For the past couple of days this question has been receiving rather a lot of attention.

Even though quite a few commentators seem to agree that it is primarily opinion based it has only received 3 close votes.

My personal opinion is that asking that sort of hypothetical question, while world-building, is opinion based, because each person answering will have a different take on it. I would say it doesn't fall within the scope of WB because we are making up a basic premise of the universe (how a magical society views their magic) for the OP.

And so, why is this question still open and receiving answers from a couple of rather high rep users?

Basically, what I'm trying to understand is why we seem to be operating on a double standard. On one hand we shut down questions as too broad, or opinion based all the time. On the other hand, along comes a "cool" question, and the rules seem to go out the window.

We seem to debate Risk Factors, and close reasons all the time, yet do precious little to enforce those standards when it doesn't suit us. I just want to understand what our scope really is, and what our approach to closing questions is going to be.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ As one of the Close Voters on that question, I am also very very very confused as to why it's still standing open - while the question is definitely about worldbuilding, the question has no objective way to decide which answer is the best/most correct, and as such is automatically 100% opinion based which is a friggen close reason! $\endgroup$ – Aify May 31 '16 at 3:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Aify - I was surprised this meta post received so little attention/few answers. Glad to know someone agrees, lol $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 31 '16 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ Finally! Took us damned long enough. It's on hold now. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jun 4 '16 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ If you're going to ask a question about World Building and magic, which cannot be supported by science, of course the answers will be opinion based! This is a valid question. Not every question will have a fact-based answer. Thus WB needs some flexibility on this issue as people discuss issues in, say, fantasy novels. If one asks about theoretical physics, the answers will be opinion-based also, as they will be related to theories not actual proven science. $\endgroup$ – Bulrush Jun 8 '16 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ @bulrush - First of all, a scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation. So they are proven science. But semantics aside, while a question might be perfectly valid worldbuilding, it doesn't necessarily fit our scope. There is a big difference between WB in general, and WB SE. And the main theme here is that SE is a platform which encourages reusable, solid answers. It's why we have an opinion based close reason. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 8 '16 at 13:14

For me, this question is on the edge. I see this point why this question should be left open:

It solves actual problem many worldbuilders faced: The question was asked by myself several times: "I have a world. That world has a magic. The magic behaves according set of rules. These rules are discoverable and apply all the time. Isn't that actually just another field of science?"

Having that asked and answered is to me crucial part of worldbuilding process

Some opinions are good opinions: To me it is opinion based but that opinions can be weighted against each other and decided what is best approach. To make better example, I consider this the same opinion based as hypothetical question on Parenting.SE "how to put baby to sleep."

While there are several approaches on how to proceed, you can decide what is best approach.


Philosophy is not opinion. Which philosophy one prefers may be, but a philosophy needs to be logical and consistent.

This question seems to go to the very heart of building this individual's world. Is the magic system going to be rigorously based in scientifically testable principles? Or is it going to be a non-testable system? Obviously we can't make that decision for the asker. But we can help provide a framework in which to make that decision.

The problem with opinion-based questions is that reasonable people may differ on whether an answer is good or bad. However, there are several answers that are clearly right. Not because they try to answer yes or no but because they answer in ways of thinking about magic.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ IMO - and please don't be offended - you're missing the point. Deciding what purpose magic plays within a universe, how it is viewed, and the mechanics of it are 100% world building. However, designing those aspects of the universe on behalf of the OP is out of scope as broad and opinion based (IMO) because you and some other person will have a different take, and the OP can choose whatever answer he likes best, with no feedback on what might make an answer good, or bad. He is basically asking for opinions, and we shut down questions that do that. Why the double standard? Because it's fun? $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 27 '16 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ I've edited the question to better express what I'm trying to discuss. Just a head's up. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 27 '16 at 14:29

While I agree that the problem you're talking about exists, I don't think it does here.

What the OP of that question seems to need is perspective. I'd almost say the question should be closed for being too easy, all you need to do is point out that you just need to define what magic is, then see if the magic in your world fits that definition from the perspective of your characters. To me, that's a simple, objective answer.

A potential problem I see is that people are expecting questions to be opinion-based. I agree that questions asking for opinions are bad, but I think it's just as bad when you don't give a question a chance. I think sometimes, the difference between a good question and a bad question is the quality of the answers they inspire. If you close a question, you'll never get to see those answers, so you'd better be sure they wouldn't have been there if you left it open.

