, and if they wish to focus xenobiology with one of the science tags, that's up to them. If they don't, that's fine too.

I do concur with the idea of improving the xenobiology tag's description. That ought to align more with worldbuilding principles and thus with the traditional and current sci-fi meaning. As humanity moves out into space and, perhaps, discovers some radically different life forms out there, then perhaps xenobiology will become an actual branch of biology. We can make a new tag when that happens!

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Keep the tag more-or-less as is

Xenobiology is by definition the application of science to predict the nature of alien life forms. We may not know for sure the limits of life in so far as what exactly it can be made of or its exact limits, but there are still tons of very safe assumptions the rules of chemistry and physics will still apply to it in so far as chemistry and physics apply to the things it is made out of, it exists because it was either created, evolved, or both, things like that. I don't think Xenobiology tags should expect a "Hard Science" level of details per our site's definition of Hard Science, but you can't really call it Xenobiology without at least a "Science Based" consideration of the factors at play.

... But we also need a "Science Fantasy" tag.

I had an art teacher once who used to say, "You have to learn the rules before you can learn when to break them". Worldbuilding is a lot like that. It's a constant fight against a person's suspension of disbelief. So, every choice you make to violate the known laws of nature in a compelling way generally requires that you know the laws of nature first. Especially in the genre of Science Fiction, there is a huge expectation these days that your technobabble touch on enough reality to not just sound like you picked some fancy words by throwing darts at a board.

If you are writing science fiction and choose not to care about real world science, that is a different thing all together. George Lukas knew that the Force was just magic placed in a future setting, and that's okay, but when you do that it needs to be a conscious choice so that you know when to lampshade and when to handwave to keep from losing your audience. When you write bad science into science fiction by accident, it usually just comes off as bad writing.

For this reason, I think it's important when discussing questions about science fiction settings to make the OP say in some way shape or form when they don't care about real science instead of just assuming they did it on purpose. So, by having a "Science Fantasy" tag, we know when we come across something ridiculously unscientific to just accept the magic and move on.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Space opera" is defined as "a novel, movie, or television program set in outer space, typically of a simplistic and melodramatic nature." That doesn't sound like an applicable tag to me (causes more questions than it answers). "Science fantasy," on the other hand, makes more sense and could plug a hole between "science-fiction" and "magic," but we have a lot of tags and from a worldbuilding perspective I don't see much difference between "science fantasy" and the current science-fiction tag. We're still trying to be far too scientific on a site that's meant to build imaginary worlds. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, there was a time when "xenobiology" was technobabble. That academia has co-opted the word to mean "a subfield of synthetic biology, the study of synthesizing and manipulating biological devices and systems," (Wikipedia) is actually bad for us. The average user is engaging our site with the technobabble meaning. I respect that "xenobiology attempts to design forms of life with a different biochemistry or different genetic code than on planet Earth," (wikipedia), but trying to crowbar both statements into the tag's meaning really reduces the value of the tag. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I agree that "xenobiology attempts to design forms of life with a different biochemistry or different genetic code than on planet Earth" is exactly how the average user on this site will want to us it, but you can't discuss biochemistry or genetic code without at least basing your answer is some science. Along the same line of reasoning, you would not use the science-fiction tag because it says "...rationalized by Real World science..." $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ My point being that anything in a Sci-fi setting that outright defies science (as opposed to adding some technobabble to make science fit) is no longer science fiction, it is fantasy plugged into a sci-fi setting. You can't ask how getting bitten by a radio-active spider turns you into a super hero, because it defies science... but asking how a fictional sub atomic particle would act given certain properties... that is something science can help can make predictions about, even though it does not exist. That makes it science fiction. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ That said... I think there is a lot of redundancy between xenobiology/creature-design/fantasy-races/mythical-creatures/aliens, etc... there is so much grey area and overlap that it makes understanding which to use quite difficult. But, there is also a gap we are seeing here too. Aliens in thier native environments are not "aliens", and if they are not science based, they are not "xenobiology" or "creature design", so clearly they are fantasy something, but if they are not sentient they are not a "fantasy race", and if they have no basis in mythology... well you see my point... $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ "without at least basing your answer is some science." This is a site that celebrates re-creating and re-inventing science for your own world. The moment one assumes that any study is subject only to Real World interpretation you undermine the #1 core belief on this site: that the OP is wholly in charge of their world, and no-one and nothing else. I most certainly can discuss xenobiology without reverting wholly or even in part to Real World science. One of the reasons the golden age of SciFi was golden is that people dared to ask "what if?" without feeling burdened by "what is...." $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand we're in complete agreement that there's too much overlap between xenobiology, creature-design, fantasy-races, mythical-creatures, and aliens. But to make a point... if you read the aliens wiki, it directs you to xenobiology for questions about "the biology or biochemistry of foreign life." In fact, if I'm asking a question about species A on the world of species B, that's aliens, but if I want to know about the physiology of species A, that's xenobiology. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH "This is a site that celebrates re-creating and re-inventing science for your own world." <- I agree with this, but reinventing science means understanding it first. Going back to the question that prompted this: if you want to ask about Photon Based Xenobiology, you first need to understand what photons are and how they behave, that way you know what principles of science you need to re-invent and which to hang on to... if you toss all science out the window then "what if" becomes a question with no answer. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ For example, consider Ring World. Niven asked "What if a world extended in a ring around a star", then he did some math and found out that no known material would make it possible, so he invented scrith to be able to answer the question. If he disregarded science completely and said it was made of granite, then his book would have been pure fantasy, not science fiction. Fantasy skips "what if" and jumps straight to "what else could be". $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ Don't get me wrong, I think Fantasy is just as valid of a genre as Science Fiction. I've literally written a story about a gnome king who lives on a candy castle that floats on the rainbow between worlds... so there is certainly a time and a place to throw science out the window. But anything that did not need to be explained by magic could be explained with a basic understanding of science and that is my point. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 18:43

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