Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Actually, It’s About Ethics In Award Nominations

with 16 comments

So, as promised, let’s turn to the nominees for this year’s Hugo Awards. Lots has already been said and I’ve no wish to repeat it but here are some good pieces which summarise the issues. The upshot is that this year – as last year – I am going to use No Award a lot but unusually lots of other people might join me. This is why I don’t think the Sad/Rabid Puppies have killed the Hugos; it is easy to influence the nominations but hard to influence the vote as we saw last year with Vox Day placing below No Award. The effect will be massively multiplied this year and after a couple of fruitless attempts, I think the Puppies will just get bored. The question then is how do we get through those couple of attempts with our sanity intact and some works that aren’t irredeemable on the shortlist. To that end I was suggest everyone reads the excellent Plokta proposal:

The problem with the puppy slates is not that they’ve got stuff on the ballot. They’re members of the Worldcon, and they’re entitled to have the stuff they nominated on the ballot, regardless of their decision processes in making their choices. The problem is that they have kept off the ballot some other stuff that most voters would probably prefer to vote for. So what we should be doing is preventing a slate from forcing stuff off the ballot, not from getting stuff on the ballot. The voters can then use their alternative vote preferences to take care of the slate, as happened last year when the slate failed to completely dominate any categories.

I really hope something comes of this but, to be honest, weathering the Puppy storm is the easy bit. The harder part is having a conversation about how we, collectively, nominate works for the Hugos.

Honestly, after last year I never wanted to write about eligibility posts again. It was an important piece and I’m glad I wrote it (and that the editors of Speculative Fiction 2014 are reprinting it, despite disagreeing with it) but the discussion around it was so polarised and productive as to be draining. As I said when last year’s shortlists were announced, I do think there is a connection between author’s publishing their eligibility and the rise of nomination slates but I had no intention of being dragged into it all again this year, an intention only strengthen by seeing it play out again in exactly the same way. However, at the same time, I’ve been increasingly doing my own lobbying as well as mulling over Abigail Nussbaum’s increasingly militant line on awards recommendations:

Last year when the nominees were announced there were several attempts to distinguish between “good” and “bad” campaigning–to argue, for example, that Larry Correia’s Sad Puppies ballot (which gave us Vox Day, Hugo nominee), and the campaign to get all fourteen Wheel of Time novels nominated for Best Novel, were substantively different from, say, my posting my Hugo recommendations on this blog, or John Scalzi recommending me for the Best Fan Writer Hugo. I don’t believe that’s true.

I disagree with Nussbaum – I think there is a substantive difference – but I also think there should be more discussion of these issues. Recognising that this might be difficult, I’d like to propose a framework for this discussion. I’m not saying that this framework is right or definitive but I do hope it is at least helpful. First of all, I think there are three axes to consider: someone’s authority, the extent to which they direct others and their own self-interest. Secondly, the range of each axis is quite large:

Authority

1 – Some random person on the internet
2 – Someone with a social media network including Hugo voters
3 – Someone with a large social media network including Hugo voters or an author
4 – An author with a large following
5 – A superstar author

Direction

1 – Listing your nominations without comment
2 – Recommending multiple works to consider or posting your own eligibility
3 – Recommending specific works to nominate
4 – Actively campaigning for specific works
5 – Actively campaigning for a full slate

Self-interest

1 – No relationship with the person you recommend
2 – Acquaintance, colleague or part of social network
3 – Friend
4 – Yourself
5 – Yourself and your friends

Finally, the way in which the three interact means there is likely to be a large grey area in the middle. I’m going to suggest scoring six or less counts as ‘good’ behaviour and scoring 12 or more counts as ‘bad’ behaviour with everything in the middle up for discussion. So let’s consider two baseline case:

But what about less clear cases? As linked above, I used a BSFA Review editorial last year to encourage people to start thinking about their Hugo nominations as well as discussion some of the things I would be nominating. My strongest recommendation was for the Best Graphic Story category: “But if I could compel you to go out and read one piece of fiction it would be Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.” If I’d posted this here my authority would be a 2, in a BSFA publication it is probably 3. I’d suggest my direction is also a 3. Compare this to George RR Martin’s recommendation of Laura J Mixon for Best Fan Writer: “So I’m nominating Mixon for Best Fan Writer, and I urge you to do the same.” Not only is his direction stronger, his authority is several orders of magnitude bigger.

me

GRRM

As it turns out, both our picks made the shortlist. It is possible Mixon only made it because a member of the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate declined his nomination but it seems likely that Martin’s intervention had some effect whereas I’m pretty sure my own effect was negligible. But we’ve no way of knowing. Likewise, it seems likely that John Scalzi’s recommendations for Best Fan Writer last year had some effect: “Abigail Nussbaum is another excellent candidate for a win, in my opinion… These are just four people off the top of my head; there are many more.” However, the direction is even weaker than mine and spread across multiple candidates. I’d also suggest his authority is weaker than Martin’s but this is a good example of how my methodology does a good job of making the highly subjective seem more objective. Nonetheless, I do think this helps expose that there are different shades of grey here. Which finally brings us to eligibility posts. Here I think the picture for Scalzi is very different and, indeed, that is one of the reasons he has been so keen to use his platform to promote others. But, of course, most authors don’t have this platform.

scalzi

Scalzi 2

So what does this all mean? Not much; re-label the points on the axes or change the shade of the radar charts and suddenly says something very different. This is very much one perspective. But I hope it does show that there is a continuum of behaviour here that we are all part of and that is it worth talking about the way we behave as a community since, after all, the Hugos are community awards.

