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This question here: If Spider Were the Size of Horses, What Sound Would They Make?

It was met with a VTC by AlexP because "the giant spider can make any sounds required by the story". See the comment exchange for the full picture.

Now, it is important for me to state that "the answer can be whatever the story requires" is not that insightful, as far as critiques go. You can take the most hard science question on the site and give that comment, and be technically correct. It is up to the author what level of scientific hardness they wish to adhere to. More specifically, any question involving magic can receive that comment, because magic is by definition counter-scientific. There are no solid laws of physics to fall back onto because they are already being violated, so surely for any plot another exception can be made. But do we want to banish all magic questions from this site? I don't think so. We receive magic and fantasy questions when the querents accompany their asks with the rules for their systems.

For example: a fire spell that works by extracting heat uniformly from the magic caster's body; how long could they sustain it before suffering hypothermia? "extract heat uniformly from the caster's body" is a rule fine enough to work with; you do not need to specify that the heat is exchanged through quantum tunnelling photons synthesised by midi-chlorians. Such details would never become 100% solid to begin with, as they are not a part of actual science. They need only be clear enough to reason about.

Potential answerers will disagree on what is "clear enough" because we have different levels in scientific education, imaginative power in different quantities and just a different taste in how hard science should be. That's nobody's fault, and sometimes the rules do leave gaps. Take this heat question and strip out the word "uniformly"; now there is ambiguity as to whether it is just the hands cooling down, or everything.

Now, I want to ask you. If you see that fireball question (imagine it also supplies by a couple paragraphs of worldbuilding context and is otherwise valid), notice that there is a gap or inaccuracy in the system described... what do you do?

  1. Comment, asking for clarification or pointing out the gap in the logic.
  2. Vote to close for Needs Details.
  3. Vote to close for Opinion-Based.

As you can guess, I consider this fireball question analogous to the linked spider question (which describes spider anatomy but to an extent some may consider insufficient). Please let me know if you disagree.

Personally, I would do #1 first and only #2 if the question is older than a couple of hours, and/or there are more clarification requests and the querent hasn't addressed them. #3 is something I would personally never do in this case, and I am still trying to figure out why someone would.

My understanding from the comments is that AlexP considers that this question, as stated, is so logically implausible that there is no coherent system left to reason with. Ergo any answer is equally valid, ergo the question is opinion-based.

I think that the first response to a lacking premise is to ask for clarifications, and the second response is to VTC as Needs Details. I reserve Opinion-Based for questions that cannot be salvaged with any amount of added details - not because they are implausible but because they ask something that is intrinsically impossible to answer using facts.

The sounds that an animal can produce are - in the broad sense, as in roars vs. chirps - a property of their anatomy. If the question does not provide enough anatomy to reason with, then the solution is to ask for more details about the anatomy. If no answers are provided, then VTC because there are Not Enough Details. This question is not Opinion-Based and it never will be, until someone asks for the most pleasant key of this spider's mating call.

I am intrigued to hear where other people stand on this.

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We really need to start reading between the lines in some cases.

At its core, this flawed premise of the large spider really has some key components even if not explicitly stated.

  1. A particular type of spider: Loxosceles reclusa
  2. a change away from reality: A horse-sized spider
  3. a potentially flawed premise: less gravity/more oxygen to make it possible
  4. an end goal: human audible sounds generated by said creature.

In reality, this could be a science-based almost hard science question if you take the sounds a real spider produces and did the math to scale it up. The question doesn't explicitly state this but, you can figure it out by reading between the lines.

