This question recently got put on hold and it's made me notice a pattern where some physics questions that are asked by newer users get closed. Now, this is not necessarily an awful thing in and of itself. Personally, these types of questions are the ones I like answering the most and the main reason I come to this site, but I do understand the argument for why someone might think they're better suited for a different stack exchange.

That being said, I do think it's important that whatever the consensus is, it be applied consistently, and I don't think it has been. There have been many highly voted pure physics questions that I've seen, especially from high rep users, that have never been closed. For instance, this one was a question very similar in spirit to the one that got closed, and was actually asked by one of the people who voted to close the first one. Now I think it's a great question and I had fun answering it, but I'm having trouble seeing why it should stay open while the other is closed. I should clarify that I don't think this is some intentional, malicious thing that people are doing. I think it's just important for people casting close votes to ask themselves if they would do the same thing if the user was a worldbuilding celebrity.

I'm also open to the idea that maybe there is a good reason I haven't seen yet that this question was closed while other similar ones stayed open. So my question is, do you think that there is sometimes a bias against newer users when it comes to closing physics questions, and if so is it a problem?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I'd like to add a note that I definitely don't think that this particular question is off-topic, though I do agree with other reasons for closing it, which I do hope the OP will address. If they do, I think it could be an excellent question. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 15:39
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ "Would fit better on another site" should never be a reason to close a question. "Off-topic here (for reasons that we can explain) and works on another site" is a different case. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 4:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Inconsistent standards? On StackExchange????????? This entire site seems built around inconsistent standards that change every few months ... $\endgroup$
    – user91988
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ I think the rotating disc question should have remained open. But I tend to err on the side of keeping things open for decently written questions. This was a good question and I didn't feel it was OT. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 17:02

4 Answers 4

  1. The title asks one question, the body asks a very different question.

  2. Fundamentally, the title asks whether there exists some sort of loophole where Einsteinian special relativity doesn't apply; the answer to this question is quite obviously no, there isn't. Einsteinian special relativity is a direct consequence of the postulate that all laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames. Maybe this could be discussed, but then the querent should ask the real question and not some contrived situation.

  3. The body fundamentally asks how a material which cannot be ripped apart will be ripped apart, which is obviously nonsensical.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I agree with your reasoning on point 2-- you could make an argument that any physics question where the asker has some misconception is also trying to find a loophole in physics I have a similar issue with 3: I don't think the OP realizes that the material cannot maintain its shape. I think it's important to remember that a problem trivial for one person can be completely mind-boggling for another. I do think point 1 is valid, but in that case there are better VTC reasons than 'off topic' which I think is vague and doesn't offer the OP useful advice for how to edit their question. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ @elduderino: The title of the question literally asks whether "the edge [will] be traveling faster than light". I think that all high-school popils learn that nothing can travel faster than light. There isn't much scope of confusion over the meaning of "nothing". $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 5:22
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    $\begingroup$ @elduderino It felt like the biggest issue with the question would be that the OP didn't have a solid understanding of the effects of trying to break light speed. If he wanted to know how fast he needed to spin a disk to saw a planet in half, that would be on topic. But the OP has disguised his physics question and presented it as a world building question. It would be pretty easy to edit the question and make it on topic, but that would invalidate almost all the answers. $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP That seems somewhat reminiscent of the comments on the question about if gaps could be added to the periodic table, since high school pupils all learn about that. From my understanding, the consensus was that we shouldn't assume everyone has the same knowledge base. Also, as I've progressed through my education, I've found that virtually everyone thinks they attained a much more solid grasp of a scientific subject in high school than they really did (me included). I think it's important to correct these misconceptions (that are often held by the very people saying a problem is trivial). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Shadowzee I see your point, but I can't help but feel that the distinction between your two examples is somewhat arbitrary. From my perspective, asking how fast a disk would have to spin to saw through a planet is also just a bunch of physics. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ @elduderino The distinction is basically based on which part of the question the OP is putting emphasis on. In this case, they are specifically asking about issues related to the disk spinning faster than the speed of light, using a super material which defies the laws of physics. If the question was simply, How fast should I spin a disk to saw a planet in half, it would have been on topic. $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 4:41

I believed, and believe, the question should be closed

Consistency is very difficult in the real world. It's no surprise that it's just as difficult (if not more so) in a virtual world. That assumes this is a problem with consistency. Perhaps it isn't. Rules change over time. I'll mention one momentarily. But as a consequence, a question that was on-topic a year ago might no longer be on-topic. I'll let others decide if my 1-year-old question might now deserve to be closed, but if it is as vaguely about world building as I believe the linked question to be, then it should be closed.

While questions about transportation are common on this site and have been accepted as a legitimate world building context probably from the site's beginnings, a giant cutting disk isn't so obvious. There are a lot of problems to be solved long before the speed of the outer edge of the wheel can be considered.

Cutting disks work because the force holding them in place is greater than the resistance met during the cutting process and the torque caused by the motor spinning the wheel. Cutting a planet means using something akin to a moon (or an unbelievable set of rocket engines) to hold the disk while still using some engines to hold the moonish object in place and above the planet you're trying to cut. Without the blessing of gravity holding the cutter-user's feet to the ground, the moon, no matter how massive, will begin to shift due to the forces of use — and that doesn't even account for the problem of overcoming gravitic attraction.

Therefore, considering how many other problems involving physics the idea has, asking about the disk edge hitting the speed of light was, IMO, superfluous, and therefore seemed to me more an exercise in physics ("if you hold a ladder against a wall and pull the bottom rung at a consistent velocity will the top of the ladder exceed the speed of light before hitting the floor?") than an actual world building effort ("I'm designing a world with strong, highly-focused winds that has the capacity to push the ladder's bottom rung as described.") Like I said, I couldn't see the world building application.

While physics questions are common and popular on this site, this site is not dedicated to answering physics questions. That's the job of Physics.SE. Based on our real-world question debate so-called "pure physics questions" are permissible if and only if they have a world building context. This is important. One of the primary concerns in that debate was that WorldBuilding.SE would become the dumping ground for everyone who couldn't get their question answered elsewhere or was simply too lazy to go elsewhere. The requirement for a world building context was the solution to that particular issue.

Can I be convinced to reopen the question? Sure I can! In fact, I'm delighted to invite the OP to rewrite the question to make it better conform to the site's expectations. At this point, I'd recommend posting the question in our Sandbox and asking for input from the community about how to recraft it to avoid closure. Once the issues are addressed, edit the original question or ask a new one as needed/recommended by the community.

But is there a bias against newer users?

Not that I've seen. I've had my own questions closed at far higher levels of reputation than those of the linked Q's OP. Higher rep users are, not surprisingly, the one most active on the site and therefore the ones most likely to be involved in closing any question. It's a bit like asking a policeman if he/she's biased against new city residents simply because he's lived there a long time. No, he's just doing his job (most likely to vote) and the new resident hasn't yet figured out all the rules (most likely to not understand the rules).

Finally, I want to second Elemtilas' statement about popularity

We've had to make this point a number of times. Popularity != suitability. When most people cast a vote, it's on the emotional basis of "I like this question!" not the unemotional basis of "this question meets all our rules and forwards everyone's understanding of world building." When it comes to discussions about why any particular question is closed, its popularity is irrelevant.

In fact, considering your concerns about consistency, the popularity serves only to underscore with three or more lines the simple fact that consistency is difficult to achieve.

  • $\begingroup$ Good one, I've learned a good deal about decision making from review and otherwise from this post. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 15:14

As one of the VsTC, I'll say this:

I didn't vote to close the query based on differing questions or for any reason of physics. The rationale given for closure is that the query is not about worldbuilding. It is not about the fundamental nature or systems of a fictional world.

I concur with AlexP that different questions are being asked (this is another valid rationale for closure: WB.SE works on the one focused question, one focused answer model) but this did not appear to be the consensus of the community. Closure for not being about worldbuilding means that the given question is purely physics related. In other words, the "planet slicer" is a red herring making it appear to be vaguely connected to some fictional setting.

The reality is, no matter how interesting the question is and no matter how eager we are to answer this kind of question, it really ought to have been asked on physics.se.


Just because questions get a lot of votes doesn't mean it's a good question for this forum. I'd argue that "pure physics questions", whether asked by experienced or new members, ought to be closed if they don't meet worldbuilding criteria. I enjoy a good physics question myself, but if there's nothing relating the concept of physics to its (potentially quite different!) application within a fictional world, then it has no place here.

If you'd care to link those questions within your own, we could take a look and see which ought to be closed and which ought to be left open. Otherwise, WB.SE risks becoming nothing more than a dumping ground from the sciences & maths forums because they don't want to deal with random people asking questions that have a whiff of the sci-fi about them.

I had a look at the one you did link to. Indeed JBH is an experienced member (one whom I respect greatly). But I have to say, the whole idea of there being a space ship, etc. is what I'd call a "worldbuilding red herring". Strip away the space ship and this question would be better placed in physics.se.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer most closely aligns with my rationale for voting to close. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 15, 2019 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ I think you make a good point and I definitely understand why some people want to VTC for this type of question. Personally, though, I think the line between "red herring" and "legitimate world building question" is a lot more blurry than people like to admit for physics based questions, and it seems like a lot of time the thing that drives votes to close isn't question quality, but how much the person reading the question understands the physics involved and is interested in it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 2:01
  • $\begingroup$ @elduderino -- Certainly agreed on the fuzziness of the line. As I see it, however, most of the fuzziness really boils down to worldbuilding context for the sake of getting my physics question accepted in this forum. A fully legit worldbuilding query, for me, would be a question asking about how the fictional world works. To continue with the above query, I'd expect to be treated to some relevant detail of the chemistry and physics of the fictional world. E.g., perhaps an atomic force that compresses matter together as velocity increases. This compels the respondent to work within... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ ...the fictional world and create an answer suited to that other physics. Otherwise, we're just asking basic physics questions that could best be answered elsewhere. As far as closure due to ignorance: I can only speak for myself here. I note that there is a SKIP button and I make liberal use of that button when I come across a query the matter of which I don't understand. That said, I'm not a physicist: if the relevant query had actual worldbuilding context I would almost certainly have voted to leave it open. At worst, I would have opted to skip. I VTC due to lack of context. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I see your point but on the other hand I don't think it's necessary to have your world use different physics to count as world building-- if that were the case, then what's the purpose of the hard science tag in the first place? I've seen many good questions and read many good stories where the natural world was supposed to work exactly the same as our own. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ @elduderino -- Agreed. I'm not saying that a fictional world must use alternate physical laws. But, if your fictional world uses the same physical laws that exist in the primary world, the place to ask those Qs is in the forums designed to answer those questions, i.e. physics.se. The purpose of the hard science tag is to require answers backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations. The question itself must contain world building context, however. That's the key! The science must have a role w/i a fictional world. Orbital mechanics for example. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 2:47

I am new to the site but not to StackExchange and the example I bring to you is this question: How soon can the first stars form? I can see how someone may want to know roughly how soon theoretically stars could form in their universe and therefore how old the MOST ANCIENT Progenitor race could be, how much of a head start could they have had, could entire space faring empires have evolved and die before fish crawled out of the sea etc... That I have no problem with.

But, the issue with this question that I have is, it appears to be asking you to do some very hard core maths and start formation calculations to support your hypothesis, this is not a question regarding world building. This is something that if you can support with evidence may be a proposal for an astrophysics PhD. Those are two vastly different things to my mind.

Where this If you had a giant cutting disc 60 miles diameter and rotated it 1000 rps, would the edge be traveling faster than light? is basically asking can I make a thing that can chop up planents, and if not what are the things I need to change diameter or rotations per min, to make me able to be able to chop up planets. Not requiring 10 pages of maths just a few back of the fag packet calculations on can they spin that fast and or chop up planets with a frisbee of doom.

I would say there are inconsitent standards from what I have seen over the past week.

  • $\begingroup$ As the OP of that first question, I'm curious as to why you claim it's not worldbuilding. It is worldbuilding, plain and simple. I just need some calculations to figure it out. I don't think we should shy away from difficult questions. There's been a tendency among some users to shun questions like that that require a bit more work, and argue that they should be pushed to the pure science sites, but a) they're on-topic, and b) I'm aware of several well-known astronomers/physicists/mathematicians (Sean Raymond, Peter Shor, etc.) who use Worldbuilding. We've got experts here. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ "In my universe, I'd like to see if I can create a period of overlap, where the first stars form while the CMB is still hot enough to be visible to the naked eye." Just change the frequency of the spectrum to which the eye can see? Done. You don't need to prove a serise of equations for this, or ask is this roughly possible, not please provide peer reviewed evidence to support this. That to my mind is going beyond world building and into pure science. $\endgroup$
    – Mr_road
    Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ Also, you state that you are aware there may not be enough scientific knowledge and understanding for an astrophysicist to be able to answer this. You even have entire section pointing out why this question may be unanswerable. $\endgroup$
    – Mr_road
    Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 12:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ None of your points support your assertion that it's not about worldbuilding. Additionally, the first one seems to be based on the decisions you would make if you were addressing the decision, but they violate the constraints I've provided. The second one assumes that my speculation is correct, and it may well not be. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ I get this is very important to you, but in my mind this is a question that helps highlight the inconsistent approach to physics questions. And, I would vote to close this question, you the OP would rather not. $\endgroup$
    – Mr_road
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ OK thinking on your points, I am slowly changing my mind, on would I close this; is this appropriate for world building; it fits the guidelines, and you are asking a very specific issue so not too broad, therefore appropriate with the tag 'hard-science'. But, I still think it helps highlights an incosistent approach. Feel free to try and swing me round on this one.... $\endgroup$
    – Mr_road
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ Given your question fits into the guidlines, how is it this one does not: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/148241/… is this not about the physics of a machine in their world/universe? $\endgroup$
    – Mr_road
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ As I said above I think I agree with a lot of people (maybe also you?) that the question isn't off-topic per se. I think that question was closable because the title and question body don't match, and therefore it asks about three questions in one. . . If the OP fixes that, I think it could be an excellent question - and definitely non-trivial, I think you'd agree. Rotating relativistic disks are complicated. :P $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ complex yes, not well written also yes. Having read all the comments now I see it was not the physics aspect that caused it to be closed but the quality of the question itself. You have swung me (relatvistically) round with sound argument :) $\endgroup$
    – Mr_road
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ I'm glad we agree! The best outcome of a meta discussion. :-) I do hope the question gets to the point where it can be reopened; I'll be keeping an eye on it. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ I had not realised the depth of world building down to fundamental physical constants. Oh, this is a Pandora's Box ;) $\endgroup$
    – Mr_road
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 11:22

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