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I have finally found the perfect question to kick-start this discussion concerning what I believe is a growing undesirable behavior on Worldbuilding

The OP wasn't just a new user, before I upvoted her question she had a single reputation point and hadn't taken the tour yet. She was as new as new could be! And the very first reaction she received, both in comments and in answers, is "that's impractical!"

There was a day when participating worldbuilders would pick up the gauntlet and throw impracticality out the window to come up with creative, imaginative, clever, weird, funny, stupid, even controversial ways to solve the OP's problem. But today, we're growing into a habit of stating, proverbially... "well, you can't do that in real life, so you're screwed."

Real life cannot be an overriding limitation to worldbuilding

I have not taken the time to sort through the questions. There's a lot of them! It's actually exciting to see so many new users and new questions! But there have been enough questions to throw the proverbial flag in my consciousness. I've even started catching myself doing it! (And I've been chastised by others for not doing it!) Far too frequently either...

  • Questions are being limited solely because in Real Life it's impractical or impossible. It used to be that was relegated to a Frame Challenge. (See also, When and how to challenge the back story?)

  • Questions are appearing with startling frequency asking if it's possible for something fantastic to happen in Real Life. Think of it as, "please show me some blueprints to build my Death Ray!" That used to be rare. At least it feels to me that it used to be rare. And I suspect it's a consequence of the community's shift to expecting all questions to be answered from the perspective of Real Life. At least, if you read through our answers of the last few weeks... it sure looks that way. We're apparently becoming the place, not to figuratively bring imagination to life, but to literally being imagination to life. (If we could do that, even rarely, we should create our own site someplace where every post isn't Public Domain so that we could file all the patents!)

The problem is that imposing Real Life on any question without the express invitation by the OP to do so seriously limits the value of the site. To be blunt: there's no reason for the site to exist if questions can only be or should only be answered from the perspective of Real Life.

I'll create an example using one of the question types I hate the most: How could my fantastic creature evolve? I hate those questions because, simply, the creature didn't evolve in Real Life, so obviously there weren't any examples of evolutionary pressures in Earth's history that could justify the creature. Shame on me! I still hate the question because, frankly, what's the use of that information in any story, really? But who am I to forbid a creative and, therefore, productive answer just because I can't see beyond the limits of Real Life?

Rather than welcome a new user and ask questions clarifying the user's intent for the purpose of creating imaginative solutions, we immediately started complaining and pointing out the unreality of the question. On Worldbuilding! Frankly, most of the linked question's initial comments were little more than calling the OP's question "dumb" and, funny as they might have been to read, were actually quite mean and restrictive.

Proposal: Science is a great TOOL for helping worldbuilders build their worlds, but it is NOT a fundamental limitation save in the case of the tag

Even the tag shouldn't (and doesn't!) mandate that science is the only expression of the solution. It only means that science should be the stepping stone we use to justify or rationalize an imaginative solution. But it seems to me we are, less and less, believing that. Instead, the site appears to be imposing science as the one and only valid perspective.

If you, the reader's, knee-jerk reaction to any question is, "you just can't do that!" you should train yourself to recognize that moment and force yourself to realize that you're not being creative.

I'm going to leave you with a personal, and therefore very blunt, consideration:

If hard science is the world you want to live in, you're participating on the wrong Stack. While we allow querents to tag their questions with the tag because, sometimes, the querent wants to express an idea as closely to the rules of real life science as possible, that simply is not the go-to first solution for worldbuilding. Participants who believe any (if not all) questions should be addressed principally by Real Life are welcome to leave this Stack and participate on the Physics, Earth Sciences, Astronomy, Geology, and Space stacks. Worldbuilding is a place where scientists and artists combine their experience to bring flights of fancy to life and imaginatively realize the most beautiful expression of "what if?"

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    $\begingroup$ I just discovered my Santa question was closed, and it appears it was closed right along the lines I'm discussing in this post. I'm not worried if the answer stays closed, the "opinion-based" complaints might have been valid. Maybe. But I am worried that this site is beginning to take itself way too seriously. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 8 '20 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ A reference left in a comment: "The bulky object—possibly the core of a failed gas giant—challenges what astronomers think about how planets form." Science doesn't have all the answers and never will. What we "know" to be true today is just a snapshot along the way to more knowledge. I'm an Engineer, so I'm obviously a fan of science, but I also get why Paul, the Christian Apostle called it "Science, falsely so called." Sometimes our devotion to it is religious. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 8 '20 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ I get your point. While I scowl at illogical/impractical solutions even in fantasy and science fiction settings, I also tend to be a bit blunt sometimes. So I deleted that first comment. Still, I wonder if it is okay to point out flaws in ideas, or if we should fully stick to the frame the questioneer set? $\endgroup$ – Erik Dec 8 '20 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik The simple answer is yes, it's OK to point out, not flaws, but shall we say, issues the OP might not have thought of. It's the difference between "did you consider this?" and "you can't do that because...." In this specific case, the user was completely new and, if I had to guess, young, meaning blunt responses can be pretty hurtful. We usually know nothing about the people we're talking with, so it's regrettably easy to think they're basically just like ourselves. (*continued*) $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 8 '20 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik ...One last thing: when commenting, remember the OP's goals. It's certainly true, as some pointed out, that the Sea of Japan is an important fishery. But while that's an interesting complicating point, it might be entirely irrelevant to the OP's question. I need to do better with this myself. It's yet again the difference between "does it matter that?" vs. "you can't do that because...." $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 8 '20 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ ""There was a day when participating worldbuilders would pick up the gauntlet and throw impracticality out the window to come up with creative, imaginative, clever, weird, funny, stupid, even controversial ways to solve the OP's problem. And I long for the site to be like that again. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Dec 9 '20 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ This is suspiciously reminiscent of a concern I recently raised. It's not quite the same issue, but I think there are related underlying issues. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 9 '20 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew it's very much the "official" expression of that very same concern with the goal of gaining consensus for the idea of, "this isn't what we want to be." $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 9 '20 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ I posit that questions about worldbuilding should contain details and constraints about the world being built. The sea of Japan question is not that. It's a writing prompt you can get in any direction. If we weren't to assume "real life" as limitation, then the question is unclear or too broad to be answered. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 15 '20 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ You missed my point, Vlaz. That question was perfectly answerable in real-life conditions except that it would take too long and too many resources to be practical. We've lost the worldbuilding spirit where we find answers. Period. Instead we're looking for excuses to say "it can't be done" and Real Life is the most common excuse. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 15 '20 at 14:35
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If the question doesn't specify the expected direction of answer, it's reasonable to infer from what information there is.

The Sea of Japan question doesn't specify any level of future tech, alternate reality, magic, etc. In fact, it could have been written for the Engineering stack. Since the question talks about a real-world country with a hypothetical but real-world problem, it is natural to assume the world being built has real-world-ish technology. That leads inevitably to the challenge of the premise, because the desired solution is so far removed from real-world.

I do agree that the tone needs to be less hostile and more encouraging to add information to questions, but given the apparent lack of effort put into preparing the question, I understand that the first reaction is "Have you thought about what you're proposing?". Comments along that line are a better alternative than a close vote for "unclear".

I'm all for ice wizards and wormholes to create more usable land for the Japanese, but despite the intriguing premise, I'm not going to waste my creative energy going off on a tangent that the OP 95% likely can't use for their story/world.

