The Hugo Awards, Game Theory, And A Modest Proposal

So, if you are one of the lucky people who doesn’t follow the twitter-sphere, here’s the story so far. The Hugo Awards, SFFs most influential honors, announced their list of nominees on Saturday. A group of writers on the conservative side of the political spectrum had campaigned for a slate of nominees, the Sad Puppies, and were very successful in getting their picks onto the ballot, completely taking over some of the categories. Many people were very upset by this, which was probably the point. I’ve been participating in multiple simultaneous discussions, so I thought I’d write up some thoughts here where I can conveniently link them.

Why This Happened

Various people have accused the SPs of cheating, which is almost certainly not the case. On the SP side, people have been crowing that this shows they’re really in the majority, which is also almost certainly not the case. Given the way the Hugo nomination process is structured, organized slate voting is a dominant strategy, and a minority being able to completely dominate the ballot should be an expected result.

If you’re not familiar with it, the process is pretty simple. In each of the various categories (Best Novel, Best Novella, and so on) each voter can nominate up to five works. The votes are all added up, and the top five in each category become the nominees, to be voted on at WorldCon to determine the winner. The SP strategy was to pick five works for each category and encourage their voters to choose those five.

Let’s consider a hypothetical election between Green and Purple voters. There are 800 Greens in the voting pool, and 200 Purples. The Greens mostly prefer Green works, of which there are, say, 10 in serious contention — we’ll call those G1, G2, etc. The Purples similarly prefer Purple works, P1, P2, etc.

The Greens have no organization. Each Green picks the five works out of the ten that he or she personally likes best. Assuming each work has its fans, this will lead to a vote distribution that is reasonably even — say 95 for G3, 93 for G5, 89 for G8, down to 56 for G1.

[EDIT — It has been pointed out that I suck at math here. The actual vote totals would be closer to 400 for each (since each person gets five votes), so in order to make this example work, we need more Green works to spread across, and similarly for Purple. The numbers are just illustrative anyway, although this actually suggests an important point — the SPs had less success in the Best Novel category, where there were some clear front-runners, then in a category like Best Short Story where the vote was more widely scattered.]

If the Purples voted similarly, they would get a similar distribution: 34 for P2, 30 for P10, and so on. In this case, the ballot would be all Green, since the fifth-most popular Green work is more popular than all the Purples.

Instead, Purple Leader says, “Hey, lets all vote for P1, P2, P3, P4, and P5.” The Purples all go along with this. So those five works receive 200 votes each, and the others zero. Now the final ballot will be entirely Purple! The minority, by being more organized, runs the table. The Purples don’t cheat; neither have they suddenly become a majority. They simply have a more effective strategy, considered solely in terms of getting Purple on the ballot.

Why This Is A Problem

Back in the real world, why should we be concerned about this? John Scalzi suggests we should not be. The final Hugo voting includes a “No Award” option, for almost exactly this reason, and the voters can make use of it if they are sufficiently pissed off. Justin Landon broke down last year’s Hugo voting, in which there was a similar, if less successful, SP campaign. The upshot is that the SP candidates were completely defeated in the final voting, which uses a very different voting system — ranking, with instant runoffs, mean there’s no vote-splitting “spoiler” effect. Again, not an unexpected result, and I predict we’ll see something similar this year. (No Award will almost certainly win a few categories.)

But, for me, that’s not good enough. It’s a bit like saying it’s okay someone came over and kicked down your sandcastle, because they weren’t able to build their own. The problem is not that a bunch of conservative-leaning writers got on the ballot; as Scalzi says, that’s not a big deal. The problem is that it is now blindingly obvious that “slate” voting, if widely used, will dominate the nominations.

Suppose next year, when Sad Puppies IV is announced, a liberal-leaning writer counter-organizes a Happy Puppies slate. He or she would probably get a lot of support. Given the composition of the voting pool, Happy Puppies would probably win; let’s say they shut out the Sad Puppies completely. Is that better? Now we have an award in which the organizers of the two slates decide who gets to be on the ballot, independent of what works people really think are worthy. In the above example, note who loses out — Purple works 6 through 10, who didn’t get picked for the slate and were thus completely removed from consideration. In real life, too, there’s crossover between the Green and Purple sides, but slate voting eliminates that entirely. Someone who might attract Green votes, but gets picked for the Purple slate, is going to be screwed.