I'm not saying that we should leave just any question open. There are definitely some cut-and-dry cases out there. But in this case, I think there are good answers to this question that treat it like it's not opinion-based. Maybe all this question needs is a protect (something I can no longer do), and maybe the best option to cure our opinion-based problems is to give objective answers.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think I understand what you mean. A "magical" event or item is something that functions in such a way that we cannot explain, and is relatively rare, such that it's very special. A cell phone would be a magical artifact to a scholar in the 1500's. However to us, since we know the concepts behind it, and use it daily, it's simply another tool. On the other hand, telekinesis, or mind reading would appear to be super powers, and thus magical to us, but they may be the norm on that other world. This is indeed a factual question - based on the definition of the word, so to speak. 1/2 $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 27 '16 at 18:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ 2/2 However, the question was not framed in such a way. The OP did not describe the full social setting on his world, such that we might be able to judge what it's citizens might think. And the answers show this, as they go off on various tangents as each user tries to express his or her views on magic. Should a question like this not be closed, edited to better fit our scope, and only then answered? Which brings me back to it still being open, highly up-voted, and going strong ... $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 27 '16 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM I agree, the question was not necessarily phrased in such a way to make its objectivity clear. And since it is so popular, I agree the importance of this edit is magnified. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh May 27 '16 at 20:10

EDIT: I find this question on Meta to be relevant:

Is the ultimate goal of Stack Exchange really to build a knowledge base for Googlers, not to help individual users (even if they ask good questions)?

As the top voted answers say:

So, if a question can help one person, someone is willing to answer it, and it has no other impact on a site, it should be encouraged.


blind enforcement of the letter of the rule is also something to be avoided.

So... ask yourself: why do you want to close it? Because the question is disruptive for SE and not helping the questioner? Or because it is technically not entirely by the rules?

As fairly new on SE, I have noticed a disturbing amount of rules-lawyering here, where some people seem more intent on waving rules about and smacking people over the head with them rather than wanting to help questioners with their problems. I have had a couple of these hit me as well, despite both questioner and following readers showing appreciation for the answers I gave.

I find this not only annoying but alienating and damaging for SE. People come here to get help, but more often than is sound for the forum they instead get smacked down, with little to no information on what they should have done instead. And a disturbing number of times this happens on pure technicalities.

So I ask you: why does this question irk you so? Because is is breaking the rules in a manner that is disruptive and damaging for SE? Because it is unhelpful to the questioner and others that use SE? Or — heavens forbid you would be one of those people — because you get your jollies in wielding the power of closing questions and telling them "No, I forbid that question!"?

Remember why we are here: to help people... not to enforce rules for the sake of the rules themselves.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I'll try to ignore the personal jabs, and get to the point: Stack Exchange is not reddit. People don't get to post any question that meets their fancy on any given SE site, and are owed an answer. WB SE is a site with a clearly defined scope. As a community we should help people frame their question in such a way that it meets the site standard, or turn that question away. And the reasons for doing so are very important: SE is supposed to offer real answer to real questions, not half baked opinions on poorly framed inquiries. 1/3 $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 13:50
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ 2/3 And so, you say we are not here to enforce the rules ... I'd love to see a moderator's opinion on that statement. What sets SE apart from every other question/answer site is that our content is well managed by the passionate community. That's what makes this site a valuable collection of information, and not just another click-bait webpage. And so, I think you're dead wrong: we are not here to answer questions willy nilly under the flawed presumption that we are helping them, but to answer questions which are within our scope, and enforce the rules so that the site maintains its pedigree. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 13:50
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ 3/3 The fact that your answer to poorly framed question is well received is irrelevant at best, and hurts our site at worst (because you're encouraging new users to adopt bad habits rather than educating them on how to properly frame their question-which is what I always strive to do). That question should not have been answered if it doesn't fit the WB SE scope. If, however, the community decides to relax our standards, then that's a different story. In that case let the scope be redefined, and let that be the end of it. But I fundamentally disagree with selectively enforcing the rules. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ I have not given you a "personal jab". I posed the question without prejudice or judgement. If you feel "jabbed" by that I cannot help but to wonder why. But anyway, this is beside the point. -> $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Jun 2 '16 at 13:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I disagree with the sentiment that "well managed" equals smacking people over the head with the rules as soon as there is an opportunity. I disagree with the sentiment that rules-lawyering makes for a community with "high standards". And I disagree with the sentiment that moderator's subjective opinions are the Be All And End All when judging whether a question / answer is "good" or not. The forum does not exist for the moderators' sake, for them to impose their ego on others and get a power-trip on wielding a stick. But I am seeing some tendencies in that direction... no names named. -> $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Jun 2 '16 at 14:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ High Standard does not come from imposing strict discipline on the forum-goers. That only makes for a hostile and unwelcoming environment. In my opinion "The Greater Good" argument only carries weight when it is applied in earnest and the actions taken to ensure the greater good are done with that in mind, and not just using "The Greater Good" as a thinly veiled excuse to hit people with the rules-stick. So I ask: why do you want that question closed? Because it lowers the standard of the WB forum and does not provide help to people? Or is that argument not actually applicable here? $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Jun 2 '16 at 14:05
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "High standard" means applying strict standards to the questions. The basic idea of SE, and the main advantage of the format, is that the answers are supposed to be re-useable. That is why questions which amount to "let's talk about something" are not a good fit. Further it means that we have to impose some restrictions on what questions may be asked, so that the answers may be evaluated and whomsoever would go and google a similar question may be directed to this site and learn something useful. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Jun 2 '16 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ Mods are elected by the community to help enforce the rules, and arbitrate any issues - and WB SE is fortunate enough to have a great team of them. Enforcing the rules will sometimes leave people feeling mistreated. But when I comment that a question is off topic and vote to close it I'm only offering my interpretation of the rules as they relate to it. If others agree, the question is closed. If my opinion doesn't seem to match the community's I try to understand why - hence this meta post. You seem to be arguing that I'm on a power trip simply because I seek clarification, or action. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 14:12
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKarnerfors I submit that a question which does not permit good answers does not help anyone. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Jun 2 '16 at 14:25
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ First of all, I asked my question to seek understanding. You're not providing any answers, simply attacking my opinion that our rules should be uniformly enforced. Second, I'll quote the answer on the question you linked above: patterns of questions that threaten the greater good should eventually be made off-limits. <- by answering user's broad, or opinion-based questions we are encouraging the breach of our scope, and eventually open the floodgate to all such inquiries. At that point the site becomes a collection of one-off, or subjectively answered questions which helps no one. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 14:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You're angry on the internet, eh? I'm sure someone sympathizes. I offer my arguments in the question, and my various comments on the other answers. I've also attempted to engage with you, to little avail. For the record, I voted to close the question from the get-go (before it had many answers and up-votes). I still think it's out of scope, and seek only to understand why others thought it was a good fit for WB, not necessarily to have it closed. I would also argue that the number of answers or up-votes is irrelevant when it comes to enforcing the rules, but that's my personal opinion. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 14:37
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Because we are a young community and the standards are still not well set. We are in fact still struggling with things like what the scope of worldbuilding is and how to objectively determine good answers. Opinion-based questions are not good because you don't get results based on the quality of the content of the answer, or on its helpfulness, but based on how many people agree with that opinion, like happens on sites like reddit. That is not helpful nor does it contribute to quality content on this site. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Jun 2 '16 at 14:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And what I'm getting from this conversation is that our judgement is flawed, whereas yours is the clear way to go. We're going in circles here. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 14:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKarnerfors I just want to suggest, maybe we want to alienate some things. Just because a question is interesting doesn't mean it belongs here, the same goes for answers. It's not that we think opinion-based questions shouldn't be asked or answered, we just don't want this site to be the place for it. Since pretty much anyone can cast an upvote, there's a good chance that a lot of people upvoting think this site should be something different, but they're not the ones who've put the most work into making it what it already is. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jun 2 '16 at 15:18
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKarnerfors There are people who believe WB has already become rife with crap questions. It's not about one question, it's about a policy. We can't just let "good" questions through, because there's no way to objectively define what's good. Opinion-based is an agreed-upon close reason, it's one of the main rules of SE and especially WB, we are not supposed to accept questions that ask for opinions, if we let it through because it's "good" then we lose all credibility and invite people to continue to break our rules. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jun 2 '16 at 15:35

