I've seen my fair share of ridiculous questions where it's obvious that the OP has no idea what they're talking about. Things like 'What would happen if you punch someone with a force of 172500 N?' and 'What would happen if the ocean didn't have a bottom?'

I've recently begun answering questions like these, systematically taking apart their premise and proving how ridiculous it is. I'm conflicted about whether I should've answered the question, though, because answering questions makes closing and/or deleting them hard and annoying. I understand that I can simply VTC or flag questions, but doing so doesn't really educate the OP as to why their question doesn't make sense.

Given that a question is in-scope for WB.SE, but has such utterly ridiculous premises that answers would simply attempt to disprove it, what is the proper protocol?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I usually just ignore them, but if you are willing to answer them in good faith, good for you. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding :) . You should use the comments, that is the best way to help improve the question. There is so much that can be done since it's not your question. The asker should have the last word, even if it does not make sense. It's up to the people to decide if they can answer. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ See also When is “that's not possible” an appropriate answer? (make sure to also check out the linked questions in the sidebar) $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ Usually, when I see a question where the OP has no idea what they're talking about (eg: didn't do any research prior to asking) I downvote for lack of research and move on - unless it's so bad that it's too broad/POB/Off-topic, in which case I cast a CV. $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ The third example is an invalid link, BTW $\endgroup$
    – Hazard
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ Must've been deleted. I'm erasing it, now. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 0:04

4 Answers 4


Just looking at the links you've provided, I think the answer is evident in at least the first and last questions as they've been closed. The last one in particular is clearly too broad and therefore invalid.

The first one is a little more subjective. One could argue that it's a Physics SE question dressed up with a knight to make it fit WB, but technically I think it was a valid question. It was asking for science based answers to a specific world based question that didn't ask us to 'write the story for him/her'.

I'm not saying that it wasn't ridiculous, and a part of me thinks it's more the domain of Randall Monroe on XKCD but I'd also point out that prior to it being closed, it garnered 3 answers, so clearly there were some who were prepared to take it as a legitimate question. The last one, about biology and evolution, didn't attract a single one. That could be because it was closed quickly, but given that the middle one is still open and has 5 answers against it, I'm of the view that relative legitimacy of a question can at least in part be seen as correlating to the number of answers provided. (This is a small sample set admittedly, and it would be interesting to see some figures provided on this across a larger sample of questions.)

I'd also point out that 'too broad', 'primarily opinion based' and to a lesser degree 'off-topic' can be taken as subjective assessments in many cases. I've seen questions closed as too broad that I thought were quite specific. I've even answered some of them before they were closed.

To that end, even this question on meta could be argued to be 'primarily opinion based'. :) I think like Kingledion says in comments, there are some questions he simply ignores. The fact that questions don't get ~100 answers on a regular basis tells me that we all select what we're prepared to answer to some degree, and I also think that in the spirit of this question, it's important to note that not everyone who comes to this site to ask a question has a detailed background in biology, physics, engineering, economics, anthropology, or even [insert your specialisation here]. As such, without trying to take ourselves too seriously, there is a compelling case that a part of the responsibility we have here (as a tradeoff for the fun of it) is to teach.

As such, while some questions are just begging to be closed, I think it's entirely legitimate to answer others, if for no other reason than to guide the poster of the question. Exactly where the discriminator lies between these conditions is a personal choice. Ultimately this question is testing the boundary conditions of something that we all already do;

If you feel comfortable answering a question, do so.
If you don't, well, don't.

  • $\begingroup$ "part of me thinks it's more the domain of Randall Monroe on XKCD" I keep thinking we should have a XKCD what if style stack exchange, for detailed answers to ridiculous questions. You can only ask so many of them on here... $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ Not a bad idea, but let's take it a step further and get Mr Monroe to actually shift his What If platform to SE. Then, he can keep doing what he does so very well, but others can join in. Seems to me to be the next logical level for What If and would keep it alive if he ever decides to give it up himself. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 20:40

I've recently begun answering questions like these, systematically taking apart their premise and proving how ridiculous it is.

Funnily enough, there's already a question on Meta that asks whether it's okay to do exactly that. The consensus there appears to be: yes, if you think a question is ridiculous and/or impossible, it's okay to post an answer explaining why it's ridiculous and/or impossible. The key word there is "explaining" - as you said, and as mentioned in the other Meta post Michael Kjorling linked to, just going "No, that's impossible" doesn't help the OP and isn't an acceptable answer.

If there are other legitimate reasons to close the question - such as that last one, which is too broad - then it should be closed without answering it. But if it's otherwise valid and on-topic, then an answer explaining why the premise doesn't work is acceptable, as far as I'm aware.


…there is a compelling case that a part of the responsibility we have here (as a tradeoff for the fun of it) is to teach.

I upvoted Tim for that one remark and would have sat at my computer happily clicking away the upvote button for quite some time had a useful outcome been involved.

IM(not so H)O, closing questions has two purposes. (1) To shut down what will inevitablly become an uncontrollable mess and (2) to give the user a chance to figure out what they're really trying to ask.

I suspect that we close voters kinda favor (1) over (2), but (2) is much more productive and results in much more fun. Regrettably, most OPs who experience closed questions don't have a lot of interest in (2). This is especially true for English-as-a-second-language speakers who have trouble with the nonsense that can transpire in the comments when a question is asked poorly.

So, cheers to Tim for pointing out that we really should be favoring the effort to educate users to help them become more productive on the site — especially when that productivity inevitably leads to all of us having a lot more fun exercising that unlimited potential between our skills and our imaginations.

As for what your behavior should be... Despite having given in more than once to the tempation of answering a question that should have been closed, the technical truth is that no one should be answering questions that meet the requirements for closure. Yes, the application of our rules is (often remarkably) subjective, but by answering the questions rather than imposing the closure we're generally just encouraging the bad behavior the rules were meant to minimize.

But, as I said, I've given into the temptation myself (often because you can have a whomping lot of fun honestly answering a ridiculous question). So I cannot be the one who throws a stone. Carry on, young man!


I've seen my fair share of ridiculous questions where it's obvious that the OP has no idea what they're talking about.

I think that the people who posted those questions did not think they were ridiculous.

It all comes down to your grasp of science. Just in the last three months I have answered a number of questions in the spirit of "if these weird phenomena happened in my world, what cool effects would they have?". All were valid, and more well received than the questions linked. The answer in most cases were "everything dies, with a considerable chance of the planet ceasing to be a planet". Physics is a cruel mistress and I could argue that the majority of askers gets their science from mainstream Holywood movies rather from school.

For example, this question asks what would happen if a wormhole should hit the Earth. Wormholes are very nice trinkets in sci-fi stores, but this question has the tag. For someone who knows their physics, this question may seem more than ridiculous - that wormhole would have more than 300 Earth masses, so a cannonball shot against an apple at point blank would be a valid analogy. But did the OP know that, when they asked? Do most people? Should we expect any random stranger we see to know about stress-energy tensors, exotic mass, the runaway effect?

So rather than dismiss the question as being too nonsensical to answer, we let the OP know that there is more than meets the eye to the scenario they propose. There are some things that they need to consider, and if some links can be given to them should they be curious for more info, even better.

So if someone questions what would happen if someone took a sucker punch from Saitama, I think we should answer them. I find this kind of question droll rather than annoying. I am kinda amused by the answer to that one.

Questions should still be judged by how they fit into the Stack model, though. The question about non-biological changes was too broad and rightfully closed on those grounds, not for being ridiculous.


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