It’s tricky to talk about the “true spirit of the Hugo awards”, because they mean different things to different people. But I like to think that the scenario where each person chooses the works that they personally found to be best is closest to the ideal. If that scenario is unachievable (and it is) then we can at least try to get as close as possible.

Can We Fix It?

Voting systems are hard. They are the realm of unintended consequences and unforeseen strategies. A whole branch of academic game theory studies them, and there is no system that is clearly best in all circumstances, even give ideal voters; once you add human foibles into the mix, things get even more complicated. So beware of anyone saying, “Oh, it’s easy, we just have to X.”

Here are some things that will probably not work:

Just ban slate voting and campaigning. Impossible to enforce. You can never prove that a voter didn’t independently happen to choose the same works that are on the slate, and it would put the judging authorities in an impossible position, ripe with possibilities for abuse.

Expand the electorate. A good idea in general, but not a silver bullet here. The Hugo electorate is small (~2,000 voters, members of WorldCon) but that isn’t actually the problem. The SPs didn’t win by signing up enough of their people to be a majority (usually what you worry about with small voting pools) they won with a minority by being better organized.

What we need, ideally, is a change in the voting rules that aligns the result we want (everyone picking what they think is best) with the optimal strategy, as much as is possible. We also need the rules to not be excessively complicated and cumbersome, or else no one will vote.

A Modest Proposal: Anti-Votes

I’ve heard several proposals that might work. The most obvious is to change the number of votes allowed so it’s smaller than the number of final nominations, making it much harder to coordinate a slate takeover. (That is, everyone gets to pick 3, and the final 6 top are chosen, or similar.) This might help, but I don’t know that it gets to the root of the problem — it would be harder to coordinate a slate, but far from impossible. I’m interested in thinking about it, though! Here is my suggestion, which seemed a bit odd to me at first, but which I think gets closer to addressing the underlying issue.

The ballot stays as is, except that each category gets a section for five anti-votes. Each voter can both vote and anti-vote, for a total of ten choices. Anti-votes are subtracted in the final voting tally, and the top five results get on the ballot, even if their vote totals are negative or zero.

Why would this help? Because it turns the structural advantage of an organized slate into a disadvantage. Imagine what would happen to the Sad Puppies under this system. People who don’t like them, or who don’t approve of slate voting, can anti-vote their whole slate, just as easily as their supporters can vote for it. The more widely known the slate is, the more anti-votes it will attract.

Of course, the SPs would get anti-votes too, and could easily publish an anti-vote slate. But as long as their opposition isn’t pushing an organized slate of their own, the anti-votes will be split among many possible candidates, just as the Green votes are above. Organization and campaigning would become a liability instead of an asset.

With any voting system, we have to think about possible consequences. Who would be unfairly hurt by this system? The obvious answer is “people who the slate voters very much dislike”. It’s quite possible that, for example, John Scalzi would attract a disproportionate share of the anti-votes from the SPs and their allies, thus crippling his chances compared to a writer who has a similar position but is not as politically active. It might have a chilling effect, where writers think harder about taking certain political positions, lest they get on the anti-vote list of an opposing group.

These are real problems, and it may be that they outweigh the benefits. But it’s at least worth thinking about. As it stands, the Hugo nomination process is badly broken, and unless something is done the system is not going to produce useful results, only political football.

43 thoughts on “The Hugo Awards, Game Theory, And A Modest Proposal

  1. Alex says:

    Love your books, but that proposal will actually make slate voting *more* influential, not less. It will also be much more corrosive to both the award and the atmosphere. There will be slates of anti-noms assembled and disseminated based more on the writer (or their publisher) rather than the actual work itself.

    And, honestly, wouldn’t we rather see slates that say “We recommend this story; read it and see if you agree” rather than “Vote down these people because badthink and wrongfun”?

    If this is a one or two year thing, it will pass as either those voters move on or more opposing voters move in in reaction. If it isn’t a passing fad, it’s the will of fandom, and the award is supposed to be from fandom, so where’s the issue?

