There's a recent question on the stack here asking about phenotypic variance within an arbitrary ancestral tree. At first, I assumed it was simply mis-posted on Worldbuilding because it seems to be literally a genetics homework question and a perfect fit for Biology. However, it was one of our mods, Michael Kjörling, who posted it and we have several high-rep users who have commented that it's not a fit for our site but did not vote to close or migrate.

What's up with this question? I'm personally baffled at why it's on-topic, upvoted, and answered here on Worldbuilding as it doesn't seem to be within the scope as defined in the help center.


2 Answers 2


To my mind, it's about the design of a species; in this case, a specific trait of a species.

It's based on a problem I encountered while trying to figure out the particular species, though obviously many unrelated details were stripped.

What topics can I ask about here? lists three main categories of questions as being on topic.

  • Creation of elements of a world (languages, species, buildings, etc.)
  • Effects of events or world elements, including biology, technology and magic, on specific aspects of that world's societies, cultures, and environment
  • How to achieve a specified effect in a defined world, including by the use of biology, technology or magic, while maintaining in-universe consistency

Looking back at it, how does my question hold up when evaluated against those bullet points?

  • I'm creating a species, which is an element of a world. Somewhat borderline, in part because I didn't explicitly spell that out, but no fail.
  • Trait inheritance is a world element in that it's a part of what makes a species what it is, and it can certainly have an impact on different aspects of that world even if it doesn't directly influence them. Again perhaps borderline, but can be made to fit.
  • A (non-magical) trait being inherited haphazardly is, at best, poor species design. Making sure the inheritance makes sense is about how to achieve a specified effect, specifically realistic inheritance. Not a clear-cut fit either, but it doesn't seem to fail that criterion either.

Certainly not clearly off topic, in my mind, although one could perhaps argue whether it's clearly enough on topic.

None of the off topic bullet points seem to apply; I'm not asking about individual characters (even though I'm using individuals to illustrate my question, they are not the focus of the question); I'm not asking about character building; I'm not asking about plot; I'm not asking about real-world historical information; I'm not asking about writing or story-telling; and I'm not asking about computer software.

That said, and I have argued this before as well: If the community feels that the question is off topic, then vote to close! Nobody is perfect, and we all know that Worldbuilding SE's scope is tricky to navigate at times. Sure, I've got a diamond attached to my username here, but that doesn't mean that I'm infallible. That said, while in fairness I argued differently, I do want to point to the highest-voted answer to Is a “real world” question off topic?, which pretty clearly says in response to discussion about an astronomy question which also could equally well apply to the real world, much the same as mine:

My best understanding of the consensus is this:

  • Questions regarding the real world are on-topic

That answer currently is at +23/-1, compared to my answer which is sitting at +15/-4 (clearly a more controversial view).

If that understanding applies to astronomy questions, I don't really see why it wouldn't apply to questions on genetics.

  • $\begingroup$ I guess a more direct question for you is why did you post it here? Biology would give you much more detailed answers and useful commentary, especially since the species creation portion has been removed. $\endgroup$
    – Dubukay
    Apr 1, 2018 at 15:36

The help centre says:

"Worldbuilding SE welcomes questions on the following: ...

How to achieve a specified effect in a defined world, including by the use of biology, technology or magic, while maintaining in-universe consistency"

Basically the phenotype inheritance question fits this criterion and this puts it being within scope.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "How to achieve a specified effect" does not seem to correspond to a question asking "What can be said about genetic inheritance of the trait in question?" $\endgroup$
    – Dubukay
    Apr 1, 2018 at 5:06

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