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Written by Martin

10 April 2015 at 14:25

Posted in awards, sf

Tagged with

16 Responses

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  1. I’ve been following this, albeit without a great deal of interest. I have to confess to pretty near complete ignorance on the issue, although one thing in particular did strike me: the nominations.

    You pay to become a nominator? Is that the only criteria? Jazus. All the more worrying in that the nominators are effectively the gatekeepers. Sure, the ordinary Joe/Joanna gets to vote on the candidates, but the nominators choose those candidates. Crucially the number of nominators is relatively tiny in proportion to their influence. This one fact would make me seriously question the integrity of the Hugos, with the fact that it was so easy to hi-jack the voting process being a symptom. I mean, these guys weren’t even breaking the rules.

    Aonghus Fallon

    10 April 2015 at 15:27

  2. You pay to become a nominator? Is that the only criteria? Jazus.

    Only in the same sense that paying is the only criteria for becoming a BSFA Award nominator. You pay to join the organisation (in the case of the Hugos this is Worldcon) and this has many benefits of which one is the ability to nominate and vote in the organisation’s award (there is no ‘gatekeeping’ since nominators and voters are the same people). This has only become an issue for the Hugos in recent years when supporting membership (ie you don’t attend the convention) has become much more popular (for a number of reasons). Some people have proposed making supporting membership even cheaper or making it last for life but I think that is a bit of a red herring since only a fraction of the people who are able to nominate actually do (about 10%).

    Martin

    10 April 2015 at 18:11

  3. Thanks for the clarification! I’d still be concerned that the sole criteria – re your right to vote – is your ability to pay for that right. This is problematic, if for no other reason than that it’s unrepresentative of readers as a whole. It also – inevitably – shrinks the pool of potential voters, which in turn us why the sad puppies/rabid puppies were able to exert so.much influence in the first place.

    Aonghus Fallon

    10 April 2015 at 20:37

  4. For the purpose of testing one of your premises, not merely to be argumentative, how would you establish the hierarchy of authors’ influence? While we agree George RR Martin has great name recognition, both he and Scalzi have made Hugo recommendations over the years and almost none of Martin’s made the ballot. If “always be closing” is the key to success, Scalzi seems to do a better job of ABC in the realm of the Hugos.

    Mike Glyer

    11 April 2015 at 07:58

  5. […] “Actually, It’s About Ethics In Award Nominations” – April 11 […]

  6. You could seperate the diagrams for the rabid and sad puppies slates, as these were put forward by different people.

    Torgersen (who ran SP3) did not put his own name on the slate, so the SP3 slate self interest would be at most a 3, not 5. (And he has been criticized for not alerting total strangers that he put on the slate, so it may be a weak 3). Torgerson’s authority may also be a 3, instead of a 4, as he has only published a single novel (that I am aware of).

    Obviously, rabid puppies is a different, since VD has a bigger following and also suggested himself as editor multiple times. Most of the works he suggested were also published by his publishing house, so you could argue his self interest is a 6, assuming he profits from his own nominations as well as those of people he publishes.

    Rek

    12 April 2015 at 00:22

  7. Aonghus: The Hugos were never intended to be representative of readers as a whole (we’ve got sales figures for that) and I think increasing the pool of voters would give even more opportunity to influence the vote.

    Mike: I think actual impact is too hard to show which is why I’ve gone for indicators of potential impact. I’d agree with you that Scalzi has had more impact on the awards than Martin but then Scalzi has had more impact than anyone. He is a total outlier but also one of the reasons why addressing these issues is important.

    Rek: I’m afraid I don’t draw any distinction between the Sad and Rabid Puppies. Same genesis, same goal, same methods, same channels, same people. The authority comes from the brand and the history rather than any individual author.

    Martin

    13 April 2015 at 06:21

  8. Maybe so. I still reckon that there are two separate ways of assessing the artistic merit of a particular work: (1) Appoint a panel of acknowledged experts (or established authors in this case) to assess the work or (2) A popular vote. It sounds to me like the Hugos don’t really fulfil either set of criteria. The voting pool is too small to constitute a representative section of the SF community and the criteria (you pay for the right to vote) isn’t sufficiently rigorous. As for the notion that ‘increasing the pool of voters would give even more opportunity to influence the vote’ – surely this is what any democratic vote is all about? Why vote unless you want to influence the outcome?

