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In the related meta discussion Is it okay to request canon-only answers?, several users have expressed the sentiment that adding "only canon answers, please" is a band-aid "fix" or even "cheating", because it should be automatically assumed that any answerable question should be answered from canon only.

Some quotes:

To me, answers should always be rooted in canon. The only differences I find acceptable, are answers from canon, and answers based on canon - reasonable speculation backed by canon sources.

...and, in response to that comment:

"To me, answers should always be rooted in canon." - Huge agreement there. Otherwise we're inviting pet theories and fandom wishes - and as long as you have good grammar and punctuation, these don't often get downvoted like they should be. Even worse if they include a barely-related image... (cue "ooh shiny, they must be right!" upvotes)

Finally:

I'm confused about why you think adding "canon only" suddenly makes a question answerable. Adding those two magic words doesn't conjure up an answer that didn't previously exist... The objection is about whether the question is good, not about whether there's an answer to it. I don't think that adding "canon only" improves a question at all, personally, because everything those two words communicate should already be implied by virtue of posting the question.

(emphasis mine)

This belief, that the only answers acceptable are those that are directly based in canon (and, by extension, that the only acceptable questions are those that clearly only seek canon answers implicitly), is new to me.

So, in a related question to Where do we draw the line on opinion-based questions?, I'm asking:

Is our community expectation that 100% of our content be directly related to canon (both questions and answers)?

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    I think that for the users who have been here for any amount of time just kind of assume/understand that all questions are meant to be searching for canon-based answers. It's really more of an issue for new users (maybe mostly the drive-by users) who don't immediately grok this. I'd have to find an example, but I've seen comments along the lines of, "welcome to the site, we generally look for answers backed by canon" on first answers that don't meet the standard. – phantom42 Oct 21 '14 at 12:43
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    I'm not entirely sure what type of answer someone expects if it's not a canon answer. Third-party source? Good opinion-based questions? – Zibbobz Oct 21 '14 at 13:05
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    @phantom42 Please see my answer, below. Canon content is usually better, but there are plenty of examples of excellent content that not only didn't use canon, but were, in fact, instances where canon sources would be impossible. – Beofett Oct 21 '14 at 13:05
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    @Zibbobz What kind of canon would you use to provide recommended viewing order answers? Historical or societal context for a work? – Beofett Oct 21 '14 at 13:06
  • @Beofett I don't mean to say that canon answers should be required, just that the preference tends to be implied around here. This question about logical speculation, this one about answers without evidence, and this one about questions without explicit canon answers all touch upon that in some way. – phantom42 Oct 21 '14 at 13:10
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    @phantom42 I agree, although there are some sorts of questions where canon isn't even a possibility. However, I've been seeing "canon is required" as opposed to "canon is preferred", particularly as justification for banning certain categories of questions, and this causes me concern, as I don't believe the "required" has ever been properly discussed. – Beofett Oct 21 '14 at 13:11
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    @Zibbobz - both are valid. See blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective – user8719 Oct 21 '14 at 18:07
  • An aside that is worth mentioning in the question, since I was quoted: Grey area in licensed works that aren't official canon, like the Star Trek novels, I hadn't intended to exclude by my quote. 'Tho I do prefer avoiding them wherever possible. – Izkata Oct 21 '14 at 23:42
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    @Zibbobz - many SciFi works are firmly rooted in tradition that the in-universe universe is VERY closely tracked with our real one save for a couple of specific deviations. As such, real-world answers very frequently address a question about a work. Plus tons more example (archetype-based answers. Creator-quote based answers. Logic based answers (see my "Why Death Eaters server Voldemort", which was 100% logic and real-world based although it extensively cited canon examples to support itself). – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 22 '14 at 3:09
  • I hope you, and everyone for that matter, will please review my second edit at Is it okay to request canon-ony answers? I'm thinking I titled the post incorrectly -- it's too polarizing. What I was really asking about is a little note that says: I'm looking for an answer based on canon, such as the Harry Potter series, interviews with J.K. Rowling, or Pottermore. Subjective questions in the spirit of canon are welcome. I'm sorry to leave this equivocation here in your post, but I felt it was an important clarification. I'll fix the title. – Slytherincess Oct 28 '14 at 20:34
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In general, most questions imply canon answers. They do this by stating which work they're talking about. When I ask a Harry Potter question, I'm expecting Harry Potter answers, not Star Trek answers. Harry Potter has a set of rules, characters, a history, etc. that questions use as a background. With most large canons, there are also out-of-universe pieces of documented information that can help fill in the gaps when there isn't a specific in-universe piece of data. E.g. Tolkein's letters, or interviews with JK Rowling. The general expectation is that all of a work/franchise's canon will be used to answer the question.

Are there questions that go beyond or outside of the canon? Yes, and usually those are clear. They'll state things like 'out of universe answers wanted'. Or there are works like Harry Potter that take place in a slightly altered version of our reality, so knowledge of the real world can contribute to canon answers. Or you have multiple canons, so specifying what you're asking about helps (e.g. comic book multiverses, comic book movies/TV series, Lord of the Rings film vs. books, Harry Potter film vs. books).

So my short answer to the question 'Should all questions implicitly require canon answers?' is no. There are many questions where there's an implied or explicit request for non-canon answers, or there won't be a strictly in-canon answer but we have enough information from canon to extrapolate. Good answers will explain their starting point, and how they arrive at the conclusion.

  • This is pretty close to what I intended in my various comments around Meta (including the one quoted in the question, even though I said "canon") - back up assertions with something from the universe in question. "Canon" falls off the tongue a little too easily when "universe" is apt, but typically staying on the sci-fi side of things where universe means, well, universe, it doesn't come to mind as readily for me. – Izkata Oct 22 '14 at 0:35
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    ("Word Of God" sources I typically count as part of a fictional universe, even though they're not from inside that fictional universe) – Izkata Oct 22 '14 at 0:37
  • Insert obligatory "Star Wars solution to Star Trek problem" reference... (or, as per original, "Star Trek solution to a Babylon 5 problem") – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 22 '14 at 2:57
  • Also, ‘out–of–universe’ does not correlate to non-canonical … like comparing the color pink to the odor of cheese. – can-ned_food Aug 2 '17 at 13:45
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I say, unambiguously, "no".

There are three main concerns I have with attempting to restrict all questions/answers to canon.

  1. Definitions of 'canon' vary and are subjective

  2. Restricting to questions answers that are directly based on canon violates our current definiton of site scope.

  3. So far, there seems to be significant support for "opinion based" content.

  4. Sometimes you can't tell if a question is answerable from canon unless you happen to know the specific piece of canon which provides the answer (which can be a needle-in-the-haystack situation).

Definitions of 'canon' vary and are subjective

Demanding that all answers either be from canon, or based on canon, is problematic because how do you determine what qualifies as canon? In some cases, canon is relatively well-defined (e.g. Harry Potter). In others, canon is a sliding scale, such as Star Wars. Does "N-Canon" (non-canon, such as video games) qualify for questions/answers? In other situations, what is canon is actively disputed (e.g. for questions on the world of Dune, do the works of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson count)? For still others, canon is directly contradictory (Douglas Adams), or from so many sources as to be difficult to sort out (Conan).

Violates our current definition of site scope

Our scope currently includes:

  • Plot, character, or setting explanations

  • Historical or societal context of a work

  • Behind-the-scenes and fandom information

  • Story identification

  • Franchise/series reading or viewing order

3 out of 5 of those don't relate to canon.

Opinion-based content has support

This is both historical, and current. Of course, if consensus turns against opinion-based questions, that may change, but so far, opinion, of some to-be-determined scope, is allowed, and has been allowed.

Some examples of well-received questions that either don't implicitly ask for canon, or which have non-canon answers that are well-received:

There are plenty other examples; these are just some of the highest-voted.

Sometimes you can't tell if a question has a canon answer unless you already know the answer If a Jedi knight were frozen in carbonite, would they be able to use their Force powers? seems speculative, but has several (conflicting!) canon answers. This is frequently an issue with Star Wars, as it is such a massive volume of source material. Same for Star Trek, if you include the novels, cartoons, etc.. There are other examples where someone claimed "that can't be answered", resulting in the question being closed, only to have a canon answer provided from one or more obscure sources.

"I don't know the answer" is not the same as "no answer is possible", but it is sometimes impossible to determine the difference until someone else provides an answer.

Important distinction:

This does not excuse questions that are fundamentally a poor fit for our site. Off-topic is still off-topic. Discussion is still forbidden. What constitutes acceptable subjective is discussed further here.

Nor does this mean that non-canon answers are automatically as good as canon answers (although, in some cases, they potentially can be).

Remember: voting to close is for when something is fundamentally a poor fit for our format. Downvoting, however, is for content that is low quality. That's an important distinction.

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    Nor should it mean that opinion-based is always accepted. I like this answer, but I think a link to your answer of what opinion-based questions are acceptable would make it even better: meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/a/5149/20533 – Zibbobz Oct 21 '14 at 13:29
  • @Zibbobz Thanks. I was hesitant to link to that, because that discussion is still too new to call it a consensus, but I suppose I can always change the link if consensus changes. – Beofett Oct 21 '14 at 13:31
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    +1 to this. The key word in "Primarily Opinion-based" is primarily - that on it's own implies a sliding-scale. – user8719 Oct 21 '14 at 13:39
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    "only to have a canon answer provided from one or more obscure sources" - good timing, this just happened 4 hours ago again on a Star Wars question. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 22 '14 at 3:03
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    Another well recieved answer mostly based on logic and real world (though it has canon examples to illustrate the logic, it's NOT really canon based): Why do Death Eaters support Voldemort? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 22 '14 at 3:11

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