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    $\begingroup$ This is addressing the specific question and not the general issue. However, we have the technology today to drain the Sea of Japan. It doesns't take ice wizards or wormholes. It takes construction caissons. Sometimes we get too hung up on "why would you want to do that?" and that holds us back from, "you know, you could do it this way...." $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 8 '20 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH I find the question pretty representative of a whole class of sparse questions that posit a single thought and question, so I used to highlight why I think it's okay to first challenge the premise of such a question. $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Dec 8 '20 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Also, I'm looking forward to your answer. I did entertain the thought of trying to figure out if Japan would have any mountains left after filling the narrowest straights with them, how much pumping capacity you'd need to keep it dry and how life would be different living at 1000m below sea level. $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Dec 8 '20 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ :-) Most of those details were ignored in my answer. They're all good points, but I only focused on the OP's specific problem: how to drain the sea. The "greater problem" of filling it all back in or using it in a way conducive to populated use is a massive question. Not only does it involve moving a sizeable chunk of Australia, but it involves huge climate issues like how rain will be affected. It would be an interesting problem to solve, but it wasn't what the OP asked for. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 8 '20 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Cyrus I think WillK's and Ash's answers offer a great example of a good alternative way to answer questions like this. Instead of simply saying 'nope, not possible', they offer alternative ideas to sorta solve the issue likely put forth by the OP (with an acceptable bit of handwavium). This kind of answer can work as a springboard, I think, to send the OP off with a whole new story hook. If not, there's still the simple joy of reading creative ideas that was brought to the other ~300 viewers who may take this and use it in some context of their own (me included). $\endgroup$ – Nicholas Dec 8 '20 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH -- It strikes me that the Australians might actually want to get in on this game. They're got a whole load of Outback that could be excavated and exported to Greater Japan, with the left over area being turned into a very nice inland sea. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Dec 9 '20 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I wouldn't be surprised. I remember once talking with a group of friends, one of which was Canadian, and the conversation turned to something along the lines of, "you know, the U.S. should just pay every Canadian a million dollars for the land and turn it into a half-dozen more states." The Canadian in the group suddenly said, "we'd take that deal in a heartbeat." I'm certain he didn't speak for all Canadians (especially those in or near Quebec), but "common sense" takes many forms. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 9 '20 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas This Australian says no. It will destroy vast tracts of superlative environment. Most of that land is the traditional lands of our First Australian Nations. Don't know what is your country, perhaps your people might like to cash in on the project? $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 11 '20 at 7:35
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    $\begingroup$ This sums it up in a nutshell. If you ask a question about the real world, the default assumption is for an answer within the scope of the real world, which means science. If the question wants to allow magic, it needs to say that (and define the rules of that magic, or "handwave it all" is a valid answer, defeating the point of the question). If the question wants science-fiction technologies, it needs to specify that. In short, questions must define their scope, or else a pure-science basis will be assumed by default. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Dec 11 '20 at 11:03
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I see that the Sea of Japan question has received frame challenges in nearly every answer. Perhaps Elementilas' is the exception.

But I think that it is a natural response, not to the fact that the question asks about something fanciful, but to the fact that the question is only one paragraph long and doesn't show any research. It also doesn't give any background information - does Japan even have the cooperation of both Koreas and Russia? Just listing the countries and funding involved can elicit an answer that's taking their means and resources into account.

This question, on the other hand, describes all those things. Now this question is a reality check (even if it lacks the tag) so frame challenges are intended here, but they are also more in depth and a few answers roll along with it.

I think there's a happy middle road. If the Sea of Japan question were four paragraphs long instead of one paragraph, and described the resources and expectations in greater detail, then I don't think it would have had quite the same response.

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    $\begingroup$ Your point is well taken, but please bear in mind that we have users world-wide having a remarkably wide range of ages and educational skills. I'm an engineer. Expecting everyone to have my own research skills is unrealistic (it is, in fact, simply false) especially as most people are asking questions because they don't have skills in the target issue. So, while I fundamentally agree with you, I also know it ain't never gonna happen. Oddly, perhaps the only "real world" condition we should ever consistently focus on is the humanity of our user base. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 9 '20 at 17:16
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I think that questions can better avoid this circumstance by adding more detail about goals and constraints. The Sea of Japan question seems fine to me, generally, but leaves completely undefined terms like "most effective" which are necessary to frame the answer. The question is interesting enough to attract attention but underspecified.

