Reference question: Is an atmosphere's oxygen partial pressure or concentration more biologically significant?

While discussing with the OP why they were looking for so much detail the OP said the following:

I'm making a fake scientific textbook/artbook, about how life might evolve on planets with different conditions. So it actually is important to me to get the science right. For most readers, it will be more of a coffee table art book, with the main point being the illustrations and the writing serving the aesthetic, giving the book legitimate textbook vibes. But I want the book to work on multiple levels and to be accurate for those interested in the science. So I really want the science to be actually plausible.

It's fake, but it's not fake. It's not an imaginary world of the OP's own creation, so to speak, but a scientifically factual/plausible book about what extraterrestrial life could be expected to be like in Real Life if we ever find it.

The OP is not an expert in the field of xenobiology or, I suspect, any related field. The OP is using us as surrogate experts to help with the creation of the book.

The Problem: The idea is fascinating and would likely be a lot of fun. Except that to meet my current understanding of what the OP is trying to achieve, every question asked should be assigned the tag. It would cross a fair number of scientific fields. But while there is speculation, there is no fiction. We're not helping the OP develop and consistently use rules for a world of his/her own creation. We're co-authoring a whimsical, but essentially factual textbook on interstellar life.

There's obviously a lot of wiggle room here, but the basic question needs to be asked:

Question: Is the effort to create a textbook (fake or not) based on scientific fact close enough to worlbuilding as defined in the Help Center that questions of this type are permissible?

This post is a result of my asking the OP why such precise detail was needed in his/her worlbuilding efforts. My interpretation of the OP's response is, "I'm not worldbuilding" (from the perspective of the Help Center's definitions). The purpose of this post is to discover if a balance can be found between what the OP will need to achieve his/her goals and what we really can do. I've mentioned to people before that we're not a free research service and we're not here to make up for years of unacquired education. The linked question combined with the OP's response suddenly makes it sound like the OP's hoping we're both of those.

Also, I'm a little worried about... let's call it "liability." We have amazing people on this Stack, but are we in the aggregate qualified to answer questions for this purpose such that the OP doesn't get laughed at by people who review the book? When someone reads fiction (OK, when most people read fiction) they understand that what they're reading isn't real and isn't purported to even be plausible. We enjoy scientific credibility in stories, but it's not a requirement. If mistakes or complete gloss-overs are encountered, they're ignored by suspending disbelief to enjoy the story. But that doesn't appear to be what's happening here. Done "correctly," every aspect of the proposed lifeforms and their biomes should be completely supported by current scientific understanding. We have respondents who ignore tags and who will answer anything β€” qualified to answer the question or not. Can we meet the OP's needs?

While I am concerned that we might not be capable of meeting the OP's hopes and expectations, I do not have a bias toward the community's willingness or not to accept an effort like this as worldbuilding. I'm asking because I didn't know how to respond to the OP's explanation.

I have invited the OP to contribute to this post so we have a better understanding of the issue.


5 Answers 5


This is Worldbuilding

I honestly do not even understand why this question is being asked! We've never called into question anyone's motivation this way before (with the exception of obvious non-worldbuilding as a closure rationale). I think some clarification is in order, since this question seems to be about the allowability of a certain kind of worldbuilding goal here.

I am someone whose worldbuilding almost entirely revolves around the creation of just such in-world artefacts as natural histories, atlases, scriptures, and a variety of other tangible assets.

It's pretty obvious from the linked query that the OP is not looking for this information in order to understand Earth (or any real planet), but rather an entirely fictional world. The OP literally says "If I have a planet with high atmospheric pressure..." That sounds sufficiently fictional to me!

As for requiring the hard science tag --- I don't think every such question must require it. Unless the OP is specifically looking for equations, numbers, citations from peer reviewed journals and the like. Science based should be sufficient.

I'm literally world-building, though. My project is not factual, it's fictional, but based on scientific principles. I'm designing a fictional planet, just like everyone else here. I really appreciate the help you've given me, but I don't understand why you would make a post to call into question whether or not I should be allowed to use this resource. Most of the time when I get answers here, I use them to give me clearer direction, as ultimately the main resources I'm using are journal articles and directly contacting scientists.

It looks to me like the OP is doing what everyone else here is doing (myself included) --- worldbuilding. Some people write novels, others design games, some do this for the intellectual exercise. And some of us like to create in-world artefacts!

I for one would personally pay reasonable money to buy such a text book --- it would look quite spiff next to my own works, the Codex Seraphinianus and the Voynich MS (yeah, who knows if that is real world or fictional!). As such, it doesn't (or oughtn't) matter to WB.SE why the OP is building a fictional world, so long as they are doing so.

I concur: let him do his worldbuilding thing!


This is worldbuilding, so on-topic

And I'd dare say even more so than Star Wars, Asimov's Fundation, Elden ring or any other "traditional work" because we -almost1- don't have the story part to ruin the party. This question contains the two main elements of world-building : Building a fictional world :

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a site for designers, writers, artists, gamers and enthusiasts to get help creating imaginary worlds.From the help-center

Well, since we're talking planets, there's not much to say it's indeed a world and not some cupcake recipe 🧁. Then, the planets in the book are invented, as opposed to being real. The world is therefore fictional, or imaginary if we use the exact term used by the help-center and tour. Side-note : being speculative means you're making probable guesses, some hypothesis : The content of such speculations are still not real, they're therefore fictional, too.

