Proposal: Speculative Science

Really, all the existing example questions could go into an existing science stack exchange or into world building, for example:

  • What would happen to human colour perception if we could see in near- ultraviolet? Probably okay for world building (in the sense of "what would such a world look like?"). Partly a philosophical problem.
  • What if light traveled slower than sound through air? Either people on the physics stack exchange could tell you it's bullshit, or in the context of magic or whatever, it could fit on world building.
  • What would happen if a rogue body passed to near our solar system, disrupting it, sending the Earth and Sun in different directions? Concerning the movements of the bodies, physics stack exchange. For the impacts of reduced sunlight on Earth, biology if you put it right. When you want speculative stuff which goes beyond science, world building.

Please give reasons why this is not a good solution and why this new stack exchange should exist and mostly, example questions which do not fit onto any of the existing stack exchange sites.


As James Jenkins pointed out in his answer, clearly established that What-If questions are not, in general, what Worldbuilding Stack Exchange wants. As a moderator there, I cannot emphasize this enough. I'd recommend looking through the following meta discussions (and links therein):

We haven't specifically banned What-If questions - there's no custom close reason that we use, although once upon a time we threw around ones to combat related problems - but the consensus seems to be that these questions are off-topic for Worldbuilding, in the majority of cases.

Why? Well, the questions are often too broad. I don't have any statistics to back this up, but I'm guessing that we're one of the Stack Exchange sites with the broadest questions. It's different from Stack Overflow, say, where there's often only one, two or a few solutions to a problem. On Worldbuilding, we average over 4.5 answers per question. That doesn't mean that all of our questions are overly broad, but some are, and What-If questions often fall into this category.

This is something that worries me about Speculative Science, and what should have worried me about What if? Even on Worldbuilding, I typically manage to cite pretty good scientific sources on most of my answers to science-y questions, because they usually rely on the laws of science in our universe. If you ask, "Is this system of moons stable?", I can give you a good answer based on orbital resonances to figure out if the two orbits will destabilize one another (I know, the three-body problem is hard, but you can make some basic estimates in certain scenarios). I know papers to cite and mathematical expansions that can be directly applied.

But on a question that involves new laws of physics, what do I cite? What do I look to? Do I formulate totally new equations? There's a lot more speculating that has to be done, and it's crucial that answers are more like educated guesses. You must have answerers who really know what they're talking about, not just folks who can only take shots in the dark (and I know that though I pride myself on my science knowledge, I'm more in the latter group). I foresee that a community of experts is going to be needed here, potentially more than on any other Stack Exchange site. Will that happen? I don't know.

This segues into my other answer to your suggestion that these questions could go to the pure science sites. This is - if I may be blunt - a terrible idea. We've experienced this on Worldbuilding when migrating questions to and from the science sites. They didn't want some questions because they were overly speculative; we didn't want some questions because they were just What-Ifs with no tie to Worldbuilding.

Again, James Jenkins has a good meta citation, but I'll address one specific example: The question about sound moving faster than light. It's already been asked and closed as off-topic on Physics Stack Exchange. For lack of a better close reason, the non-mainstream science reason was used, but Ben Crowell's comment captured the sentiment that Physics Stack Exchange (and myself) feel is sometimes applicable:

There is no way to answer a question about what laws of physics could exist in alternate universes.

Well, it's not always impossible, but it's way too speculative for the pure science Stack Exchange sites.

Oh, interesting, I thought it was possible to directly answer the sound/light question with "Impossible" from a physics point of view, but no one there said that. Wonder why my reasoning is wrong. Anyway, either you put that question in a more specific way which would be answerable on world building, or it's so broad that no matter where you ask it, there will be uncountably many possible good answers. I didn't mean to say generally "What if..." is acceptable on world building, but that often (not quite always) such questions can be made to fit by changing them. – Nobody Sep 13 '16 at 9:01
Same thing for the science stack exchanges - I admit that's pretty hard unless you already know how the answer will look - but you can change some of those What if questions to go on a science stack exchange. Possibly by making them more narrow, or by just asking part of it and doing the rest of the thinking for yourself. Even the way the sound/light question was handled on the physics stack exchange already says a lot, if you are really just after the knowledge. – Nobody Sep 13 '16 at 9:05
But people who ask "What if" questions aren't after the knowledge. What they really want is be entertained, like Randall Munroe does it for example. "What if" really is a kind of literary genre. The idea of having a "What if" site like this is not too different from having a "Write me a short story on xxx" site. – Nobody Sep 13 '16 at 9:07

The discussion identifies how the questions in What if" are not in scope at world building. As "Speculative Science" is a narrower scoped restart of "What if?" the Earlier discussion still applies.

Edit posted after comment "Not just world building, but also the physics etc stack exchange. – Nobody"

As for Physics, see Meta post No speculation? What is wrong with speculation? Can't we ask questions about all things, not solely understood things?

The purpose of Physics.SE is not to be a forum for people to discuss their idea about physics.

The purpose of Physics.SE is not to advance the current frontier of science in any way.

The purpose of Physics.SE is not to encompass all that life and reality can be.

The purpose of Physics.SE is to be a place where answers to questions about established physics can be found.

There is no way to address all the sites encompassed by etc.stackexchange. While some sites (like Space.SE) do allow speculation, many don't.

Not just world building, but also the physics etc stack exchange. – Nobody Sep 12 '16 at 13:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .