Political Lessons, and … the Hugo Awards?

I ran for elective office this year, and lost. (For the record, I spent about 0.41% of the total that all four candidates in my district spent up until the election, and I got 3.5% of the vote. Not close to winning, but a good return on my meager investment.)

I was also nominated for a Hugo Award this year, and lost. The story behind that has been chronicled on this blog and elsewhere, and I won’t go into it in this post. (For the record, and as nearly as I can tell from trying to figure out the preferential voting numbers, about 9% of the 5100 novelette voters selected my story as their first choice. I ended up in fourth place . . . two spots below “No Award.”)

I introduce the fact of my being on political and literary ballots this year because I observed two things in the recent Town Council election process that seem pertinent to this year’s Hugo Awards. Specifically, that the political parties inserted themselves deeply into what was supposed to be a nonpartisan race, and other players also wielded considerable influence; and that a lot of voter information was readily available for the candidates to use.

Now, with the caveat that this post is very long, I’ll try to make those connections.

Parties, Power Brokers, and Influence. I ran for Town Council in a single district here in Cary, North Carolina, and though the race was ostensibly nonpartisan the parties definitely made their presence known. The Republican Party endorsed one of the three of us who identified as Republicans — though not this particular candidate — and the Democratic Party endorsed the fourth candidate. The party endorsements brought with them not only some cachet, which those two candidates used to their advantage, but also party money for advertising as well as organized volunteer efforts for canvassing neighborhoods and working the polls.

In addition to the parties, several civic and professional groups were quite interested in the campaign. Some invited the candidates to meet with them in interviews or to fill out interview questionnaires; some sponsored “meet the candidate” social events; some even sponsored debates between the candidates. A few of those groups also endorsed candidates — again, not this candidate — and encouraged their members to support that person who they felt most confident would represent their interests if elected.

What relation does this have to the Hugo Awards? Simply, fandom has developed its own “parties” and thus the Hugo Awards have their own sets of power brokers (or would-be power brokers).

This year some people were very open about exercising their power. The “Sad Puppies” campaign was a party of sorts and encouraged people to consider specific works (mine included), while the follow-on (and aptly named) “Rabid Puppies” campaign flatly admitted that they intended to wield whatever power they could. When they succeeded at placing their preferred stories and people on the ballot — beyond my wildest imagining, if not others’ — a less organized but much more vocal cohort coalesced to wrest the voting power back into the hands of long-time WorldCon members (i.e., the traditional Hugo nominating-and-voting fans).

That is not to say that Hugo Award power brokers have only been active in recent years. Key figures in the science fiction and fantasy industry have long enjoyed considerable influence within the relatively small community of WorldCon fandom. Whether by their positions in publishing houses or the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), their notoriety, or the force of their personality; whether by their knowledge of the field, their literary achievements, or the number of people who read their blogs; or whether by other factors entirely, clearly some people became movers and shakers in fandom, and perhaps even kingmakers in terms of placing their favored selections on the Hugo ballot.

There was, for instance, considerable electronic weeping and wailing this year over whether, in the past, some “cabal” of industry insiders exercised deliberate and coordinated control over the nominating process. Accusations were levied with no proof beyond some statistical correlations, and despite the relatively weak charges they were at times denied with enough stridence that the old phrase “the hit dog howls” came to mind.* But from a group dynamics standpoint, a cabal was never necessary in order for insiders to have influence over the process. In the same way that a CEO or other leader can forget how much power they have over their employees and followers, people with informal power can forget that even a casual suggestion or question — “Have you read the new novel by [beloved author]? It’s marvelous” — can have an outsized effect on those who hear it.

Pillars of Influence
People can exert influence accidentally as well as intentionally. (Image: “Pillars of Influence,” by David Armano, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Taking that a step further, people can in some ways grow comfortable with or even addicted to the power they wield, even if that power is informal. They can come to enjoy it, to depend on it, and therefore to resent when it seems to have been taken away from them. In response, they could resort to making veiled (or not so veiled) threats, or to levying personal accusations that are demonstrably untrue. Again, the hit dog howls.

