A very surprised looking sperm whale and a bowl of petunias.
Or why, if the people ‘really the only reason ‘Ancillary Justice’ won a Hugo Award’ was that it was much better than ‘Warbound’, that there is no ideological bias at all in the entire Hugo Award process, and that, indeed, they personally didn’t know what so-and-so politics were, are right, then Ann Leckie and her fellow winners should buy a lottery ticket and become a multi-millionaires overnight.
Try, if you can, to realize this is not an attack on any one individual or work, I’m not saying so-and-so should have won. Nor do I think no outspoken left-winger should ever win. If that was happening, I’d be here fighting to see they got a chance. Nor is this an attack on the Hugo committee – their sins seems to be largely of omission, not commission. I would love to see the award become – as it was in my youth, a commendation, above ideology. People claim this is the case. If that is true, it is easy to test.
So let us take the hypothesis ‘There is no ideological bias in Hugo awards,’ which we’d love to prove true and test it mathematically to do so. Yes, I know, I used a bad word and my mamma should wash my mouth out with soap. But it works, is the basis of huge industries which have worked for centuries if not millennia, and I promise I’ll keep it as funny, simple and clear as possible
When I got the second of these comments after my post, last week, and a few more trickling out of Larry’s post, I said something like ‘Expletive deleted, expletive deleted. Do these expletive deleted idiots think everyone is brain-dead? (yes, actually I had just been reading about Watergate). The odds are so astronomical no one in their right mind…”
And my wife, who takes it as her duty to see that I don’t become too much of an ass, said unto me: “Maybe they just don’t understand odds. Not everyone knows everything you do.”
Now, being a fairly normal human being (well, normal monkey), this is always a hard thing for me to get my head around. I’m my own point of reference, and I don’t think I’m particularly bright (I have met a few real geniuses). I said: “Come off it. The kids could calculate odds before they went to school. Remember…”
And she cut off my boring reminiscences at the pass. “The kids are both their Uni’s top math graduates for their years. They’re not typical either. And you taught them in the car, playing numberplate games before they went to school.”
“Umph. I still find it hard to believe. I think they’re just pretending not to, because it destroys their arguments. Let me ask a few people.”
So I did. “Off the cuff, with three dice, what are the chance of throwing three sixes at once?” “I dunno. I haven’t played board games since I was a kid.” “Not good.” “What’s 36 times 6… yeah, 1/216” and “roughly 4 in a thousand I’d say”, and “Huh?” “Oh go on, guess, how many times would have to throw the dice to get that result?” “I dunno. Ten?”
Okay, she was right, time to re-evaluate. Maybe some people don’t do this automatically… If you knew the answer, you can skip through to after the graph. You’ll be bored out of your tree. And yes I do know the subject slightly and realize this is a very simplistic take on it. I want to try and keep it anyone can more or less do this.
For the rest: I need to explain but I won’t delve into the esoteric or anything complicated. No, I’ll just keep it to an imaginary black bags (if you want it esoteric, you can imagine they’re black velvet with little stars and crescent moons appliqued to the outside) and a bunch of billiard balls.
None of this is rocket science. Many of you will know it well. Please re-assure those are going ‘aaaaaaagh!” that they will not actually be required to fondle either their brains or the balls, or even the bag. There is really nothing magical about it despite the imaginary applique. If it didn’t work, there would be no casinos, no insurance (health or otherwise) and a slew of other industry in total disarray. It can get complicated but we don’t need to go there to disprove the hypothesis: ‘There is no ideological bias in Hugo award’ beyond any vestige of doubt.
I’m going to begin at the very beginning (because it’s a very good place to start).
There is a red ball and black ball in each of 100 imaginary black bags. We have – seeing as this is entirely imaginary, a gentleman in high-heeled lumberjack boots, suspenders and a bra, reaching into each bag and taking out one ball, one bag after the other… now there is no way he can tell by feel red billiard balls from black. Possibly sometimes he will draw 2 red in a row, sometimes three black. You never know, before the ball comes out what he will draw. BUT as sure as death and taxes, the number of red balls drawn will be very close to equal the number of black balls drawn… (you can actually predict how many times and how likely it is to be 49:51 48:52 and so on, but just bear with me. It’s not important here.). If you keep on and on, until your lumberjack drops dead… and you count the total number of balls and divide it by the number of red balls 1 red to 2 total will be your ratio, or odds. You could take the red balls and put it over the red+black and express that as ½ or 0.5. There is, every time a ball is taken out of the sack 0.5 probability it will be red.
