Frame challenges have long been considered acceptable here at worldbuilding.SE However, I believe many users don't understand what a frame challenge is or how to appropriate present a challenge as a legitimate answer to a question.

Though I've seen this come up a number of times in the past, the most recent example was this answer to A Decoy Planet made of expanded polystyrene. How big can I make it? The example is especially relevant because the respondent provided a wonderful alternative idea, one that was appreciated by the OP. However, and most especially thanks to the OP's use of the tag, the proposed answer did not answer the question. But, did it represent an appropriate frame challenge?

My proposal, for your consideration, is no. It did not. No matter how useful, I believe the answer in its present form is not an answer and would have been better submitted as a comment to the question.


Formally: I propose that frame challenges are an acceptable way to answer any question posted to this site. As a definition: a frame challenge is any assertion that challenges the premise or underpinnings of a question.

I propose that an acceptable frame challenge must fundamentally express the idea:

What you're asking for won't work because of X, but you could alternatively consider Y

I'm not looking to impose a specific form (syntax, format, etc.) as much as I'm proposing a philosophy. (A) A frame challenge must of necessity contain an explanation of why the respondent believes answering the question as proposed by the OP isn't useful, relevant, or meaningful. However, (B) A frame challenge need not offer an alternative solution.

I propose that a frame challenge must explain the challenge and not only offer an alternative.

I further propose that a frame challenge must meet the obligations of the tags associated with the question. In other words, if the question is tagged , the frame challenge must meet that tag's mandate or fail as a frame challenge.

I propose that when reviewing answers, Worldbuilding.SE users should consider a missing frame challenge as justification to flag the answer as "not an answer." They should consider a poor frame challenge (e.g., one that doesn't meet the expectations of the question's tags or is simply a lazy effort to rationalize commenting rather than answering) as a downvotable offense.

Finally, I propose this warning: frame challenges are not an excuse to abuse Stack Exchange's answering system. A frame challenge must be more useful than a comment or it must be posted as a comment (see previous paragraph about reviewing the answer). This warning is not meant to be anything more official than the community-approved existence of this paragraph.

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    $\begingroup$ While this sounds good, I'm not sure how you mean it to work in real time. I mean I thought I understood frame challenges (and it's as you explained it) but one time I answered that way and you told me it was not presented correctly. That's fine, but I still don't understand what was missing (aside from not saying "this is a frame challenge"). If I can't understand it on a real-life example, then I can't support the proposal, since I'm clearly missing something about what you mean. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Feb 5 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyn, can you link us to the example you mentioned? Let's see if I'm being inconsistent. (I regret that I don't remember it.) $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 5 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, I can't remember which question it was....going through my 127 answers...found it! worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/136035/… $\endgroup$ – Cyn Feb 5 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyn, that was a hairy edge case as the answer itself isn't an alternative but a "real-world example of what can be done." If I remember correctly, there are a number of pharmaceuticals that promote rapid healing, and so there are real-world examples that could be used to support the premise (even though you're correct that the exact condition doesn't exist). I was probably feeling ornery that day. Comment deleted and answer upvoted. $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 6 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ I always appreciate upvotes, though I wasn't upset by your comment and it didn't need removing. I was just using it as an example. Since then, I've been trying to be more explicit about when I frame challenge. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Feb 6 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ "the most recent example was this answer" not an example, as it seems that it doesn't exist any more. So I'm missing some context for the rest of the post. As far as I can guess, there was an answer that didn't work with the hard-science tag. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Feb 7 at 9:48
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ, dang nabit. Christmas Snow's answer was converted to a comment by moderator Monty Wild on Feb. 4th. It's all still there, you just need to find Snow's comment (as of Feb 8th.). Once you have 10K rep you can see deleted posts. $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 8 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH ah, thanks. Could you quote the comment in your question or maybe just summarise the basic points (him suggesting a solution with baloons as a fake planet on a question about planets). Just so the context is here. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Feb 9 at 9:02

I almost entirely agree with you here accept for the part about "A frame challenge need not offer an alternative solution." I feel like a frame challenge must by its very nature offer an alternative answer, otherwise, it belongs in comments.



I want to make an underwater habitat out of recycled materials; so, how many recycled milk cartons would it take to make the shell of an underwater habitat that can sustain 1 person at a depth of 100 meters?

Possible Answers:

Soda cans would work better. At that depth it would take ~500,000 recycled soda cans. [supporting facts here...]

I think we both agree that this is a bad answer. Although it may be more practical than milk cartons, with no reason given for why the frame of the question needs to be challenged, it's simply off-point.

Milk cartons are typically biodegradable; so, you would never want to build an underwater habitat out of them.

This is an effective frame challenge without an alternate solution. The problem here is that it would compel the question asker to modify his question at which point this answer would no longer be at all relevant to the question being asked. Since it's only purpose is to refine the question, it belongs in comments.

Milk cartons are typically biodegradable; so, you would never want to build an underwater habitat out of them. If you are simply trying to make an environment out of recycled materials, soda cans would work better because aluminum does not get weaker with age when submerged in water. At that depth it would take ~500,000 recycled soda cans. [supporting facts here...]

Here the frame challenge still tries to answer the focus of the question which is using recycled materials, while giving clear reasons for disregarding aspects of the question that needed to be disregarded. This answer is likely to remain relevant, even if the OP is modified in regards to it.

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    $\begingroup$ At first I thought as you do, but a comment has a highly restricted number of characters and a good frame challenge must of necessity be more than a few sentences. This is especially true with a hard-science Q where the frame challenge must be accompanied by links, math, and other proof-of-concept. I'm afraid that practicality demands I not agree with you. $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 8 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think I agree with @JBH - when I read the example with milk cartons not being suitable, I keep thinking "what's wrong with this as the answer?". That is conceptually, of course, not this specific example. When you have a question of of "Can I do X" or "How do I do X", then it seems fine to say "X is impossible because of factors A, B, and C". Proposing solution Y can be helpful but I don't think it's required. Perhaps the answerer doesn't have an alternative. Perhaps doesn't want to suggest because it's unknown if OP would find it useful. "X is not possible" is still useful to the asker. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Feb 9 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ With "Can I do X" or "How do I do X" type questions, you're not really reframing the question at all. Saying it is impossible simply answers the question as asked. That said, JBH does make a good point that sometimes the proof of why something can't be done takes way more verbosity than a comment can handle, but I think that's a bit of a rare exception. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Feb 10 at 21:05

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