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It is evident that many of the people who use it either don't read the guidance, or are very confused about the scientific accuracy of a lot of popular media. I suspect they think they know what "hard science" means, and use the tag blindly.

We might replace it with, for example:

scientifically-proven which would have the same guidance as the current hard-science tag. Its meaning is less obvious, which might reduce the incidence of assumed meanings.

Personally, I'd add "this is not compatible with super-powers".

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    $\begingroup$ Aside from people who don't know what "hard science" is, I think some people also just wildly overestimate the scientific support for and real-world plausibility of ideas in sci-fi and fantasy. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Jun 21, 2023 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ Could bringing back the math-based tag solve some of these issues? That way it's possible to specify you want answers to use equations, without having people misunderstand the hard-science tag to mean 'everything within this question aligns with science/reality'. $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Jun 22, 2023 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I retract that suggestion (but I'll leave the comment) since as I stated in my reply I think the largest issue with the tag is answerers/commenters misunderstanding it $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Jun 22, 2023 at 22:25

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I thought that specified a way of answering, not a subject matter.

For my understanding: if the science-related tags are inherently incompatible with superpowers/magic, then is there any way to ask for the scientifically correct outcome to a concretely defined event that was caused by something nonscientific? Let's say: given my wizard throws fireballs that melt castle walls, could that give non-wizard onlookers a sunburn during an extended siege?

It feels like this question is veering into the view that magic and generally the nonscientific must be all-or-nothing; introduce one bit of new physics in a physics question, and there's the ubiquitous comment of "do whatever you want, you're using magic so make the magic do as you please", which contributes exactly nothing to help and tends to bully people off the network.

I believe that fictionality is a scale, people have different preference where on the scale they like to put their fiction, and asking for the scientific effects of phlebotinum should not require phlebotinum to be an actual substance, as long as it can be described sufficiently.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the exact issue I've repeatedly run into. You can see on my worldbuilding account that I've asked several questions with both the hard-science and superpower/magic tags, and every single time, without fail, I've received deriding comments suggesting the question to be pointless since "it's already magic, do whatever you want". $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Jun 16, 2023 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ That's why there are also science-based and science-fiction tags. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2023 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Indeed, if I were personally asking a magic science question, I would myself use science-based before hard-science since I don't feel the need to put up extra hoops for answerers. This discussion seems a bit broader though, with JBH advocating to end the very concept of realism in fantastical questions. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jun 16, 2023 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena The primary difference is that when someone uses the hard-science tag, they are asking for equations that go with the answer, rather than just scientific explanations $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Jun 16, 2023 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @MS --- This is a perennial problem that has only gotten worse on WB.SE over the last couple years. NO ONE, I repeat, NO ONE should ever tell a querent that their worldbuilding question is "pointless". Even the vexatious ones aren't pointless! If I ever run across such behaviour, I always make a point of telling such folks to go away because such comments are useless and unwelcome in a worldbuilding forum. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jun 16, 2023 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm --- No, JBH is not trying to "end the very concept of realism" in worldbuilding questions. More like he's trying to change the culture of a strict realistic approach within the community. I agree with this. More and more frequently, we see comments to the effect that "your fantastic idea has no basis in reality, therefore it's impossible". Essentially, this is slowly becoming a community whose fundamental premise is realism at the expense of the fantastical. That's what we're trying to change. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jun 16, 2023 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ Otherwise, I agree with you, hard science informs the querent how she should approach the problem and how she should answer the query: she should use known science to answer the question as best it can be answered, given current science's limitations, and back that answer up with citations, numerical data, and equations as appropriate. There is absolutely no reason to criticise a question about a dragon's flight characteristics simply because dragons do not exist in the real world as far we know. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jun 16, 2023 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ @MS Not everything is compatible. To take Elem's example, I doubt we can find numerical data on dragon flights to answer it "hard-sciencely". Hard-science seems like more of a niche tag most people get mistaken thinking it will always lead to quality answers; But they often end up disappointed because answers -if there is any- are not what they actually want. Science-based and science-fiction might be just what they need instead, and truthfully, they can both lead to excellent science answers. It's anyway more a matter of the question's content than the tags used. $\endgroup$ Jun 17, 2023 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ It's difficult to ask questions that meet the requirements of the hard science tag that are about magic or superpowers but not impossible. For instance someone could be trying to cost their magic system based on the Joules of energy necessary for an effect. Asking questions like "How many joules of energy are necessary to burn a human body to ash?" is a question that is appropriate for this site, related to their magic system, and could have answers that are backed up by citations, and calculations. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jun 17, 2023 at 18:23
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I believe there are three guarantees in life:

  1. Death
  2. Taxes
  3. Users won't read tag wikis.

I get what you're trying to do, but I believe that at best it will shift the focus of the problems. I don't believe it will reduce the number of problems at all.

Consider one of my most frustrating suspicions: I think a remarkable number of users who use the tag actually get what it basically means... and they're using it to force the community to give them the highest-quality, most-realistic answer to their ridiculously fantastic and utterly nonsensical fictional question. I've been politely calling this an effort to make their fiction factual.

Unfortunately, I believe this is a growing trend based on entertainment like the movie Interstellar, the TV show The Expanse, a cornucopia of nearly useless YouTube videos purporting to explain science-fiction wrapped in a flag labeled "science," etc., which have made a big deal of being "as realistic as possible" or "based on real science." Unfortunately, people who haven't a college education in the hard sciences don't have the wherewithal to realize that those shows and videos are breathtaking fantasy regardless whatever science was used in their making.

Changing the name as you propose wouldn't fix that problem at all. It might make it worse.

On the other hand...

If there is a good reason to (permanently) retire the tag, it would be the shift that's occurring in how users are using this Stack. Per the Help Center, our goal is to help people create imaginary worlds. In other words, our goal is to help people rationalize ideas — often drawing on Real World examples or science — to make their imaginary worlds believable.

The change that's occurring is that more and more users are trying to invoke or express their imaginary world as reality. Or, said another way, they're trying to bring their fantasies into the Real World.

What's bad about this second example is the querent is demanding real science to justify a fantastic creation — as if it can legitimately exist in the real world and this would be proven if they could just find the right person to answer the question, and this meets their goal (but not ours) of creating, not a fictional creature, but a real creature that would actually exist if only God or evolution got around to making one. The tag is used because the querent wants to be absolutely positively sure that no answers are given that can't completely explain the fiction factually — and that assumes the querent read the wiki at all (which is a big deal because that tag has rules...). (Source)

To beat a dead horse for a moment, this is the reason I no longer support the real world questions policy. I think that policy has exacerbated the "realistic as possible" trend and directly contributed to the "is my fantastic idea possible?" (bring my fantasy into the Real World) shift. The continued presence of the tag is also contributing to this.

Having said all that...

I agree with the meta history that there is a purpose for the tag.

However, I also see a growing abuse of the tag to achieve goals it was never intended to achieve.

While I do NOT hold this opinion right now, I could be convinced to completely eliminate the tag (not rename it but burn it) in an effort to restore the original purpose of the Stack — which I haven't seen regularly embraced for at least three years.

But it would take a whomping good argument and some community consensus to convince me. I don't see a problem with (hopefully politely) slapping user's hands for failing to use the tag properly. If nothing else, it brings to their attention the importance of actually reading the tag wikis.

BTW: Adding "this is not compatible with " is a waste of time. You'd need to add every non-hard-science tag in the system (almost all of them), such as (see this) and (yes, people have tried to combine with ). But the fact that you're mentioning it underscores my concern about the shift in how the Stack is being used.

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I don't see how a change of label on the box would change the (mis)use of its content.

Same misuse happens with and , and it has been years since someone has flagged their question for a moderator to apply the post notice. Some users even complained that their answer was fine since the notice was not there when they answered.

I think the community should put more effort into addressing the misuse with the poster and have them understand the correct use and where applicable edit it out.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've explained my ideas a bit more in the question. $\endgroup$ Jun 14, 2023 at 17:01
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In complement to JBH's and Elemtilas's answer , I'm in favor of destroying the hard-science's tag wiki. Not necessarily the tag itself, just all the stuff about restricting answers and much. It's not really about how people want to use WB:SE, or to try to reverse how people are trying to build worlds. Here's why :

People rarely use it as it was intended

Out of the 50 newest questions, and without checking the original version :

  1. At least 8 misunderstood that the tag is mutually exclusive with or . That's one out of 6 questions. I saw even one or two using all three tags at once.
  2. 7 hard-science questions have negative scores, vs 4 in the newest overall. Alone it doesn't mean much, but let's add to that the most negatively received one reaches a -5, even when compared to the lowest general question at -4 which is a one-liner about how to write a story (off-topic, no effort displayed from the querent, ...). Also, while looking at questions which received at least one downvote1, I've seen a fair share of >3 downvotes on , more than in general.

While point n°2 is debatable, the 1st one is quite staggering. People really often do not use the tag like the wiki asks to, even on a very simple rule. I haven't reviewed each question's content as honestly I have other things to do2, however it is in agreement with my feeling people often don't use the tag correctly.

I'm not including how many queries were closed as an argument in favor of that. Still and because I don't want to hide all data I gathered, 6 of hard-science were closed vs 10 of the 50 newest questions. It isn't too far-off from each other, so nothing against the tag can be deduced from that. Also not included is the average number score on questions (both lying at around 3.2-3.3 between the newest hard-science and all newest questions) : The bias towards the tag's popularity rather than its quality is too strong here. Speaking of popularity...

There isn't enough rewards for the efforts required

When writing this, we have 28 questions tagged hard-science (including mistagged ones) this year. In comparison, we had 1040 questions since the 1st of january. That's less than 5%.

Meanwhile, what do we do with these kind of questions?

  • People constantly reminding to not use , or at the same time.
  • People nagging at each other telling that no hard-science answer can be found, often leading to closure and down votes3.
  • Moderators having to add the "hard-science" banner manually. I haven't asked on meta to add the feature of linking automatically a banner along with a tag4. But it hasn't been added on 20 (out of the 50 newest) questions with the tag, therefore I'm p'etty sure this issue is still in the news.

While I know I'm not into hard-science -like, at all-, this does feel like a lot of efforts for this small faction of questions. Questions which are often misused by its querents, and efforts which could be put elsewhere.

The first two points also strongly hint the tag's rules can create bad mood. As I know that mechanics offered to a user (or player in my expertise5) can induce specific behaviors, I do conclude the tag's current rules plays a major part in those two points. We shouldn't be arguing just because a question has a tag or not. But the fact is, the tag's current rules create quite a bit of not-always justified actions and reactions. Why? Because...

There has been too much focus on the tag

Last but not certainly not least : I think everyone here forgot that tags are not the question's content. It's blindingly obvious when I read answers here. Let's remind what tags are with the help-center :

A tag is a word or phrase that describes the topic of the question. Tags are a means of connecting experts with questions they will be able to answer by sorting questions into specific, well-defined categories.

Tags can also be used to help you identify questions that are interesting or relevant to you.

Tags are categorizers first and foremost, with the primary goal of making questions easier to look for. The fact that everyone implied the tag was important enough that they forgot to remind the question's content is the thing to read/review first is the most troublesome issue for me. We tried to create another use of the tags by making it scope the answers. However, from the frequent ruckus I read here and there and the fact that 1/6 questions are not tagged correctly, it just does not work.

So let's cut this oozing wound once and for all with a surgeon's dexterity. While I do find the tag can be used to categorize questions about worlds relying heavily on science, its wiki content is prone to both mistakes and arguments. Let's remove this tag wiki content, but still explicitly allow people to ask questions in the hard science-fiction genre. If they want answers to be backed-up by equations and references, they will have to tell it in their question, not with a single tag.



1 : 23 received at least one downvote (vs 21 in the 50 newest questions). I am not including that data as it's very biased in having one picky-picky user downvoting questions. Plus, it's expected to have more downvotes on questions with more restrictions. More restrictions means higher standard.
2 : Like daydreaming and nightdreaming. Not that I find this talk utterly pointless, dreaming is just perhaps one of my most favorite activity 🌜🦋.
3 : too lazy to check every comments on the last 50 questions, so I leave that as an overall feeling.
4 : Again, I'm lazy. And with the recent activities on meta's meta, I'm not exactly incited to make any effort either : It's strategically pointless.
5 : A great example of toxicity coming from offered mechanics is the very infamous League of legends, which is very far off from other competitive, team-based games like Team Fortress 2 and its conga dancers and sandwich sharing players. Some -yet incomplete!- explanations for League of legends toxic community can be found here.

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    $\begingroup$ Tags that dictate usage rather than categorize the question are discouraged. We would never permit the creation of a new tag like this today. Given how much of a mess it creates killing it and the rest of the meta tags will only make things run smoother. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jun 23, 2023 at 8:23
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    $\begingroup$ As a worldbuilder with a love for the hard SF genre I was on the fence about this entire topic, but after reading this I agree wholeheartedly. Retire the tag wiki, allow everyone to use it the way they've been trying to for so long now; let querents state explicitly the expected quality of answers in the question. $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Jun 24, 2023 at 10:36
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It seems to me, that there is a need for an additional Wiki Tag. Firstly - no matter how many Wiki-tags there are, people will always misuse them. But secondly - I'm going to address @MS - as I remember disagreeing with them in one of their questions in the comments - specifically stating:

"You are asking for hard science on a made up, magic material. Those two things are mutually exclusive."

A comment which I still stand by. However, after some back-and-forth, we eventually got to what I believe was his goal - to have some real-world maths, on something made up.

If we consider the following question:

"I have a material called magicalium, it has tensile properties like steel, but weighs the same as styrofoam, what are some the implications of using this as Tank Armor - Hard Science please"

Even though I'm breaking my own rule, you could perhaps argue that given the real-world analogue of Steel, that there's enough information to do a Hard Science answer.

However, I think this is the type of situation where a different tag is needed - one where the asker is after an answer in the hard science style, backed up with formula and numbers but is not hard science. This allows the clear differentiation that is at the core of this issue.

It's fine to want to have an internally consistent Magic World/Future World/Other world and have the properties of materials/weapons/things in that world have explicit values and defined attributes, leading to what we could consider as 'Hard Science' - whilst still being outside the realm of actual Hard Science.

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    $\begingroup$ I know how contradictory it sounds, but maybe we should have a magic-science tag, regarding the "science" that describes a magic system. Its operating principles expressed in math and metrics. $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Jun 19, 2023 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ @BMF that tag, even ignoring the confusing name just it seems like it would be very similar to internal-consistency but with math, and a bit more narrow in nature. $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Jun 20, 2023 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Topcode Similar to the tag desc., but that tag's usage looks much broader than what I was thinking. "Rationale for sending manned mission to another star?" "How would a civilization of techno-barbarians maintain their space ships?" "How would a bioengineered warbeast get energy from fossil fuel products?" Etc. (Also, perhaps fantasy-science is a little clearer, while also vastly distancing itself from hard-science, for the cases of misuse discussed here.) $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Jun 20, 2023 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ To be quite frank I still consider your behaviour in the comments of my question to be highly problematic. The only 'back and forth' we had was me reiterating information already clearly presented in my question, and you stating complaints that truthfully did not apply. Your comments were based on your refusal to simply read the contents of my question. That is an undeniable fact, as evidenced by your own comments "Do we know... literally any of the variables that might enable us to answer it in a hard science manner?" despite said variables having already been stated. $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Jun 20, 2023 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ Further evidence that you definitely did not read through my question before writing multiple lengthy comments: "they've not indicated if they are basing it on any real world material - so we cannot answer. If he had used a real life material and said 'it has similar properties to real-worldium' - then we could do some maths and come up with a number - but they haven't." despite a comparison to steel as well as a percentage for piezoelectric efficiency being clearly visible in the body of my question. $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Jun 20, 2023 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @MS You're still salty about that? Remember - I wasn't the only one who disagreed with you. You mentioned some values - but you never stated that these were the values you intended to use for your made up material. That was the key difference. It was only in the comments where you confirmed that this was what you wanted the properties of your material to be based on. The point of referencing was though to show the distinction between a Hard Science tag and a tag that wants the hard science method, but for fantasy/made-up things. $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2023 at 19:52
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Let's Plan a Retirement Party!


