In relation to this question.

Edit: The original question has been edited. I'm delighted to see the OP working to make the question more appropriate for this site, but to fully understand my question, you need to look at the linked question's edit history and review it's original form.

We occasionally receive questions that, according to our rules, really belong on another SE site. The only problem is, said questions would never survive the VTC rules of those sites because (frankly) the questions aren't a serious investigation into the topic.

The reference question above is a good example. For the most part, it's really nothing more than a physics question and belongs on Physics.SE. But as Cort Ammon points out, they would never accept the question.

For our part, even if you removed the "how would such a ship affect the universe around it?" part of the question (let's take one theory, squeeze it to look a bit like another theory, build a ship the kind of which we know nothing about, and how would that ship affect the universe around it? It's 100% unanswerable), the rest of it is so primarily opinion-based that it's hard to imagine one correct answer.

But, we occasionally see these kinds of questions. Not 100% worldbuilding. Not 100% anything else.

Question: I beg you to forgive what will sound like an uncompassionate question, but do we want to become the dumping ground for questions that other SE sites don't want to deal with?

I ask the question intentionally harshly, because my knee-jerk reaction is to cut people some slack. We're likely the most creatively-oriented site in the SE universe, and with that honor might come a bit of responsibility to pick up where everyone else leaves off.


3 Answers 3


In general

To me, the point of this site is so that authors (of whatever stripe, RPG makers, screenwriters, traditional book authors, etc.) can ask about making realistic worlds. As a result, instead of stringing together some pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo that they created by reading pop science articles and then speculating based on their misunderstanding of the article writer's misunderstanding of the graduate student's misrepresentation of the science, they can talk somewhat accurately.

This saves me throwing the book down in disgust and screaming at it, "That's not how physics works!" So I tend to regard almost any question that can be answered with information that helps authors write their science realistically as on-topic. It's part of the world that they are trying to build.

I would much rather that rather than trying to make up pseudo-scientific BS, that authors simply make their science fictional. If they want FTL, just tell us that it's FTL. Don't try to explain it unless you really do know how the speculation works.

From my perspective, getting the question into an answerable form helps not only the writer but me as a potential reader. This is exactly the kind of question that I want people answering on this site. Individual questions may be unclear or overly broad, but those are fixable problems.


We should never migrate weak questions. If it's closed on the new stack, that helps no one. So if you look at say that something is unclear or too broad, there's no point in marking it to be migrated. Migration won't make it clearer or narrower.

We also shouldn't migrate borderline questions. It's not up to us to say what another stack will find on-topic. Might Physics.SE have answered this? Maybe. But they could just as well have said that it was unscientific hooey and closed it. The very concept of transitioning between normal and tachyonic matter is seriously questionable.

And to me, the question is clearly on-topic as worldbuilding. Is this a realistic scientific explanation of an FTL phenomenon? Or do we already know that science doesn't work that way?

Specific to this question

The problem that I would have had with the original question was that the premise was exactly the kind of pseudo-science that I don't like. Hey, we were mucking with gravity and turned into tachyons! But that part's been edited out.

The problem that's still here is that it still tries to jam too many questions into one. Each question is big enough on its own for a question. The second would still be on the broad side, even if alone.

If we had the ability to switch from being normal matter to being tachyons and back again, would that make for an FTL drive? That should be enough for one question. Given the answers, one could then describe how the tachyon drive would work and how that would impact warfare in a new question.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Note that it takes a moderator to migrate a question, and it doesn't "just happen." SE sites can refuse migration to their site, and most sites are a bit strict about what can and cannot be migrated. It's frankly rare to see. Worse, the point of my question is that almost nothing asked on this site would be answered on another site despite it being more appropriate. Other sites don't want to deal with the creative/fictional aspects of the questions. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think you've addressed the question asked at all. You are assuming that any question asked in a "What if.." form is intended as a Worldbuilding exercise. I think we see many questions which are clearly not intended as anything by curiosity driven "what if..." questions (science or history typically). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 8:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The cardinal rule for migrations is "don't migrate crap". Good questions that happen to be posted on the wrong site can certainly be migrated, but bad questions are bad questions no matter where they're asked. If it's off-topic on Worldbuilding, and on-topic on some other site in the network, and a good question or OP improves the question first, then we can migrate. The question needs to be brought to the point that it would likely be reasonably well received on the intended target site, or we're just wasting everyone's time by migrating. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 13:54

I think that it really depends on the question and the constraints that it puts on itself.

