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All the King's Horses...

Last year at Sasquan the worldcon business meeting passed two proposals to change the voting procedures for the Hugo Awards, to deal with the problems posed by slating. WSFS rules require that a change be passed by two successive worldcons before it takes effect, however, so both 4/6 and EPH will be up again for vote at MidAmericon II in August.

The 4/6 proposal is pretty straightforward. At present there are five finalists in each category, and each voter gets to nominate five choices for those five slots. 4/6 would increase the number of finalists to six, and simultaneously decrease the number of nominations allowed each voter to four. The theory being that a slate voting lockstep might take four slots, but not the whole category.

EPH, which stands for E Pluribus Hugo, is considerably more complicated, and I will not attempt to describe it here. It was designed by mathematicians and voting theorists, and will supposedly prevent a small disciplined minority from taking all the slots on the ballot. There's been plenty of discussion and debate about EPH all over the internet.

Most recently, the designers of EPH have done a test run to see what impact the system would have had on the latest ballot. The results, and a spirited discussion of same, can be found over on Mike Glyer's FILE 770, here: http://file770.com/?p=28946#comments

((For those of an academic and mathematical bent, the hard crunchy bits are here: https://www.schneier.com/academic/paperfiles/Proportional_Voting_System.pdf ))

From where I sit, the EPH results are not very encouraging.

Over the past few months, I've read countless variations of the statement that goes, "well, this is the last year we will have a problem, come summer we'll pass EPH and all will be fine." I had my doubts about that every time I heard it, and this new report just confirms them. We may indeed pass EPH, and it may help... a little... but all will not be fine.

We may pass 4/6 too, and that could also help... slightly... but it's easily thwarted, if you have hundreds of followers who will do exactly as you tell them, and the Rabids seem to have just that.

If EPH and 4/6, or both, are passed at MidAmericon II, and work more-or-less as advertised, the slates will no longer be able to completely dominate entire categories by taking all five slots. The reforms should ensure that there are at least one or two legitimate nominees in every category. Which is better, certainly, than what has happened to Best Related Work the past two ballots, say. But it is still far from ideal. Future ballots will instead look more like last year's Best Novelette, Best Professional Artist, and Best Fan Writer shortlists, or this year's Best Fan Artist, all of which featured one legit choice and four slate candidates. Maybe we'd see some improvement in some categories, and have two finalists to choose between.

Better than what we have now? Sure. But comparable to being able to choose among five strong candidates to decide which one was the very best of the year? Not even close.

I can hear the proponents of EPH and 4/6 saying their reforms were never meant to be a cure all. Yes, I know that, I never believed otherwise, and I applaud your efforts to help. I just wish these reforms helped more. Neither EPH nor 4/6 is going to prevent us from having VD on the Best Editor shortlist from now until the heat death of the universe.

And I also know that there are now other proposals out there, proposals that call for three-stage voting, for negative votes and blackballing, for juries. Some of these cures, I fear, might be even worse than the disease. We have plenty of juried awards; we don't need another. Three-stage voting, with fifteen semi-finalists that get boiled down to five finalists and one winner? Maybe, but that considerably increases the workload of the Hugo administrators, whose job is hard enough already... and I fear it would actually ratchet up campaigning, as friends and fans of those on the List of Fifteen rallied around their favorites to get them on the List of Five. And a blackball round, voting things off the ballot? Is that really a can of worms we want to open, in this present climate? That would dial the ugliness up to eleven, I fear... or higher.

Sadly, I don't think there is an answer here. No magic bullet is going to fix this. And I fear that the people saying, "pretty soon the assholes will get bored and go away," are being hopelessly naive. The assholes are having far too much fun.

A year ago April, when Sasquan announced the ballot, I wrote the Hugo Awards had been broken, and might never be fixed. A lot has happened since that time, and from time to time I've allowed myself to think that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, that this too would pass. Now I am starting to fear that my first reaction was the correct one.

The Hugo Awards have always been an occasion for joy, for celebrating excellence and recognizing the best among us. That's what we need to get back to. But I don't see how.

Comments

( 194 comments )
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sohryu_l
May. 16th, 2016 09:19 pm (UTC)
I've been following your Hugo-related posts for two years now and this is what I must say.

The Russian/CIS SF scene has nothing on the Western one.
cashcraig
May. 16th, 2016 09:21 pm (UTC)
4/6 is good but it seem like any large and concentrated effort should be able to sweep 6 slots (or even more) with just a bit of planning and stepped-up recruitment. Still, it's better than nothing...

I don't know what EPH entails and I do not want to. I will take your word for it it that the results are not encouraging.

Negative votes and "blackballing" is outright terrible. That way lies madness.

Three-stage seems promising. List of Fifteen and being broken down... it could be a chaotic melee-style mess, but maybe there are ways to cut down on excessive campaigning? I think the idea could be worked over and should not be discounted out of hand.

Edited at 2016-05-16 09:32 pm (UTC)
markhh
May. 16th, 2016 10:16 pm (UTC)
EPH etc
EPH works slightly better than 4/6 and doesn't suffer the same problem in that you could still attack 4/6 in the way you describe. As you don't want to know how it works,just think of it as a box that you put your perfectly normal 5 noms into, and out comes a 5-finalist list which some of the slate influence has been cut out from in a fair way.
There's also a slight improvement on EPH being proposed, but it will have to go through the two-year cycle.

The other ideas (negative votes, extra stages, longer lists) are very much at the "Throw ideas out and see which ones stick" stage and your reaction to negative votes and blackballing is a common one. Any of those solutions will need to go through the two-year approval cycle, so anything unacceptable to the community won't get through.
jamesonquinn
May. 16th, 2016 10:19 pm (UTC)
I'm the person who put together the ideas for EPH in the first place; a co-author of the analysis that prompted this post; and the person who first suggested a strengthened version of EPH (being called "EPH+" on File 770) for 2018. Clearly I'm not unbiased, but I am an expert on voting systems.

I don't agree with everything our illustrious host says, but pretty much all of it is at least reasonable. The one thing I do want to say is that I think that if you have a public "longlist" of 15 or whatever, then it is important to also have something like EPH or, preferably, EPH+ in place also. Having the former without the latter would allow slate voters too much power to censor certain kinds of works; to ensure that they don't become finalists unless they're runaway winners. I think that if that became the norm, it would do more damage than the occasional ludicrously-unsuited finalist (or than an explicit "blackballing" round, which, perhaps surprisingly, would be much harder for a slate to hijack, if it were well-designed.)

So: I think EPH, EPH+, and a longlist are all potentially good ideas, but doing a longlist without at least one of EPH or EPH+ is a very bad idea.

And by the way, thanks to our host for his reasonable discussion. This is the kind of thing we need in order to come together and handle this.

Edited at 2016-05-16 10:21 pm (UTC)
jere7my
May. 17th, 2016 12:11 am (UTC)
I am NOT an expert on voting systems, but Kevin's comment below brought to mind something I'd been naively wondering: is it possible to design a system that wouldn't exclude slated works, but would detect them and extend the ballot to compensate? So if the final ballot would be four slated works and one not, the nominees would automatically expand to nine? Perhaps this would be obviously gameable, but it would stop good people having to drop out for being slated if it worked.
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Hugos and Behavioral Incentives. - Ken Burnside - May. 17th, 2016 04:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hugos and Behavioral Incentives. - grrm - May. 17th, 2016 05:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hugos and Behavioral Incentives. - kieran sterling - May. 17th, 2016 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hugos and Behavioral Incentives. - Ken Burnside - May. 18th, 2016 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: Hugos and Behavioral Incentives. - mauser - May. 17th, 2016 11:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: Hugos and Behavioral Incentives. - mauser - May. 18th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hugos and Behavioral Incentives. - grrm - May. 18th, 2016 12:22 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hugos and Behavioral Incentives. - mauser - May. 18th, 2016 12:42 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hugos and Behavioral Incentives. - querldox - May. 18th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC) - Expand
flake_sake
May. 16th, 2016 10:21 pm (UTC)
I wonder if a more authoritarian approach would be feasable, at least for this year. Disqualify slate voting. The sad puppies will stay in there, because they did behave like normal voters this year and simply voted for their favorites. The rabid ballots should be easy to spot as they are all the same. Disqualify for malicious intent to manipulate the award and be done with it, and also disqualify the rabid voters from the final election.

It's unfortunate, but the rabids actively declared that their only goal is to destroy the awards.
kevin_standlee
May. 16th, 2016 10:59 pm (UTC)
A "more authoritarian approach" isn't allowed by our rules. If you want to add rules that say, "The Committee may decide to disqualify individual ballots or finalists for [defined reason]," fine, I'll help you word it and place it before WSFS to try and give the Hugo Award Administrators that authority. Bear in mind that any technical definition you can make of "slate voting" is likely to be easy to game by anyone trying to evade it.