I argue that the hard science tag ought to be retired. Several threads of thought and experience seem to be commonplace with this tag. It's misunderstood. It's misused. It's used incorrectly. I also think that its application in this forum is, perhaps, too restricting to be very useful.


The spread of several domains, ranging from "hard science" through "science based" to "untagged" seems like a good idea, and if every querent tagged properly and constantly and if every respondent was on the same page with the tag meaning and usage notes, then this demarcation might be useful. As we all know, WB.SE tags are a mixed bag at best.


I see no reason why science-based can't adequately do what we expect hard-science to do, and with less confusion. For example, if a querent is interested in the aerodynamic properties of dragon flight, and she uses the hard-science tag, she'll tend to suffer ridicule in this forum and the absolutely ridiculous comment that "dragons don't exist, so science can't help you". Given that 99% of what we're dealing with in WB is places, powers, creatures, physical laws, etc that don't exist in reality, or exist differently, appealing to hard-science is rarely useful and the resultant criticism from the radical realist camp does not help.


In stead, I'd propose ditching the hard-science tag altogether. Let those querents who want or need equations and journal citations note those needs in their answer criteria. Questions tagged science-based will be answered using science as it's understood currently, and with the understanding that creative manipulation of the science may be needed and ought to be encouraged. The whole point isn't to recreate the real world! The whole point here is to create fictional worlds! And in so far as they need to be described, we need to keep in mind that the nature of the fictional world is paramount: science serves art not science at the expense of art.

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Since this post was likely prompted by my recent question, I'll throw in my 2 cents. If you ask me, the largest issue with the hard-science tag is the way (certain members of) the community respond/s to it. Regardless of what the question itself is, if any part of the background does not perfectly and exactly align with reality, you will receive inane and obtuse comments and answers that entirely ignore the question, and instead focus on a part of the background. While it is certainly possible to misuse the tag, I still think it has an important role, in that it specifies answers must be backed up by equations.

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    $\begingroup$ I've had similar issues even without the hard science tag. Some time ago I asked some questions involving a low-gravity Earth analogue, basically Earthlike Mars. One example was "changes to ship design on low-gravity seas". I learned to put a disclaimer in my Q's saying something to the effect of "I know this planet is unlikely to form or persist naturally, please overlook that," though the comments honed in on the unlikelihood of my world existing naturally. An entire lengthy answer was posted to that Q, posing as a frame challenge (despite not addressing the content of the Q at all). $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Jun 17, 2023 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ Anyway, I feel like the attitude on this site has changed somewhat since. For the better. Users like JBH going against the grain. Much criticism was directed at your Q because some wanted you to explain your reasons for wanting the math. (Possibly so they could pick apart your reasons and debase your idea.) I don't think yours was a case needing further explanation. Actually, it was quite clear why you needed to find the total kinetic energy; it's what the entire magic system is based on! $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Jun 17, 2023 at 18:33

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