    1. Django Wexler says:

      I agree that it might not be ideal from an atmosphere point of view, but the point is that assembling slates will become counter-productive, since your opponents can just anti-vote your slate. As to whether it’s the will of the fandom — well, that’s the point? If the voting structure enables a minority to sweep the nominations, and the only counter is to also use the same undemocratic strategy, that means the rules of the award are seriously flawed.

  2. Stephen W. Houghton II says:

    As a pro puppies person, let me make a simple recommendation. Only allow people to nominate three works for each category, but continue to have 5 nomination slots. Then no one slate could dominate the process.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      That’s something I’ve seen proposed a lot, and I agree it would be helpful. It’s probably the most likely fix to actually happen, since it doesn’t require a big change. I’m not sure if it gets to the heart of the problem though — two competing slates could still dominate. But it would be something!

  3. Tom says:

    Your move seems to rely on the public disclosure of slates, which has up to now been a valid assumption. But, as the next move in the game, what if SP/RP are now sufficiently organized that they don’t have to go public with their slate? If they could manage a private slate, this would seem to neutralize much of the anti-vote’s effectiveness. They could e-mail a sufficient number for nomination (can 200 dedicated persons keep a secret?), then still get the satisfaction of public reaction by revealing their slate after the nominations were announced. The secret cabal they’ve fantasized would become real in their own hands. Seems extreme, but I wouldn’t have thought we’d be in this position before today.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      It’s a possibility! My feeling is that a secret slate would be much less effective than a public one, though. And it would be VERY hard to keep quiet. But worth thinking about.

  4. Stephen W. Houghton II says:

    You wrote, “I’m not sure if it gets to the heart of the problem though — two competing slates could still dominate. But it would be something!”

    Let me point out that this time we had two slates: sad puppies 3 and rabid puppies. Next time we will have Sad Puppies 4, rabid puppies 2, plus several other slates: rainbow kittens that sparkle, glittery SJW cats of right think, etc, etc. Plus if I have anything to say about it, constitutionally limited democratic federal republican puppies of a libertarian bent.

    In other words, if we have a good system, slates will not be a problem.

  5. Kirielson says:

    I see where your coming from, but I think the 3 nominations is the best method as anti-votes(while not coordinated) can distract from titles that should get their own share.

    One thing I suggest: 1 Author per category as now it makes it easier for people to pick other people, but will otherwise make slakes more stratified.

    With that being said, there are no cures other than sitting people down and explaining why your opinions function the way they do.

  6. Platypus says:

    I’m realizing I’m not sure what the goal of the Hugos is. Like, if you want to know the most popular SF books of the past year, can’t you just check their total books sold? ^_^;

    Let’s hand-wave that for a moment. (Or, let’s assume that the goal is to choose the SF book that is most popular among “elite” fans, where “elite” means attending Worldcon.)

    Second question: are people actually reading the books they nominate off the slates? If not, could we make progress toward solving the problem with a big sign saying “PLEASE BE A GOOD CITIZEN AND ONLY NOMINATE BOOKS YOU HAVE PERSONALLY READ”?

    When I hear about voting problems, my first instinct tends to be to try approval voting. Start with a list of the top N books, using whatever nomination process makes you feel confident that no good candidates will get left out. Grab the top N bestsellers, or have a pre-nomination phase where any Worldcon member can submit up to M books to the list. Then, instead of “nomination” meaning everyone chooses six candidates, you ask everyone to go down the list and check all the books they had read and enjoyed. You add up all those votes and get a top-six list, with which you can do the standard “everyone read these before we vote” process.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      There are already “everyone be a good citizen etc” signs up — it doesn’t seem to work. It’s been a recurring problem in the history of the award. =\

      Approval nomination is an interesting idea, but it doesn’t solve the slate problem — the SPs can say “everyone check these books whether you’ve read them or not”, and we’re back where we started, right?

  7. Cat says:

    The Sad/Rabid Puppies slates left off two works that were *right* up the Puppies alley. One was _Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, Volume 2_ which would have been exactly the sort of thing they like in Best Related Works, and the other was _The Three Body Problem_ which would have been exactly the kind of novel they like in Best Novel.

    I saw one of the organizers of Sad Puppies admit in a comment on his blog that he would have included the Heinlein bio if he’d known about it in time. I saw the organizer of Rabid Puppies admit in a comment on File 770 that he would have included _The Three Body Problem_ if he had known about it in time.

