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The tag currently reads:

For questions that ask if a given concept is consistent, or being used consistently, in the context of the referenced world rules. Answers should say yes or no, with supporting info. This tag should not be used with the science-based, hard-science, or science-fiction tags. Comparisons to the real world should use the science-based tag. This tag may not be used alone. This tag may not be used with the science-fiction, science-based, or hard-science tags.

However, the more I see this tag being used, the more I realize that "internal consistency" is not actually mutually exclusive of science driven questions because the question itself introduces a fictional element to the world that does not exist in our world. So if a fictional element nullifies its own reason or ability to exist, then its internal consistency could be ruined even if it abides by all of the limitations of known science.

For example, a recent question (currently closed for unrelated issues) was originally tagged as both and where the OP wanted to know if a Laser-Based ADS could target a bullet if it was powerful enough. The entire physics and mechanics of targeting and destroying a bullet mid-flight is easy to evaluate as "science based", but the setup itself created an "internal consistency" issue for the author that many users commented on, which is that IF a laser capable of disintegrating a bullet existed, then automated lasers would make such a better primary weapon than a ballistic firearm that his setting should be well beyond having ballistic firearms requiring an LDS.

Considering this, I propose that the tag guidance be amended to:

For questions that ask if a given concept is consistent, or being used consistently, in the context of the referenced world rules. Answers should say yes or no, with supporting info. Specific comparisons to the real world should use the science-based tag instead. This tag may not be used alone.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this makes sense. I've always viewed (I think!) of internal consistency and reality-check as synonymous. Could you link to the relevant Meta discussion and tag policy discussion so we can review more easily? I'll try to find it myself, but I have the feeling that since you're writing the question, you might have the links handy. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 11, 2023 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ They're all bad and should probably be removed. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 11, 2023 at 20:12

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We changed the name of that tag for a reason

The tag used to be named "reality-check." The problem is that people were using the tag for what the words "reality" and "check" meant to them and not per the tag's wiki. [1], [2]

  • What the tag expected: To test how consistently someone was using a developed rule or rules. One or more rules were defined and a story-based circumstance using the rules presented. Respondents were expected to answer "yes," meaning the presented circumstance was consistent with the presented rules or "no, because..." if they felt the presented circumstance failed the rules.

  • What the tag was used for: Do you like this idea? or any one of its thousand variations including "is this realistic?", "is this feasible?", "is this possible?" etc.

Thus, the name of the tag was changed to reflect its original meaning. I made a small and nearly useless effort to remove the tag from historical questions that were following the second bullet — but it's a lot of work.

At this time, we don't have an official way to ask review-my-idea questions

And that's what a "reality check" question really is, "do you like my idea?" It doesn't matter how it's couched, the user is at best looking for people to poke at the idea to see if there are any obvious holes that need to be dealt with before using the idea or, at worst, they're looking for some kind of permission to use the idea (as in, "this isn't stupid, is it?"). Note that there's nothing wrong with the latter, few people can be experts in every field needed to write a good story, it's just not what Stack Exchange is for.

And that's the problem: review-my-idea questions don't fit in Stack Exchange's mold at all. This type of question is intrinsically open-ended and has no hope of a best answer.

Equally intrinsic is the fact that questions are also open-ended with no hope of a best answer. Historically, they were a permitted exception because we're dealing with specific rules and a specific test. In other words, the question was very tightly scoped and served a very specific purpose. Nevertheless, the hypocrisy is admitted.

I tried to resolve some of the problem by inviting advice to users about how to ask review-my-idea questions. It was reasonably well accepted (for today... hardly any Meta users today...). But few people other than myself link user questions to Meta posts to help people learn how to use the site. (There's a lot of good stuff in here....)

This goes to underscore how hard it is to name a tag...

For the record, it's really hard to name a tag in a way that can't/won't be abused. 99.9% of the time, a user will use a tag based ONLY on how they interpret the words used in the tag name. "Internal consistency" is working better than "reality check" ever did (wow, that was a mess...), but it's still being abused.

But I'm NOT fond of setting a precedent

What worries me the most about this is the precedent it might establish of re-defining tags to meet the experienced use of the tag. That invalidates every "correct" use of the tag historically. From a practical perspective, that's just trading one kind of confusion for another in the hope that the second will be less painful, which usually means "less effort to moderate."

To use a metaphor, we believe it's easier to plant the grass and wait to see where the walking trails appear, then pour concrete for sidewalks, than it is to build the sidewalks first and forever hound people to use them. I get the argument, I just don't agree with it. The result may be less maintenance, but it's almost always less attractive (at best) or less fundamental to the design of the campus (at worst).

So, no, the tag should not be redefined. To top everything off, you're just re-creating the problem we were trying to solve in the first place at the expense of losing a feature that has been with the Stack since its earliest days.

Shame on us, perhaps, for not remaining better focused on the task of helping people learn how to build worlds. We've fallen into the habit of just helping the OP of the moment solve their individual problem, ignoring the SE expectation of reuse of data. In short, we've fallen into the habit of giving people fish rather than teaching them how to fish.

And the tag has a specific purpose that is wholly independent of the other tags. By definition (literally...) you can't have a answer to an question because the rules and the means of testing the rules must be required for the tag to be valid. Science (or its lack...) has nothing to do with the consistent use of a rule.

OK, so shouldn't we just burn the tag and forbid any and all "review my idea" questions?

That's the only definitive solution, but the effort to do so is horrific. To burn a tag we must disassociate each and every question from the tag and then let SE's garbage collection get around to deleting the tag.

Instead, let's return to teaching people how to fish. Rather than redefine the tag, choose to delete it when it's been inappropriately applied with an admonition in comments to read the tag wiki.

BTW, why was it named "reality-check" in the first place?

Remember that our goal (per the Help Center) is to help people build imaginary worlds. From that perspective, the phrase "reality check" meant "your reality," not the Real World. What time taught us is that the average person (especially young users) treated the word "reality" to mean ONLY "the Real World." This became exacerbated as things like the TV show "The Expanse" and the Real World Question policy turned this site into Physics-Lite where the only reality of interest was the "Real World" despite the utterly nonsensical fantasy of what the OP was trying to do. Thus, it was decided we had to change the tag name to better express the tag's wiki, rather than the wiki to better express the name.

One last thing...

As part of the repair to the various tags related to this post, the tag was made a synonym of the tag, because when you remove the review-my-idea component of the question, that's what it really is: a reflection of the desire for a science-based answer. [3]

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  • $\begingroup$ I have no issue with the tag being called "internal-consistency", the issue is with it being mutually exclusive of "science-based". Internal Consistency is as much a problem for Sci-fi writers as it is for fantasy writers. Basically, it is a question asking "if I do this thing, does it invalidate itself?" That is a very specific kind of question making it worthy of a tag, just not part of the Hard-soft system spectrum. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 23, 2023 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Except that it doesn't make sense to tag internal-consistency with any of the science tags. Or magic. Or pretty much anything else. What does it mean to pair it with science-based? I'm beginning to suspect that the problem is an historical incompatibility. The effort was to get people to NOT think of it as part of the science-* spectrum. It's mutually exclusive with (now that I think about it) all other tags. But thanks to the original name, it was regularly conflated with the spectrum. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 23, 2023 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ To pair it with a science-based tag should simply mean that you want to know if a thing is both internally-consistent and theoretically plausible since these are two independent variables from which a single question and single answer can be derived. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 24, 2023 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki You're allowed to ask only one question per-post. Asking if it's both internally consistent and scientifically plausible is two. You're chopping logic. The rules in an internal-consistency question are expected to have already been set. The question isn't about the rules, but about their consistent application. If you burden the use of the tag beyond that, the question should be closed as Needs More Focus. The tag has only one purpose. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 24, 2023 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ no, it's still one question one answer. The use of two tags just helps to establish a best possible answer. The criteria for best possible answers, and the tags that define them, typically should be more than one because this narrows down exactly what you want out of an answer. Because an idea can be internally consistent (if magic) or science based (but not internally consistent), it means you can not split the question into two and still get a useful answer to your question. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 25, 2023 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki We'll need to agree to disagree. I believe "is this situation consistent with my stated rules?" and "is all of this theoretically plausible?" are two questions, and I'd vote to close as NMF every time. And I simply disagree with changing the tag to be something fundamentally different than it's always been. There it is. Take it or leave it. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 26, 2023 at 18:28

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