Proposal: Worldbuilding

neilfein's answer to another question here got me thinking. He brought up several points about what he has called "Research Questions". (Neil, correct me if I'm wrong or misinterpreting anything about what you said.)

In short a research question is one where the asker is trying to get information so they can build their world better, as opposed to questions about the worldbuilding process itself.

Some examples of research questions from the current list:

Some examples of non-research questions from the current list:

In the page on the writer's stack exchange that Neil's answer refers to, there's a very salient point that says:

Our primary goal is to be an expert community of writers, not an expert community of anything and everything a writer could write about.

Were we to follow the example of the writing stack exchange, we should ban research questions like this.

But I don't think this is going to be so simple. I think there are pros and cons to each side, and honestly, I think picking the wrong choice could ruin the site (and especially if we pick wrong, and are never willing to reconsider).

So I want to bring this specific point up for discussion. How do we feel about allowing research questions?


Wait a minute! I thought that research questions were the main reason why this SE group exists! After all world building is 95% research and 5% everything else. Actually, I'm deeply disturbed even by the idea that this kind of stuff should be moved elsewhere.

Besides, almost no answer here will be definitive. Unlike say biology.SE, there're additional avenues to visit, different what-if scenarios to explore. "Dune" fremens were able to overcome issues related to lack of water and heat. It's something that perfectly suits this group but totally off topic on biology.SE.

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    Your first two sentences were my thoughts exactly. It's abundantly clear from the example questions proposed that this is what people had in mind when signing up for this. If we don't allow research questions here, we might as well trash the proposal and start over. I think there are plenty of potential pitfalls to allowing research questions (like do we actually have the bandwidth/experts to appropriately handle them) but I think based on where things sit now, we let it play out. If after a few weeks, months, or years, it's not working, we re-evaluate then. But we shouldn't ban them upfront. – rbwhitaker Jun 2 '14 at 18:30

In my opinion research questions are appropriate moreover absolutely welcomed. The goal here is to gain information about topics covered by different areas of expertise to create believable and coherent worlds. There are lots of different forums of worldbuilding to speak about the process or share ideas. This could be a Q&A site, and when we talk about world, we talk about every aspect of it, like geology, medicine, astronomy, social issues, etc. So questions about these are valid. Experts of different fields could answer questions quickly, which could need several days to understand for an author by researching. And even if this is a community of creative writers, everyone could have some kind of knowledge, which is worth to share. For example as an IT expert I could answer the questions: Is hacking an alien computer system plausible? (Yes, within several months, if not years).

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    What do you think about requiring that answers to research questions include citations? – neilfein Mar 28 '14 at 1:54
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    @neilfein, I think it should. I'm actually putting together an answer to this question myself (it's taking longer than I had hoped) that supports kexx's answer with some extra evidence. I think research questions should be allowed with a couple of caveats, and providing citations is one of those caveats. – rbwhitaker Mar 28 '14 at 16:20
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    To play devil's advocate here: If any kind of research question is on-topic, how do we stop the site from becoming defocused by this? It's worth noting that it's much easier to regulate the content of questions than of answers. – neilfein Mar 28 '14 at 18:55
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    @neilfein, that's an excellent question, and I'm glad you're playing devil's advocate here. We need to think critically about this. I'll think it over and see if I can come up with something better than "let's hope it doesn't." In the meantime, you guys bumped up against this on Writers, didn't you? Did you allow research questions in the early days? What problems did you see with it? – rbwhitaker Mar 28 '14 at 20:44
  • The community decided to allow research questions, but only in the sense of asking about resources. If this site goes live, we could send those questions here. – neilfein Mar 28 '14 at 20:46
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    I agree that citations should be included. The caveat here is that there WILL be questions for which citations cant exist. "What could make the sky appear red instead of blue?" That probably has a citation. Conversely "What impact would levitation (telekinesis) magic have on technological development?" Likely does not. That would take a reasoned logical answer but clearly doesn't have scientific support. – James Apr 2 '14 at 19:55
  • Another thought here is that research questions will need to be quite specific...if one question takes a physicist, a micro biologist, a virologist, a historian, a metallurgist and the dean of a clown college to cover all the aspects then the question is too broad and doesn't fit the format here. – James May 30 '14 at 14:04
  • I have a feeling that we are going to need a tag for "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction" fairly quickly. Possibly a "Realistic" tag – Mourdos Aug 26 '14 at 16:09

I think your three examples of "research questions" fall into three different categories and should be dealt with differently:

  • What are the hottest and coldest temperatures that can still support human life?

This is a question that can have a definitive, scientific answer in the Biology.SE, and the answer should probably be asked (or at least migrated) there. This sort of question should NOT be asked on Worldbuilding.SE.

  • Under what social and technological conditions would space piracy be practical?

This question has a very diverse set of answers, but is definitely answerable as a part of worldbuilding. Its primary answers will be grounded in fictional precedent, not in scientific research. This sort of question SHOULD be asked on Worldbuilding.SE.

  • Is it physically plausible for twin planets to form in orbit around each other (e.g., if the Moon were the size of the Earth)? Do we know of any yet?

Similar to the previous question, it doesn't have a definitive scientific answer; but although this is a question that could be conceivably answered by speculators on the Astronomy.SE, the answer could potentially require more attention to fictional precedent than a science answer site could provide. This sort of question SHOULD be asked on Worldbuilding.SE, though it should be clarified to learn whether they want to know from a fictional or scientific perspective, and moved if the latter is true.

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    The 3rd question you pose as probably a much clearer scientific answer than your 1st question. Biology.SE will only be able to answer questions like "what are the highest or lowest temperatures where life occurs on Earth", I'm not sure how happy they'd be about hypothetical questions like the one you cite. Most importantly, it is not possible for a layman to know which questions are answerable and thus I think your distinction is not very easy to make. I'd therefore think that all those questions should be on topic. – drat May 30 '14 at 6:37
  • Hm, I hadn't thought about a layman making that sort of distinction. Good point. That deserves some thinking. – ilinamorato May 30 '14 at 14:20

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