Now we’re gambling. I’ve got a bet with Freddy-the-casino-owner. He has two bags from above: I bet that the ball coming out of the bag will be red (1/2), and the next ball will also be red (1/2). Freddie offers to pay me 3 dollars for every one dollar I bet. (for clarity, this is not you put in a dollar and Freddy puts in 3 to a pot, and winner scoops the pot, That would be a payout of 4 dollars. If you want to look at it as a ‘pot’ freddy is putting in 2 dollars, and you are putting in one). Am I in the money? (Sorry if this is really simple guys – but it is really fundamental to my argument.)
Let’s look at the possible outcomes. Black black; black red; red black; red red. Or ½ x ½ = ¼ . So, 1 out of 4 times you will win. You might win trying this three times in a row, but if you kept playing all night, you’d have won 1 out of 4 times, and Freddy is making a fat profit.
And lo, I happen to be lucky that first time. And Freddy takes the third bag and says ‘$ 6 to one if you do it again (starting from fresh) 3 times in a row.’ Which I am sure you can see is ½ x ½ x ½ = 1/8 or one time in eight, or 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.5. = 0.125 It will happen… one time out of 8 tries if you keep repeating this often enough.
We can make it more precise, but keep this firmly in mind: the joint probability of independent events (what the Hugo nominations and winners are
postulated as being in the hypothesis) is calculated thus.
Okay – time to move on. What is the chance that a novel/short/novella etc will come from someone who is politically outspoken, who loudly champions causes dear to the Left wing (for example, Gay marriage, affirmative action, abortion, militant feminism, pro-Socialism) or Right wing (for example Anti-abortion, the right to concealed carry, equality of opportunity not outcome, pro-death penalty)? Defining the open left/right thing is difficult, because what do you call someone who admits he is communist or a republican but pointedly avoids pontificating on it? That’s why I left proportions at a generous 0.15. Note this not a post about these issues – please do not use it to discuss that, and I not taking a position on them. I’m just using them as markers. Jonathan Haidt kindly explained that the right were a lot more likely know what the left thought than the other way around, which may go a long way to explaining many things – but that’s a long way past the scope of this post.
Look – political viewpoints in any society are described by a Gaussian (aka bell-shaped ) distribution curve. To save explaining it I’ve drawn it with a brilliant 10 second masterpiece. It also makes a great design to make tinfoil hats to keep off alien mind rays, if you’re worried about them.
For the hypothesis ‘There is no ideological bias in Hugo awards,’ to be true, then this distribution of political viewpoint would have to be true in the winners, and in the nominees. There is no reason why should not be if the system were fair and unbiased in any way.
For the purpose of this proof I’ve chosen a very generous 0.15 (or 15 out of 100 or 15%) as the proportion of any population who are likely to be loud, fervent, open supporters of the ideology of the left, or the same on the right. In reality, the loud fervent part makes the figure much smaller. Guys, you can argue about the figure, but essentially you’re splitting hairs. Take it down 0.00005, or up 0.4 (beyond that allows no undecided votes) – the outcome is the same.
“Oh but still, 0.15 – it’s still roughly a one in seven chance that that Ancillary Justice would win. And there were only 5 books nominated so really that’s a 1:5 chance. It’s just sour grapes…”
Let’s start. Now to get a Hugo nomination, without manipulation, bias etc. a book/story/etc. must be:
1) Well known by lots of people. Most folk don’t bother to do noms. Say, without any form of peer pressure and collusion (in any sense) the chances of a book/story that has less than about 20K readers getting there is basically non-existent. Worldcon attendees are not 1 in a hundred readers anyway, and assuming that 1 in five of those could be bothered to do a nomination… that would give you 40 nom votes, which I think might get you on. Tens of thousands of great stories fall at this hurdle.
