Disclaimer: This is not a tag edit proposal.

I've been wondering for some time if there was a common denominator in reality check answering. I've already asked a question about the type of answers here and it comforted me into that idea.

Then, I foolishly decided to ask "please can I have a generic physics and chemistry reality-check". Hoping to get science to be easy, I instead met the fierce and unstoppable community closing that was due. As of right now I leave this question undeleted for discussion purposes.

If my childish attempt to solve science was met with the swift justice it deserved, it also met a good stream of comment (showing I should have maybe raised the subject in chat or meta first, I'm still learning).

Notably, Michael Kjörling said:

I think the basic idea here has merit, but as it stands, this is biting off a bit too much. Compare for example Can you simply scale up animals? which IMO is an excellent reference to the problems of taking an animal and simply making it larger. I'm voting to close this as too broad, but I would definitely be open to considering even upvoting more focused questions, such as perhaps "what do I need to keep in mind when changing or deciding on a planet's gravity?" or maybe even "can you change an arbitrary physics constant or formula?".

Then later:

Oh, I'm not against the idea of having a canonical question to summarize the important points, and I think the question on scaling up animals is an excellent example of just that which has been very well received. Just keep it to one thing per question. If multiple of these questions are relevant to a specific question, we can always link to more than one of these canonical questions.

Which brings me to this: I'd like to create a list of different things people may want a reality check on. The list should be long enough to have all topics covered with elements as generic as WB allows. Having those questions (and a Meta post indexing them) would be quite a helpful resource in answering reality-check questions.

Does that look like a good idea to you? Is there something I overlooked?

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think I understand what you're asking. Do you want people to list things that they would ask reality-check questions about? Shouldn't such a list be easy to create by just asking on the main site, and then looking up all questions tagged 'reality-check'? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh I would like that list to be shorter than the ~2000 questions on that tag. In a sense, create around 50 questions such that for any reality-check, you can link to that question and say "using the ideas given here, this is your answer". $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, yes that does seem like something that other people have expressed a desire for. I'd recommend including the creating a realistic world series $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ That's comparable, though the goal is to check for realism and not create realstic things. Let's say it could be the series' dual. $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ What you need is a different way ask and answer your question. Instead searching 2000 plus questions tagged "reality-check" what is needed is a searching facility to check questions with at least two tags Say, "reality-check" & "giants". Depending on how many tags can be searched together the greater the precision. It's all a matter of understanding information retrieval strategies. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ I would say go for it and let's see if it will be useful, also while doing that you might be will better understand why your formulation was broad. I consider reality-check tag just as attribute saying criticize it from real physics chemistry science as you know it. The same question can be with or without the tag, and basically, any question can have the tag, just the answer might be not interesting. reality-check+"Can magic exists in my universe" -> no, it can't. There is only one universe, and there is no magic as far as we know. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 16:29

3 Answers 3


I think the goal you have here is a good one, however I think you are focusing too much on the reality check tag. Instead I think you would do better to look at the existing successful series such as the Creating a realistic world Series .

For example Can you simply scale up animals? was mentioned in the question but does not currently have , however it is an excellent candidate for this sort of series.

If you can define a series of related and generally useful questions then use a meta post to define the series and the shared constraints and then ask some appropriate questions to kick-start the series. I also applied bounties to make sure we got excellent answers for the first few realistic worlds questions as well.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking of something like "plausible features". When I'm sure I have a well defined scope and a few questions ready to launch, I'll probably do that. $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 14:12

I think I understand your concept, and I can foresee one example:

Can [creature] evolve [feature of other creature] and if so, what pressures are required for it to happen?

Candidates with this pattern:

  1. hoofed carnivores? (i.e. Can ungulates evolve canine teeth?)
  2. How to justify digging claws and opposable thumbs in the same being (i.e. Can badgers evolve opposable thumbs?)
  3. Can I have a big flying creature with jaw and teeth? (i.e. Can birds evolve jaws?)

(Although none of these three currently carries the reality-check tag.)

  • $\begingroup$ I like it, but the three answers don't seem to have a common point. Maybe this is still too broad. $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 14:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I personally dislike the "can X evolve Y" kind of question as the answer is essentially always "yes; if there is an evolutionary pressure in that direction, then there is no real hindrance for that evolution to occur - either the animal adapt or they go extinct". There will seldom be much useful discussion other than trying to explain how evolution works (which Wikipedia describes well). What is more relevant is to ask "what pressure would be required for X to evolve Y?" or, as your own question is framed, "if X evolves Y, then what more is there to expect (and can it still retain ability Z)?" $\endgroup$
    – Mrkvička
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Mrkvička - Thanks for the feedback. I have edited the answer accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Mrkvička there are some "no" cases... will flying animals develop golden bones, will lizard animals evolve flame breath, etc. Those two are extreme examples, but I think that the [anatomy] questions are useful to explore for these gems. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM In my opinion, that's a moot point - it won't change my answer much as if there were an actual evolutionary pressure for golden bones, then they would evolve to have it - provided that they succeed with such evolution, which is highly unlikely; it is more likely that they would go extinct, which would result in the occasional "no". So my original answer is the same (aside from "no" instead of "yes"). I think that there are better ways to find the gems than brute forcing all plausible and implausible evolutionary branches, such as the suggested rephrasing I added in my previous comment. $\endgroup$
    – Mrkvička
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Mrkvička That's a reasonable argument. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 14:24

What you need is a different way ask and answer your question. Instead searching 2000 plus questions tagged "reality-check" what is needed is a searching facility to check questions with at least two tags Say, "reality-check" & "giants".

Depending on how many tags can be searched together the greater the precision. It's all a matter of understanding information retrieval strategies.

This is really all about how to retrieve the relevant questions. No need to build elaborate concatenations of questions to produce narrower search strategies. Just build the appropriate search mechanism. It's basically how search engines work.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can join tags together. Here's an example, thrown together just for the purpose of this comment: reality-check biology creature-design. Or five tags: reality-check biology creature-design evolution mythical-creatures (just picking a few to get as many as possible). Given that a question can only have five tags, adding any more tags to the search would be meaningless. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling That's really great! So, if, the searching ability already exists in the system, then this completetly answers the OP's question. There's no need to jury-rig reality-check for more fine-grained categories. You can just search for whatever is the right combination you want to find. Perfectissimo! $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 0:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. About the only thing you can't do (insofar as I know) is to indicate to the system overall that you have a special interest or lack of interest in questions with a set of tags; for that, you can only specify a single tag, and all questions with that tag are either highlighted or dimmed, as appropriate. So it probably wouldn't be a good idea to say that a favorite tag is "reality-check" unless you really mean it. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, that assumes that questions are actually appropriately tagged, which is all the more reason to re-tag any questions we get that are only meta-tagged. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Meta-tagged? Doesn't this mean mis-tagged? Expecting questions to be correctly tagged may be a faint hope. With luck tags will be sufficiently in the right ball park for seekers of wisdom & truth to find the right answers. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ Well, questions that are only meta-tagged are by definition mis-tagged. It's in reference to "meta tags", which are tags that describe the question itself rather than the content of the question (like how [reality-check] is a meta-tag, but [biology] isn't). Don't confuse "tags on Meta", which is something quite different. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Doubt if I'd be confused with "tags on Meta". As a former knowledge manager I have had experience with subject classification systems. I was interested in how tags were structured in their context. So a meta-tag applies to the type of question not its content. Thanks for the elucidation. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 13:00

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