An answer that applies to that particular spider is more right than a spider singing celine dion. * shudder *

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with your analysis and conclusion, but I am embarrassed to say that I fail to see why reaching that requires reading between the lines. I can think of only one possible interpretation of the sentence "Let's assume that the spider in this world are almost identical to the American Loxosceles reclusa in every way save for size." - the literal one. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 13 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm It is much more obvious in this particular scenario but the question isn't tagged as science based or hard science but the question itself implies it. Other questions often don't explicitly push into these categories but usually can be treated as such for judging best answers. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Jul 13 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, fair enough. I would have been hesitant to use science based and have a counter factual premise, but that is where being explicit helps. I'm starting to think we may need a soft science tag, for when you want to follow scientific principles but aren't strict about the numbers checking out. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 13 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ I seem to have pushed a few buttons with my answer - is it really that scary to imagine Shelob in pursuit yodelling "My book lungs will go on and onnnnnn"? More seriously, I looked at the "biology", "xenobiology" and "biomechanics" tags along with what I read as the intent of the question (giant spider making scary sounds) and considered it more useful to post the answer I did rather than spend lots of time in comments challenging the premise and seeking clarifications. However, I realised belatedly I should have clarified the size of the main character being pursued - not necessarily human $\endgroup$ Jul 14 at 6:41
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All exposition/examples aside, let's look at the real question here:

Is a question with an implausible or logically flawed premise opinion-based?

To this my answer is absolutely no. When a question has an implausible or logically flawed premise, it means that the question needs to be answered as a Frame Challenge. Frame Challenges are a specific types of answer than challenges the logic of the question itself, but Frame Challenges are not automatically opinions. You also should not necessarily close vote a logically flawed premise as long as the premise is clear enough to understand what is being asked.

So let's say someone asks something that is absolutely logically flawed like "My character is too weak to use a sword, but she needs a backup weapon for when enemies get to close for her to user her bow; so what would be another good choice for her to carry as a backup weapon?" For those of us that know much about medieval weapons we know that, the swords are already arguably the best weapon for someone who is not strong, and bows require a ton of upper-body strength. So, this question is illogical because anyone who can shoot a bow is strong enough to wield a sword.

This is still a valid question; so, instead of Voting to Close, the correct course of action is to answer it explaining that she SHOULD use a sword as her backup weapon, and why.

As for implausible questions... I don't think a question should ever be closed just because it is implausible. Asking, "how would someone who won the lottery 3 times in a row prove he is not cheating" is super implausible, but good stories are often about when the implausible does happen; so, there is no point in excluding these questions. At most I would leave a comment just to let the OP know how insanely unlikely his idea is, but it's not my place to judge if he decides to continue with his story knowing that it defies the odds.

Now to address the example the OP used

Vote to close for Opinion-Based is supposed to only be for if a question is asking for open-ended ideas. So if the OP asked "What kind of insect should I make the size of a horse", that would be an opinion because you could logically make any insect the size of a horse. Instead, the OP asked what sound a horse sized spider would make. It is not the burden of the OP to have a deep understanding of sound design, or even to have a baseline understanding of how real world spiders sound. That burden lies on those of us answering the question. If you don't have any background in sound design, then this question may sound open ended, but foley artists have all sorts of rules and guidelines by which they design fictional sound effects to match what a viewer is seeing; so, the example question is not opinion-based at all because a half-decent foley artist would be able to follow the rules of his trade to create a best possible answer.

Vote to close for Needs Details is supposed to be for when the question requires follow-up questions to be able to answer. This is different than providing details that are illogical. In the case of the spiders question, there is plenty enough detail to make an educated guess. We know how big the spider is, we know what kind of spider it is based off of, and we have details about the gravity and atmosphere to work with too. More details probably won't really change your answer much here.

So frankly, the spider example is not really a good one for this question since it should not be closed as opinion based, nor does it need detail, nor does it have a flawed premise. If you just don't have the background to answer to the question, then you should let other people answer it who do.

The actually problem that happened here is that one person answered with a very vague opinion which got a lot go votes. Not really the fault of the OP. Sometimes I will VtC a question if something about it is attracting a lot of opinions, and not solid answers, but this example has a few solid, justifiable answers; so, it does not need to be closed just because one person left an opinion

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If you're looking for a hard-and-fast metric for casting close votes, you've come to the wrong place for anarchy, brother

You should watch that entire clip to get the joke...

We all know that Worldbuilding is the most subjective Stack in the Exchange. There are days I wonder how on earth it passed the Area 51 tests to become a Stack. But, here we are and it leaves us with two conflicting realities.

  1. Stack Exchange does not permit questions that are opinion-based.

  2. 90% of worldbuilding questions are opinion-based.

And therein lies a problem that has plagued the Stack since the earliest days. We've tried educating users, creating Meta pages that explained it, modifying the Help Center, leaving clarifying comments... We've accepted the definition, modified the definition, considered ignoring the definition (hah, try convincing people to not use a tool that SE puts in front of them and we can't control)....

And still we get posts here in Meta asking whether or not it was right to VTC a particular question as "Opinion-Based." This was not the first such incident — and believe me it will not be the last.

In a world of subjective questions, nothing is more subjective than deciding what's "too" opinion-based and what is not.

To begin with, I take issue with your hyperbole about questions being legitimately answerable as "whatever the story requires." I get it that you're frustrated, but that particular tag is intentionally ruthless, and for a reason. It's the one tag on the site where it is legitimately impossible for the question to be opinion-based because no answer is permitted that can't be 100% backed up with citations, mathematics, and documented science. From a purist's point of view, questions are the one and only type of question on Worldbuilding.SE that entirely meets all of SE's expectations.

Which invites the question, since all other questions are intrinsically opinion-based to one degree or another, where do we draw the opinion-based line?

The Help Center clearly states that no question should be asked where every answer is equally correct. This burdens the querent in two ways:

  1. They should try their level best to ask a question that can have an objectively-selected best answer and...

  2. They should explain in their question how they will judge a best answer.

Is it reasonable to expect a querent to do these things? Yes. Will they? No.

And that leaves us with an irritating reality that, unfortunately, won't be resolved here. What constitutes "opinion-based" is opinion-based.

Yeah, but what about the specific question?

I agree that the question is opinion-based because, upon a bit of research, Loxosceles reclusa doesn't appear to make noise in real life. Not even a hiss. That might be because it has no capacity to vocalize. It might be that it's too small to have a vocalization anyone cares about. Either way, it's impossible to judge what vocalization capabilities a similar (and fictional) creature would have were it the size of a horse.

Which means, without the OP explaining how he/she will judge a best answer (by providing goals, limitations, conditions, restrictions, and assumptions), every answer is equally valid — violating a clear rule in the Help Center.

The fundamental problem is this: where possible, respondents draw from real life to rationalize an (often fantastic) answer. But without that baseline information (which an albeit quick Google search did not reveal), what we have is nothing more than a guess.