    Aonghus Fallon

    13 April 2015 at 09:48

  9. Maybe so. I still reckon that there are two separate ways of assessing the artistic merit of a particular work: (1) Appoint a panel of acknowledged experts (or established authors in this case) to assess the work or (2) A popular vote.

    Option 3 is a hybrid: a popular vote from a pool of acknowledged experts. This is what the Hugos aspire to be and it is what gives the awards their value to the field. It is also the system used by most of the famous awards like the Oscars and the Grammys. Now, you could argue – and indeed I have – that the Hugo voters aren’t very good experts but it is their status as people heavily involved in fandom that in turn gives the award status. The increase in popularity of supporting membership has definitely weakened this though.

    So you could extend this and institute a truly popular award with open voting but it wouldn’t be the Hugos and I’m not sure it would be very interesting. As far as I’m aware, the David Gemmell Awards are the only significant open voting award and they don’t engender any conversation or shape the narrative of the genre in the same way as other awards do. Are there any awards that are achieve this and have open voting?

    As for the notion that ‘increasing the pool of voters would give even more opportunity to influence the vote’ – surely this is what any democratic vote is all about? Why vote unless you want to influence the outcome?

    Your own vote effects the outcome (well, sometimes). But you can also attempt to influence the votes of others which is what the Sad/Rabid Puppies have done so effectively. This post is attempt to examine how comfortable we are with different ways on influencing the votes of others.

    Martin

    13 April 2015 at 10:43

  10. The Locus Awards are probably the closest thing we have to a fully open vote for the whole field. The extra weighting of subscriber votes means they’re not fully open any longer, but in principle anyone can take part (this year’s vote closes on Wednesday). They’re not enormously high-profile, but they’re established enough that I am a little surprised that we haven’t seen more emphasis on them in the last week — whether in the vein of “Vote in the Locus Awards to show what the Hugos should have looked like!” or, alternatively, “Vote in the Locus Awards to show that the Hugos weren’t a fluke!”

    Niall

    13 April 2015 at 12:54

  11. Yes, I probably should have mentioned the Locus Awards since they make my point. They could be fully open but the organisers are of the view that they have more value when they reflect expert opinion, both through the recommended list of works and the weighting of subscribers. I probably should have also mentioned Tor.com Readers’ Choice Award since that is a good example of where an open vote gets you.

    I am a little surprised that we haven’t seen more emphasis on them in the last week — whether in the vein of “Vote in the Locus Awards to show what the Hugos should have looked like!” or, alternatively, “Vote in the Locus Awards to show that the Hugos weren’t a fluke!”

    I think this points to the unique profile of the Hugos. People really care when you rig the Hugos, they’d just shrug if you rigged the Locus Awards.

    Martin

    13 April 2015 at 14:40

  12. […] Actually, It’s About Ethics In Award Nominations (everythingisnice.wordpress.com) […]

  13. “Option 3 is a hybrid: a popular vote from a pool of acknowledged experts. This is what the Hugos aspire to be and it is what gives the awards their value to the field. It is also the system used by most of the famous awards like the Oscars and the Grammys. Now, you could argue – and indeed I have – that the Hugo voters aren’t very good experts but it is their status as people heavily involved in fandom that in turn gives the award status. The increase in popularity of supporting membership has definitely weakened this though.”

    I guess my point is that option 3 isn’t really an option at all (ie, that there are only two viable ways of assessing the merits of a particular work) all the more so as in order to become an ‘acknowledged expert’ you just need to pay your membership. I appreciate that the Hugos have always been assessed in this fashion, but maybe it’s time for a change? Preaching the mantra of inclusiveness is one thing, practising it seems to be something else entirely – by which I mean that the financial demands of becoming a member (and more specifically, attending Worldcon) mean that the voting pool is in effect a highly exclusive club. Just my two cents’ worth!

    Aonghus Fallon

    3 May 2015 at 19:32

  14. […] in this year’s Hugo Awards. Due two manipulation of the ballot by groups of idiots called Puppies things are a bit different this year and some people are only voting on the Puppy free shortlist. […]

  15. I believe your system is missing at least one axis: scope. To me there’s a substantial difference between recommending a slinge work, top picks for each category, five titles per category and an entire slate. I think this is conflated with direction in your system. Lists with more than five nominees for categories are problematic for my suggested axis “scope”, but then again, slightly more than five nominees can be considered “five”, substantially more (i.e. 20) would be treated as as merely top picks because the influence is spread out.

    mk41

    21 May 2015 at 12:21

  16. I did actually start off with four axes but I couldn’t really justify them and so collapsed the point about number and strength of recommendations into ‘direction’. Hopefully your points – which I broadly agree with – come through in the piece though.

    Martin

    21 May 2015 at 13:00


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