I will say at this point that I doubt there ever was a super-secret cabal directing Hugo-related fandom. But I know for a fact that insider politicking is as real in SF&F as it is in electoral politics, because I was faced with it in mid-April. Shortly after the nominations were announced, a friend of mine who has won Hugo and other awards and is generally well-known in SFWA and the SF&F community approached me, unsolicited and unexpectedly, to encourage me to withdraw my story from consideration.**

My friend wrote,

I think that you are a talented writer and that this is not going to be your only good story. . . . I think that if you made a statement withdrawing your story from the ballot, that you would get a bump next year and land on the ballot again. Not guaranteed, but I think that you would get a lot of good will.

My friend rightly pointed out that in some ways my nomination made me a pawn, a human shield, in the great Hugo fracas. My friend somewhat glossed over the point that I was destined to end up in someone’s bad graces no matter whether I let my nomination stand or withdrew it, but my friend was unceasingly gracious and pledged to support me no matter which decision I made. I very much appreciate that friend’s concern and their willingness to share their point of view while respecting mine; I count myself fortunate to have such a friend.

Now, a concerned friend reaching out like that would not by itself constitute insider politicking, even when the friend is nearly as deep inside the SF&F community as is possible to go. But when that same friend sends pretty much the same message to other nominees (a fact I verified from other people contacted), then . . . well, it certainly seemed to fit the description of a relatively powerful insider trying to exert influence over the process.

When one of the other nominees asked my friend about the fact that they had approached several of us, my friend wrote,

I was talking with a bunch of you individually . . . and started cutting and pasting from one email to the other. . . . I should have thought of how that would look. Please convey my apologies to whoever you spoke with.

I give my friend the benefit of the doubt, but I saw much the same thing even in the little Town Council race: insiders and special interests approaching candidates to see if we agreed with them or could be swayed to their positions. Some were more open and obvious about it than others, and their motives were clearer. As for my friend, I believe they were genuinely concerned for me and the other friends they contacted, and concerned for what the schism appeared to be doing to the community of fandom.

Looking back at what my friend proposed, it seems somewhat ironic to think that by withdrawing after being nominated I might improve my chances of being nominated in the future, not because anything else I might publish would be better than my 2015 nominated story, but because I would have engendered “good will” with the traditional fan contingent. As I wrote in reply,

. . . from a pragmatic standpoint I’m not sure whether withdrawing would really earn me the good will you speak of. I hope it might. But if good will garnered in that fashion is more important than any qualities inherent in my work . . . then the award really is more than just literary.

Consider this: If some of those who did withdraw — such as my friends Annie Bellet and Edmund Schubert — are nominated in the future, will they wonder if factors besides literary merit influenced the outcome? Since the primary complaint against my story and others was that they were nominated for reasons having little to do with their relative merits, it’s hard to see much of a difference with regards to receiving a friendly “bump” to “land on the ballot again.”

But in addition to the influence (deliberate or incidental) of insiders and power brokers, the other thing I observed in electoral politics that has some bearing on the recent Hugo unpleasantness is

A Plethora of Voter Information. Very early in my run for Town Council, I learned that the Wake County Board of Elections had available a comprehensive database of registered voters. I downloaded it as a huge Excel spreadsheet and narrowed it down first to Cary and then to just my district. In the end, I still had a lengthy list of around 24,000 registered voters that included names, addresses, party affiliations and other information, up to and including whether (and by what method) they voted in recent elections. The only thing missing was exactly for whom they voted.

How does that relate to the Hugo Awards?

During the WorldCon business meeting, when changes to the nomination-and-voting procedures were being proposed and debated, the membership passed a resolution calling for the convention organizers to release anonymized nomination data. The convention committee agreed to do so, but shortly thereafter appeared to back away from fulfilling that agreement because, as I understand it, they were finding it too difficult to produce the data without giving away the identifying information.

Why would the nomination data be interesting?

Consider that, within hours of the Hugo Awards ceremony closing, the io9 blog published an article with the title “This Is What The 2015 Hugo Ballot Should Have Been” in which the author put forth a vision of what the award results might have been had the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” entries not been nominated. The author began with this:

Based on the newly released statistics, Brandon Kempner of Chaos Horizon has a good analysis of the Hugo vote, (as does Nicholas Whyte in From the Heart Of Europe)—they estimate that the Rabid Puppies bloc was composed of 550-525 voters, while the Sad Puppies bloc made up 500-400 voters: around 20% of the 5,950 total voters. Of those numbers, around 3500 likely voted “No Award” out of principle, objecting to the lockstep nomination process of the Puppies.

and then made the leap from the number of voters to the idea that the SP/RP entries might not have been nominated at all. To me (the former engineer and nonstatistician), that seems to be trying to produce orange juice from a bag of apples. The question of what would have been nominated requires delving into the nomination statistics; the voting statistics are irrelevant to that question, because it turns on how many SP/RP nominations there were, not how many votes there were after months of competing rhetoric. With only the raw nomination figures, i.e., without the data that would provide insight into nomination patterns, it seems unsupportable to conclude that none of the stories and people on the SP/RP lists would have been nominated.***

Returning to the example of voter rolls that do not reveal voting results, it seems reasonable to imagine that if the Board of Elections can record votes and yet produce a database of registered voters that contains everything but those voting results, then it should be a simple enough — or certainly no more complicated — database management task for the WorldCon committee to produce records of the Hugo nominations without including identifying information, whether name or membership number or IP address.

Along those lines, if the WorldCon committee’s IT experts — and it’s a committee of geeks, surely they have ready access to a number of technology, computing, and database experts — cannot find a way to produce the promised data, then perhaps they could turn to the local Board of Elections for assistance. I doubt my local Board of Elections is that much different from any other in the country; it seems that their local board in Spokane should be able to provide some guidance.

Conclusion: Heinlein May Be Right.

Robert A. Heinlein maintained in Double Star that “Politics is the only sport for grownups — all other games are for kids.” As someone who enjoys other games and sports, as a spectator and participant, I’m not so sure about that; maybe I haven’t “put away childish things” in that respect, but I’m generally in favor of practicing youthful exuberance in order to stay young at heart. So I suggest a corollary to RAH’s observation: Politics is the sport people play even when they don’t intend to.

All human organizations, from churches to businesses to science fiction and fantasy conventions, are suffused with politics, some of it practiced openly and some of it practiced surreptitiously. It would be disingenuous to claim that the Hugo Awards were ever without politics and politicking; indeed, during the run-up to this year’s awards many thoughtful commentators acknowledged the awards’ political past, though the degree to which politics overshadowed this year’s award was unprecedented.

Perhaps I’m uncomfortable with Heinlein’s assertion because I obviously have not played the political game well, but I’d like to suggest that another of his observations may be more apt, more relevant as we move forward. From Friday: “It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population.”

We continue to see this play out in electoral politics, as small groups band together in solidarity over their specific interests. And we’ve seen it in genre politics as well, whether the rallying cry is “Diversity Now!” or “Golden Age Forever!” or something equally narrow in scope. The implication is that the way we think about the subject is right and all other ways must be wrong, which is a peculiarly limiting viewpoint in a community that enjoys speculating about all manner of fantastic encounters and possible futures.

From my perspective it seems that part of the issue from the beginning of this year’s Hugo Awards melee was a difference in outlook among people who love genre fiction in all its forms, but who placed themselves in one of two groups: one that loves genre and also loves fandom itself, and considers fandom the ultimate expression of its love for the genre; and another that loves genre but for which fandom and the fan community is an adjunct, an addendum, rather than a critical component of their genre experience. That is, one group was devoted to fandom as well as genre; the other was devoted to genre but not (or less) to fandom.

And as long as we divide ourselves, or in the case of fandom subdivide ourselves; as long as we separate ourselves into (virtual or actual) walled-off enclaves and echo chambers, and associate only with those who look like us, act like us, and believe the things we do; we will find it harder to understand, relate to, and get along with one another — in civil life as well as in the SF&F community.

I think we would be well-served as a fannish community if we talked more about what we love and why we love it, without implying that those who do not love it as we do are ignorant or contemptible. And I think we would be better off if we recalled another RAH observation, also from Friday (emphasis in original): “Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms . . . but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” I believe the pithy advice that bears ST:TNG alumnus Wil Wheaton’s name sums that up rather well.****

I had several e-mail exchanges with the friend who encouraged me to withdraw my nomination, and my friend helped me refine this statement of what I would like to see in our discourse: I’d like to have less shouting and more talking; less gloating, more humility; less blaming, more acknowledgement of different points of view; less name-calling, more self-deprecation; less rage (but no less passion), more acceptance.

It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable; if it were not, I would have far fewer friends in this field. It may not be easy, but it is possible — and if Heinlein is right, it is actually necessary if the community (whether the SF&F community or the larger polis) is to survive.

I hope, for my part, I have succeeded in doing so. But that is for others to judge.

___
*If you prefer something more eloquent, perhaps “doth protest too much” would fit the bill.

**I do not intend to identify the person, because I do not want them to face any recriminations; I realize that makes some of the usage here awkward. If my friend wants to self-identify, that’s up to them.

***For example, I perused the 2015 Hugo Award Statistics and it appeared to me that both Annie Bellet’s “Goodnight Stars” and Kary English’s “Totaled” might well have been nominated even if they had not appeared on an anathema list. If that’s true, I’m not sure whether that would make their Annie’s subsequent withdrawal of the stories her story more ironic or tragic. (Whether other listed works would have fared so well is more difficult to tell.)

As a final note on the statistics, it would be interesting if the Hugo Award record-keepers would report the number of works that received ANY votes in a given year; in other words, to show that, out of the entire universe of eligible short stories or whatever, X received at least one nomination. The total number of nominating ballots is given in the statistics, but knowing how many unique works were on those ballots might give a glimpse into how homogeneous the reading tastes of the nominating cohort were.

****Wheaton’s Law: “Don’t be a dick.”

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17 Responses to Political Lessons, and … the Hugo Awards?

  1. Thanks again for everyone’s comments. I appreciate the discourse.

    I contend that the nomination totals cannot, by themselves, give a very confident estimate of nomination patterns, and it seems that folks acknowledge that the full nomination data set would provide much more insight into how pervasive bloc-voting was. I admit that stripping off obvious identifiers may still leave some data that, combined with other information, could identify certain people, which is why I suggested the opt-out. I doubt enough people would opt out to make the resulting data set useless.

    I’m not sure I find the difficulty of producing the data set to be very relevant; while I appreciate that the committee are volunteers and the effort is beyond their original purview, I was under the impression that they had agreed to provide it. It is one thing for the process to take time, as most projects take longer or require more effort than we estimate, and another to claim it is too difficult to accomplish and therefore to abandon the effort. The former is reasonable; the latter reminds me of the line from Quintilian: “We make a pretext of difficult to excuse our sloth.”

    As far as some specific comments go: Ian, I’m afraid I can only relate how I have perceived the events; Greg H., I concede nothing other than the subjectivity of literary tastes; and Cat, I unfortunately have little influence in these or any other matters.

    Best to all,
    G

    • Lydy Nickerson says:

      To add just a bit of precision: The business meeting at the recent Worldcon requested that Sasquan release the full nominating data. A Sasquan official, I think it might have been Glenn Glazer, said that they would comply. This gets real complicated real fast, because, constitutionally, the business meeting can request this, but it cannot require it. And if my memory is correct, the person who said that tney would comply was not one of the administrators of the Hugos, but another concom member. The actual administrators are somewhat but not entirely separate from the management of the convention. So, there was a request with no ability to require, there was an agreement to do so from people who weren’t in a position to do so, and the actual administrators have found, due to a variety of problems, that so far they have not been able to release the data as requested.

      It is a vast simplification to say that it had been agreed that the data would be released. Worldcon is about as are away from monolithic in its organizational structure as it is possible to get and still not descend into total chaos.

  2. Greg says:

    This is a very thoughtful take. Thank you for it. I liked “Ashes to Ashes” better than a lot of the other nominees.

    The trouble with anonymizing ballots (in addition to the massive time commitment no one signed up for) is the items on the nominating ballots that only got 2 or 3 votes + any nominator who publicly mentioned they were nominating that obscure item means it’s pretty easy to hack the anonymity. You can disguise titles with random strings of letter, but that’s again work no one signed up for. Doable, just a big thing to ask.

    And, yeah, what Camestros said–the io9 article used the nominating votes from the back of the packet. You’re absolutely right that one can’t know for certain that puppy-ballot items wouldn’t have been nominated, and Annie Ballet’s story def. had a lot of love, so it’s more accurate to say “This is the alternate universe ballot without any SP3 items on it, which probably comes closer to reflecting what would have happened without SP3.”

    The important thing is it gives one a chance to compare and contrast the relative quality of the work.

    But a very good and thoughtful piece overall. Best wishes with the continued writing grind (said the fellow writer, headed back to work).

  3. If you attended Sasquan, you probably noticed how many first-time people were there. That should tell you something.The huge surge in memberships following George R.R. Martin’s “call to arms” should tell you the same thing: a huge number of usually-apathetic people turned out to oppose the puppies. To those of us who got involved at that point, it looked like the sad puppies represented the US T-Party, the Rabid Puppies represented the KKK, and it was up to us normal fans to save the Hugos from a right-wing takeover.

    But once we got our packets and actually read the stories, we realized something else; the puppies nominated very low-quality stories. (I’m speaking only about the three short-fiction categories here.) Some of them suffered from elementary writing problems. Some made it impossible to sustain suspension of disbelief. Some were simply incomplete. None, not a single one, came close to the standard you’d expect for a literary award, and over half failed to meet the minimum standard you’d expect for publication period.

    Michael Flynn’s “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” was just an episode in a longer tale (and so not eligible in my view), but the prose flowed beautifully. By comparison, all of the other short-fiction nominees were painful to read. (Even “The Day the World Turned Upside Down.”) I had originally rated “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” above No Award, but after I read the Flynn story, I changed my mind. If you’re honest with yourself, you should recognize that your writing doesn’t measure up to Flynn’s, and you did not belong on the same ballot with him. None of the puppy nominations did. (Jim Butcher, in the novel category, was the only exception, and I did vote “Skin Game” above No Award.)

    If the puppies had nominated quality stories and still been voted below No Award, then there might be some merit to their claims of persecution. But as it stands, the general membership voted in the most logical way, opting to give no award rather than award unqualified works. Politics didn’t need to enter into it.

  4. Ian Gillespie says:

    A little reality check: The anti-puppies did not want to return power to the “traditional Hugo voters and nominators.”

    More new voters signed up than ever, including myself, and they voter overwhelmingly anti-puppy. A broad cross-section of those interested in the Hugos spontaneous rose up to stop people who explicitly arguing that diversity was equal to tokenism and that literary awards should be handed out based on entertainment value alone.

    The fact that the tiny puppies minority was out vote by the majority does not make the latter akin to a political party. It’s a tempting false comparison, but still false.

  5. Cat Faber says:

    The nominations were also extensively analyzed at Chaos Horizon. There are a handful of people on the Puppy Ballot(s) that had a good chance of being nominated anyway–a few of the better known editors and several of the movies pop to mind.

    And I’ll note that Guardians of the Galaxy, which won, won in part because of the perception that it would have been on the ballot anyway and the bloc-nominations hadn’t made a difference.

    Anonymizing nomination data is complicated. Step one is to figure out what everyone was nominating. You have two or three thousand people nominating, times up to five things times up to a dozen categories. Some of them make typos. Some are not good spellers. Some abbreviate in …creative ways… or use the subtitle instead of the title by mistake or credit one author instead of two or even the wrong author.

    And all of these things can be diagnostic of the person who wrote them Furthermore people often talk about some, but not all, of their nominations in public places–blog posts for example. If someone nominates something that doesn’t get many nominations that can reveal the rest of their nominations. I love _The Pyramids of London_ but it doesn’t seem to be getting much buzz, for example–so if I nominate it, and say I did, but only four other people nominate it, then only five nomination ballots contain that in the “best novel” section. What if I also nominated some book my employer wouldn’t approve of–Steven Brust’s latest, for example, and didn’t mention that publicly? Now there are only five nomination ballots that could be mine. But if I said anything else about my ballot–I nominated _Ancillary Mercy_, for example, that’s a really popular book–which means it only got nominated by about 25% of nominators–and none of the other ballots with _Pyramids_ has it. Now my employer can find *my* ballot, even though my name is not on it.

    Now in real life I don’t care. But someone with a crazy right-wing employer might. Some youngster with a hyper-controlling family who doesn’t know they read _Sex Criminals_ might. Some gay person in a right-wing church might. And once you know you’ve harmed someone by releasing the data it’s too late to fix it.

    I think there are ways around this. Cleaning up mis-spellings, dropping distinctive nominations, detaching categories from each other, etc. It’s possible. But it would take an awful lot of volunteer hours that nobody signed up for beforehand, so it’s difficult to arrange.

    Personally I would love to see the results. It would be possible to run EPH on it and demonstrate conclusively how well it would have worked (or not–I only want it if it substantially reduces the reward for converging on a set of acceptable second bests in order to control the nomination process.) And I’m really tired of Puppies claiming Puppies didn’t actually bloc-nominate despite joining a campaign to do so, so it would be nice to have the evidence. (And if they actually didn’t, I still want to know I’m wrong.)

    I would note that the “doth protest too much” line originally involved someone who hadn’t been accused protesting their innocence. It’s damned ironic that nonPuppy Hugo Voters get accused of being a secret cabal and then people’s indignant responses to being attacked with lies are claimed as evidence that the lies must have some truth behind them. Ask yourself what way you left for the world to convince you that there wasn’t a secret cabal.

    The Puppies were a cabal. There was no other cabal to oppose them. That’s why 350 or so people were able to shut out the other 1,500 who were participating in the nominations. If there had been a cabal the Puppies would have had less “success.”

    Now it would be great for people to be civil. Tell Correia. Tell Torgersen. Tell Beale. Tell–for goodness sake do tell Hoyt and Paulk. (And Sanderson and Freer and…)

    I’d love it if the Puppies stop shouting and blaming and claiming that people who like Ancillary Justice or If You Were A Dinosaur don’t really like them or are stupid. That would be very nice. I await that happier world eagerly. Go you!

    But Puppies should take the beam out of their own eyes, or their fellow Puppies’ eyes before addressing the motes the rest of us may suffer.

  6. Chris Nelson says:

    It wouldn’t have matter if you withdrew or not, the Hugo awards are basically dead and buried to many of the non-in-clique fans. (The true reward for good writing is appreciative readers and any resulting fiscal benefits.) The schism in the sf community is a reflection of that in society, you can see it played out on the college campuses in recent news. (It’s truly Heinlein’s “Crazy Years”.)

    As for politics, that’s a full time game that usually requires years of commitment, even on the local level. Thanks for caring enough to participate, that takes courage. (Most people don’t even vote.)

  7. Thanks for those thoughtful comments, y’all. To address a few specific items…

    Chris, I do recognize the rampant rudeness. In June I wrote a bit about it, and how disappointing it was, and for my part said, “If I have been uncharitable in how I have characterized anyone on either side of this issue, or if in some other way I have failed to exercise my First Amendment rights responsibly, I apologize to anyone I may have hurt.”

    Tom, thank you for pointing out that error. I had caught it in the main text but not the footnote, and have now corrected it. Also, you wrote that “… it was generally considered that Bellet’s story would’ve made the ballot sans Puppy slating,” to which I can only say that I have not seen such a general acknowledgement. I hope it is true, because it was quite a good story.

    Lydy, I not only supported folks’ right to vote NA but even suggested that people avoid reading my story if the manner in which it was nominated disturbed or angered them. I wrote in June,

    Our brief lives have limited joys, and I do not want to steal anyone’s joy for any reason. If reading my story will be more burden than blessing, set it aside and read something that is likely to please you. Pick a story that will engage you without setting your teeth on edge. Maybe in a month, or a year, or ten, you can return to my story and read it dispassionately and extract from it some small something of value. But even if not, if you never feel free from the 2015 Hugo Awards controversy and so choose never to read my story, that’s okay; at least it will not have added to your distress. I will content myself with knowing that a few people, at least, who read it have liked it.

