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Speculative Science


Update: launched; see this meta post. Renamed to Scientific Speculation based on feedback here and there.

I'm copying this post from meta to keep the site suggestions together.

The scope of Worldbuilding.SE is very broad, ranging from rigorous questions about orbital mechanics to questions about the design of magical creatures. Some users from there have been discussing a more science-focused community here. It's still about worldbuilding, in the sense that questions are about things that don't necessarily exist in our world, but it'd focus more on science and things that can be reasonably extrapolated from current science than pure imagination in its speculative questions.

Clarification in response to this question: in some sense anything that doesn't exist yet is "magic". This includes faster-than-light travel, alien biology, creatures that don't exist, robots with human-level (or greater) intelligence, and so on. And most technology is previous generations' magic. These sorts of things are in scope. What we aim to exclude, because it's had some big challenges on Worldbuilding.SE, is stuff not based on real-world science or reasonable and well-defined extrapolations or extensions thereof. (This is partly pasted from a discussion that preceded this proposal, and I'll invite the participants to further clarify here.)

This community would want to import all open questions from Worldbuilding SE that are not tagged "magic". This might still bring along a little stuff we don't want and will have to clean up, but there are a lot of science-based tags there so specifying the positive list turned out to be verbose. I said "not closed", but if we could get dupes and have them be properly wired up here, that'd be great. If not, better to exclude them than have a bunch of disconnected dupes.

This community would use categories, including one special use we'll describe in an answer (does not require any new features). We don't anticipate using required or topic tags.

This community will need MathJax. A lot of the content we're importing already uses it and we need some sort of science-notation interface.

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My first impression on reading "Speculative Science" was: "Wait a moment - someone wants a site for conspiracy theories?!". I'd have some reservations that this site title would pull in the wrong people/posts and suggest looking for alternatives. Or maybe that's just an association I have and it's not actually a problem. imsodin‭ 11 months ago

@imsodin I meant "speculative" in the sense of "speculative fiction"; I hadn't thought about conspiracy theorists (who I don't think are very science-minded in general?). Do you have suggestions for a different name? Thanks. Monica Cellio‭ 11 months ago

"Science-based Fiction"? Not catchy, I am definitely not one for names. However I personally just take some issue with the phrase "speculative science": There is new/not-well established theories in science, but that's just part of science, not a distinct form of it. imsodin‭ 11 months ago

@imsodin the site isn't about existing works or about writing that fiction, though; it's about getting the science as close to right as possible when dealing with life on other worlds, FTL travel, shapeshifters, autonomous robots, etc. Monica Cellio‭ 11 months ago

@imsodin There's another issue with "Science-based Fiction" as a name that I can see. While various subgenres of fiction are likely to be major drivers for peoples' interest, the site itself doesn't need to restrict itself to fiction. One source of questions on a similar site elsewhere has been "how can I make (sometimes: interactions with) this fictious story element actually make sense scientifically?", which clearly straddles the gap between fiction and real-world science. Canina‭ 11 months ago

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Category for (WB.SE) "hard science" questions

The Worldbuilding community on SE has a hard-science tag. Use of this tag has special requirements for answerers, as described in a custom post notice:

This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

The label "hard science" is a bit misleading, in that there are many questions about hard sciences like biology and chemistry. What the tag, there, means is that there is extra rigor for answers, and of course the questions must be ones that are possible to answer with that rigor. You can't ask a hard-science question about unicorns, but you can about binary-star orbital dynamics or virus mutations or photosynthesis. (On this new site magic isn't in scope, but we still want to be able to support asking questions with this extra requirement.)

We'd like to use a category for these extra-rigorous questions on the new site. Using a tag was always a bit of a hack and it was hard to moderate. A category has a short description that can link to longer help, we could automatically add notices to individual questions for extra reinforcement, and we would avoid other people overriding authors' intent through tag changes.

I know we just talked, on the Photo & Video proposal, about how using categories to segment Q&A subgroupings isn't a great approach, but in this case the requirements to post are different and I think that's a significant differences.

All that said, we need a name for this category that conveys the intent. We don't want people to think that if their question is about physics it has to go in that category; it's an option for specifying the kind of answers you want. But I don't think "Rigorous Answers" is a great category name either.

Suggestion from comments: Research-Level Q&A.

Note for data import: Imported questions tagged "hard-science" should end up in this category instead of Q&A, with the hard-science tag dropped as redundant.

