I feel like a very high percentage of the questions asked here concern plausibility, which is something that's hard to avoid where any kind of fiction is concerned. Some questions purport to be related to "reality", even if they try to "hedge their bets", but in the context of fiction are really about plausibility. Some questions seem to be asked with the intent of eliciting a plausible backstory.

Plausibility is highly subjective, but we can approach it from a general-public point of view. After all, gamma radiation was once a plausible explanation for anything. Nevertheless, a fair bit of conflict seems to ensue when the realistic answer is "that's impossible or vanishingly unlikely", the lazy answer is "feed them some Phlebotinum", and the questioner wants something in between. It would be nice to be able to head off some of this at the pass, as it were.

On the subject of the hard-answer scale as described above, I feel like some perfectly good answer people get marginalized when they are naturally inclined to one end or the other of the scale, but don't get the sense of which end the questioner meant. The , , and tags ought to help, but the vast majority of these have a perfectly accurate science-based tag that conveys nothing about what they expect in terms of a plausible answer.

How can we be more granular about indicating these questions that are based on plausibility? How can we better filter out questions that require a large, plausible, but fictional, backstory?

Also, can we implement some friendly shorthand for "your scenario is scientifically ludicrous, so stop trying to justify it with some kind of plausible backstory and just write your actual story, which sounds interesting"?


How can we be more granular about indicating these questions that are based on plausibility?

I believe that it has to be on the asker to provide that information.

If you're asking a question like that, you have to let us know what kind of answer you're looking for. We have a couple of broad categories for these kinds of things, but we can't have a meta-tag for everyone's personal ideas for what constitutes "plausible".

If a question isn't specific as to what degree of plausibility they want to have, then the answers will likely not be appropriate. Garbage in, garbage out.

Also, can we implement some friendly shorthand for "your scenario is scientifically ludicrous, so stop trying to justify it with some kind of plausible backstory and just write your actual story, which sounds interesting"?

That seems very anti-worldbuilding.

To me, the whole point of coming up with a "plausible" for a particular impossible construct is that such plausible explanations can lead to new ideas for that world.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree that context must, by definition, come from the questioner. I posit that our tools for doing so are inadequate, and further that said lack of tools encourages askers to be vague. $\endgroup$ – Lord Dust Sep 9 '16 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ To wit: science-based claims to require "hard science" answers, but without the citations. However, many users of the science-based tag are unhappy when their premise does not stand up to the hard science standard. Increasingly, science-based seems to indicate a desire for pseudo-science. There are no "pseudo-science" or "fantasy-based" tags, even though these are accurate descriptions of the level of response expected. Even if these tags existed, I don't think people would use them, as both terms are easily interpreted as being pejorative. $\endgroup$ – Lord Dust Sep 9 '16 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ @LordDust: You're making my point for me. What's the difference between your proposed "pseudo-science" and "fantasy-based"? Fundamentally, they're both different forms of "ignore/contradict reality when convenient." My point is that "plausibility" is too fuzzy a concept to be put into a tag. The asker's desires have to be spelled out in the question itself. $\endgroup$ – Nicol Bolas Sep 9 '16 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ Everytime I provide information to get at the core of my question which is asking about specific information in the real world people close it on the basis that it's "story driven" which is utter nonsense v.v so while it's on the part of the questioner to provide more information, it's also on the part of the community to stop calling that "story based" and making it very hard to get actual information. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Sep 15 '16 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ "That seems very anti-worldbuilding." Unfortunately, a lot of answers are saying it's nonsense, so ignore the science & just write the story. But I do agree with trying to come up with a 'plausible' explanation for impossible constructs. Though sometimes is very hard. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 23 '16 at 12:50

I had a question on the skittery edge of impossible, but I asked for possible science back-up on it. Can we use science to explain a creature that feeds on emotion?

I would have liked a tag called fringe-science or speculative-science for this particular question.

  • $\begingroup$ How would you have felt about pseudo-science? $\endgroup$ – Lord Dust Sep 19 '16 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ Parascience might be an improvement. Pseudoscience means 'false-science'. While 'para-' can mean outside, bad or not, so it would something that was bad-science, outside of science, or unscientific all in one package. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 23 '16 at 12:45

I feel like ruthless retagging is the answer. hard-science is wonderfully specific, but science-based is too broad, and the line between that and fantasy-based some prospective tag that requires next to no science is overly fuzzy. These could be subdivided into other tags relating to varying levels or types of plausibility. "Fantasy" is also kind of a pejorative word among a certain brand of author, who will object that what they're writing about isn't magic, despite their work being very much in the realm of science-fantasy or space opera.

I propose: broad-science - Where most people could easily have your premise explained to them using legitimate science, and only people with a serious interest in the subject of your premise, or someone with an eye for trivia, would know that something is unscientific.

popular-science - Where you're aware that your premise doesn't meet rigorous scientific examination or agree with the latest evidence, but you don't disagree with anything in the Wikipedia summary on the subject.

speculative or plot-point - Where your premise is a requirement of your plot, no matter how unscientific it is, and your question revolves around the feasibility of some other subject. This is the tag you want for all those "just like earth" questions.

"No plausibility required" seems like a good summary for really off-the-wall ideas where justification seems... well, unjustified.

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    $\begingroup$ What you call broad-science & popular-science could be labelled 'rubber-science'. A term coined by Norman Spinrad where science has been stretched to cover whatever gizmo is in the story. For example, near-lightspeed travel where the energy constraints are ignored or ants mutated to giant size by radioactive fallout. Speculative would be better reserved for genuine scientific speculation, eg, wormholes (both scientific & hypothetical). It also covers plausible but unproven science. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 23 '16 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ For "Where your premise is a requirement of your plot, no matter how unscientific it is, and your question revolves around the feasibility of some other subject." I'd using good old-fashioned 'hand-waving' in its original sense of let's assume this happens or works without having to justify its existence. Now usurped by that piece of unthink 'handwavium'. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 23 '16 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ I'm definitely on board for a broad-science or rubber-science tag. I don't think we need plot-point or speculative. Everything we do here that isn't hard-science is technically "speculative". As for plot points, we don't care about plots here. Whether you've written yourself into a corner or not isn't really relevant to a Worldbuilding SE question, and just having a plot-point tag is going to give permission to some people to throw in a lot of plot-based questions that we'll have to close. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Oct 12 '16 at 15:25

Space Opera seems to be a well-understood term. I see it on the WB blog. It implies a few generic tropes but shifts the focus of the question away from scientific accuracy to world-consistent "story mechanics" that facilitate adventure, war, intrigue, etc. I often preface my questions with "magic that looks like science" or similar just to avoid unnecessary debate, but we all know what Space Opera is. I'm surprised it isn't a tag already.

I feel sci-fi is held to a very different standard than other questions here. I've had the experience where comments will dogpile on a detail and avoid the main question – turns out the detail had been debated previously but isn't relevant to this discussion. For example, I've asked a few questions involving an aerostat-on-Venus (shorthand, so I don't have to re-invent the wheel going into detail everytime) and this invariably gets links to an old discussion that decided aerostats were unworkable (as if no one is allowed to use the idea now). I've been forced to publish my method to get the comments to stop, which I really don't feel I should need to "prove" my story details before I can ask a different question. Weirdly one of the people doing it had asked about necromancers and "walking skeletons", HAHA. That seems a double-standard.

I think having a scale of Science-Based doesn't work, it either is or it isn't. People who don't know aren't going to choose correctly and it's awkward to tag the question with something it is not.

Space Opera is generically "an adventure set in space". It will involve in-world mechanics that are not scientifically accurate but are expected to be plausible as a storytelling device: transporters, FTL travel, personality robots, instantaneous communication, space colonization that is progressed enough to have rival political factions.

Unfortunately I cannot think of a similar term for sci-fi that is not set in space but uses similar in-world mechanics (normally I'd just call that sci-fi). Sorry, I know this is old, but it seemed the place to post this.


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