Is it scientifically possible to grow potatoes in Martian soil?

This question would have been closed as off-topic on SciFi.SE because it asked for real world scientific explanations.

With common sense, it looks off-topic even here. It looks good for maybe physics.SE or biology.SE where experts can explain it better.

Do we allow such questions here?

  • 7
    We have a tag for such question called realism
    – Ankit Sharma Mod
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 6:17
  • That tag shouldn't exist if we can't call BS on movies.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 1:17
  • 2
    I would say it would depend on the type of movie. Attempting to ask about realism in a movie that's clearly not trying to be realistic (e.g. Star Wars) is probably off topic. However, many movies attempt to portray events "realistically" (and I'd argue The Martian is one of them). -- I don't see why a question about how successful the movie makers were in being realistic in the scientific setup is any more off topic than the multitude of questions here about how successful the movie makers were in being realistic about various social or language situations.
    – R.M.
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 15:43

3 Answers 3



We have a tag which would apply in these situations. The wiki for that tag reads

This tag indicates the question is about something in film that might be possible in real life or just a movie device.

There is no reason this couldn't be used in this specific question.

However, each question would have to be treated on it's own merits.

Asking how the Enterprise's Warp Drive works probably wouldn't be on-topic for instance.

The fact that it's Movie or TV related would probably make it suitable/appropriate for us BUT that's not to say that OTHER Stack sites would not be more suitable.

Off-topicness is a Community thing really...you might find that decisions can vary wildly from question to question depending on the voter.

edit - Copied from follow on comments

The question is..

...where do you draw the line between "might happen in real life" and "it's the movies"? The voters ARE the community and trying to define exact what is real and what isn't in a help page would be impossible.

As I indicated we have no choice but to treat each question individually. Otherwise we could get flooded with Harry Potter magic questions and would they work. It's a matter of degree of "realism" and that's an individual user thing....at least to my way of thinking.

  • you might find that decisions can vary wildly from question to question depending on the voter. ~> What are the guidelines for the voters?
    – user939
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 6:57
  • 1
    There are no real guidelines as such other than the help center page but...one user might consider it off-topic, another might not.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 6:59
  • 4
    @Paulie_D That just seems like it is a problem, imo. Every user who casts close votes should be following community policy rather than personal opinion. It sends mixed messages to users if close votes are handled this way. All close voters should be following community policy on what is off topic, shouldn't they? I can understand where the OP is coming from with this question. It shouldn't depend on the voter, but the community and that community needs to have cohesion where close votes are concerned. I certainly wouldn't want to see questions molded to suit a particular set of voters. Commented May 19, 2017 at 3:46
  • I have little experience with this site. I was surprised to see that this question is considered on-topic: movies.stackexchange.com/questions/72985/…
    – Improve
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 6:13
  • It's a matter of degree of "realism". The tag should make a note that if the source material isn't realistic fiction, you'd probably be better off asking it elsewhere. That would keep HP magic questions off-T, and stuff like The Martian question (and the dog one above, both of which were awesome reads), on-T.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 1:27

I'm dubious as to the usefulness of the Realism tag that's been mentioned before. The tag excerpt seems to imply it should be used on HOW things are done in order to look real on the screen, but looking through the questions it seems as more of a catch-all tag with no real unifying factor.

I'm also dubious about this question and questions like it. It's a question that was spurred by what happened in the movie, but isn't actually about the movie itself but rather scientific principles that the movie may or may not have ignored. The question uses the movie for inspiration, but doesn't tie back to the movie to give us a deeper appreciation for the movie itself.

  • I tend to agree but we only have 200+ questions (from 15k+) where this tag is actually applied. I'm inclined not to worry about it too much. Now, ID questions are another matter. :)
    – Paulie_D
    Commented May 19, 2017 at 16:06
  • Andrew changed the tag wiki expert from what it was before and no one bothered to check it, it looks little vague. We just need better tag wiki expert which suits the current use
    – Ankit Sharma Mod
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 6:36

TV and movies are usually depicting fictional events. Some of the events are clearly realistic, some are clearly not. Generally, these fictional works involve some measure of suspension of disbelief, as well as accepting events as plausible or true even if they are not.

Most people are not expert chemists, physicists, etc. and might not understand enough science to know exactly where the line between fact and fiction lies. This is not a bad thing. Not everyone is a surgeon, or a car mechanic, or an electrician. We all use devices every day that we do not completely understand how they work. Most people know how to drive, but could not build a car, for example.

Part of making a good movie is making it look realistic despite being clearly not so. Good movie-makers depict actions or devices in a way that might be real, even if they are not. Some of them may look real to a person who does not understand the science that says they are or are not possible.

Unraveling these movie devices is central to understanding the dividing line between fact and fiction. This site has many questions about what motivates or otherwise impels a character to perform a given act or say a given line. How is that any different than explaining whether a given act or device is grounded in fact or fiction?

These questions are interesting, and should be on-topic. The tag looks like it could use some editing, but certainly not blacklisted.

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