If there is hope, it lies in the Proles Fans

I am greeting with endless amusement the recent movement among Hugo circles to embrace three stage voting. This comes in the wake of the analysis of that ridiculously complicated system they proposed last year using last year’s data (which the rest of us mortals have no access to because they claim they can’t sufficiently anonymize it – yet they DID give it out….) turned out to not be as good at eliminating all the puppy candidates as they hoped.

I’m so amused, because anyone who’s read this blog knows that it was April last year in “So you want to Fix the Hugos…” where I first suggested three rounds of voting. For those who can’t be bothered to look, I proposed that there be a second round of ballots among the top N nominees (I said 25, but some categories won’t support that many) so that all of the fans who made nominations that were at the tail end of list would have a chance to have some actual input on what makes it to the Finals. This idea was soundly ridiculed by the folks who thought their multiply-renamed system was going to be a panacea.

You see, the reason I thought this would be a good idea is because one of the most common complaints among fans is “Nothing I nominated made it.” This leaves the fans feeling like they have no investment in the award. They aren’t interested in the results, they don’t vote again, and the voter pool remains small and, ahem, manageable. The problem all along has been that there are SO many candidates, and fannish tastes are so broad, that if one were to sort the nominating votes in order of popularity, you have one of those long asymptotic graphs. Dozens or hundreds of nominees who only got one, or a few votes, and then finally the top few who got dozens to hundreds of votes. But if you total it up, those top nominees still only got a small percentage of the total votes, on the order of around 10%. This was the vulnerability that made the Hugos susceptible to manipulation (And long before the Puppies came along). The part of that graph where 90% of the nominations exist has been referred to as the “Tail.” Part of the problem is that people have been spending WAY too much time looking at the “Head” of the list and trying to figure out how to knock out the nominees they don’t like that they’ve missed the obvious.

The problem, and it’s a problem common to most folks of a particular political vein, is that they’re trying to counter human behavior with Mathematics. This never works. But the other problem is that they’re ignoring the SOURCE of the data they’re feeding into their formulae — the Fans. The Fans are an incredible resource, and a solution to their problem that they are afraid to make use of, because fans are a Wild Magic, and unpredictable, and hard to control. Math is Safe, math is predictable, but math can’t tell you what is good SF (The Cold Equations notwithstanding).

Even with the Three Stage Voting idea, they’re coming at it all wrong. Some proposals involve “Negative Voting” which they want as a way of getting a gang together to knock out entries they don’t like (They do love them some of that No Award veto power!). They propose empowering the administrators to add or remove entries, or even remove individual voters they don’t like. It’s like they still don’t trust the fans to vote the “right” way. And let’s not even think about the canned Medusa’s head of their mathematical Slate Detection dream, which they swear would NEVER generate a false positive….

They also forget the axiom “Never give the [Government/ConCom] a power that you don’t want used against you.”

My answer is still the same as it was a year ago. Trust the fans, let them pick who should win the Hugo. Have a second round of voting to re-enfranchise those whose choices didn’t make it through the “Primary.” When the finalists are chosen by the entire electorate, rather than just the ones who voted for the top 10%, you really can’t argue with the decision being that of the Fans.

And for those who say “Where are they going to find the time to read the 15 semi-finalists?” They’re fans, what do you think they’ve been doing all year? Waiting for the Hugo packet to decide what to read? (Besides, you had no trouble before with people voting AGAINST things they hadn’t bothered to read in the last couple of rounds.)


Oh, and I’d also like to reiterate my other proposal, that Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form consist of nominating a PROGRAM that had a new episode in the target year, rather than individual episodes.

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