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What about something such as 'referenced [speculative science] Q&A'? Point being that a hard science answer should have actual scientific references, but this might make it confusing for ex. non-scientists who think Wiki counts as a reference? I don't like 'rigorous Q&A' as different people have different definitions of 'rigorous'. Alternatively, 'research level Q&A'? Mithrandir24601‭ 11 months ago

@Mith those are good suggestions, thanks! "Research-level Q&A" sounds like it hits the right target; I hope others will weigh in (particularly those who've used that tag on SE). Monica Cellio‭ 11 months ago

"Research-level Q&A" is interesting. I feel like it has the potential to dissuade people from using it because it might sound like it's only for people who actively conduct research in the area - it has an "experts only" vibe, which we probably don't want. Not sure I really have any better ideas, though. HDE 226868‭ 10 months ago

@HDE226868 a category name is easily changed once created, so please do think about it and see if you have better ideas. Thanks! Monica Cellio‭ 10 months ago


Alternate approach to data import

The data-import code has now been improved, and it is now feasible to do multiple imports over time if we want to. I've also learned some lessons from the Writing site, which imported ten years' worth of content somewhat indiscriminately (my fault). I'm therefore putting up a different answer to explore an opt-in, not opt-out strategy for import.

For the initial import, how about if we import open, upvoted questions and all their non-negative answers, that are not tagged "magic", and that have any of the following tags?

  • hard-science: these get routed to the "research-level Q&A" category and strip the hard-science tag
  • science-based
  • biology
  • planets
  • physics
  • evolution
  • space
  • xenobiology
  • space-travel
  • spaceships
  • geography
  • climate
  • gravity
  • fauna
  • moons
  • atmosphere
  • orbital-mechanics
  • space-colonization
  • astronomy
  • flora
  • geology
  • chemistry
  • earth
  • weather
  • energy
  • engineering
  • space-constructs
  • artificial-intelligence
  • stars
  • psychology
  • anatomy
  • biochemistry
  • underwater

Other tags of possible future interest, but we ought to review the content more first, include:

  • society
  • technology
  • creature-design
  • science-fiction
  • warfare
  • weapons
  • humans
  • aliens
  • economy
  • environment
  • earth-like
  • technological-development
  • civilization
  • near-future
  • language
  • science-in-society
  • military
  • materials

These lists are the result of a review of the first two pages of the tags list (except for [underwater], added by specific request). The last tag on that list has 231 questions, so going farther produces smaller and smaller collections of questions. Plus, some of those might overlap other tags already on our list, particularly science-based.

How do folks feel about starting with the first list and then, should we decide we've left out stuff we want to have, reviewing other content more selectively for a later import?

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Bystander here. I think I understand now what you want the site to be, but I suggest you need a better name than Speculative Science. When I first saw that, I thought you wanted a place to discuss crackpot theories, perpetual motion machines, and the like.

A name isn't just for you. In fact, the name is probably more important for those that don't already know what the site is about. If someone's first impression is "a bunch of crackpots trying to get their perpetual motion machines to work", you won't ever make a second impression.

I think what you are trying to do is talk about at least basically plausible extensions to currently known science. That's what good science fiction is, for example. "Science fiction" sounds too much like story telling and writing, however. "Extended science" might be accurate but not very catchy, although it's not misleading like "Speculative science". Maybe "Imaginative science"? "Future science"?

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I do like the sound of 'future science', as long as it doesn't imply that 'this science will definitely be true in the future'. Still better than speculative science though... 'Futuristic science'? Mithrandir24601‭ 10 months ago

Myself, I like Imaginative Science better than most other suggestions I've seen so far. I think that one captures the fact that it's about things based in science, but with imagination added on top of that. Sort of like "what if?" but without the connotation of "anything goes". It also doesn't suggest that what's discussed will definitely become true. And just to be clear, while I've been a proponent of the Speculative Science name, I'm definitely willing to consider something better. Canina‭ 10 months ago

I'm also not a huge fan of the 'speculative' name. It's just that it's hard to think of alternatives. 'Extended' I feel is a step in the right direction. I don't like 'future' for reasons others have pointed out. 'imaginative' sounds a bit too much like we're inviting people to create science, rather than rely on actual science. Honestly I like 'what if' best, because it's exactly what the site is about. If we could just somehow imply that it's based on science and not just wild speculation... Thomas Myron‭ 10 months ago

Question on the site's meta; let's work it out there: Monica Cellio‭ 10 months ago


Data Import

Update: alternate proposal

We already know that the data import should exclude questions tagged "magic", of which there are about 1800 (it's the fifth-most-popular tag). Reviewing the tag list there, I spotted a few others that we might want to exclude (this is just based on the tag descriptions; I haven't reviewed the many questions):

  • magic, as already noted
  • warfare
  • weapons
  • medieval
  • government (I looked at the first page of questions by votes)
  • religion?
  • worldbuilding-process
  • military
  • law?
  • combat
  • military-defense
  • worldbuilding-resources
  • gods
  • medieval-europe
  • crime

I reviewed the first four pages of tags and these are the ones I would suggest dropping, so I still think it'll be easier to exclude what we don't want than enumerate what we do. (There are many science tags.) At this point the remaining tags have fewer than 100 questions each, so I stopped reviewing.

Does this list look right to others? What should we add or remove?

