Fixing the Hugos

As I can’t travel to the USA I won’t be able to attend this year’s WSFS Business Meeting. That means I don’t get to have a direct say in what gets done about Puppygate. So I am going to write about what I think needs to be done here in the hope that it might sway some people who do have a vote.

Before I get onto the actual Puppy-related motions, however, there are a bunch of other pieces of business that also deserve attention. The full text of all motions can be found on the Sasquan website.

Business Passed On from Loncon 3

A.1 Popular Ratification

I still believe that the 3-year timescale that was forced into this motion at Loncon 3 is a bad thing, but overall the idea of popular ratification is a good thing. The vast majority of fans cannot afford to go to every Worldcon. Giving those who can’t attend a stake in the convention’s governance is a something we need to work towards, and small steps are better than no steps at all.

Also all of the material about electronic voting is a Very Good Thing. I know Sasquan tried to make site selection available online, but the process was unnecessarily complicated and needs to change.

A.2 A Story By Any Other Name

Pass it. This is an amendment designed to ensure that things like the unfair exclusion of Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” never happen again. (The whole affair should also serve as a warning against activist Hugo Administrators. You may well think they’d be great for combatting Puppies, but what happens when they use their powers to do things you don’t like?)

A.3 Hugo Finalists

Pass it. This is a sad but necessary change in terminology brought on by people who describe themselves as “Hugo nominees” because they have sent in a ballot nominating their work.

A.4 WSFS Membership Types and Rates

Kick it out. This is an attempt to prevent Worldcons from offering a cheap “Voting Membership” in order to encourage participation in the Hugos. We need to do everything we can to encourage participation. It may be that voting memberships are a bad thing, but they have never been tried and I take a dim view of anything that tries to ban an innovation before it can be tested.

New Resolutions

B.2.1 I Remember the Future & B.2.2 Hugo Eligibility Extension for Predestination

These are both requests to extend the availability of works due to limited distribution. I know nothing about either work, but generally films that do well on the festival circuit and then go on to do well in DVD sales ought to get a second chance. WSFS members generally do not attend film festivals, and so don’t see the works premiered there.

B.2.3 Hugo Nominating Data Request

This is a request for some (anonymized) data from this year’s Hugos to help people decide what to do about Puppygate. I have no objection, but the Hugo Administrators might.

B.2.4 Open Source Software

On the face of it, this is a fairly reasonable request. It is asking that any software used by a Worldcon (excluding anything that is a commercial product and legally protected) have its source code be made available for inspection. Obviously we want Worldcons to use good quality software, but this Resolution is a disaster waiting to happen.

Two of the less good things about fandom are the tendency to busybodying and the habit of fans to believe that they know far more about any subject than anyone else. If this Resolution passes then it will be possible for anyone who wants to make a nuisance of themselves to demand access to code developed by Worldcons, to suggest amendments to that code, and to demand that the Worldcon in question either incorporate those changes or justify not doing so. It will be a nightmare for the people actually doing the work.

In the past I have helped build the website for a Worldcon. I wouldn’t do it under the conditions of this resolution. Everything you put on a website is effectively code, even if it is just a blog post. I do not want to have countless arguments with concerned fans about religious issues in HTML and CSS.

There are better ways of improving the software that Worldcons use. The first is that if you have real development skills then you can get involved with Worldcon committees and help write the software that they use. The second is that Worldcons should make a point of developing code that can be re-used every year. There should be no more of this re-inventing everything from scratch each year because someone on the committee is a software nerd who insists that everything ever written by any previous Worldcon is useless and he has to write his own versions. That’s largely a matter for Worldcon chairs to enforce, but IT policy is a question that can be put to bids, and the Business Meeting can set up a Software Development Committee to help pass on code from one year to the next.

B.2.5 MPC Funding

The better known the Hugos and Worldcon become, the more people trying to monetize fandom try to steal our service marks. If people want those marks to be defended, it will cost money. In terms of the overall Worldcon budget, the amounts being discussed are very small, and haven’t changed since the 1980s. This Resolution basically puts a little bit more money into the defense fund. Please support it. It will make Kevin’s life much easier.

Constitutional Amendments

I’m going to take these mostly from the bottom up, leaving the serious anti-Puppy stuff until last.

B.1.8 Electronic Signatures

This seeks to remove one of the excuses that the forces of conservatism might seek to use in order to prevent online voting. That sounds like a good thing.

B.1.7 Two-Year Eligibility

This is daft, and discriminatory. Please kick it out.

To start with the whole notion is stupid. The proposers of the motion effectively say that the science fiction field is too big for anyone to get a grasp of it all in one year, so Hugo eligibility must be extended to two years to give us all time to read everything. Have they any idea how many books get published each year? Let alone short stories. And fanzines. And…

Not to mention the fact that in the second year a whole lot more material gets published, which you also have to read.

In addition the proposal wrecks one of the basic principles of Hugo Award Internationalism. Worldcon has always recognized that the majority of voters come from the USA, and that therefore a work not published in English, and/or not published in the USA, is at a disadvantage. Also US voters would be prevented from nominating works they may love if they don’t find out about them until they get US publication and the work was no longer eligible.

So, the way things work at the moment is that works get up to three shots at eligibility: on first publication; on first publication in English; and on first publication in the USA. Obviously for some works two of those, or all three, are in the same year, but for others they can all be different years.

This proposal would change that. All works in English would get two years of eligibility, but those would be consecutive, regardless of country of publication.

What does this mean? Consider a work published in English in Australia in 2015, and again in the USA in 2018. Under the existing rules it gets two years of eligibility: 2016 and 2019. Under the new rules it also gets two years, but 2016 and 2017. By the time the book appears in the US market its eligibility will have been burned.

To repeat, this is a bad proposal. Please kick it out.

B.1.6 Nominee Diversity

This is what you might call the anti-Doctor Who motion. The idea is to prevent the Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category being filled up with episodes all taken from the same series. The motion would limit any such dominant series to two finalist slots. It would also prevent any given author from having more than two stories in any of the fiction categories, which may make it partly an anti-Puppy measure.

I have a certain amount of sympathy with this, but for reasons I shall explain in detail later I am generally opposed to rules which try to kick specific works off the final ballot when they have received enough votes to get there. It gives people the excuse to claim that the system is rigged against them. So I think I’d vote No on this one.

B.1.5 Multiple Nominations

Despite the title, this is not the same thing as B.1.6. Rather this proposal seeks to prevent a single work from being a finalist in more than one category. The commentary suggests that under the current rules a work could be a finalist in, for example, Related Work and Fancast. This is traditionally something that we have relied on Administrators to be activist about, but they may be less inclined to be so these days. Also having this rule explicitly stated removes one of the more common objections to a YA category. Part of me says that this rule is only needed because categories are badly specified, but perfection is never easy. On balance I think I’d vote for this.

B.1.3 Best Series

Now that the Trojan Horse langauge for getting rid of Novelette has been removed, this proposal is far less odious. I’m still not convinced that we need a Hugo category for ongoing series, though. When it was first proposed I saw a number of authors suggesting that it was a bad thing even without the Novelette nonsense. I’d want to hear the debate on this, but my instinct is to vote against.

B.1.2 The Five Percent Solution

This would get rid of the rule that requires that a work get at least 5% of the votes in order to make the final ballot. That rule is the reason why there have been fewer than five finalists in Short Story a number of times recently.

It is possible that if this rule were put in place we’d end up with 10 or more finalists in Short Story. However, the restriction causes a lot of upset amongst people who feel that they or their friends have been unfairly left off the ballot. Let’s give this a try for a while, and see what happens. If people get even more upset about large numbers of finalists than they did about works being excluded we can always revert. This may be a case for a sunset clause (that is, adding an amendment that says the change goes away after x years unless a Business Meeting votes to make it permanent).

B.1.1 4 and 6 and B.1.4 E Pluribus Hugo (Out of the Many, a Hugo)

I have lumped these two proposals together because they are both aimed at reducing the effectiveness of so-called Slate Voting, in which an organized group all put exactly the same works on their ballot. As such, these are both anti-Puppy measures.