Let's continue, the building part is quite clearly shown : It's not a purely theorical question about physics or biology without any context, its purpose is to create coherent biological life on a distant world the user is making. Also, the question does not ask about 3rd party worlds, it's the user's own world, so it's building up there, too!

Thus, the question is about "creating imaginary worlds". I'm focusing on the example question, but this applies to any question to write textbooks with fictional worlds in them : If the question is asking how to build a fictional world, it's on-topic. Simple as apple pie.

A small note about hard-science

I believe you are worried it might be "too real-worldish" and that it will not make it fictional. Don't worry, it won't 😊. While you need to be more cautious you're "building" and not asking about the real-world, it's definitely possible to ask such questions. The worldbuilding intention is just to be very realistic-looking, it's all 🐻.

Also, questions should be self-contained and show minimal dependency with other questions, so having many very hard-science questions for the same world is not a reason for closure. Each question has to be reviewed from the perspective it's the only one asked for this world.

1 : Almost because you could tell some sort of story with only pictures and world notes. It will be just so transparent compared to any other book ^^!

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! β€œIt’s indeed a world and not some cupcake recipe” - Exactly 😁 There are unlimited planets I could design using the same principles! $\endgroup$
    – Elhammo
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 3:32

TLDR: We're here to build worlds not write textbooks. If we examine the question OP is clearly asking about building a world.

Asking for help writing a textbook would be inappropriate for this site, as would asking us to speculate on how life would evolve.


A fictional textbook, may be intended as an artifact from an alternate world, and any art of specific examples in the book will be set on a fictional planet. Establishing facts about the world of the textbook, or specific worlds used in examples, would be appropriate here.

Determining whether any question related to this book is suitable for this site will require a careful examination of the question. To me the question looks like an excellent fit for this site.

  • It's not a duplicate that I'm aware of
  • It's clear what the OP is asking for
  • Answers to the question will be based in facts, references, and expertise, not opinions
  • The question is not overly broad. There's likely to be a limited number of valid answers.
  • It's not brainstorming, trying to generate ideas, or asking us to speculate
  • It's not attempting to prompt discussion
  • It's not asking about a story set in a world
  • It's not asking about a 3rd party world

The only point where there could be any doubt is whether the question is about building a fictional world.

To quote the OP they're intending use this information to build fictional worlds.

I'm literally world-building, though. My project is not factual, it's fictional, but based on scientific principles. I'm designing a fictional planet, just like everyone else here.

We have lots of questions about atmospheres on this site and this one is refreshingly well written. It's clear what problem OP has encountered and they're seeking our help to improve their understanding.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Thank you! I appreciate this well thought-out response. We're all world-building here. There's a spectrum of goals within the community with regard to scientific plausibility, and I don't see what's wrong with that or why I should be excluded for being on the hard science end of that spectrum. We even have a tag specifically for that. $\endgroup$
    – Elhammo
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 20:30

I just replied to your comment on my post, but I think these concerns are unnecessary. I've been doing lots of research, combing through journal articles on a range of relevant fields, and yes, I've certainly noticed many of the people on this site are not qualified to answer. But I've also gotten lots of great answers, that have helped direct my searches or provided seemingly plausible explanations I could then verify later. Sometimes people will bring up a point that I hadn't considered before or make a suggestion that opens up a path of investigation that I wouldn't have thought to take. So, this is a valuable resource to me, and it helps me in tailoring my searches of more reliable resources, like scientific journal databases. I'm also working directly with a couple scientists, and I use these forums as a place to better formulate my questions.

I would appreciate it if people just let me do my thing here, which is building a fictional world. I believe that is exactly what this site is for.

  • $\begingroup$ I hope you can appreciate that there are a great many people who would like that we "just let [them] do [their] thing here." But we have rules. This Meta post isn't a judgement of your efforts, but a request to clarify whether or not this is within our rules. In a sense, we would appreciate it if you let us do our thing, too. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 19:31
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I don't see how asking questions for the purpose of world-building does not fit within the rules of this world-building site, and your post does not clarify that at all. You said, "It's not an imaginary world of the OP's own creation." Whose creation is it then? Do you think that if the answers are adequately hard-science-based, that I will magically come up with planets that actually exist? Of course these planets are fictional and of my own creation. And why would there even be a hard-science tag if we weren't allowed to use it? $\endgroup$
    – Elhammo
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 19:37
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm also obviously not going to cite the world-building side of stack exchange as a source in my book, because this is not a reliable source. I'm using this site as a resource in the way that I described, and I will be citing scientific papers as sources. So I don't understand what you're worried about or how you think me being here affects you. $\endgroup$
    – Elhammo
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 19:40
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Why would we distinguish between a collection of short stories set on fictional worlds and a 'textbook' about them? $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 20:09
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Learning can totally be entertainment. Would you say the Netflix show "Alien Worlds" is not entertainment bc it's science-based, speculative biology? Is that entire genre not entertainment? If I were writing historical fiction, would you object that it wasn't fiction if I was looking to achieve a high degree of historical accuracy? This is going to be an art book (I'm an artist with a degree in biology) about scientifically plausible habitable planets, which are fully of my own creation. It's meant to be enjoyed on multiple levels. I expect plenty of people will enjoy it purely for the art. $\endgroup$
    – Elhammo
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 20:21

All fiction is inherently speculative. It being speculative doesn't make it any different.

Plenty of sci fi is based on a mixture of real and speculative science.

If OP had asked exactly the same question but didn't mention what it was for, would people have thought of it as out of place at all? I don't think so.


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