Leaving it unbounded makes it difficult to identify a "good" answer, let alone the best, because the answers aren't even necessarily talking about the same thing. If a population boom is necessitating land reclamation from the Sea of Japan, are we talking about Japan dedicating all of its GDP to the task until it's done? Or some more sustainable amount, maybe? Do we care about fault tolerances, risk over ten years, risk over a century, or similar? Is "the shortest amount of time" meant to equate to "acceptably fast to alleviate the current population boom", and does it matter if the latter is impossible? What about a huge array of hand pumps, to keep the booming population occupied and distracted from their current, cramped conditions? Are frame challenges like "live on a flotilla" or "develop Rapture" reasonable answers?

I agree that "this idea is unrealistic" is not a useful answer outside of questions tagged with reality-check, but I also think that unbounded questions about methods are likely to receive such an answer. I think that this question would have had a better reception if it asked about time, in the sense of "how quickly could Japan drain the Sea of Japan for land reclamation purposes using current technology?". This is an unreasonable expectation of a brand-new user, but perhaps other, more experienced users can nudge questions like this one onto a track that will produce better responses.

But as written, it may be that the best answer to this question is "this won't work for what you want", whether that's followed up with a frame challenge or not. In such a case (whether you agree that this is an example of one or not) it makes more sense (to me) to work on editing questions rather than expecting better prior restraint among all possible answerers.


I also think that, here and on SE more broadly, there are issues with kindness, tone, and the incentives for faster, more direct, and simpler answers. Those exist above and outside of any particular question, but they may be more significant on questions like this one.

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  • $\begingroup$ I sincerely apologize. You are correct and I misunderstood your answer (that's what I get for quickly reading it before going to work....). I appreciate your insight. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 12 '20 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH No worries, that's internet correspondence. I could have written more clearly in any case. $\endgroup$ – Upper_Case Dec 12 '20 at 16:50
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The problems with questions like these is that they show zero effort on the part of the asker. They're essentially throwing their question at the wall and hoping an answer will stick.

By the same logic, a zero effort answer saying nothing more than "handwave it" should be a completely valid answer to such a question, yet somehow I doubt users here would be happy to upvote it.

If someone hasn't gone to the effort of putting even the smallest amount of thinking into their question, that means they aren't trying to build their own world, they're just plagiarizing bits of others' worlds. Is that really something we want to reward?

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  • $\begingroup$ I've had the same feeling about many questions. But what I've realized as time goes on is this: I have no idea who's behind the user name. I'm an engineer with decades of experience and I have insight into a lot of different aspects of life, science, and fiction. On the other hand, the other person might be a teen (and I've found even younger...) who is barely learning how to research and when faced with a statement like "zero effort" quite literally has no idea what you're talking about or where to start. My personal criteria is this: (*continued*) $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 12 '20 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ If an answer can be found with a quick Google search and the user has 500+ reputation, it gets a down vote and a quick verbal slap on the hand. If the user has less than 500 rep, there's no down vote, just an admonition to to the research. If the answer isn't a quick Google search (not surprisingly, searching for "how to drain the sea of japan" only points to us!), I prefer to either answer the question as asked or to invite the user to add more details. I've learned to never assume that the other person has anywhere near the skill set I have. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 12 '20 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ Gently nudging the OP tp the sandbox is also a good idea. the sandbox exists to help teach people how to ask good questions. Just knowing what is and is not allowed to be handwaved in a question can be a big help in answering it. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 13 '20 at 14:37
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The question is Valid, But some answers are poor taste.

The question might be terse, but implies current technology and society. most answers point to some or another doable thing.

But one answer strikes me as particularly poor taste. It proposes that Japan, the only country that ever had been nuked in an act of war, uses nuclear weapons to vaporize the sea.

