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Are there any rules we want to establish for science fiction-style questions (like this one)?

I know Physics.SE doesn't allow any Sci-Fi style questions in any form.

Do we want to adopt a policy like Physics, or something more lenient?

I'm thinking that we adopt a policy of "If there's a way to answer the question with facts and not just speculation, we allow it; otherwise, it is off topic."

What are your ideas?

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5 Idiotic Space Travel Ideas (That Might Actually Work)

I think we shouldn't discourage sane ideas or honest inquiries about their feasibility, even if they seem a bit far out. Many of current technologies we all use were first envisioned in Sci-Fi literature, and a lot of these ideas were seen as crazy and/or infeasible at the time.

Another point could be, that there is an inherent problem with questions where posters aren't able to answer them themselves - they wouldn't know if it's on-topic, until they get some answers from those that understand the nature of the question better. And the reasons for closure might then also answer the question, which would be IMO a bit too paradoxical, unhelpful, and even a simple negative answers with short description on reasons for infeasibility might help others having the very same questions.

In short - I support your take: "If there's a way to answer the question with facts and not just speculation, we allow it; otherwise, it is off topic." but would advise caution on having a heavy finger on the close button simply because the answer is a negative one. But there ought to be some ground rules too, for example:

  • Present any referred to work of fiction in detail, especially the parts that are relevant to answering the question. You shouldn't expect of our members to be familiar with it before attempting to answer your question, so include all required detail to avoid any such speculation.
  • Be specific. Some pictures or quotes also can't go amiss, as long as they're republishable under our license agreement, you include all the required attribution information, and the texts aren't too long and discourage people to read it.
  • If the work of fiction isn't based on real-life events and your question isn't about historical accuracy of events it is depicting, don't ask about the plausibility of some scene in it. If it has any scientific merit, then it could likely have been asked without referring to the work of fiction in the first place.
  • Subjective comments should be altogether avoided, if at all possible. In the questions themselves, as well as asking for opinions and interpretation of fictitious events, characters, or scenes that the work of fiction depicts.
  • Do not center your question around some particular work of fiction, to avoid it being seen as an endorsement of a product. Most of what can be seen in movies and read in science fiction literature can be asked in a general sense just as well, so consider avoiding referencing particular titles, if at all possible.
  • All the usual criteria applies, such as what's on topic here and rules of asking good questions. Don't forget about searching for possible already existing answers to your question on our main site, and avoid asking questions that could otherwise be easily answered with a simple web search.
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    $\begingroup$ I love reading 60-80's science fiction which actually seemed to predict todays technology. I think the brilliant minds of sci-fi theorist really do help shape our lives. Think of how many references are in hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy that are real today (babblefish (mobile speech translators), the physical guide (tablets), etc). $\endgroup$ – John Riselvato Jul 17 '13 at 1:47
  • $\begingroup$ +1 Agreed with all your points and your even judgment. I have to say I feel quite discouraged after the negative can't-be-done, shouldn't-be-done treatment from the community of these how and how long questions. It was my intent to make a sane, honest inquiry about the feasibility of an idea that is a bit far out. Those questions could have been answered with the science and facts of orbital mechanics. I'm left with the strong sense of a cultural bias against unfamiliar ideas and toward closing. $\endgroup$ – Bob Stein Mar 5 '14 at 17:18
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I'd say as long as it's more of sci- than -fi they should be perfectly welcome. Distant, unreachable currently but technically viable ideas as Neumann Probe should be definitely on-topic.

I wouldn't be too hostile against the more -fi questions. We can have great fun dismantling them, and every SE site should have some recreational topics, something to have a laugh over, treat with a grain of salt and not get too serious about. As for more hardcore, serious questions from the "somewhat sci, much more fi" spectrum, there's always Writers, SciFi and Philosophy to which we can migrate the lost souls.

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    $\begingroup$ Science Fiction & Fantasy does not want questions about fictional science. Basically, “Would the broccoli FTL drive allow the characters in <book> to do <action>?” is ok because it's about an SF work, whereas “how could an FTL drive based on broccoli work?” is not because it's about fictional science, not about science fiction. $\endgroup$ – Gilles Jul 23 '13 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ These days there is also Worldbuilding which can cater to many of these topics. See for example our spaceflight tag. (We also have "space", "spaceships", "space-constructs", "space-colonization" and a few more, and might possibly have even more by the time you are reading this.) Many (though not all) questions of the type "how can I make this work?" are on topic for us. (And we are officially awesome people. :-)) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 18 '15 at 13:50
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Space flight and space exploration has always been a bit of science fiction. Some people believed in obviously crazy ideas and had a hard time defending them before they actually became reality. So, in a way, it is a rather soft border, if there is any, between reality and sci-fi in terms of space. So, going by your example, a Dyson sphere is not only sci-fi, but is has seen actual and proper scientific investigation.

Concluding, I would be damn careful with "demoting" any question to sci-fi just because their content may be beyond some peoples imagination. So they definitely must be allowed.

(And yes, there will be possible dumb questions about e.g. sci-fi television series, to put it mildly. But what the hack, they deserve a proper answer. Dig deep and you'll always find proper sources in this discipline. Sci-fi inspired scientists and engineers and vice-versa.)

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Sci-Fi is offtopic, Space Exploration is ontopic.

The sci questions are somewhere between the two.

So, we should project the content to the plane of the Space Exploration, and work accordingly.

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My opinion: This site will have to come to grips with the problem of nonsense questions if the site has any hopes of going beyond beta. It's similar to the problems faced by the Programmers sister site on their route from beta to beyond.

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  • $\begingroup$ Agreed @DavidHammen I don't want nonsense questions either. But just to make sure I'm not missing something, how exactly do they prevent a site from going beyond public beta? From the area 51 page all I can see is that this site needs more questions. I don't see any quantitative criteria about the quality of questions (e.g. an open questions / closed questions ratio). So wouldn't close-voting -- all other things being equal -- actually keep a site in beta longer? Might relaxing standards a bit shorten beta? $\endgroup$ – Bob Stein Mar 6 '14 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ What is keeping the site at the beta level is that it currently gets only 3.2 questions per day and only has 120 users with 200+ reputation. The problem with nonsense questions is that they will inevitably make many professionals and serious students shun the site. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Mar 6 '14 at 21:55

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