    Beyond that, you may be right that the nomination data include “weird outliers that are highly identifiable,” but the committee could overcome that by sending a simple, one-question e-mail to all of us who filled out nominations asking whether it’s okay for them to release our nomination data once they strip off any obvious identifiers.

    Thanks again! Wishing you all the very best,
    G

    • Lydy Nickerson says:

      Gray, the raw numbers for the nominations were released. I believe that they don’t list the nominations for works that were below the 5% threshold, but for the rest, we know the number of nominations each work received. The nominating data which is not being released is the actual construction of each ballot. The reason people want to see which five works Fan A nominated in a particular category has to do with trying to understand how lock-step voting might have been, and also as a way to validate the E Pluribus Hugo amendment. In either case, allowing an opt-out might significantly change the statistical universe, if too many people did it, making the whole exercise useless — at significant volunteer effort and expense. Moreover the existence of the opt-out creates an opening for doubting the validity of any statistical analysis, which makes the whole exercise useless, again. For some of the smaller categories, the exact nominations with a category could be troubling and revealing. Fanzine and fan writer are categories that strike me as particularly vulnerable in this area.

      I suspect that anonymized data might be possible, but only if there was a lot of work put into it. Given that the administrators never signed up for that work, and given that the risk of having it blow up badly if they don’t actually manage sufficient anonymization, I can see why they might just give it a pass. It’s a lot of work, it’s bloody thankless, it could be seen as prolonging the controversy, and it’s not required.

      • Lydy Nickerson says:

        Beg pardon if I sounded patronizing. It’s the end of my work day, and I’m tired and on a trajectory towards bed.

        Best.

  8. Very interesting article.
    Just on your point about the io9 article where you said “and then made the leap from the number of voters to the idea that the SP/RP entries might not have been nominated at all. To me (the former engineer and nonstatistician), that seems to be trying to produce orange juice from a bag of apples. ”
    It might not be immediately clear from the article but the stats it is referring to that were released on the night *includes* the long list of nominations i.e. not just the works that were nominated but the works that fell just short. While it isn’t possible to know for sure the size of the RP/SP *nomination* vote it isn’t to difficult to get a ball park estimate. The inference isn’t based on the voting on the actual night because that definitely is not comparable with what occurred at the nomination stage.

  9. Tom Galloway says:

    In your *** footnote, you at least seem to imply that Kary English withdrew her story from consideration. She didn’t. Check any list of the Short Story nominees for confirmation.

    As for the statement leading to that footnote (“With only the raw nomination figures, i.e., without the data that would provide insight into nomination patterns, it seems unsupportable to conclude that none of the stories and people on the SP/RP lists would have been nominated.”), well, once the totals were released it was generally considered that Bellet’s story would’ve made the ballot sans Puppy slating, and English’s might have. With the exception of the Dramatic Presentation categories though, it was pretty clear nothing else would have. In addition to the numbers, there was also the combination of 1) Almost nothing on the Pup slates having buzz elsewhere; recommended lists, Nebula nominations, Locus Awards, etc. Anywhere there wasn’t a Pup slate effect, the items just weren’t showing up. 2) Note that being on 10-15% of nominating ballots is usually sufficient to get on the ballot. The corollary to that is that the items that get on the final ballot were *not* on 6-10 other ballots for every ballot they were on. Combining that with the long tail results of Torgersen’s request for possible nominees which showed Pup supporters, sans slates, had the same wide scattering of preferences, and that makes either slate’s record of managing to “predict” what without buzz items would make the final ballot either due to slating or mean that Torgersen and Day really should’ve bought lottery tickets instead.

  10. Lydy Nickerson says:

    Thank you for this interesting and nuanced view. I’m afraid I’m one of the people that voted for No Award over your story primarily because I felt that the slating process broke the nomination phase of the Hugos. There’s been so much heat, and so little communication in the past months, and I’m very interested in what things look like from your perspective.