Even in the year when a case of outright fraud appeared clear-cut (a set of identical ballots with membership paid by consecutively-numbered money orders mailed from the same place at the same time), the Committee didn't disqualify the votes. They did take the (extra-legal) step of adding the sixth-place finisher to the ballot. One of the original finalists then withdrew. (There's no evidence that the candidate that withdrew was involved with the questionable ballots.) That's actually the basis of the "Plus 2" proposal I wrote up recently: Allow the Committee to add up to 2 additional finalists drawn from the Top 15.

Hugo Award Administrators have never disqualified individual voters or finalists based on subjective perception of their motivations in casting their votes. I would be very leery of ever giving them this authority. The gun points both ways.

The only qualification for being a member is being an individual natural person who has paid membership dues. Anyone who wants to start applying an ideological test actually confirms all of the worst accusations of the Griefers.

It is of course rather ironic that while claiming that Secret Slaters have been manipulating the results for years (untrue), the Griefers set out to do exactly what they accused everyone else of doing, but that had never actually been happening. And now we have to adjust our system to deal with such bad actors.

Remember that the Griefers want to destroy the Hugo Awards. Any solution that concludes "shut them down" gives them exactly what they want.
(no subject) - hand2hand - May. 17th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC) - Expand
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Griefers - thetreesofmay - May. 17th, 2016 02:53 am (UTC) - Expand
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I'm thinking there are things to do - parrismcb - May. 16th, 2016 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: I'm thinking there are things to do - markhh - May. 16th, 2016 11:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
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az123456789876543211
May. 16th, 2016 10:21 pm (UTC)
The thing with systems that attempt to bring proportional represenation to the Hugos fail to see is that (with the obvious exceptions) there are no cliques/gropus of people that vote the same, so EPH would make this a competition between one slate with hundreds of voters, and thousands of other "slates" (each combination of nominees that each person submits) with little "support". Proportional representation works when the competion is between closed party lists (the argument waved against having proportional representation in the US and UK), but runs into trouble when you try to adapt it to a completely different setting.
nwhyte
May. 17th, 2016 07:59 am (UTC)
Yes, that's why nobody is proposing it.
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chris_gerrib
May. 16th, 2016 10:31 pm (UTC)
As the author of 4 and 6, a few thoughts.

First, we need to define the problem. I define it as "200 organized voters can overwhelm 4,000 unorganized ones." That appears to be both this year and last year's problem. We don't appear to have a multiple slate problem, nor do we have a campaigning problem.

So, if the problem is as defined above, what is a workable solution? Here's where 4 and 6 works. First, it dilutes by 33% any slate attempt. You either need a third more voters or a willingness to settle for a third less. Second, it complicates any attempt to lock up the whole thing. A slate needs to divide its voters into three even blocs. Third, it concentrates the other voters. Some number (up to 20%) of works currently nominated won't be. I have to suspect those will mostly be the forlorn hope works that wouldn't make it in anyway. So, in short, 4 and 6 boosts the typical voter and waters down a slate.

grrm
May. 16th, 2016 10:52 pm (UTC)
I can see how 4 and 6 could help, sure. But give me 200 mindless trolls who will do exactly as I instruct them, and I could frustrate it in about five minutes.

I do favor passing it. Same with EPH. But I don't think either one is going to solve the problem. We are slapping bandaids on a sucking chest wound.

Also, to quibble a bit, we do have a campaigning problem, and have ever since the advent of the internet. Actually, it goes back further, but it has gotten worse since the internet. I remember when my friend Lisa Tuttle refused a Nebula to protest against campaigning for that award. Sadly, it had no impact.

We don't have a multiple slate problem YET -- but I think that's just a matter of time, unless someone finds a real solution here. Even if both 4/6 and EPH pass, sooner or later people are going to get tired of ballots that have four Rabid Puppies and two legit nominees in each category, and someone will say, "we can get together two hundred people too, then WE'LL have four nominees in each category." AFter that it will be slate v slate.

I am a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and an Emmy voter, I know where that road leads.
(no subject) - jamesonquinn - May. 16th, 2016 11:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Trolls? - jamesonquinn - May. 16th, 2016 11:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Trolls? - luagha - May. 17th, 2016 01:11 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chris_gerrib - May. 17th, 2016 01:25 am (UTC) - Expand
Campaigning? - Frank Probst - May. 17th, 2016 11:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
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livejournal
May. 16th, 2016 10:34 pm (UTC)
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RaUL_AMDERLAINE
May. 16th, 2016 11:21 pm (UTC)
Make an electronic system where the voter is presented with a question regarding the work he/she is voting for and has 10 seconds to answer. If the answer is right, the vote counts. If not, it is discarded.

For instance:

Vote for best book of the year.

[PRESS] Harry Potter

Is Snape a character of said book?

[YES] [NO]

Wrong answer. Next time read the book you're picking. Have a nice day, Hugos!
kevin_standlee
May. 17th, 2016 04:09 am (UTC)
1. Your proposal requires that all votes be cast electronically, and disenfranchises the other members.

2. Your proposal requires a computer with a universal knowledge of ever work of SF/F every published anywhere in the world, in any language. Remember, nominations are "pick from this tiny number of pre-selected works." It's "Write in up to five things," and they can be in any language and published in any form anywhere in the world.
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camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com
May. 16th, 2016 11:28 pm (UTC)
EPH is good in itself
I doubt any system change can deal with overt vandalism such as the recent Rabid attack on the Hugos, without damaging some other aspect of the process.
However, EPH does many good things. True, there is some complicated aspects to the underlying algorithm but the nomination method is simple (nominate the stuff you like) and it adds a degree of proportionality which is a good thing in itself given the increasing diversity of Worldcon voters.

The net effect of EPH on the 2015 ballot would have 'fixed' many categories. The one it works least well on is Short Story. That particular field is so wide that there seems to be less commonality of choices between voters, making it very vulnerable to slate voting. However, that also suggests that even without slates the current methods may not have been really doing justice to the field.
hand2hand
May. 17th, 2016 12:12 am (UTC)
IMHO the Hugo awards are doomed to hand out a bunch of No Awards until Beale gets tired of ruining the Hugos, or someone really smart comes up with a way to handle the nominations and voting that precludes slates having the power to dominate the final ballot.

This year's voting ballot showed that simply attracting more voters of all kinds will not be enough to swamp a determined group of slate voters. Some change to the rules beyond EPH is going to be necessary, unfortunately. A few thoughtful math people predicted this, and now we know it's true.

I have no idea what the answer is, but I know that the people who are trying to ruin these awards are having so much success that they will not stop, especially now that we know what minor impact EPH will actually have against a determined minority of slate voters, even if that change to the voting rules is approved in Kansas City.

I find it very depressing that Beale has decided to game the Hugo nominating process. I wish he would find another hobby. But he's forcing so many people to react to him that I'm sure he's entirely gratified and energized. His campaign is working.

Get used to at least two to three years of NO AWARDs in a bunch of categories, until someone comes up with a real fix against slating. Will this situation permanently damage the reputation of the award? I do not know. But I know that NO AWARD will be better than a bunch of stuff on the ballot this year.
grrm
May. 17th, 2016 12:38 am (UTC)
Attracting more voters... actually, more nominators... is at least a partial answer, but only if they actually nominate.

This year we had more than 4000 nominating ballots, almost twice as many as ever before. Had all of them actually nominated in all the categories, the Rabids would not have been able to dominate as they did. If we look at the numbers, the categories that got the heaviest turnout like Best Novel (3695 ballots) and Best Dramatic Long Form (2904 ballots) were able to get several legit finalists on the ballot. Where did the Rabids sweep? In Related Work (2080 ballots), in Pro Artist (1481), etc. Somehow Steve Stiles managed to get through in Fan Artist, the lowest turnout at 1073... but elsewise there seems to be an inverse correlation between number of nominations and Rabid dominance. There were 1600 voters who nominated for Best Novel but left Best Related Work blank... and that made all the difference.

I am not saying "get out the vote" is a magic bullet, but it would certainly help. In Hugo voting as in real world politics. You canNOT just vote for Novel/ President. The down ballot choices matter too.

Edited at 2016-05-17 12:40 am (UTC)
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Preventing Vandalism is Hard - Gregory Hullender - May. 18th, 2016 01:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
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xraytheenforcer
May. 17th, 2016 12:35 am (UTC)
I was really disheartened by the EPH analysis, if only because I know how many people were counting on it to help solve the current woes. All I can hope is that we'll move beyond this era of bullshit sooner rather than later.
Matthew King
May. 17th, 2016 12:53 am (UTC)
Between Light and Shadow, by Marc Aramini
"The reforms should ensure that there are at least one or two legitimate nominees in every category. Which is better, certainly, than what has happened to Best Related Work the past two ballots, say."

Hi. I'm the editor of Marc Aramini's book of literary analysis of the works of Gene Wolfe, and also the one responsible for directing it to Castalia House, because I knew I could get it published there.

What we're talking about here is a book that, when I get the print edition ready, is going to be 850 pages or more in royal octavo. It includes writeups of every single work---novel, novella, story---by Gene Wolfe from his college days to 1986. It's an immense work of scholarship by a passionate scholar, and a regular correspondent of Mr. Wolfe.

I can understand people choosing to vote No Award over Marc's book for political reasons. But I don't understand why you would say it is not a legitimate nominee. Is that only because of the Rabid Puppy backing? If so, would it be possible to get a disclaimer or clarification to that effect?

Between Light and Shadow is an amazing piece of work, devoted to one of the greatest SF authors. Please give it due consideration.
Matthew King
May. 17th, 2016 01:06 am (UTC)
Re: Between Light and Shadow, by Marc Aramini
I'd like to add that:

- My work on this book was and will continue to be pro bono. I'm doing what I do because I want a copy of it on my shelf.

- I connected with Marc via the wonderful Urth.net mailing list devoted to discussing Mr. Wolfe's works.
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Re: Between Light and Shadow, by Marc Aramini - grrm - May. 17th, 2016 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: Between Light and Shadow, by Marc Aramini - luagha - May. 17th, 2016 05:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Between Light and Shadow, by Marc Aramini - luagha - May. 18th, 2016 02:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
levellersteve
May. 17th, 2016 02:36 am (UTC)
re: voting the down ticket.
As I am heading for Helsinki and this will be my first time voting for the Hugos. I have been keeping track of this year in all the categories. I have found the site http://www.rocketstackrank.com to be very helpful, if only to locate where to read everything.
Jenthulhu
May. 17th, 2016 02:48 am (UTC)
Hugo Way Back Machine
Isn't the real answer just to remove the non-attending vote option? It's my understanding that the non-attending option is relatively new. Any asshole who wants to disrupt the Hugos can plunk down $40 to vote. If the ballot is limited to only members who will actually attend the con that would cure the problem pretty much instantly.

As a member of SFWA I attended the Nebulas and was impressed with the proceedings. An award voted on by peers who have earned the right to vote is far more fair.

The Hugos are a fan-centered award. Let's leave it up to the real fans--the ones willing to schlep around the country and/or world to actually see the proceedings in person--like it used to be. That's the real solution.

Math doesn't cure assholery.

Money might.
kevin_standlee
May. 17th, 2016 02:14 pm (UTC)
The rights of supporting members to vote are not new. They have been part of the process for more than fifty years. Members of the previous Worldcon have been allowed to nominate for the Hugo Awards since the late 1980s. Members of the following Worldcon were granted nominating rights in 2012. So the only "relatively new" element is the inclusion of the following year's members in the nominating electorate, and it seems unlikely that this was a significant issue either last year or this year.

The actual membership dues are set by the current Worldcon. For example, a supporting membership this year is $50, not $40.

Eliminating the rights of supporting members to participate in the affairs of WSFS is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as there are hundreds if not thousands of people who are regular participants in WSFS affairs who do not have the resources to attend every single Worldcon, but who want to continue to be part of the community, and who would be disenfranchised by requiring them to attend Worldcon in order to vote on the Hugo Awards.
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mrjoshuaspeaks
May. 17th, 2016 03:24 am (UTC)
Is it not time for a simple "Bannishment" of the Pet Leech?
I realize that nobody wants to open up a "BlackList" situation but why not just say "you are done" to V.D. and his publishing house and obvious cohort saboteurs. If that is to much at least cut out V.D..

As a diverse and open fanbase it is completely justified and to our collective benefit to say you are a problem and we do not acknowledge you. Let him prove his point on the web by spewing hate speech and gibberish, nobody but his little niche of followers would care. It may leave out a small sum of quality works that sadly will not be recognized but that is a small price to pay for the quality we lose with his contributors sweeping the votes.

Simply saying we do not want V.D. and his views and actions as a representation of fandom as a whole sounds "great" does it not? Let him slaver and spew from afar

Edited at 2016-05-17 03:35 am (UTC)
kevin_standlee
May. 17th, 2016 02:18 pm (UTC)
First: It is unclear whether Mr. Beale has even been a member of any of the conventions whose Awards he has been Griefing.

Second: If you want to create a mechanism to black-list individuals or publishers, you're going to need to propose legislation for managing it. If you want to do this, and think that you can convince two consecutive WSFS Business Meetings to vote for it, contact me and I'll help you compose such a proposal in the proper technical form.

You need to figure out who you want to be able to decide to blacklist. You personally? Some other individual person? A Special Select Committee? (If so, who selects it?) The WSFS Business Meeting? The membership as a whole? Something else?

Beware of deploying weapons that can be pointed at you as well as people you don't like.
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