    Slates hurt every non-slate work, not just those on some hypothetical “other side.” The Puppy slates locked up the nominations and in the process locked out the very works they would have liked the best.

    More slates is not the answer (not least because non-Puppies would have a thousand slates, and Puppies two–you can see where *that* goes.) But even if there was only one of each, both slates would hurt the chances of non-slate works that the organizers overlooked.

    I like the anti-voting thing. Yes, some people might publish slates of anti-votes. “Here are the SJW authors to vote down!” That’s fine. A lot of non-Puppy nominators only nominate one or two things that really grabbed them. They could always choose a few spare nominations from the “anti-vote slates” just to round things out. An anti-vote slate would probably wind up hurting the slate-makers more than the people they have it in for.

    And secret slates are going to be pretty ineffective by their nature. If you can’t find out about a slate, you can’t vote it. If you *can* find out about a slate, so can other people and one of them is going to tell a friend in strictest confidence, and you know how that goes.

  8. “Only allow people to nominate three works for each category, but continue to have 5 nomination slots. Then no one slate could dominate the process.”

    I’ve seen this suggestion elsewhere, but it could still be gamed. The Sad Puppies clowns could put up five nominees in each category and generate a random ballot of three nominees per category for each of their followers. Their five nominees would each get 60% of the total slate vote, which would still be likely to overwhelm those of us who aren’t organized and just vote for what we like.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      Yes, that’s true. But it would add a lot of complication to the process for them, at least. Also, then you’d literally be telling people what to vote for, which could a) be against the rules and b) relatively easy to prove.

  9. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) says:

    Suppose next year, when Sad Puppies IV is announced…

    Of course, part of the problem is that Sad Puppies IV is already in the planning stages. And Probably Rabid Puppies III.

    I don’t want to have to align my voting to a “counter slate” to just stymie the influence of the Sad Puppy slates.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      Exactly. That’s why I feel like the rules have to be changed — otherwise it becomes a battle of slates, like actual US elections, with third parties having just as much chance.

  10. Dave Bara says:

    How about another route; just eliminate the Hugo’s all together. Combine it with the Nebula’s, have one award, and let the fans decide via 6-month online voting. Anyone can vote, once. Register by email.

    As for the awards themselves, I did a bit of hacking at the outdated ballot a couple years ago:


    1. Django Wexler says:

      The problem is the awards come from different groups: WorldCon vs. SFWA. So combining them is probably unlikely, though I agree the Hugo categories could use some reform!

  11. Platypus says:

    I think approval nomination does solve the original slate problem, which was that the Purples could concentrate their voting power but the Greens’ voting power was diffuse.

    I agree that approval nomination does not seem to solve this other problem where the Purples can explicitly ignore the nomination rules. All I can say to that it that maybe ignoring the nomination rules isn’t a one-sided problem? Maybe some of the Purples aren’t total villains and will obey the rules if you make them really explicit. Or, maybe some of the Greens will ignore the rules as well and the problem will cancel itself out.

    Or, if the problem is that the Hugos nomination process contains a rule which is unenforceable and is widely-ignored by villains, maybe the Hugos nomination process needs to not contain that rule any longer. 🙁 🙁

    1. Django Wexler says:

      In fairness, it is not an actual RULE — you’re allowed to nominate things you haven’t read, it’s just discouraged. (Precisely because as a rule it’s unenforceable.)

  12. nathanbp says:

    I agree with Tom, anti-votes seems even easier to game than the existing system. It would not be that hard for an opposing group to guess what the popular books are likely to be and down vote them. And again, any group doing a slate is going to be more organized about it than any group not doing one.

    My preference that I think would help with the problem would be to go to STV for the nominations. Each ballot then gets one vote instead of five, but still gets to list preferences to increase the chance of their vote mattering.

  13. Platypus says:

    Oh! Well, that’s simple then. The Purples put up their slate and say “vote for these whether you’ve read it or not”. Four different Green factions put up their slates and say “vote for these whether you’ve read them or not”. If the Green factions really are the majority, and if they really do like mostly the same stuff, then all of their people can vote for all of their slates, and they’ll win.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      I’m not exactly sure what you mean here, but this is kind of the scenario I would like to avoid — it shifts the power to nominate works away from “people who thought something was good” and to “people who are influential enough to make a up a slate”. The problem isn’t that the Greens lose per se; the problem is that slates (and thus people voting for things they don’t personally like best, but think will help their team win) are the correct strategy, which I think is counter to the intention of the award.