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I could imagine that really nice speculative questions about weapons exist, but this is me (... yes, I've looked at the physical mechanics of swords before) and there are a few on WB that stray at least close to 'speculative science' (underwater weaponry?), so of all the tags in this list, that'd be the one I'm most on the fence about Mithrandir24601‭ 11 months ago

@Mithrandir24601 I agree that such questions can exist. I'd rather be more conservative on bulk import and then pull in additional, individual questions, which I assume will be possible (data-import is additive). I'm struggling a bit with how to do this; initially we were going to enumerate tags to import, that turned out to be too many so we switched to "just exclude magic and we'll deal with the rest as they come up", and when I looked at the list I realized it's more complex. Monica Cellio‭ 11 months ago

@Mithrandir24601 It's also worth remembering that, in addition to bulk import, if you've asked a question on WB nothing really prevents you from simply re-asking it on a Codidact site, as well as the possibility of pulling in additional, specific questions that @Monica Cellio mentioned. It gets slightly more complicated due to the attribution requirements if you're reposting a question that's not actually yours originally, but even that is possible to do manually if there's interest. Canina‭ 11 months ago

@Mithrandir24601 I've made another proposal for data import in a new answer. Monica Cellio‭ 11 months ago


Define: Exact Content

Next to Writing SE, Worldbuilding SE was the SE site I used and frequented the most. The issue I'm having is that I'm seeing a lot of the tags (as in probably more than half) that I have used on SE, are being considered for exclusion for this new site.

This leads me to the conclusion that this new site will NOT be the worldbuilding I would like to see, and will in fact aid me hardly at all. (The reason I'm taking issue with this is because all of the questions I have asked on worldbuilding would fit in with the desired content type for this new site, as I see it.)

Because of that conclusion, I would like to see a clear description of what kind of questions this new site will hope to attract, and what kinds of questions - which were accepted on worldbuilding - will not be accepted on this new site. That will help me tell if my interpretation of the desired content type for this new site is correct or not.

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I'll update the proposal with something more specific about intended scope; thank you for calling out this deficiency. We don't mean "science" in the sense of "only stuff that's real today", but more that we're aiming for things where you can draw a line from science to the desired result. Faster-than-light travel, shapeshifters, and alien beings are all in one sense "magic", but not in the "anything goes so you can't ask a clear, answerable question" sense of some magic questions. Monica Cellio‭ 10 months ago

@MonicaCellio Ah, drawing a line from current science to the intended result makes sense. That still throws out all of the perfectly science-based magic questions, though. So just to be clear, we're fine with questions about aliens who can manipulate living cells through their advanced tech, but not an imaginary force which can do the same thing, no matter how science-based the questions are? Thomas Myron‭ 10 months ago

If the imaginary force can be fully-enough specified that one can apply scientific reasoning, I would think that would be fine. A lot of questions on WB about imaginary forces lack that foundation and answers end up being "well it's magic; do whatever you want", which I think you'd agree isn't very helpful to the worldbuilder who wants things to be consistent and plausible. Monica Cellio‭ 10 months ago

Monica pretty well captured what I too have in mind for this site. If you (any "you") can define the magic system sufficiently that it could as well be, say, laws of nature -- just laws of nature that work differently from ours -- then chances are that the question is perfectly fine, because those laws can be reasoned about. I find it difficult to capture this in a few words, but to me, the aim is to exclude questions where the only possible answers boil down to variations of "it's magic". Canina‭ 10 months ago

I absolutely agree. If the answer is just 'it's magic', then it's helping no one and you probably didn't need to ask the question in the first place. But I have asked several [magic] questions where the magic is a theoretical force with very specific scientific effects, and the questions revolve around the use/consequences of that force. My problem is that if those would be on topic, then filtering purely by the [magic] tag will still remove them. Thomas Myron‭ 10 months ago

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What should the URL be? is a bit of a mouthful. Is that ok? If not, what should we use instead?

I'd be hesitant to make the main URL, but that might be a reasonable redirect for whatever we come up with.

Update: So far, consensus in comments seems to be that the long name is ok.

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I feel like using "what-if" kinda leads to the same sort of issues with inviting broadness we had on Worldbuilding that lead to the mini meta crisis in early 2016. . . But I also don't really have a better idea. HDE 226868‭ 11 months ago

I agree with @HDE 226868 that "what-if" feels like it invites the wrong kind of content. Is there a particular reason why we wouldn't want something very similar to (assuming we settle on calling the site Speculative Science)? Sure, it's perhaps slightly on the long side, but the site name portion of the URL is really just two (not terribly complicated, even) English words. Canina‭ 11 months ago

@aCVn it's long, but maybe that isn't a problem after all. I guess most people don't type URLs; they find them via links or search, or they've been there before, type the first few characters, and the browser offers an auto-complete. Monica Cellio‭ 11 months ago

@MonicaCellio A short domain name is nice. A descriptive (or, for that matter, easy to remember) domain name is, I think, even nicer. Short and descriptive is best, but if going for short means we lose out on descriptiveness or specificity, I think I'd rather have a slightly longer but otherwise better one. Canina‭ 11 months ago Sigma‭ 11 months ago

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