# Distinguishing science and fantasy based questions

Should we have a specific means (perhaps certain tags) to say that certain questions are asking for science-only answers.

Asks a purely sci-fi (so far as I can see) question but two out of three answers are suggesting magic.

Should we add a "science", "fantasy", "hybrid" or similar tags to distinguish which questions are looking for what sort of answers?

• science and fantasy are not the only possible ones. There's also historical, which would be representation of some historical era (as is typical for fantasy) but without magic at all (as is typical of sci-fi). Sep 17, 2014 at 21:34
• @bobson Very true...although technically covered by "science"...science doesn't have to mean future fiction. It covers any scientifically valid and/or explainable world - which would include historical ones. Sep 17, 2014 at 22:12
• While that's technically true, it would be very weird to see the "science" tag on a question about the speed of news in medieval villages (for example), since there's nothing specifically "science" about it. At that point, "non-fantasy" would work better, but is that really a tag we want to have? Sep 17, 2014 at 22:47
• – user
Sep 20, 2014 at 18:07

I've been reviewing tag suggestions for some time and I wanted to check in and talk about this. I'm not going to push for or against a tagging practice, I just want to steer the discussion towards a specific consideration when creating the tagging practice.

This sort of divide between "Am I asking a question that wants to be founded on hard science or out of speculative fantasy potential?", it's definitely a major consideration. So it's definitely something we want to think on. But we want to ask ourselves, "Are tags the right way to do it?"

Remember that tags are not the only tool to distinguish questions or indicate what a question is about. The title, and most importantly, the body of the question, are handy tools to tell you what exactly a user is trying to get. The latter has the biggest advantage in that it gives the user the most room to convey what they want or need. If they want answers that only confer to a specific standard, or that have to abide a certain restriction, that comes in explanation in the question body. A parallel from elsewhere on the network, if you were on Stack Overflow and had restrictions on what options in technology you could use, that would be explained in the question body while the tags would highlight the general content of your question as a whole.

That's not to say that there shouldn't be tags. For example technologies do comprise a good amount of tags on Stack Overflow, for example I myself tagged a bunch of things with the particular form of SharePoint I was working with (and not with MOSS since I didn't have that available in our installation). The important thing is to understand why and when to use tags to identify these things. So some tips, which I probably buried in all this.

• Don't approach tags from the idea of cataloging the kinds of questions you get. Just because the concept of a category exists, doesn't make it meaningful as a tag. Boss fights are a pretty solid concept in gaming but we phased out the "boss-fight" tag on Arqade since it did little beyond just being a tiny label.
• Tags are primarily designed for the benefit of filtering for answerers. It's both a quick sign when browsing the front page, and also allows one to browse within this sub-category. As such, tags should be looked at from the perspective of "Would I really picture answerers browsing around in this tag regularly?" Bonus points for tags that stand alone and don't depend on other tags to give them context.
• Does the tagging reflect normal expectations within the subject matter? We generally blacklist particular tags that reflect the obvious topic of the site, but going past that is the understanding of what one expects in general in the topic space. It's the concept of tagging exceptions to the norm, which leaves the norm as something which doesn't need to be tagged.
• Similar but not identical to the previous, is it an unspoken understanding that doesn't need explicit identification? For example, we don't need "gameplay" as a tag on Arqade because it's readily apparent on any question that is about gameplay, that it is indeed about gameplay. These questions don't make up every kind of question but on questions where it applies, it doesn't even need to be stated in the question body.

My personal immediate thought patterns is that , or perhaps something better named, would be handy when you want to settle that the question must be rooted in the physics and society of our own world. The spectrum of non-scientific, be it full pseudo-scientific or handwave-y, when you're dealing with a concept like building worlds, it's all about creation and so that strikes more as a norm. We shouldn't need additional tags or gradations betwixt them to identify the stuff in between since that I feel is best addressed in question bodies.

• As a practical side note: We have a sorta-similar problem on SciFi.SE (amusingly, NOT related to scifi/fantasy division). Whether an answer should be explicitly based on canon, or can be a logical derivation. We do not have a (meta) tag for that, and instead have a convention of specifying canon - and acceptable level thereof - as a note in the question body. Oct 5, 2014 at 12:56

Yes, I think we should. It would provide an easy an quick way to see the background behind a question. This would allow us to answer the question faster.

Yes, being able to separate where askers want answers that are based in science as we know it (up to and including hard sci fi) or magic-based answers could potentially be quite useful in navigating the site.

I propose that we look for ways to establish the tags and to start with, as well as come up with good tag wikis for the two. If it turns out later that these by themselves are not adequate, then we can add gradations between them, but as I have mentioned elsewhere we should be careful about making tags that are too narrow in scope.

• I've edited a couple of posts to add science-based. I'm not sure we need fantasy-based as really it's just the absence of science-based but I'm not sure. Sep 17, 2014 at 11:10
• There are questions which are neither science based or fantasy based, so I think tagging both is appropriate. Especially when neither is relevant, or both are relevant (because the OP wants both kinds of answers) Sep 17, 2014 at 14:59

My problem with this is that I have in mind questions that would be both science-based and magic based for the simple reason that the genre I am currently working in could be described as science-fantasy.

This means that my worlds have magic, but that magic must be well-defined with a pre-determined set of rules that could be said to be scientific in nature, even if how or why the magic works is not known.

Unlike some bad fantasy novels I won't name, I don't want to just handwave a magical topper to an opponent's magical gambit just because I want the story to work out that way, the characters in my worlds have to work within the rules, even if they don't understand them completely.

So, my opinion is that we need a tag and a tag, and the presence of both on a question would imply that the magic/fantasy element of the question has specific rules that need to be followed. Alternatively, we could also have a tag too.

• Certainly we should support such crossover questions, I'm specifically thinking about science-based questions though where the person asking will not be interested in a magical answer. Sep 17, 2014 at 16:35
• I believe that any discussion of tags should include alternatives. We have science, but that doesn't include everything when fantasy covers a whole lot more. We can't realistically discuss one without the other(s)
– Monty Wild Mod
Sep 17, 2014 at 16:38
• I like your suggestion of what might be called "scientific magic". I think on this particular site, a magic tag will most often indicate magic that has at least some element of rules. If an author or game designer wants to take the approach of "and then magic saved the day" with no consideration of how it works or what rules apply, then that sounds like someone who is not interested in world building. I would expect magic questions that are on topic here to automatically include some level of rules. Sep 17, 2014 at 18:54

I would say that science-based answers are not the same than scifi-based answers. In science-based worlds you simply can not have interstellar travel, so you would be limited to one star (with maybe several planets, and trips of several years between them).

So I guess that we should separate "real science", "hard scifi", "soft scifi" and "almost fantasy".

• Ahh "fantasy in space"...what virtually all "sci fi" TV shows actually are... Sep 17, 2014 at 22:52