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I recently added a spherical-cow tag to the list of available tags, and applied it to an excellent candidate, but it was removed. You could call this a "why" or "why not" question, based on your proclivity.

Spherical cows are a standard practice when discussing theoretical physics. You can't get a physics degree without handling thousands of word problems that qualify for this tag. I believe that including a spherical cow tag will inform answerers that there is a piece of physics that is specifically being ignored for the purpose of focusing on a specific aspect of reality. When someone says they want to ignore spaghettification, it is a hinderance to discourse to insist that you can't get near a black hole without getting spaghettified.

By including this tag, it can allow scientifically accurate answers within a circumstance that would require science fiction to achieve. We spend WAY too much of our time telling people why one aspect of reality makes their question moot when they're fully aware of those aspects.

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    $\begingroup$ Given that your post requests a specific change and we're on the meta site. voting can be used to indicate agreement or disagreement with the proposal. Remember that voting is different on meta $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 20, 2023 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertRapplean accusing of hostility is pretty hostile itself. You yourself are acting as toxic as you claim others are. Please stop. Downvotes are allowed. If they weren't, then there wouldn't be an option to cast them. Trying to make others be "wrong" for using downvotes goes against the reason the network exists. You cannot be correct in saying downvotes are unwanted given the empiric evidence that's not how the network is built up. Trying to make even a single vote an actual act of hostility is most definitely not friendly towards both the network and others. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 20, 2023 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ Neither of the four things you've described downvotes are, or what they are supposed to be, are what downvotes are for. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 21, 2023 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ You are requesting a feature, (adding a specific tag). I'll admit that the waters are somewhat muddy because you are also asking why the tag was rejected. Perhaps your question is less clear and unambiguous that you intended. You could edit your post so that it's only asking why the tag was rejected if you didn't want it to be interpreted as a feature request. Requiring comments on downvotes is regularly proposed and rejected on meta. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 21, 2023 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ And yet commenting on why one downvoted a query is the ONLY way for the querent to understand that there is even a problem, let alone how to fix said problem. WB.SE is better than that. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 21, 2023 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ "The stacks say they are to indicate questions that are unclear, too broad, or off topic." these are close reasons. Closure and downvoting may have some correlation but aren't necessarily linked. "Can you tell me why my question was downvoted?" because somebody thought it wasn't useful. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 21, 2023 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings, A feature request is specifically a request to change the software underlying the site's operation. It is used by the developers the same way most development teams use Jira to support the business's request for improvements to a piece of software. Requesting a tag does not qualify. I don't have to request a tag, I can just create one, and I did, and I applied it to a question. Dutch removed that tag, and this is (to my knowledge) the preferred mechanism for asking for a clarification. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2023 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertRapplean that's the explanation of up/down votes - is it useful or not. Downvote would mean somebody found the post not useful. That's it. Your interpolation that they 1. knew it and then 2. think you are stupid are absolutely not either what the downvote explanation says, nor what I said. You've complained about "toxic" behaviour yet seems so far you're the only one who produced produced something to harm another and directed it at yourself. Then complained that others are at fault. As I said stop. That's not what downvotes mean. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 21, 2023 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ Meta is the correct spot for proposing changes and requesting clarification. It is possible though that the intent of your post is less clear than you presume. "Can we include a spherical tag?" is both the title of your post, and its only question. That combined with the body's focus on presenting a case for the tag, makes it read more like you're advocating for its (re)creation rather than seeking to understand why it was rejected. If it looks like a feature request, people are likely to, treat it as one, and vote based on their opinions on the proposal, regardless of what tags it has. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 21, 2023 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ Your point was that downvotes are negativity. Yet the only negativity is coming from you to you. Downvotes are neutral. You're the one who makes yourself suffer over them and coming up with yet new ways to describe what they aren't just to make yourself feel worse. Then somehow you're others are responsible for you insulting and berating yourself. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 21, 2023 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ Do point out where is it laid out in the network that downvotes are supposed to be bad. No, I don't care what you feel they are, what you want they to be, what you hope. I want you to show me a clear statement that shows that downvotes, as implemented on the SE network, are always malicious, that they are for hurting users. That has been your claim so far. Time to back it up. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 21, 2023 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertRapplean --- How is removing 2 EXP "bad"? It's simply the price for the privilege of being able to downvote. Also, the "reduces your reputation" argument is patently absurd. You and I both have enough EXP that the loss of 2 won't even put a dent in the number everyone sees! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 21, 2023 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, the rep penalty for a downvote is so small that I don't see any benefit from it existing. At best it leads to somebody losing a privilege but it's quite hard to get there with downvotes. Moreover, downvotes vastly overshadow the lost rep anyway. I'd be perfectly happy if there was no rep penalty for the post author. A lot of the negative perception comes from the (in the vast majority of cases) negligible amount of rep lost. Yet doesn't change the fact that the system is designed with downvotes as expected actions. Were they to be considered malicious then why include them? $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 22, 2023 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ [...]Two, just like you said, -2pts doesn't seem "that" bad... Until you realize that some people do care because it is a concrete, personal token of one's (dis)approval in the community (very important in some societies outside the U.S.). It got worse over time because people moved more and more their social interactions online over the last decade. Three, the system was designed for SO, and in most cases developpers code for work, they rarely create artistic (and therefore sentimental) bonds with their work, unlike worldbuilders.[...] $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2023 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena --- I misread that. 1 EXP is the price of the downvote privilege! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 22, 2023 at 18:46

3 Answers 3

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I don't see a use for this proposed tag.

A good rule of thumb for determine if a tag makes sense is to use it in the sentence "I am an expert in [tag]".

A spherical cow is just an approximation. What does "I am an expert in approximation" mean?

Approximations are everywhere in our questions. Some are better at specifying these approximations in their questions, some not. Some are better at answering within those approximations, some not.

If that proposed tag was used, it should be applied to something short of 100% of our questions, making it almost useless, because it is so universal that doesn't add information to the question.

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  • $\begingroup$ This tag only makes sense in conjunction with "hard-science" type tags. If you are starting from a foundation of exceptions, as with magic, then it would definitely be nonsense. Unfortunately, you're right that the tag system doesn't accommodate modifiers like that. Maybe it would be better to call the tag "theoretical-physics"? $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2023 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertRapplean no... that would imply an "applied physics" tag to go with it. I think the rehular phtsics tag already covers it all, including ideal spherical fauna. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2023 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ Do we need to have one tag cover it all? I understand that SE prefers to keep less tags rather than have more but as it stands having the physics tag implies that you want it to be applied physics and thus the theoretical-physics tag would be adding information the main tag doesn't Edit: I only now realized how old this post is, my bad $\endgroup$
    – Informer
    Mar 19 at 16:47
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I can see the rationale behind having this Tag:

"I want something that is within the realms of Hard Science, but accept that the thing I'm asking for is super-highly complex and no one has a spare super-computer to model an accurate simulation so want something close enough, whilst acknowledging certain things are simplified"

The problem is that firstly - it requires one to know the origin and the nuance of a Spherical Cow. If you compare to say 'Hard Science' or 'Science Based' the meaning of the name is self-evident or at least, self-evident enough to a lay-person that additional explanation isn't necessary.

Whereas Spherical Cow is only really known to those with a more-than-casual understanding of Physics - I mean, I've answered the odd Physics question here and there - I like Maths, I like to maintain a good knowledge of Science, I can even remember the Spherical Chicken in a Vacuum joke from TBBT - but even I wasn't fully aware of this being an actual term.

As such - even if I concede that there is a good argument to be made for a Tag that would fulfill such a need (Essentially a half-way house between Science Based and Hard Science) - the name itself is not conducive to this need.

Secondly is what requirement would this fill that Science Based doesn't? Science Based as a Tag has a very broad remit - ranging from borderline Hard-Science, to very very speculative Science that 'Sounds good'.

I do not see a scenario where the differentiation between the two is significant to warrant a separate Tag - Where models are required and a reasonable degree of over-simplification is acceptable - Science Based, to my mind, would cover this.

You could perhaps make an argument that this Tag would be a guide to be more selective in terms of the answers (in the same way that Hard Science is) - however, I feel that the asker of the question could specify if they wanted a particular type of answer - and that this addition from the asker would be sufficient in the majority of cases.

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Just to add 2ยข...

All tags categorize the question with four very important exceptions: , , and . Those four tags categorize the answers.

  • A spherical cow answer to a "hard science" question is a answer.

  • A spherical cow answer to a "science based" question is a answer.

  • Not surprisingly, a question tagged expects the cow to be found on lunch plates in the student union building.

Thus, we already have a solution... but the people who invented it are (for the most part) no longer with us, so it's up to we, the younger generation, to keep the understanding of those four tags going.

Personally, I think users' unwillingness to accept a question that wants to ignore some aspect of Real World physics won't be solved by a tag. There's been a very strong trend for over a year now to make this site "physics-lite," as if all questions should either completely conform to known science or completely walk away from it. I'm growing fond of a phrase I created for another Meta answer:

It's incredibly common that what the worldbuilder is doing is trying to hybridize the rules of their imaginary world with the Real World.

We should be willing to help users do that. Indeed, it really should be every user's default perspective when reading a question. [1]

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  • $\begingroup$ The best way to get the sort of answers you want is to write your question so that other sorts of answers are invalid. If you want answers with hard figures and backed up by data, ask a question that can only be answered with hard figures and specifically request citations. We really shouldn't have any tags that dictate how people answer questions at all. They're opaque not just to people new to SE but to veteran folks from other SE sites. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Dec 13, 2023 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings I hear you, but the science-*/hard-*/internal-* have been around almost since the first day of this Stack. The inertia is enormous. It isn't helped by the way SE's software works. The only way to make them go away is to remove them from ...every... question that uses them. science-based alone is 9k questions. I believe that leaves us with setting expectations and hopefully consistent moderation. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 21, 2023 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ It would be a large coordinated effort to bueninate the tags but WB would be better for it. Instead of constantly having people bump up against the problems they create. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Dec 21, 2023 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings I dunno. There are so many people who don't want any fiction in their fiction that I wonder if it really would help. We can't train people to use four tags, I don't know how we'd train people to ask better questions. We've been fighting this basic problem for years. We close, what, at least 40% of all new questions because they fail scope in one way or another? I don't disagree with your views on the tags, I just don't think the problem would actually improve. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 21, 2023 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ If they don't specify enough either they don't get the answers they want or the question gets closed as too broad. That's strictly better to what we have now where they may try to use the tags as a crutch for not asking for what they want. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Dec 21, 2023 at 5:40

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