4 and 6 simply adds an extra finalist slot to each category, while simultaneously restricting voters to nominating four works instead of 5. This would make it much more difficult for a slate to work. A simple slate could only get 4 works out of 6 onto each finalist list. Of course it is possible for a well-organized and well-supported slate to distribute votes in such a way as to gain all six finalist places, but that would require more work by the slate organizer and more supporters of the slate.

E Pluribus Hugo is a much more sophisticated approach, relying on a mathematical algorithm to detect slate voting patterns and disqualify works deemed to have benefited from slate voting. I have no doubt that it is a more robust solution to the Puppy problem. I also urge you to vote against it, and for 4 and 6 instead. Here’s why.

Many of the problems that afflict the Hugos are situations that large numbers of people deem “unfair”. Any time the Award rules get complicated you can bet that someone will call them “unfair”, especially if the rule leads to a work missing out on a finalist slot when it got enough votes to be there. So, for example, the 5% Rule is widely deemed “unfair” because it means that short stories that might otherwise have been finalists are denied that honor. You can bet that if an episode of Doctor Who were kicked off the final ballot because the Nominee Diversity proposal got passed then Who fans would be furious about how “unfair” this was.

Even the instant runoff system of vote counting in the final ballot is deemed “unfair” by some people. I have sat through far too many Chris Garcia rants about how instant runoff is unfair and un-American and the Hugo should always go the work that gets the most first preference votes like in proper elections.

So my concern is that if we adopt E Pluribus Hugo what will happen in the future is that whenever a work gets disqualified under that rule there will be a huge fuss about how the Hugos are fixed in favor of some special interest group. Because most people won’t be able to understand the theory on which E Pluribus Hugo is based (and for sure I don’t), this accusation of unfairness will be widely believed, even though it is correctly defending against slate voting.

If you think I’m over-reacting here, consider that Open Source Software resolution. You might wonder why it is there. Surely people aren’t actually worried about websites, or registration software. Nope. My guess is that it is there precisely because people don’t trust the code that will be used to implement E Pluribus Hugo and want to be able to check it.

In contrast, the 4 and 6 proposal is simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. Crucially it will never result in a work that otherwise had sufficient votes to become a finalist being disqualified. Therefore it will not result in future dramas that will have people sympathizing with a slate voting campaign.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this. The Hugos are often criticized for being snobby and elitist (particularly by the Puppies). In response to that, what sort of idiot proposes a Constitutional Amendment with a Latin title? It is the very epitome of saying, “we are smarter than you, go away”. I don’t think that WSFS should behave like that.

Update: I have further thoughts about the two anti-Puppy motions here. As I explain, I now favor passing both of them this year.

Finally I’d like to note that the only real defense against the Puppies and groups like them is to get more people to participate in the Hugos, especially at the nominations stage. We’ve had a huge increase in participation this year. Let’s do everything we can to keep those people involved, and to get more people voting. This will probably mean that it is even less likely that works I like will become finalists, let alone win, but I’ll take that. If you want to have a high profile, international, fan-voted award then you have to accept a wide degree of participation; you can’t restrict the process to “people like us”.

15 thoughts on “Fixing the Hugos

  1. The “I’m sure I know better than you how it should be done” attitude of non-programmers towards website coding and programming is a major reason I retired my (fairly robust and mature) convention registration system and switched to using RegOnline as a solution. (That kind of second-guessing occurs in lots of non-fan groups, too!)

    To all the “$4 a person is SO expensive” whinging I simply point out that the four bucks (ish) not only pays for full compliance with credit card and security rules, but includes 24-hour paid technical support.

    Based on my experiences when I was writing such systems, I’m also recommending a No vote on that proposed amendment.

  2. “The Hugos are often criticized for being snobby and elitist (particularly by the Puppies). In response to that, what sort of idiot proposes a Constitutional Amendment with a Latin title? I don’t think that WSFS should behave like that.”

    Sad Puppies 2 nominated a story with a Latin (sort of) title.

    Otherwise, you’ve written the most compelling argument against EPH I’ve yet read.

  3. The weakness of 4 and 6 is that if there were two slates bloc-voting, they would shut out everyone else. E pluribus Hugo is more resistent to multi-slates.

    I agree that growing the nominating pool is a desirable solution, but it won’t be sufficient. The estimates are that this year 15-20% of the nominators bloc-voting were able to shut-out several categories, so for increasing nominators to be effective, we would need to gain 5 non-bloc-voter for every bloc-voter.

    The above two reasons are why I signed my name to EPH.

    As for its name, it’s a play on words, and a geeky one at that, so I don’t see how it would alienate members.

    1. I firmly believe that EPH would be a PR disaster for the Hugos. I also believe that if we can’t persuade enough people to care about the Hugos to prevent further Puppy-like attacks then the award are doomed anyway.

      Also I know exactly what the name means. If you can’t see why that was a moronic thing to have done then you are very much part of the problem.

  4. As the person behind the OSS motion, some comments.

    You’re right – there are going to be a lot of people nitpicking and flyspecking the code, that’s why the language about not forcing seated cons to accept changes is in there.

    Yep, it’s a reaction to EPH being really confusing and hard to verify – it would mean that you can’t count votes by hand anymore. I know that doesn’t really happen, but it could, and I think that creates trust in the system that would be lost without that check.

    I would absolutely support a proposal to kill this in favor of creating an ongoing committee to write/support/maintain reusable Worldcon-specific code, as long as that code was available for members to look at.

    1. People will mistrust EPH even if the code is verified by a legion of experts. But yeah, we badly need that committee. Let’s make it happen.

  5. There are select number of polities in the USA that use IVR including here in Portland, Maine for first elected mayoral race in eighty eight years.

    Unfortunately it didn’t work as predicted as it didn’t give a boost to lower ranked candidates but just gave the frontrunner in the votes a full majority in just two rounds.

    1. A lot of folks in Portland thought the system worked very well in 2011. The person with the most first choices often will win because that candidate is often pretty popular. But the system ensures they can win a majority against their toughest opposition. Here’s a page on the Portland election

      IRV is also used in many private elections. One key reason is that it’s spelled out in Robert’s Rules of Order. That fact and the fact that it was invented by an American in the 19th century make it much more American than Australian!

  6. Question about popular ratification: I totally agree with you that it would be great to get more people involved in governance. But given how hard it is to even get members to nominate and vote in the Hugos, do you think that popular ratification will get a significant percentage of members involved?

    I feel like a huge number of fans don’t even understand that they can vote in the Hugos. Site selection has even lower visibility; I’ve been a regular Worldcon attendee for a long time, and I never voted in Site Selection until a couple years ago, and even now I don’t entirely understand how it works or when the deadlines are.

    So I worry that popular ratification will add a layer of difficulty to getting things passed (which seems to me to already be quite difficult, though I haven’t been involved in actually trying to get something passed so I may be wrong), while not increasing participation significantly.

    But maybe I’m worrying too much. Do you think it’ll be feasible to get a lot more members involved, if we pass popular ratification?

    1. That’s a fair point. Here are a few thoughts.

      Popular ratification is actually more simple to understand than site selection. I expect it will be like a California ballot initiative. You’ll get a document with the proposal plus arguments pro and con. Some motions will be a bit obscure, but many will be easy to understand. To participation will vary depending on how interesting and important the issues are.

      Site selection would be much easier for people to understand and participate in if we had online voting. (And if we had a simple way for people to become “members of WSFS”.) The same is true of popular ratification.

      And finally, numbers of people participating isn’t necessarily important. The point is that under popular ratification they *can* participate. It doesn’t disenfranchise people who can’t get to Worldcon, or who are stuck in the Dealers’ Room, or who are turned off by Parliamentary Procedure and so on. Popular ratification is all about democracy being seen to be done.

  7. I largely agree with what you wrote about EPH. The real issue is credibility. The Puppy slates have damaged the credibility of the Hugos, but putting in a system that casual observers won’t understand and will never feel compelled to invest the time to understand will not restore the credibility of the Hugos.

  8. For anyone who’s here and interested, OSS is probably going to come up today, I’d expect around 10:45.

    The Preliminary Business Meeting didn’t get through a lot of stuff, so today’s is going to be jam-packed. There’s also going to be a substantial change to Electronic Signatures.

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