    I agree that the Hugo nominating and voting process is inherently political, and I think that the people who argue that it isn’t are…either very naive or have a not entirely useful definition of politics. Anytime people cooperate (or compete) to create a thing, politics is a part of that process.

    I think the thing that the Hugos didn’t have, prior to the Sad Puppy initiative, was a political party. At Minicon last year, I got to listen to Bruce Schneier do some back-of-the-envelope mathematical evaluation of how political parties leverage voters, especially in first-past-the-post elections. I’m really bad at math, so I can’t really recreate his analysis here, but his conclusion was that a political party concentrates people on very specific candidates, which enhances their overall effectiveness. While there have been, in the past, some questionable campaigns to concentrate a vote for a specific work, what we hadn’t seen before the SP/RP movement was an attempt to concentrate votes for multiple candidates in multipe categories.

    Your observations on people having out-sized power due to position in the community is also true. If I’m casting about for a nomination, I’m more likely to pay attention to some suggestions than others, and since my reading time is limited, I’m more likely to read suggestions from someone whose taste I trust. And I think that almost no one votes entirely in a vacuum, and our personal knowledge and impression of people does bleed into our evaluations of the work nominated. And so, yes, the process is inherently political.

    I think that the problem with releasing the nominating data is actually more complex than you’re representing, here. The nomination phase is very, very free-form, and there are a number of small categories. I can imagine it being rather easy to look at a nomination ballot and say, “Yeah, there’s pretty much only one person who would nominate that fanzine, that fan artist, and that short story.” Even if you decouple the categories, there’s certainly a chance, especially in the smaller fannish categories, of having weird outliers that are highly identifiable. Also, note that the information being released is the exact opposite of what election boards release. Election boards release the names of the voters, and their demographic information, but not the results of their votes. The nomination data would be the results of the votes, but not the demographics of the voters. Additinoally, the information that the election boards release does, in fact, allow statistical analysis to determine which voters most likely voted for which party. Party campaigns heavily leverage this and use it to create phone lists and door-knock lists. The information in a free-form nomination ballot could well allow much greater statistical analysis of actual voters. I think the concerns are reasonable and valid.

    I would note that Heinlein, too, dabbled in politics, with no great success. A fascinating man, and one of my favorite writers. Not a brilliant politican. _Double Star_ is one of my favorite of his, though, along with _Moon is a Harsh Mistress_, both of them have a lot of politics in them.

  11. Chris Gerrib says:

    Having put you second on my ballot, I’m sympathetic to this post. However, I think you’re comparing apples to kumquats.

    In politics, parties actually matter, in that, to effect a political platform, elected officials need to work with each other and build a majority coalition to make something happen. In awards for best fiction, there is no need for coalition-building.

    Yet, what I saw of the Sad Puppies was party-building; party-building in which I personally was called a liar, a “CHORF” and various other insults. In short, I felt that somebody marched into my living room, insulted me, then demanded that I do them a favor and give them an award. In short, I felt myself the victim of “personal rudeness.”

    What I hope is that you recognize this personal rudeness from (what appears to be) your side of the divide and work to counter it.

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  13. ArtWench says:

    I think you’ve keyed in on a problem that plagues every aspect of the human condition. I see much the same political dynamic within the field of art which is one reason I elected to bypass the standard approach to sales. Interestingly enough,, I saw this dynamic in my teens within the family structure. I was bemoaning the fact that my mom & I butted heads horribly and as a result my parents were far more strict on me than on her. She summed it up succinctly by saying, “Angela, you are too straightforward and honest. You want something, you take the straightest path toward your objective. When I want something, I take the path which may seem to meander off course; but, eventually achieves my goal.” I responded, in other words, you manipulate them into doing what you want.” She just shrugged and replied, “You could put it that way….”

    I’m glad you did NOT withdraw your name from the Hugo Awards. I feel that the world needs more straight shooters and fewer politicians. This is probably why Carson & Trump have done so well in the polls. We the people are fed up with being manipulated by our civil servants no are finally fighting back!

    Oh, and I gotta say, my esteem for you jumped quite a bit at your mention of Heinlein. He is my all time favorite author period and whenever I encounter someone who has read and grokked his work, well, it’s like meeting long lost family!