A July 2022 renovation of the tag and others has changed the context of this question. It is now obsolete. Please see the following question and the link under "Conclusion." If we can't burn the "reality check" tag, can we rename it?

I'm relatively new here so this is possibly ground that's been covered but I can't find it.

My reading, and rereading, of Reality-Check is that this tag denotes a question concerning the internal consistency of a scenario and/or solutions to a problem put within a particular framework that usually involves a degree of handwaiving.

By the same token Science-Based and Hard-Science are degrees of proof of concept within the existing material laws we deal with every day.

(The over is my very literal interpretation of what I'm reading, I've probably missed some of the nuances that others see, Asperger's is problematic that way. There are probably also things about these tags that people who've seen them evolve take for granted that I have no concept of.)

Given this reading the argument that Reality-Check is somehow a soft version of Science-Based appears to be baseless as they describe different and separate requirements. Plenty of Reality-Check questions have no basis in science at all while those that do don't necessarily require science in their answers i.e. you can ask a question about a scenario that is entirely scientifically sound but requires only a test of logic from the community. As such why is specifying that an answer be both internally logical (Reality-Check) and scientifically sound (Science-Based) an issue? Certainly Science questions are generally logical but don't necessarily ask for clarifications of their internal logic the way a Reality-Check question does.

I'm getting a little lost here, what I'm asking is this: what have I missed about Reality-Check that relates it directly to scientific standards of proof? Since I'm getting told repeatedly that a Reality-Check is a "soft standard" for a sub-scientific burden of proof instead of what it says it is which is "is this internally logical?".


4 Answers 4


Reality-Check questions result in boolean answers

I think of reality-check question as essentially asking

Is this environment/system that I've constructed, is it sane/consistent?

The answer to this is usually either, yes, no or insufficient information. Simply putting "yes" or "no" as an answer isn't especially helpful so we usually append a "why" section to the answer too. If it's insufficient information then usually that shows up in the comments.

I don't assume that a reality-check question is using based in real life science unless the question makes explicit or implicit references to a real life science. Almost all question do imply real life physics since developing a complete physics system from first principles is way way way outside the scope of what will fit in a WB.SE question.

Otherwise, I agree with Frostfyre.


The difference between science-based and reality-check lies in the foundation of the source material.

With science-based questions, answers bring real-world science to the table to determine whether a concept is valid, or how to most closely match a concept. If there is no way to achieve the stated objective, then the community typically allows answers that specify why the stated objective cannot be achieved. In either case, definitive proof is preferred over basic conjecture.

Reality-check questions begin with the same assumptions as in science-based ones: dependent on our current understanding of science. However, this need not be the case. The question may specify new rules that science must obey, alter existing ones, or create entire new systems independent of science (i.e., magic). Answers, then, are expected to determine if the stated objective is possible and feasible using the rules presented in the question, and only fall back to reality when appropriate.

This difference gives reality-check a more lenient and flexible scope than science-based.

At least, this has long been my understanding of the difference between the two tags.

  • $\begingroup$ Ah so the premise that's missing from the descriptions is an assumption that real world science is the basis for asking/answering any question. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Aug 22, 2017 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash You might want to have a closer lok at science-based. There it says this. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Aug 22, 2017 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus Be that as it may nowhere does it say that questions which are, by the nature of the site, based in pure fiction should adhere to the basic standard of an optional tag. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Aug 23, 2017 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash Which is one of the things I tried to address in my answer to this question about burninating reality-check $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Aug 23, 2017 at 11:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ We've even had a discussion on just when "that's not possible" is and is not an appropriate answer to a question. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 28, 2017 at 13:19

The tag has no connection to the or tags, which are used to denote different levels of scientific proof expected.

The tag is simply to say "I already have a solution, I want to know if it works" rather than "I have tried various solutions already and none of them have solved the problem", which is the assumed basis for all questions that do not have the tag.

See this answer (and I think there are others, this comes up every so often).

What this means is that you can tag a question with both and your choice of or or neither. will specify to answerers that you would like to know if the world you have build is self-consistent or otherwise valid in the paradigm you have provided, whereas the choice of the other tag specifies what kinds of answers you want (answers loosely based in science, answers strongly based in science, and answers featuring high-level science with references/diagrams/equations/etc). Alternately, asking a question but not using the tag suggests that the world you've already built should be assumed to be valid, and now you need help building upon it.


In my opinion, a reality check question does not have to be a science based question, it could be a question for lack of experience by the writer. For example, suppose my story requires a young woman to be violently beaten and raped by her boyfriend. They aren't married, they have no kids, but she chooses to stay with him anyway.

I know for a fact this happens IRL, but I am having difficulty putting myself in any mindset that warrants this. So I want a reality check for my best guess as to what the hell her emotions or thinking might be. Is my guess plausible? (And implicitly if it is not, perhaps the "Why It Isn't" answer will give me a clue as to what IS plausible.)

That isn't about science, or physics, or logical proof; but it is a question about a reality issue and plausibility. I also hasten to say this particular example is not about WorldBuilding, I am using it only to create for illustration a stark difference between "science-based" and "reality check". In World building, we could ask such questions about moral systems in an invented culture: Could they be sustained, or would the culture disintegrate within a generation? This is sort of opinion based, but if it is an informed opinion resting on an education in human psychology and the psychology of past cultures, it is in the realm of halfway between opinion and science, or anecdotal evidence and hard evidence.

Realism is not entirely about science and proof and logic; what people do while in love (or for it) or in fear for their life or consumed by greed is not necessarily rational, and is often unnecessarily fatal. But that is reality, and not everything is plausible, so the reality check is a way for people to test if they have crossed the line on plausibility, whether science is available to inform that decision or not.


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