But to say it frankly: Japan has an extreme disfavorably look to hate on nuclear weapons. Japan has a constitution that bans it from waging aggressive war or having a military. Yes, they don't have a military! They have a police that is armed to the teeth with helicopter carriers and fighter jets, but no military. They have a treaty with the USA since 1960 that banned any stationing of nuclear weapons by the USA in their country and before Okinawa was returned in 1972, the US had to remove their nukes there too. Japan signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation treaty. They also uphold three non-law principles that, while not a fact of law, are express policy of the state: Japan will never manufacture, possess or even allow nukes on Japanese soil.

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    $\begingroup$ As it is my answer that qualifies for "particularly poor taste" I wanted to add my two cents. Writing a book and world-building is not about pleasing everybody (or in fact anybody at all). I wanted to give this particular answer to try out different thought experiments à la "what-if". It would be easy to come up with ideas why this is a horrible idea, but that's not the question that was asked by OP. Japan will probably never drain the sea of Japan due to a lot more realistic reasons than feasibility. But in a fantasy world, why shouldn't we be open about the options? $\endgroup$ – Dschoni Dec 11 '20 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Dschoni In my opinion the answer should point out the problems with the nuclear option, both in environmental damage and the sentiment of the society that is proposed to use it. $\endgroup$ – Trish Dec 11 '20 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ What right do you have to shame this particular answerer with your own imposed "poor taste" morality? The answer is none. $\endgroup$ – Ian Kemp Dec 11 '20 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @IanKemp You misunderstand. I have a right to have an opinion and to voice it. In particular, me talking about what was overlooked in phrasing an answer is not libel. The French constitution or the Germany Art. 5 Grundgesetz also do guarantee that I have a right to express my ideas. The US Constiturion has the first amendment, which prohibits restrictions on speech - less than in the two I mentioned, but I am still entitled to an opinion! $\endgroup$ – Trish Dec 11 '20 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ Japan's justified aversion to nuclear weapons does not make this answer "in poor taste." It does make it impractical (although, given that the entire idea is deliberately, fantastically impractical, this is an odd place to begin criticizing it). If this was a serious, real-world engineering proposal I would agree that it was tasteless, but as a Worldbuilding post it's no worse than any other bit of extremely destructive fictional history. $\endgroup$ – Phasma Felis Dec 11 '20 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ Hi, Trish. I understand your point about Japan and its culture, but your concern warranted a new Meta question, perhaps asking if others agreed with you that the indicated answer was in poor taste (I've know a number of Japanese people, they're remarkably good at taking care of themselves, so it's really their opinion that counts). However, I'd like to point out that... well, technically, this isn't an answer to my question (here, this one), but is in reality asking a new question. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 12 '20 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ Just to add a bit, and not to argue, but the JSDF certainly is not a police force. It is a self-defense force, and operates vaguely similar to the US Coast Guard (a military branch). It is also, as of 2015, allowed "collective self-defense of allies in combat," which is fancy gov-speak for we can deploy combat troop to defend our allies. As for nuclear weapons, you are correct, the US Navy as of 1991-ish no longer deploys nukes on anything other than SSBN's and those rarely make port anywhere but home. Before that however, nukes were routinely overlooked on US warships at port in Japan. $\endgroup$ – Teak Dec 19 '20 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Teak I know JSDF appears to be a normal military, but technically, they are more akin to police under Japanese law - They began as the National Police Reserve. The Self Defense Forces Law says in §3: Self-Defense Forces shall have the main task of defending Japan in order to protect the peace and independence of Japan and maintain the security of the country, and shall maintain public order as necessary. - That is the description of a police force. JSDF is regularly upholding public order by Disaster Relief. $\endgroup$ – Trish Dec 19 '20 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ Beginning as something and what the duties and purpose currently stand at are not the same. "The JSDF has not been used in police actions, nor is it likely to be assigned any internal security tasks in the future." Granted that quote is from wikipedia and therefore is somewhat questionable. The law your quoting is the description of a standing military, and can be applied to most militaries worldwide. Disaster relief is regularly carried out by military units as well. It's a yearly thing here in the US with the national guard and hurricane season. Apologies @JBH for getting off topic. $\endgroup$ – Teak Dec 19 '20 at 12:37

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