In my book, guess === opinion-based.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding this question specifically, why do you not consider "The spider would make no sound" a valid answer? The OP didn't talk about a spider "similar" to the given species, but they specified one exactly resembling that species in everything but dimensions. So the correct answer is that the upscaled version would likely be silent, and because one answer is most accurate not all answers are equally valid. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 12 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ And even playing a bit into the scenario, we can list sounds that spiders are known to make. Those do not include singing and roaring: spiders just lack the organs for those. To suggest that we know nothing about the anatomy of this theoretical creature and that therefore they could make any sound, is to refuse to accept the part of the question that specified that we are talking about a huge spider, not some hybrid creature with mammalian breathing apparatus. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 12 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ And that is where my meta question came from. The premise of this question is unrealistic: you cannot have spiders the size of horses no matter the oxygen or gravity levels. But an implausible premise is still a premise. To call the question opinion based is, in my view, presupposing that the querent intents to actually design a realistic, scientifically accurate equine-sized arachnid. For a creature design question, this question is woefully lacking in details. But constraining oneself to the sound issue of a spider as we know them, but larger, I personally think there is enough to work with. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 12 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and point taken on the hard science tag, which is indeed exceptional. I did not mean to disparage that question or any questions/answers under that tag, I merely meant that any author with free will writing their own fiction is always at liberty to ignore science or logic if it makes for a good plot. It just doesn't feel in any way useful to me to remind querents of this obvious fact, rather than tell them why their question cannot be answered objectively. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 12 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm Oddly, you're still arguing about that question. I don't consider the answer "the spider makes no sound" unrealistic. I believe it's impossible as written for the question to objectively select that answer as better than any other. That's the rule I pointed to in the help center. $\endgroup$ Jul 13 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ I am talking about that question because that is the heart of this matter. I am not trying to redefine what opinion based means, but I think that this question is incorrectly seen as one. Why do you think that the silent spider answer isn't more valid? You state that a huge spider could have any set of organs, therefore could make any sound, therefore any answer is equally valid. But OP states that the organs are identical to the given species. So no, not every set of organs is equally valid, and not every set of sounds is equally valid, and not every answer is equally valid. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 13 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ I think this question, due to having a premise that's not plausible, is incorrectly seen as opinion based by people who choose to ignore that premise and are left with an incomplete creature design question. AlexP said so explicitly in the comments (now in chat). My argument is that a premise must be accepted, unless you are writing a frame challenge. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 13 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ Could you tell me why you think that this spider could have any set of organs, even though an exact species is given and it is stipulated that this creature is identical in every respect except for size? $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 13 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ You're straining at a gnat, @KeizerHarm. What the question actually says is "almost identical." The situation is not what you're describing. Even if it were, it's a fallacious request. The species named could not be as large as a horse due to the square-cube law. In ortherwords, the creature could not exist as stated and we're back to the solution being whatever the OP wanted. (Science is a harsh mistress.) Large invertebrates existed, but not the specified species. Arbitrary choice = opinion-based. $\endgroup$ Jul 13 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ But that is exactly my point! The premise is not in line with physics or reality; you cannot have spiders that big for the reasons you state. But that does not mean you can ignore that premise and decide that any answer goes. Basically every Godzilla or dragon question violates the same laws of physics but those aren't universally considered opinion based. It's part of the premise. And the full quote is "almost identical to the American Loxosceles reclusa in every way save for size" (emphasis mine) $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 13 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ I think that questions with a fallacious premise should (at best) be met with a frame challenge. I do not see how it is productive to ignore the premise and then consider the remaining question insufficient, and close it for opinion based. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 13 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm What's your goal here? Ignore the specific question for a moment and try to explain what has you so worked up? A fictional premise does not make a question intrinsically opinion-based. Whether or not the question is framed to justify a best-answer selection based on something better than the OP simply liking one answer over another, that makes a question opinion-based. $\endgroup$ Jul 13 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm 99% of the questions asked here are fictitious or are to be applied to a fictitious framework. The SE expectation that a question is opinion-based because only the opinions of respondents are involved means very little here. We've adopted a more useful paradigm: a question is opinion-based when the only basis for judging a best answer is the OP's opinion. This translates to, "respondents don't have enough direction to justify meeting the help center's rule that the question cannot result in equally valuable answers." There must be a way to judge a best answer, (*continued*) $\endgroup$ Jul 13 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ ...even if the OP has no intention of selecting one. This is what I mean by the framing of a question. The following is a well-framed question: "Given conditions X, Y, and Z, how can A happen? The best answer will allow for M, N, and O." The following is not: "How can A happen?" To be fair, I've likely caused some confusion because "how to frame a question" and the "frame of reference for a question" are two different things. For that, I apologize. I'm specifically asking about *how to ask a good question," which is (*continued*) $\endgroup$ Jul 13 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm Not just the linked question, but the premise to all questions is (or, at least, should be) irrelevant when judging whether or not a question should be closed for any reason. If we start judging the premise of questions, almost all would be closed. The purpose of close-voting is to (a) educate the OP about how to ask a good question, (b) to prevent misdirected or unuseful answers from appearing before the question is perfected. It's all an effort to produce higher-quality questions and higher-quality answers. Who cares about the premise? It's the OP's world, after all. $\endgroup$ Jul 14 at 14:35
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I think both reasons are equally valid: the lack of details is striking, and because of the lack of details any answer is equally valid and answer are likely to be based on opinions.