For instance that question asks a science based question about something that science doesn't really have a good science answer. It really could, and should be answered with "you know, just do what you want, just don't explain it to much."

Now, since it is also a reality check question, it should get slightly more wiggle room, up to the point of "yes that makes sense" or "no it doesn't work that way". Because that is what reality check means.

A question that asks for soft science or fantasy gets a lot more slack, because the only rules are the ones defined by the question itself. So long as the question is well defined then it should be answered as is.

Just because a question may possibly fit another se doesn't mean that we should move it, unless it is a question that strongly fits that site.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not actually asking if we should move such questions. I'm asking if we should allow them. It's remarkably painful to suggest that they should be judged on a case-by-case basis because, without clear marching orders, what you're really saying is that there aren't any rules. What would you have done with the original edit of the linked question? Would you have considered it on-topic or off-topic? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I don't actually know if the original question is good or bad because I'm not a theoretical physicists, and while I know that if tacheons do exist they are believed to go faster than light, I don't understand how that works. So it might make for a good reality check question with a bit of rewording. It seems to boil down to "if I could make negative mass would it cause things to behave like tacheons?" Which does fit reality check. We do have people on this site who probably know the science, so why not give them the chance once any problems with the question are worked out. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ Also yes, all questions should in fact be judged on a case by case basis. WB is more like Parenting.SE than Math.SE. There are often several ways to solve a question that are completely different, and which could both be perfectly valid. Unless a question is asking for hard science then the only rules are the ones the question states, and the ones dictated by the chosen tags. The problems arise if there aren't enough rules, or the question is poorly worded so that it is unclear as to what is wanted. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ The word is "tachyons" NOT "tacheons". Your fingers are thinking phonetically. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 11:21

I feel we should close these questions period.

My way of thinking is this :

  • They're not Worldbuilding at all, they're just asking hypothetical science questions. That's not what Worldbuilding is for and if there is a demand for these type of questions they should have a dedicated SE site of their own.

  • Physics SE will answer many hypothetical questions, often in full answers and sometimes in commentary. They do close questions well outside mainstream accepted physics and open research areas. I think many on Physics SE will treat some of these questions as teaching opportunities and try and help the poster to some extent.

  • Worldbuilding is a useful place to learn things, but it is not a teaching site. We are not really here to teach physics, biology, engineering or history. We're here to help people build a self-consistent universe (often with large lumps of handwavium to gel the mix).

  • The fact that we often do (for good reasons) use handwavium means we're not really compatible with a site to deal with "what if..." science questions. Inevitably some people will answer in the spirit of Worldbuilding, with less rigorous science and some won't. That's actually a dangerous mix to throw at people asking straight "what if ..." science questions.

Now when we VTC we do give users the opportunity to edit their question and re-frame it as a proper Worldbuilding question. But note that when we answer Worldbuilding questions we often do things like "No, that won't work for (blah reasons), but you should consider this (weird-idea) instead as it does the job you need in a different way."

But that kind of response, while useful to genuine Worldbuilders (is that even a word ? :-)) are wasted effort to people playing "what if..." science games. So it's potentially unfair to Worldbuilding members to waste their time with half-hearted or outright fake worldbuilding questions.

So we should close them and really expect member to ask questions in a way that explains their need in the context of Worldbuilding.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your input.... $\endgroup$
    – Efialtes
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Efialtes Just to be clear my answer is intended to be generic, not specific to your case. We get a lot of these "what if ..." questions and it's a question of developing a site policy rather than your case specifically. This is how policy is developed on SE generally. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 2:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I feel forced to ask; Why are we not a teaching site? Surely if (in your own words) WB is a useful place to learn, then by extension it's also a place to teach. Not in a conventional way (I grant you) but the part of learning we help with is synthesis. We're the 'teachers' who help our pupils put it all together and show them how their knowledge of theory can be practically applied. In my view it's the most important step in teaching and one that mainstream higher education often forgets to do. I understand your point of view but I must strongly contest this one component of it. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 6:42
  • $\begingroup$ You've ignored the context. WB answers by their nature can contain entirely fictional concepts. Teaching should never mix answers like that with pure fact. We're actually doing a disservice to "teachers" and the sites on SE that do teach their specialties by claiming or pretending to be teaching on WB. Sure, some answers do teach, but they're mixed in with stuff that doesn't and that will simply confused the issue, not clarify it. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 10:02

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