2) Good enough to get voted for – which even of those novels selling 20K is probably not one in 20… lets guess at 100 books a year which could get onto the slate. (the figure could be 50 or 1000 – It’s just a convenient number to work with)
So there are 100 novels 100 novellas 100 shorts etc. and if the ‘no bias’ hypothesis holds true, they are representative of the normal distribution of political viewpoint. So: to symbolize these 100 choices…
We have fifteen red billiard balls (outspoken left wing) fifteen black billiard balls (outspoken right wing), and seventy white billiard balls. And we have an imaginary Johnathan Ross to draw 5. (Don’t worry. He’s imaginary, any fat jokes he makes will be about imaginary fat, the best kind.) And we make the poor beggar time travel back to 2005.
He draws a red ball. There is, remember, according to the hypothesis supported by among others John Scalzi, no bias, and no reason for the highest number of noms to go to anyone except merit, which is not based on ideology. The crowds clap, there was a roughly 1/7 chance that would be the case. There are 4 more to draw this year, and basically if you took 4 years of noms (20) 3 should be red, 3 should be black 14 should be white. If it deviates from that you can work out how unlikely that is. But that’s going too deep right now. Settle for this:
THERE SHOULD BE A RED BALL AT LEAST EVERY SECOND YEAR, AS THERE SHOULD BE A BLACK BALL. There are 5 places a year and they had a 15/100 chance of drawing red or black.
He draws another red ball! Wow. 15/100 x 14/99! WOW! Greater than 1:50 odds. A happening that should only happen every nearly 10 years by chance. Aren’t the reds LUCKY!
He draws a third red ball! The crowd are stilled in awe. They know the chances of 3 red balls in one year… is an occurrence that will only occur 15/100 x 14/99 x 13/98 tries because as everybody knows there is no ideological bias in Hugo awards. An old man turns to his son and says, “Well, son, your grandchild might see that again! That has a 0.0028 probability of happening! More or less 1:350! Be more than 70 years worth of tries to have it happen again. What LUCK the reds have! Still, that’ll be much less for them in future. After all out of every 100 noms they should get 15. And they’ve already had 3. And the other two balls are more-or-less white. No blacks.
So we go on to 2006. And lo. There are 3 more red balls… and two whites, and no blacks. Miracle of miracles because everybody knows there is no ideological bias in Hugo awards. And the old man says: “Well son. Two years in a row! It’ll be your great-great-grandsons’s time before that happens again two years in a row!” And his son says – “add a few greats… 1/350 x 1/350. That was something that could only happen 1:12250 tries by chance. But there is no ideological bias in Hugo awards, and they get very upset a shriek a lot if you imply their might be, so we won’t. But they’ve used 6 of their plausible 15 noms for the next twenty years. We’re bound see less reds in future. Probably not for a couple of years.”
2007 Son says: “Well, I told you so. There are less. 3 whites and 2 reds. That’s 8 gone, and no blacks out the 100 noms in the 20 years starting 2005. Still that’s exceptional. A 1/50 chance, which, following on… 1/350 x 1/350 x 1/50… “
2008 3 or is 4 red balls again…. Such a run they’re having. Even counted as three… 1/350 x 1/350 x 1/50 x 1/350… Still that’s 11 out of 15 gone. 2 whites and no blacks.
2009 Another 3 red, two whites. 14 out of 15 plausible reds for the next 20 years gone. No blacks. And another 1/350 chance. Oh well, we might see one more red nom before 2025…. I’ve given up calculating how many parallel dimensions you have to run this lucky sequence in. Thank heavens for a multiverse. And aren’t we lucky to be in the one dimension in all those millions where it all happens, because is no ideological bias in Hugo awards.
2010 A special year! 4 red balls But as there are 6 (there was a tie for winning) let’s count it as 3 red, 2 white. We’re now at 17 reds out of 15 possible in a 20 year run. And still no blacks.
2011 and 2012 were bad years for the red balls. Well. In the scale of only 1:50 events. 2 each year, that takes it up to 21 out a possible 15 in the 20 years starting from 2005… So we know there will be no more.
2013 back up to 3 red balls 2 white. 24 out of 15. And no blacks.