Don't forget that the closing reasons are not an orthogonal set, thus some overlapping it's very likely to happen.

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  • $\begingroup$ But even if you consider the close reasons to overlap, one is clearly more solution-oriented than the other. It is more helpful to point to the cause of the problem (lacking details) than the consequence (a question with equally valid answers). $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 12 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ And if I notice even a tremendous lack of details, before any sort of close voting I would personally ask for details. Give the asker a chance to solve the problem. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 12 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm, also the opinion based closure is solution oriented, because removing the op-based requires precisely giving those lacking details $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Jul 12 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ Now it is sounding like the two close reasons are synonymous. The threshold for VTC Needs Details is when there is not enough information to distinguish a true answer from a false one, making them equally valid. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 12 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ I have been reading a lot of what people wrote on opinion-based as it relates to this site. I honestly find very little to support the opinion-based closure for the spider question; or the fireball question for that matter. I do not see why the spider question would have multiple equally valid answers, for the simple reason that animal vocalisations is a property of anatomy, and some anatomy is more suitable for giant spiders than other. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 12 at 19:47
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I agree with IT Alex. Many questions on WB.SE are basically word problems or their variants as applicable to other fields of knowledge. Unfortunately, not all people are good at this type of problem and cannot recognise relevant parts of a problem within a text.

I do not think that this can be solved in any meaningful way. We can recommend people to read more and work on their reading comprehension, but I would not expect that everyone will follow this type of recommendation. Not to mention, that many people will feel offended.

It is also impractical to demand people to structure their questions in a specific, strictly regulated way aiming to make information easier to comprehend. While it works for maths and physics, it may not work for other areas. I also believe that it would place an undue burden on new users unless it is possible to include the default question template in the question field.

AlexP's comments touch on another frequent problem: Inability to suspend disbelief. This type of comment can be seen very often when premises are flawed. IMO, in this case, a real reason for VTC is 'I do not believe your premise'. Everything else, including the formal reason for VTC, is just a rationalisation.

I also do not see a way to solve this or even to address this in any constructive way. WB.SE community is not some type of organisation where anti-bias training can be routinely conducted.

Overall, I think that the opinion-based reason for closure is grossly misused and abused on WB.SE. I saw people VTC questions as opinion-based when they do not understand the question, when they do not read the question, when they do not like the author of the question, when they do not accept the premise, and a multitude of other reasons that have nothing to do with opinions or facts or citations.

On the other hand, there are plenty of questions that cannot be possibly answered with facts and citations or have an objectively better answer. Yet, they are not closed. They are upvoted. And those very people who VTC virtually similar questions as opinion-based happily post answers.

Opinion-based seems to stand for 'I do not like this question' rather than anything else.


A note on opinion-based as the question where the best/correct answer can not be determined using specified requirements (or the question that can have multiple equally valid answers)

I do not think it is a useful criterion. It only works with questions that are essentially disguised maths problems. But it does not work that well for anything else.

Let's do a thought experiment: A question about the construction of a bridge. Let's assume that the question is properly formulated, easy to understand, and has all relevant information including specific requirements for the best bridge design.

Let's assume that 3 out of 10 answers satisfy all the requirements stated by the OP. Each of these 3 excellent answers comes with blueprints, calculations, etc. They are equally good and equally valid. The only way to determine which one is 'better' is the OP's preferences. Therefore, the bridge construction question should be closed as opinion-based. That wouldn't be very productive.

Another consideration is that StackExchange and WB.SE (see the bottom of the page) do allow specific types of subjective questions. It is simply not true that SE or WB.SE is strictly limited to questions that have one and only one best/correct answer.

Moreover, the majority of questions on WB.SE (the ones that are not disguised maths problems) are treated as subjective questions and answered using opinions. Very few people take time and effort to back all their statements with facts and citations.

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