The Good Subjective/Bad Subjective guidelines talk a lot about what make for great questions and answers for subjective issues, and it primarily falls around Back It Up!: answers need to cite some kind of relevant material (scholarly works, authoritative discussions, relevant personal experience, something), and questions need to be written such that they encourage such answers.

And, of course, Back It Up! applies to objective questions and answers, too, the resources you use for backing those up just may be somewhat different.

So, we need to be pro-active, from the beginning, about demanding that answers Back It Up! This SE, in particular, I think, is closely tied to a lot of speculative fields – as several meta questions have already discussed, there are a number of SE sites that have significant overlap with this one, but would not accept our kind of question because of their speculative nature.

Thus, we need a policy, guideline, or at least discussion of what is too speculative, what questions cannot be answered in a way that Backs It Up! The “Primarily Opinion-Based” close reason exists for this, but we as a community have to decide where to draw the line for using it.

We also, as a community, need to enforce backing things up in answers. Everything about this endeavor is, by definition, highly speculative: the only way to be serious about this, to produce good answers, is to minimize, as much as possible, the “pure” speculation. Cite sources, compare to real-world history, sociology, physics, and so on. And flag or downvote answers that don’t.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure that a back it up policy is right for this site. This site will hopefully involve some out of the box thinking and a back it up policy forces people into boxes. I Am also not sure I am against it but I think we need to see it play out a bit and see if we can define what needs to be backed up in a manner that doesnt exclude original concepts. $\endgroup$ – Chad Sep 17 '14 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Chad You should probably write an answer, then, along those lines, to see how the community takes it. I tend to doubt that the site will succeed without requiring people to Back It Up!, though, and I suspect that the community will see that. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 17 '14 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Chad Then make that an answer that people can vote on. I'd vote against it, personally. But as a comment it can't and won't go anywhere. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 17 '14 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Chad That's not how meta works. You answer this question again (yes, you can have more than one answer), at that later time, bringing it back to the front. People come and read to see what's up. Or you start a new question and link back to this one and suggest that the policy needs to change. Meta questions are rarely closed. Comments simply are not an appropriate way to make any proposal. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 17 '14 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Chad Then you haven't proposed anything and you have no hope of convincing the community that your suggestion is the right way forward. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 17 '14 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ Well that back fired... $\endgroup$ – Chad Sep 17 '14 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Chad You have to understand that SEs have a narrow focus and do not pretend to be the best place for every thing you might want to discuss on a given subject. They are a Q&A site and that is what the community has to be geared towards doing. The system is just poor for doing anything else. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 17 '14 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ I get it and argued for the back it up policy on Pets and a few other sites and met with an insane amount of resistance. There I think it makes alot more sense than here. I am very surprized to see my extreme solution get such support where the more open "Community can handle the moderation" like this site should in my opinion be appropriate. $\endgroup$ – Chad Sep 17 '14 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because it is not actually proposing or asking for any change in policy beyond what already exists. $\endgroup$ – Chad Sep 18 '14 at 3:54

Back It Up! can mean real-world history or physics or linguistics

These are valuable fields that can give a fictional world a sense of realism, or at least credibility and verisimilitude. Answers that reference these things are often going to be better than those without them.

Back It Up! can mean extrapolate from reality

Yes, many of us want to build worlds that are unrealistic in specific ways – but we are capable of reasoning how the things we do have experience with would react to this change. We can talk about building techniques, weapon technology, different social, ethical, and legal structures, linguistic developments, so on and so forth, to show how a given reaction to something new fits in with all the things that are still the same.

Back It Up! can also mean personal experience

We want to encourage experience worldbuilders – people who have done it, who have put their work out there, have received feedback, who have seen what works and what doesn’t work. How great would it be to have a bestselling author or Hollywood movie director or prime-time television screenwriter answering questions? This is the kind of thing we want to encourage.

So someone could easily decide to Back It Up! not by citing journals or histories, but by talking about their own personal experience: what they have tried and put to the test and seen work or fail. What their fans have received well and what their fans have taken issue with. That would be a phenomenally backed up answer, and gets straight to the heart of the Good Subjective/Bad Subjective guidelines.

But failing to Back It Up! means you’re just guessing

Every answer needs to justify the conclusions it comes to. “This sounds like a neat idea to me” simply does not fit in well with how the Stack Exchange system works. It probably is a neat idea. The next guy’s got another neat idea. How do I decide which one to vote for? They’re both neat ideas, so I guess I’ll vote for both? Or maybe just the one I happen to like more, because equal votes to everything make voting pointless. But then my vote is just going to my personal preference, that’s not right.

This is how the system breaks down when answers fail to Back It Up!. This is why we close questions that are Primarily Opinion-Based. It’s not (necessarily) that these are bad or invalid questions, or that these ideas aren’t neat. It’s that the software that this website is based on is tailored for one specific thing, and idea-generation isn’t it.

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    $\begingroup$ @Chad You realize that this is the standard, right? Guessing is not OK on any SE. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 18 '14 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ Folks, don't worry so much about 'network standards', hash out what works for this community. If there's a problem with something you're doing, we'll let you know - don't solve problems you don't yet have ;) $\endgroup$ – Tim Post Sep 18 '14 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ This is a good example of an answer about a speculative topic that is backed up through logic. I think we want answers like this. Do we also want answers that go farther, that present math and research and big piles of data? Sure. But as KRyan says, extrapolation and logic are valid backup. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Sep 23 '14 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Chad I'm saying that that answer already complies with a reasonable back-it-up rule. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Sep 23 '14 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio I disagree. That is a good answer that is well explained but it is not referenced. There are claims of fact that really should include references and if we had a Back it up policy it should apply to good answers that are unreferenced as well as bad answers. Which is my problem with the policy here. Especially when you consider this answer disagrees all the more reason to include references and require them of answers we like and those we do not. $\endgroup$ – Chad Sep 23 '14 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Chad it's not referenced but it is backed up. Skeptics is the exception, not the rule. I'm saying that this is an example of a reasonable degree of backed-up-ness for this site. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Sep 23 '14 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ I have accepted my own answer based on the fact that it seems far-and-away the most popular option. Obviously, since it's my own answer and "accepted answer" doesn't mean much in Meta anyway, this doesn't mean very much. I accepted primarily just to have the question appear as answered. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 30 '14 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ @KRyan it's got clear support and is way ahead of the others, so I think accepting is proper. This is an answer we can link to in comments on answers that need a little back-it-up love. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Sep 30 '14 at 18:55

I agree with Back It Up!

We're here to answer questions because they don't fall into the asker's realms of expertise when it comes to world-building. (If they already have the knowledge, why would they come to us?) The Back It Up! policy will provide legitimacy to answers in addition to the legitimacy the voting system can provide. Sources will provide more resources for the askers, making our answers better.

However, there will undoubtedly be questions which can be solved with good old logic, sans references. These answers, while not strictly conforming to the Back It Up! policy, should be accepted if the logic is sound. Logical answers should also only be accepted when the logic is laid bare, so anyone can follow it. (Otherwise "logic" should be counted as opinion- not sufficiently backed.)

Given this, I propose the following supplementary guides for closing questions and judging answers:

  • if an expert or principles in a relevant field cannot provide an answer, vote to close / down-vote
  • if logic cannot provide an answer, or provided logic has insufficient explanation, vote to close / down-vote
  • if personal world-building experience cannot conceivably provide an insight, vote to close / down-vote

Thus, if you can't "logic it" or cite something (experts, experience, or principles) for the answer, it's a bad question or answer for this site.

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    $\begingroup$ So as I read this your answer says "Yes you have to back it up unless you can figure out a way to answer with out backing it up" Closing or removing answers is not supposed to be about right or wrong just meeting standards and this policy seems like it is intended to remove answers the moderators(Cause thats who will be enacting this for the next few years until we have 20+ 20kers) feel are wrong. $\endgroup$ – Chad Sep 17 '14 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Chad the guide is for closing questions rather than answers. $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Sep 17 '14 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ Well the back it up policy is about answers not questions. Questions already have to meet the good subjective guidelines $\endgroup$ – Chad Sep 17 '14 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Chad You misinterpret me! The Back It Up! policy affects both questions and answers. If the question posed focuses on unbackable answers, it needs to be closed. Logic can- and should- be used to back up answers; it's an exception to the Back It Up! Policy we should use. I suppose I'll edit this for clarity. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Sep 17 '14 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Chad the point being made was that a question that cannot receive answers that are either backed up or logically self-evident should be closed. I happen to be about to disagree with this answer, but it's still important to understand what is being said so people can vote accordingly. $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Sep 17 '14 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ I am uncomfortable with questions being closed based on the perception of whether an answer could be backed up. If I cannot think of a way of backing up answers to a question, that does not mean there won't be an expert who can surprise me with a well supported argument drawing on research I was unaware of. Questions should be closed for being unclear or off topic, rather than unanswerable. If I find a question I regard as impossible to answer then I'd be more likely to write an answer to that effect and back it up to the best of my knowledge. That might still be useful to future visitors. $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Sep 17 '14 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ @githubphagocyte - I get what he is saying but close reasons are not actually part of the original question though I also agree with your thoughts on the subject here. My point was that the close reason discussion does not really belong in the answer here. $\endgroup$ – Chad Sep 17 '14 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Chad yes you're right that close reasons are a side track - they might warrant a separate question but we should probably stop discussing them here... $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Sep 17 '14 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ Logic is a fine way to back up an answer. "Back it up" needn't mean cite sources; sometimes that's what's needed but other times a clear chain of reasoning does the job. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Sep 17 '14 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio Exactly; I specifically said as much in my question. Back It Up! does not mean zero creativity, does not mean zero original thought. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 17 '14 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with the proposed statements, but I don't think they actually represent supplementals. I consider those part of the extant Back It Up! guideline. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 23 '14 at 20:10

Should we encourage Back It Up! Absolutely. Should we enforce it? Absolutely not. And let me explain why.

I'm sure there will be plenty of questions where authors, creators, designers of worlds will want to base their world as close to our own as possible and to make sure that the world they are designing is as realistic as possible. In these cases Back It Up! would be beneficial to the answers, ensuring that the best research has gone into sourcing the most accurate answers.

But this site is also about fantasy, fiction and imagination. It's for those who create the impossible within their minds, and then turn that into a world for others to explore. If Terry Pratchett were to come on here and start asking questions about Disc World then it's highly likely any answers would be hypothetical and based in reason and informed decisions rather than verifiable facts. An enforced Back It Up! policy simply wouldn't be practical. It would stifle those questions and the health of this site.

So the solution is to encourage users to back up their facts wherever possible, but to enforce a Back It Up! policy on a site like this would be detrimental to its growth and potentially exclude a large portion of its membership.

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    $\begingroup$ Fantasy, fiction, and imagination is not immune to backing it up. You appear to misunderstand what Back It Up! actually means. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 18 '14 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ @kryan according to the blog post it's providing evidence based either on a reference or something that has happened to you. So I stand by my answer. Not everything on this site will be able to be backed up. $\endgroup$ – Styphon Sep 18 '14 at 6:24
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    $\begingroup$ Terry Pratchett probably has rules about how magic works on Discworld, and answers would need to be consistent with that. "Back it up" there means "show how it fits within that system". Don't equate backup with true in our world. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Sep 23 '14 at 19:32

This site is a site for asking speculative questions
If there was hard fact to back up a physics question, it would be on Physics.SE. If there was hard evidence on what benefits a Timelord's two hearts gave him, then it would be on Biology.SE.

That said...
If you have work that you draw upon or facts that you used to help make an estimate, please share your sources. I am always happy to see a question filled with links to aid in speculation and cause and effect, however I do not believe that this should not be a barrier to someone who has an insight or understanding that they can contribute.

Frankly, I believe that insisting upon sources for speculation and imagination will not only be detrimental to this site, but would probably kill it.


  • Gut feeling
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that Chad's answer is a bit too strong (but only a bit), but an answer that is purely "here's an idea I think sounds neat" is never going to be what I consider a good answer, and I don't think this site will succeed if that kind of thing is accepted. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 17 '14 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ I think that already gets covered under Too Broad. I'm not saying that we should have large sweeping questions. I think "Back it up" is the wrong way to go about this. Keeping questions fairly specific to a problem is the way to keep this in check, to my mind. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Sep 17 '14 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ I was positing that quote as an answer. That would be a terrible answer, but you don't close answers. You downvote, and potentially delete, answers. That is more what this is discussing. Though thanks for linking that question; from the title it looks like it absolutely does need some Votes to Close as Too Broad. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 17 '14 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ Ah yes, sorry. I agree that going "this sounds neat" is rarely going to be a good answer. My issue is that your asking people to source their experiences. A good answer is one that is well thought out and logical and answers the question. Posting vague and bad answers just gets them downvoted. I've seen a number of answers that are well thought out and solid that I suspect would be hard to quote sources on. this is an example of where back it up works well. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Sep 17 '14 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ where as this is an example of an answer that is very hard to back up. If there is a source to back up from, then its possible the question might (not definitely) belong in a more fact based SE that is appropriate for that topic? I guess in closing, I agree with back it up for answers that are relying on hard science, but I think that it should be at the OPs request, rather than as a site policy $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Sep 17 '14 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ I feel like that answer could be greatly improved by referencing specific available building techniques, possibly responses by fortifications placed in unfortunate locations (nearby high ground from which the enemy could rain things on them), answers to catapults (which got large stones higher in the air than castle walls anyway) and so on. In fact, that's an excellent example of an answer that really could be a lot better. Yes, the exact situation never occurred in real life – so you have to extrapolate from what we do know. But not just totally make things up. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 17 '14 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Mourdos please remove your first line as I no longer have an answer or concern here. $\endgroup$ – Chad Sep 24 '14 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ You do realize that a Timelord question would likely be rejected by Biology within 30 minutes? :-) But I think I understand what you mean. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 7 '14 at 23:21

After some brainstorming on chat I think that there are three kinds of questions, that should have different Back It Up policies for answers:

  1. Hard Science questions: answers should be properly backed up with documentation or scientific articles, and could potentially be posted on specific scientific-subject sites such as perhaps Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, etc.

  2. Fantastic science or pseudoscience: answers should be backed up by solid reasoning in the way of (citing @MichaelKjörling) "if we were to assume that Thing X exists and works as hypothesized, then it would be possible to use it to perform Miracle Y by doing A, B and C." This form could be used to explain, for example, how a hypothesized type of particle could be used to perform something which cannot presently be done

  3. Pure fantasy: answers should be reasonable, and can be based on personal experience, readings or whatever other means.

All answers must be internally consistent, as well as in line with the asker's specified requirements, whether those are "hard science only" or "magic fairy dust exists that works like this: ...".

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    $\begingroup$ I... tentatively support this, but am leery of the last one. I'm also not sure we need to strictly classify types of questions (and imagine that there is more of a continuum from 1 to 3), but rather let context/good judgment guide us on that. I think it's more important to generate a community consensus about it to reference when encouraging people to improve answers or tighten questions. And I'm not sure how this answer will do that for questions/answers on the 3 end of the spectrum. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Sep 23 '14 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @KRyan We're discussing this in chat right now; you're more than welcome to join us. $\endgroup$ – user Sep 23 '14 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ I'd rather not lay this rule out as types of questions. The over-arching rule is that you need to back up answers through either sources (where possible) or logic, and you must satisfy the constraints of the question (which the asker must specify if unusual). A science question could be answered reasonably by logic; we shouldn't require journal citations blindly. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Sep 23 '14 at 19:13

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