I disagree that it's opinion based, in the way people think. What I think is related to what Brythan said. Whether something is "scientific" or not is based on one simple question:

Can x be tested or produce predictive models with the scientific method?

If you read the question closely enough, you see that they're talking about particular universes where certain actions can be performed. In-universe, as written, can those phenomena fit into the question in bold above? If so, then we can arrive at a yes or no answer.

I think the problem isn't that there isn't a correct answer, it's that our human language isn't sufficient to talk about it cleanly. We have semantics arguments over what's magic and what's science. Often the discussion on here and elsewhere concludes with the common quote, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

"Magic" is the problem word here, but "science" isn't. We know what's science. The phenomenon either can or cannot fit into the scientific method.

If Universe X has a species that can generate fire by thinking about it, and there's a mechanism by which that species or another species within that universe can frame that ability within the scientific method, then it would adhere to our definition of science in this universe. If something is unobservable or so unfathomably impossible to observe (for us, it would be surviving our universe's heat death or something) then it's not. So the answer: It depends.

If someone disagrees about what the scientific method is, well then their perspective will render all questions on WorldBuilding "opinion-based." But I'd call them uninformed. If they said always no or always yes then I'd consider that an incorrect answer, not a different opinion like "favourite colour."

Regardless of the presence of the semantics merry-go-round of words and meanings, we have an answer, and that answer was given quite a few times, albeit phrased differently. I don't have a better close reason but "opinion-based" isn't it. ...In my opinion. :-)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you for taking the time to answer. I disagree slightly, because I honestly think the OP could have better phrased and framed the question (these two are not the same thing), however I have come to terms with the fact that many members of our community felt it fit our scope. I do agree that many of the questions we get here could be nitpicked to death, as it were, and that we have to draw the line somewhere. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with that sentiment. I wonder if it would be useful if we had a Meta post with agreed upon definitions to avoid nitpicking. The nature of our site leads to really out of this world scenarios so I think it would be beneficial. $\endgroup$ – The Anathema Jun 2 '16 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ Did you see my meta post about educating new users? A new thread was spawned off of that which is aimed at doing more about it all. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 19:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .