Some Awards Thoughts

First up, today is the final day of voting for the Locus Awards. It is free to vote, you don’t have to be a subscriber, and you don’t have to choose only from the pre-filled choices. Vote here.

Also this year’s Worldcon has announced the level of participation in the Hugo Award nomination stage. There were over 4,000 ballots received, almost double last year’s record of 2,122 ballots. That’s certainly very interesting, and I look forward to finding out what the finalists are when they are announced on April 26th.

Yesterday there was some discussion on Twitter as to how this huge increase in participation might affect the process. Assuming that the additional voters are not all slavishly voting for the works on someone’s slate, the chances are that more participants means more variation in what people vote for. If we have learned one thing from awards over the years, it is that everyone has a different view of what is “good”.

One potential effect of this is that it may see more works excluded from the final ballot under the “5% Rule”. This states that a work can only become a finalist if it receives at least 5% of the votes cast in its category. If, as I suggested above (and thanks to Aliette de Bodard for pointing out the possibility) more voters means more variety in what gets nominated, then we may see more categories in which fewer than 5 works get 5% of the vote. (This has happened in Short Story on a number of occasions in the past, but is rare in other categories.)

The first thing to note is that the rule is 5% of ballots in that category, not 5% of ballots overall. 5% of 4000 ballots is 200 votes, and that will probably be required in Novel and the Dramatic Presentation categories, but participation in other categories tends to be much lower. In addition, there is a separate rule that says every category must have at least three finalists, regardless of the 5% rule. So no category is going to be wiped out by this.

There is a rule that a category can be dropped through lack of interest, but that would mean that, in the opinion of the Administrators, the number of ballots cast in that category is too low. I can’t remember that happening to an established category in recent years, and with all of this extra participation I can’t see it happening this year. I’m pretty sure that every category will have more participation than last year, so there can’t possibly be any grounds from dropping one.

My guess is, therefore, that we’ll have a few categories with 3 or 4 finalists this year. We’ll be able to draw some pretty graphs showing how more participation means more variation. And that will be useful because a motion to remove the 5% Rule got first passage in Spokane last year. This data will inform the debate on final ratification.

2 thoughts on “Some Awards Thoughts

  1. Honestly I’m actually really fond of the 5% rule. I think there’s a big problem with the lack of cohesion in some of the categories that needs to be acknowledged. The 5% rule is where that acknowledgment actually happens.

    I mean, let’s reduce ad absurdum: if in a particular category 1000 people nominate, and some candidates get in on the strength of 10 nominations (1%), then… is that what we want to recognize and celebrate as best-of year? Something that got ten nominations, not just five? If a few authors get their immediate family to nominate them, is one better than the other because he’s got another two siblings?

    Bottom line is: if the numbers go low enough, then they become a pretty pitiful basis for an award.

    Yes, we’ve got an immense field out there. Yes, we’ve got a navigability problem. The solution isn’t lowering the bar to the point where the award becomes “Most Statistically Insignificant Clustering.”

    Keep the 5% rule. Nominations yielding a shortlist supported by only a tiny fraction of the nominators is an indicator of something not quite right with the award; that there aren’t enough candidates which have gained enough popularity to be meaningful candidates. And, hey, keep the rule, and maybe authors, reviewers, editors, and fans of every stripe will have a little more incentive to find more effective ways of focusing our attention.

    Now, admittedly, this year we’re seeing the opposite direction: a surge in nomination numbers, which might raise the 5% marker to unreasonable heights.

    But this year is atypical in many ways. And to be honest, the 5% rule is highly unlikely to come into play one way or another this year; 5% of 4000 is 200, which the Rabid Puppy bloc will probably beat handily.

    We can debate where the dividing line can be. But I think we need one, and that 5% is pretty far on the low end. I really wouldn’t want to see it go much lower than that.

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