2014, 3 red, ½ a white due to the Sad Puppies… 1.5 blacks!!!!! OUTRAGE!!!!! There is no ideological bias in Hugo awards! HOW DARE THESE BLACK SCUM organize to get nominated! We must campaign against them! Start the abuse, accuse this evil Larry Correia of every possible imaginary evil. Yes it’s the sort of behavior that could tarnish an innocent man’s reputation destroy his career. Yes, all the accusation are baseless and false. But there is no ideological bias in the Hugo awards and he was trying to bring one in! Death’s too good for him!
So in ten years… I’ve given up on the sperm whale of nomination likeliness. There is doubtless a parallel universe somewhere that in the tens of millions of possible where that level of red ball selection would, by pure chance, happen. When you start adding the other categories –shorts novellas novelettes — into it, it just gets worse. You need that infinite improbability drive. But in 10 years the 50 nominations should be 7.5 red, 35 white, 7.5 black. – if that tested out, with reasonable error bars, the hypothesis ‘There is no ideological bias in Hugo awards’ would be true. As I make the figures 27 red, 21.5 white, and 1.5 black…
“Yes but what about winners. Every year is unique, you know. I mean we start afresh.
Hmm. The bowl of petunias. Oh no not again. Shall we look at this year, when thanks to the sad puppies there were at least possible black balls to chosen as winners? Not much use in selecting years when there weren’t any. Let’s just stick to writing. Graphics and movies and art and editors aside… Novel, novella, novelette, short, and fan writer – 5 categories, a roughly 1/7 chance of a red or black ball winning in each if there is no bias.
All red balls. 1/7x 1/7 x 1/7 x 1/7 x 1/7 – this is likely to happen once out of every 16807 years if there is no ideological bias in Hugo awards. Wow! Aren’t they LUCKY.
To forestall the ‘oh but 1/7 is too low’, let’s run it at a ridiculously high ½, which means only red and black balls. No neutral, but they are equally probable. You can’t get more generous and possibly claim that there is no ideological bias in Hugo awards. ½ x ½ x ½ x ½ x ½ . – that is still unlikely to happen by chance more than once in every 32 years. There is a 97% chance that won’t happen. Do more complex stats, it’s just as implausible.
The hypothesis is, I’m afraid, due for the trash heap.
This was the year when the ideological bias in the Hugos was openly questioned. And lo: instead of proving otherwise… there was a concerted campaign to reward the hard left, and deny the right (or even neutrals) victory. Yeah. That worked for proving there was no ideological bias like snatching the purse off someone who had just accused you of possibly being a thief. Really proved their innocence.
As for the “I don’t care! Ancillary Justice/the water that falls from heaven/Equiod is better than all the others…” Shrug. Guys, it’s like the bloke who called his boss to say his kid was sick he’d be late. The first time his boss believed him. By the fifth time… when his child really was sick, and he was in ER and he called his boss to say ‘my kid is sick’ he got fired. It’s kind of over to you: Either all the other winners didn’t deserve to win, and your darling has a reasonable probability of being there, or accept that it was ideological award, only of value to loyalists to that ideology.
So where do we go to from here? Well, we go to me stopping because this is way too long already. I’m giving up work time to write this, and unless it makes you buy my books it’s not paying me.
(the picture’s a link, and some advertising is obligatory.)
I do it out of loyalty to the genre. The first step is obviously to stop denying there is a problem and start looking at where comes from. I think there are several sources, firstly the traditional publishing industry itself, secondly the red-ball crowd, and finally those voters who have been unaware of the problem. I’m no believer in affirmative action. I don’t want to see no red balls on the slate for a few thousand years. But if the award is going to recapture credibility, those who nominate and vote need to accept there need to be as many black as red, and more white balls in play, and that black balls will have to win too, at least as often as the red. That’s to the benefit of prior winners and nominees, and to the benefit of the award, and to benefit of readers and fans. The status quo is self-serving short term and minor benefit to the red ball crew – who, judging by the slanders they put up to achieve this are about as delightful a group as you could find outside a little prisoner beheading party.
Then we can say there is no ideological bias in Hugo awards. Until then, if you believe this I can recommend the tinfoil hat design.