  14. Platypus says:

    Having said that, I’m not sure if having Green dominate all five slots is really the right outcome. Honestly, if Purple comprises 20% of the fanbase, we might expect a sane system would have 20% of the nominees be Purple.

    Wikipedia tells me that this can be achieved through a party system (fortunately the fanbase hasn’t separated along party lines yet), or through “Single Transferable Vote”, which is complicated. But it’s no more complicated than Instant Runoff Voting, which they are already using for the final award.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      Single Transferable Vote turns out to be somewhat unhelpful in this case, because it’s unlikely for anyone to rank-order all the potential candidates. It might help consolidate the non-slate vote somewhat, but it’s not guaranteed to produce majority rule or even really disadvantage slate voting.

  15. Tim Hall says:

    I’ll second Platypus’ suggestiob for a Single Transferrable Vote. Would makie it much harder for a well-organised minority group from doninating the ballot out of proportion to their actual numbers, but would stop the biggest groups from shutting everyone else out completely.

    Downside is the counting would be a very lengthy and complicated process, especially if it’s done by hand.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      I’ll have to read up on that. It should be possible to do it by computer, though — this year’s voting was almost entirely online. (I think there were 3 paper ballots or something.)

  16. Pfusand says:

    ” It would not be that hard for an opposing group to guess what the popular books are likely to be and down vote them.”

    Well, if you think about it, this might not be true. It’s not just that what the “popular books” really are is hard to predict. (More than once in the past few days, I’ve read: “Last year, I nominated X, because I loved it, but I didn’t think it would make the ballot. But it did!”) It is also that the Slate Preparers have a, um, an, uh, imperfect view of the sorts of works that the non-slate people nominate and vote for, so their guesses might not be that good. Further, they would have to actually read those popular-books-that-‘shouldn’t’-be-popular in order to guess better, and it’s really hard to read a book you hate, and judge its quality objectively — or while pretending to the bias of Not My Group.

    …And (in the spirit of gaming) one or two of the non-slate people might provide some stalking horses…

    1. Django Wexler says:

      This is really the point. The whole purpose of anti-votes would be that declaring a slate of nominees in advance becomes a *disadvantage*, because it gives people a target to aim at, thus discouraging this kind of behavior.

  17. Erica says:

    Cat and Paul Weimer brought up two reasons I hate the idea of slates, including a system that allows for competing slates. That’s the issue with only allowing a person to nominate three and allowing six. We’d just be moving to a two party system. Even if there’s a slate or something that includes some works I might have chosen to nominate and vote for on my own, it’s unlikely I’d have wanted every single one they suggest. But picking and choosing my favorite stories and so on would be casting away my vote. Bleh.

    The thing that upsets me the most about this is the lack of good will. It’s really scorched earth, because it’s changing the nature of the whole process, no matte how the organizers respond. While I suspect many of the people who voted for the SP slate of nominees didn’t do so out of spite (may have bought the “wouldn’t it be nice to see some good old fashioned SFF on the ballot?” argument), I can’t extend the same benefit of the doubt to the sad and rabid puppy organizers.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      I agree. I think it’s particularly bad because the RP slate in particular was clearly intended as a finger in the eye of some strawman “liberal” conspiracy, and it’s ended up screwing up the process for everybody.

  18. Platypus says:

    Single Transferable Vote (STV) does not require people to rank-order all the books. I don’t have evidence for this, but I actually think you’d be fine if you got people to rank-order their top five. It wouldn’t be any less information than what we have now.

    STV definitely does limit the power of slate voting. The idea behind this system is that your vote gets “used up” when it succeeds in electing someone. So, in the Green-and-Purple example above, where 20% of ballots are through P1 through P5, P1 would win a slot and it would use up 167 of the Purple slate votes. The 33 remaining Purple slate votes might manage to get P2 elected as well, if they had a lot of support from the weirder Green ballots. But they’d have zero chance of getting P3 through P5 elected.

    (Why 167 and not 200? It’s something called a “Droop Quota” which Wikipedia knows more about than I.)

    1. Django Wexler says:

      STV in elections with large numbers of candidates suffers from a problem called “exhausted votes”, where if the voter doesn’t rank-order all the candidates the vote reaches a point where there’s nowhere to transfer it to. EG if someone orders G1 through G5 and that’s all, and then all those are eliminated, his vote has nowhere left to go. Doing a complete rank-order eliminates this problem but is hard in very large elections.

      It definitely wouldn’t be WORSE than we have now, though, and might be better. The main downside is I think it would end up as something of a black box to most voters, which would lead to complaints of cheating and manipulation since the complexity makes the results hard to follow.

  19. Saffi says:

    The Anti-Vote idea is brilliant. No voting system is perfect, but this might just be as close as it gets.

    In terms of responding via approved slates, alternate slates, and what have you — please, for the love of Heinlein, no. No slates of any kind. The Hugos were designed to be awarded to the work that the most individuals freely judged on their own to be the most worthy, not the most likely to defeat the nominees of Them. Let’s please just reject the idea of “Them” vs. “Us” for as long as we can (forever, if possible), because that way inevitably leads to “Those People” vs “Our Noble Selves”.

    Introducing competing slates, special juries, nomination by appointed worthies or any other strategy to deal with the Pathetic Puppies Problem (PPP) misses the point: These “solutions” don’t remove the problem, they force the system to adapt to it. I want a solution with eliminates the motivation to create a political slate in the first place, and so far your Anti-Vote proposal seems like the only one likely to do that.

    The only problem seems to be that of secret slates, and like you say, they are unlikely to have anything like the power open slates have now. Unfortunately, in the short fiction categories, it may be that only a little power is needed to game the system. There are SO many eligible short stories, novellettes, and (to a lesser extent) novellas published every year that the likelihood of any one getting noticed is very small. Someone with a half-decent mailing list of could still game the system. For all we know this has already happened; the difference is, now that the PPPs have shown how easy it is, it’s definitely going to keep happening.

    So here’s a suggested tweak: Have the option of a generic anti-vote, by which a voter can register his disapproval (or not!) of the concept of organized slates without having to actually dig around the darker corners of fandom looking for these nasty little campaigns.
    – First, there would have to be evidence of a possible slate at work: a large number of ballots that arrived with the same exact five nominees. So long as the number of such ballots exceeds an otherwise statistically unlikely threshhold, the presumption would be that a slate was at work in any one category.
    – Second, once there are any presumptive slates within a particular category, there would be a count of “generic anti-slate” votes in that particular category, and for every generic anti-vote, there would be five anti-votes against the most numerically numerous slate.
    – Third, this would continue until the number of ballots the 2nd largest presumptive slate has the most ballots, after which the deductions would apply to both, in turn. And so on with the third largest presumptive slate, and so on, until either there are no more generic anti-votes, or there are no more presumptive slates above the statistically unlikely threshhold.

    Using this system, any remaining campaigns on behalf of organized slates would be so counter-productive the only reason to run one would be … honestly I can’t think of one.

    However, I can see two issues. First, what if there really is a very narrow field of clear front-runners. For instance, in years past, it’s pretty easy to guess at least one of the eventual nominees for Best Novel – I know one guy who’s guessed at least 3 of the five for the past decade. But that’s why it would be a purely voluntary vote – in categories where you believe that there’s a narrow field, you wouldn’t use the generic option. Second, calculation of the “statistically unlikely threshold” would be tricky. Definitely it would have to be overly generous on the side of assuming coincidence. Maybe a mathematical formula based on historical performance in that particular category. A more specific proposal would need to reference data on actual voting in the past.

    There are probably problems with this suggestion, and it may be getting so complicated that it wouldn’t be useful. But I thought it might give people ideas on addressing any minor issues that your own, beautifully elegant solution might leave.

