If you would like to discuss this or explain disagreements, or want clarification please feel free to join this chatroom.
The moderators have discussed the recent re-invigoration of the on or off topic debate regarding real world phenomenon. We have looked at a large number of questions that appeared on meta (list at the bottom of this post) over the last couple years and reviewed questions on main that have driven the conversation to crop up again and again.
To baseline: The Worldbuilding site description:
Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for writers, artists and others using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about worldbuilding.
If the community is in agreement with the following post, we will mark it on meta and update the tour/help pages with the relevant information...good reading to you all.
Our conclusion, and we would like the community’s feedback, is that questions regarding real world stuff are on-topic.
- Understanding how the real world works is the best and frankly only option we have for comparison to what we are trying to create.
- Understanding the real world allows us to make alterations to reality in creating an imaginary world
We have many questions about history, culture, physics, chemistry and other topics that are asking for a comparison or background information from reality for aid in developing our imaginary worlds. This is acceptable and has always been on topic even if it has been often debated.
"But wait! Shouldn’t we tell people to post orbital mechanics questions on Physics, or Astronomy?!"
Well... Maybe, but it should be noted in most cases the author chooses the site where they would like to post the question, this means they intentionally chose Worldbuilding over another site and that should be respected.
Caveat: Members are certainly welcome to suggest via comment that a post may get better answers on one of the other sites in the network. There is nothing wrong with the suggestion and its always possible someone didn't know. That said, being on-topic on another site does not make a question off-topic for Worldbuilding.
Worldbuilding as a whole is very very (etc) broad. In an old meta post a network user commented that:
To a zeroth-order approximation, everything goes on World Building.
And this makes sense. The universe is big (citation needed) and discussing it requires a bit of everything which is what makes Worldbuilding so unique.
With all that said we still have to have expectations and standards, it can't just be a free for all.
Considerations when asking a question relating to the real world:
- Provide context. Giving other users context around why you are asking the question allows them to better understand why you are asking and what kind of answer you want.
- Attempt to do your own research. If a quick google search will answer your question it may not be worth posting a question on the site. Generally, querents are expected to demonstrate what has been tried and why it was not sufficient or did not work. This too helps people answering understand what you are trying to accomplish as well as your level of knowledge on the topic.
- Define your requirements and by what you will judge answers.
Questions that fail to adequately meet these requirements may be placed on hold even if they are not, "off-topic."
Considerations when answering questions related to the real world:
- Don't pre-judge a user's knowledge base. Not everyone on World Building has the same level of knowledge on every topic we discuss. Just because you may consider a particular question simple does not mean that another user will understand. As an example James once asked this question. Prior to comments being deleted several users were annoyed that a high rep user asked such a basic question, it assumed a level of knowledge that James did not have.
- Don't answer questions that are not fully formed/adequately explained. We often see users, even experienced/high reputation users answering questions that are not fully formed. Take the time to comment and don't feel bad about putting questions on hold/or flagging to be put on hold. This helps discourage bad questions and teaches users how to ask better questions. Mods are not immune either, we make mistakes like anyone else and we are not exempt from being flagged.
- Don't use close-votes as super down-votes. Closures and down votes don't always go together.