  20. I just wanted to chime and say that I think your idea is the best one that’s been proposed so far, though I prefer to think of anti-votes as “targeted no awards”. I think the downvotes are really only needed for the nomination process; after that, the voting can proceed as usual. Here’s what cross-posted over at Making Light that explains my reasoning:

    Let’s face it, there are great works of SF out there, some respectable works, some mediocre works, and some truly awful ones. This is not at all unprecedented in the internet world today: Those that agree with something give a post a “thumb’s up”, those who disagree give a post a “thumb’s down” and those who are indifferent don’t rate the post at all. Currently, the Hugos have a “thumb’s up”, an “indifferent”, and an “everything else in SF is thumb’s down”. It’s this last part that is the problem.

    There are a number of advantages (and a few disadvantages, of course, which I’ll get to).

    First and foremost, it is an effective counter to slates, if the Hugo voters are inclined to counter them. It requires no intervention by the Hugo organizers (which would give credence to the Puppies claim that they are being excluded by a “shadowy cabal”). Furthermore — and I see this as a major advantage — if a slate lists a work that you -do- think is Hugo worthy, you can nominate it in good conscience. In this way, a slate becomes nothing more than a suggested reading list, which we all agree is a perfectly valid, acceptable way to conduct the Hugo process. If, by some extraordinarily unlikely miracle, you find that all the works on a slate are to your liking, and you like them more than any other works you’ve seen, then nominate them all. If there are few that you think are worthy, but others that are terrible, nominate the good ones and downvote (“under no circumstances should this particular work be considered) the bad ones. Neither the Puppies nor the non-Puppies can really complain about that.

    There are some obvious disadvantages. First, of course, if non-Puppies don’t make the effort to look over the Puppy slate (or any other slate), and use their downvotes as required, then the slate voters can still run the table. But that’s true in any case.

    A more serious disadvantage is slate voters dog-piling (sorry, could resist) on an author they hate, for example, VD and Scalzi. Keep in mind, however, that it works both ways — there are any people here who have said they will never read VD’s stuff under circumstances (which, by the way, is a perfectly valid point of view for someone to take — about any author). What it means is that a controversial author will end up having to work harder to create a work that truly impresses those who haven’t prejudged him or her in order to counter the inevitable downvotes. Is it fair? Perhaps not. But keep in mind that only someone whose works are deeply held in the public eye will ever be affected by this — which means just maybe you’re a pretty damn good writer in any event. As Nirvana said, “You know you’ve made it [in popular culture] when Weird Al parodies you.”

    In the end, I don’t think the proposal is at all radical when it comes to nominations. It is certainly far less complicated than essentially all of the other proposals I’ve seen so far. It recognizes the state of the world that has been forced upon us and presents a system that fairly operates within that state. It removes the threat of slates without devolving into competing political parties and without giving anyone — Puppy or otherwise — justification for saying a cabal is controlling the Hugos. Simply put, some people will think some specific works are Hugo-worthy, just as we do today. The only difference is that now we will also be able to specify which specific works are Hugo-unworthy as well. And really, that’s not a bad way to approach recognizing the best of the best.

    Just my thoughts,

  21. Platypus says:

    Under an anti-vote system, minority authors would also have trouble, yes? It would be pretty miserable to be an african-american author in a system where people could anonymously downvote you.

    I think another problem is that anti-votes don’t actually discourage slates. They might discourage “vote for these people” slates, true. But that asshole who got GG involved this year? Next year, he could publish a list of the top five female authors he thought might win, and say: “Annoy the liberals by downvoting these five authors!” What are you going to do then? Spend your upvotes to counter his downvotes? If you do, that’s giving the slates more power yet.

    But I think my main concern is that downvoting somebody for a Hugo is a mean thing to do. That ability is going to generate a lot of drama, and you don’t want that drama in your community.

    1. Django Wexler says:

      I actually think your second problem is a bigger one than the first. GG could create an anti-slate, which would hurt those authors, but it wouldn’t screw up the awards in general because those aren’t necessarily the authors that anti-GG people are supporting. The goal would be to make “everyone distribute their votes according to personal preferences” the dominant, most effective strategy.

      But I think you are right about the drama. While it (might) work in the game theory sense, I don’t think we can actually use this system; the result in the community sense would be incredibly toxic. People, unfortunately, are more complex then game-theory point-maximizers.

  22. Platypus says:

    PS. I think you may be right about STV. At any rate, I’d never heard of “exhausted votes”, so this convinces me that I don’t understand STV well enough to be advocating it here. ^_^;

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