Research, Hard-SF, stats and passing small elephants.

For once a post that only marginally touches on the Hugo Awards. Break out the bubbly.

I’m a long term fan of hard-sf. Now let’s start by establishing more-or-less what I think hard-sf is, because otherwise we could be talking right past each other. Hard-sf has the overwhelming bulk of the story grounded in science and technology which, if not existent are logical, plausible developments of present science. If there are any handwavium/impossiblium elements, they’re not major elements of the story, but may simply exist to allow the story to happen (for example an FTL drive which has brought your explorers to the planet on which the story is set. In a hard-sf story everything works logically and correctly according to sound physics, maths and all the other sciences. In my (fairly narrow) definition, the story and plot depend to a large extent on the science and technology and solving problems related to these, rather than being primarily about interpersonal relations and/or heroic conflicts between people (those could happen in another setting, a ‘solution’ that depends on the character solving a technological/Science problem cannot). Look, there is obviously a fuzziness on the edges of this, and there are stories which you’d fairly define as having a hard-sf elements, but they drift into other sub-genres. Anyway examples of the classic authors I’d think of when I think of hard-sf would be Murray Leinster, Isaac Asimov (the Wendell Urth stories) Larry Niven and Charles Sheffield. There are more of course, (as a more recent example, someone like Patty Jansen) but that’s what I think of, when I think of when someone says ‘hard-sf’. The key I think to ‘hard-SF’ is that if the book is read by a PhD level of understanding of Astrophysics/Math/Chem/Engineering etc… they do not scream in disgust and throw the book against the wall, because the author doesn’t understand what nano-scale actually means, or the time and energy it would take an individual nanobot to walk two feet under its own steam. However, the book or story is still accessible, and understandable by a layman who barely has any grasp of science or math. It’s hard. Incredibly hard to do well – you are bridging a gap of a minimum of seven years of concentrated study without losing either end of the spectrum. If it fails to get the top edge, it’s not hard sf. If it fails to get grasped by readers quite a lot lower on the understanding curve… it’s never going to attract enough readers for the writer to survive. The problem is scientists are actively discouraged from writing accessibly. Trust me on this, or go and pick up any scientific paper in a reputable Journal. Or I can send you some mouldering reprints on The Age and Growth of Callorhynchus capensis It took me a long time to unlearn it and a lot of effort to learn to write for readers, not Journals. Thus: In my opinion it is the hardest kind of science fiction to write well, especially at the novel level. It’s something I feel is largely beyond my ability, and I’ve got a good foundation in it, and my research notes typically run to three to five times the length of the book. Broad appeal humor sf/fantasy – which I try to write sometimes — being the second hardest IMO. Different people enjoy reading different genres or sub-genre, and love writing them, but some demand more of the writer. If you’re going to get all ‘Social benefit’ about writing, there is no doubt that good accessible hard-sf outscores every other form by an order of magnitude: it makes what is hard and we need seem accessible and possible. It has vast, largely unperceived value. Firstly: It interests and thus draws many people into those fields, secondly: it raises our expectations, and oddly, that drives us and our society, and thirdly: it has an enormous effect on research funding, by making the ideas known and popular among the tax-payers. It has had more effect on our society than any other form of sf, simply because so much of our current mores, tolerances, and society rest on the abundance and possibilities generated by it (and yes, John Carlton, you can quote me).

Okay, so you get the picture. I think good hard sf authors are both rare and precious gems. I think they deserve huge respect, especially if they make it look easy, because it’s not. So… what is all this about? Am I trying to put you off writing hard-sf? Absolutely not. Please, please do. I don’t care who you are or what your background, I need you, and I believe everyone else does too (even those who never read sf. This stems from Tom Knighton’s delightful fisking of Cathrynne Valente here, and my comments on it – where I said this ‘she told us that you didn’t need to know or understand any science to write hard SF.’ Apparently Valente got very upset by the comment. (No I don’t ‘loathe’ her. That’s far, far too strong. Disinterest is about right. We have nothing in common, although I did read one of her books. It wasn’t my sort of thing – I really don’t like modern literary stuff much, as you might just possibly have gathered — but I read it before the con, an elementary politeness she obviously hadn’t even considered. As I said to Tom, it was like a scruffy working sheepdog from the Outback meeting a New York indoor Persian Cat. No common ground.) When she said this I did nearly as good an imitation of a stunned mullet as Toni did. Then I laughed a good Wagnerian laugh, like quite a lot of other people. When you’re in a hole… stop digging. But she attempted to extricate herself by telling Toni (and the audience) that you could just do some research. Anyone could write hard-sf. Um. Catch 22. You CAN do research. But you have to know what level of research you’re talking about. What I think she failed to get, completely, was that writing hard-sf requires a high level of understanding of the sciences and technology. You can certainly get there without ever going to college. Without ever getting a post-grad degree. But you have to understand it well, so you can make others understand it well. You have to be very skilled writer to translate the extremely complex into the accessible (and yet, still complete). It’d be like deciding you wanted to write a novel set in Greek, not knowing a word of the language… except that might be easier, because you’re not trying to learn it and then write it so English speakers and Greek speakers both get it. It’s not a light undertaking, even if you have a science background. It’s a far bigger hill if you’re starting at the bottom. And it’s not one a hill you can get to the top of from without knowing quite a lot of science. So that is my answer to Cathrynne Valente. You might _decide_ that you want to write hard-sf completely ignorant of even the rudiments of math or science. But by the time you’ve done adequate research to do so (starting from zero, we are talking many months or years not two minutes on Wikipedia), you know a great deal about that that patch, and probably (unless you are going to make a horse’s ass out of it) have a good foundational knowledge. So, no, Cathrynne. You can’t write it without understanding it. Sorry. It’s hard. Not just anyone can do it (I don’t think myself good enough, and I have a lot more background in science, and I’m a fairly competent hack). Those who can, and can do it well, deserve great respect. You weren’t giving it. The problem was that you were jumping to conclusions without knowing the enough of the fundamentals. I might be able to write literary sf/fantasy, with a bit of research. But I don’t know (or care) enough to say that is the case.

The problem with not knowing enough is one I often hit with that elementary subject, math stats. And before you tune out, it’s like basic arithmetic – a vast asset that can make the difference between success and failure. Now, I would like to know more about stats, but the single most important thing you have to understand is GIGO. Garbage in, Garbage out. No matter how simple or complex your analysis – whether you’re trying to work out the average price for new E-pubs or trying to predict the maximum safe catch of multispecies fishery – you have to understand what you’re sampling, and what you can measure from that. John Scalzi kindly provided us via his friend Jason Sanford a near text-book perfect example of GIGO. “Recently author John Ringo (in a Facebook post previously available to the public but since made private) asserted that every science fiction house has seen a continuous drop in sales since the 1970s — with the exception of Baen (his publisher), which has only seen an increase across the board. This argument was refuted by author Jason Sanford, who mined through the last couple of years of bestseller lists (Locus lists specifically, which generate data by polling SF/F specialty bookstores) and noted that out of 25 available bestselling slots across several formats in every monthly edition of Locus magazine, Baen captures either one or none of the slots every month — therefore the argument that Baen is at the top of the sales heap is not borne out by the actual, verifiable bestseller data.” As I said: first you need to understand what you’re sampling. For example, if you set up a pollster at a Democratic convention, at 10 pm, in a site just between the bar and the entry to the Men’s urinals… even if he asks every person passing him on the way in, you’re not going to get a very good analysis of what Americans think of a subject. Or what women think of the subject. What you will get is middling bad sample of what mildly pissed male Democratic Party conference attendees think. Middling bad, because many of the passers will be hurry to go and pass some water first. It’s vital to understand what you’re sampling – or what you’re not. Let’s just deconstruct the one above. In theory Sanford was attempting to statistically prove John Ringo’s assertion wrong. What he proved was nothing of the kind (Ringo may be right or wrong, but Sanford failed completely). What he proved was that on the Locus bestseller list, (the equivalent of the Democratic Party convention and the route between the bar and the gentleman’s convenience) that Baen was not popular. That is verifiable. The rest is wishful thinking, which may be true or false. Firstly ‘Bestseller’ does not equal sales numbers. A long tail – which Baen does demonstrably have, can outsell ‘bestseller’ and five solid sellers outsell one bestseller and four duds. Secondly, independent bookstores who self-select by accepting polling, selected by a pollster (Locus) with a well-established bias are not remotely representative of book sales in general, or representative of the choices book buyers have. Thirdly, it is perfectly possible to ‘capture’ no bestseller slots at all, even in a worthwhile sample (which Locus polling isn’t) and STILL be the one house that is actually growing. It depends what you’re growing from – which of course this does not measure and cannot.

Short of actual book sales numbers, and data on advances – which we’ll never see, staffing is probably the best clue. I know several authors at other houses whose editors have left, and quite a lot of other staff at publishers who’ve been let go. Over the last few years, the number of signatures on my Baen Christmas card have gone up year on year.

Anyway: This is how you do not use statistics. Look and learn. The rest of the article is more-or-less just as confused. Scalzi sets out to prove that Baen does publish people across the political spectrum, a fact that many of us, (myself, Eric for a start) have stated loudly and publicly for many years, on numerous occasions – and have been routinely ignored and shouted down. But now it’s different. It ‘proves’ his point, so John Scalzi states this is so, and mysteriously concludes that this means that Baen is NOT exceptional. I think he’s missed the point by several miles. It’s not that Baen are socio-politically diverse in their authors, both historically and recently. It’s that THAT is the exception. The other publishers, particularly recently, are, I think, demonstrably NOT. Yes, the other houses may have one or two authors, usually old and long established who don’t conform to the norm in that house (At the moment that norm is, like the recent non-puppy Hugo nominees, essentially outspoken Left wing) But that doesn’t make them socio-politically diverse and just like Baen, unless you assume that a 97% white zipcode is just as diverse and the same as Fergusson’s 40% white.

I’d love to see Baen stop being the exception. It would be good for the publishers, good for readers, wise for a changeable future — but I don’t think that’s very likely.

And now for that passing little elephant… Look… there it goes.


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81 responses to “Research, Hard-SF, stats and passing small elephants.

  1. Drat, this means I can’t try my hand at Hard-SF until I’ve had more schoolin’

  2. dgarsys

    While Benford’s Galactic Center saga (which includes “Great Sky River”) got to be too much of a downer for me to stick with the series after 3-4 books, It, and the Boundary books, would be considered hard SF in my estimation.

    Oh – and “The Martian” by Weir.

  3. Personally, I wish you’d right some hard-SF with about statistic analysis. Unfortunately, that would be very difficult. Probably harder than writing business fiction.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Easy-peasy. All you’ve got to do is get the reader to give a darn about quality control in the factory.

      • emily61

        If it’s an important enough item people will care about the quality control.

        • Nathan

          An interstellar Guiness brewery, for instance? (Just how many stats techniques came from beer?)

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          The characters care about the quality control, but sometimes we readers can care less.

          Do we care about the characters? Is the information extraneous? Is it worth the story’s time? Does it relate to an uncertainty of emotional significance to the characters and us?

      • At my last job a senior executive said that the company should talk about quality on his in company blog. As far as I know, a commitment to quality isn’t something you just talk about. True commitment to quality means a commitment to people. Just read Demming. I actually think that QC and the production techniques to make it work won WW2 for the US.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          What, you mean it takes actual effort, and not just getting the talkers in a circle to chant ‘Quality! Quality! Quality! Quality! Quality! Quality!…’?

      • Mary

        Hmm. It’s a military factory. The higher-ups are blaming sabotage on Planet S, which they are prejudiced against anyway. Our hero must teach the factory workers to produce better weaponry while holding off the higher-ups.

    • Timid1

      Some titles looking for a good home:
      The Mean Man
      Under the Bell Curve
      A Sigma West of Strange

      • 🙂 The devil’s staircase (I actually wrote that one. And turfed it. It’s a joke very few people would get, and explaining it was too complicated. Even ‘Boys’ was probably a joke too far.

    • uh. No. Just no 🙂

      • Dan Lane

        *About* statistical analysis, no- but unless I’m mistaken I’ve seen in pop up in bits here and there. Ringo’s “Live Free or Die” bit about “perfectly random” referring to faults found (the exact quote escapes me at the moment- and I’m trying not to spoil it for the 3.14 persons who haven’t read it yet). Actually, the start of that series goes into a bit of lay-person-readable detail, on why deviations from the norm can be interesting- or terrifying.

        I like seeing characters and plots unafraid to take a practical look at things like that. It *shines* when it is pulled off successfully. Math, physics, engineering, biology (can be absolutely *hilarious* when done… poorly)… There’s a reason we’re *science* fiction fans.

        • Dan the ‘No, just no.’ was aimed Ori and his suggestion I write a stats sf book 🙂

          • But you’d have that little niche cornered

            • Stat lends itself well to short-story form, but I don’t see how you could pull off a book-length treatment.
              Short story ideas:
              1. The government gets riled up over the fact that half of all Americans are below average, and vows to Do Something about it.
              2. All of the low-probability events occur at once. (Yeah, isn’t that Heinlein? Not Long Before the End?)
              3. There’s that bit in “Rosencranz and Guilderstern are Dead” where the coin keeps turning up heads.
              4. A researcher makes a Deal With The Devil so that all of his research will prove out at .01 probability (I know .05 is acceptable, but this ups the bar). So he can do ANYTHING, and it will work.
              5. All ‘bets’ become literal and legally enforceable. So, if you say “I’ll bet I can make it across the street safely,” you have to talk to a bookie first.
              6. Maintaining position at the top of a bell curve gets literal value, IE, staying at the top involves potential energy. It becomes much easier to slide down the sides. That creates new curves.
              7. All forms of random number generators generate the same value, always, under every circumstance.
              8. Researchers using the T-distribution suffer chest pain. Therefore you can’t get anyone to use it for all the T-angina.

              See? Those are all short stories. Except the last one, which is at best a short-short.

          • Dan Lane

            Ah! Reading comprehension fail, my bad. *chuckle*

  4. Timid1

    This reminds me of a run-in Asimov had with one of his professors, who told him that he did not know how to write, and Asimov said he hoped he wouldn’t tell his fans. Asimov at least once did an SF send-up of academic papers, and was, in jest, ambushed by it at his doctoral dissertation defense.

    Asimov had a true gift in explaining sciences and math, and his essays remain sterling examples. Yes, it is hard. Nor should it come as a surprise that anyone who sets out to write hard SF should know something about science,lest they have space ships slipping through cracks in event horizons (I’m looking at you, ST: Voyager). It’s no different than expecting a writer of military fiction to know something about the military, or historical fiction to know something about the time period.

    To this person woefully ignorant of statistics, the example with Scalzi doesn’t speak highly of him or of Stanford in that it has less to do with statistical analysis and more with ol’ fashioned fast talking. Obviously, if you’re going to test the statement on Baen sales compared to other publishers, you’re going to have to look at overall sales and not who fills what “bestseller” list, as this represents two different things. Whether Scalzi and Stanford believe this is a valid comparison, or that we’ll buy that it is, is another question.

    • Especially since the bookstores Locus uses are a handful of one and two storefront operations and Barnes & Noble which is notorious for struggling to compete with Amazon.

      There are a lot book sales not being factored into the Locus numbers at all.

      • Andrew

        Or Ebook sales.

        Which everybody seems to be forgetting about.

        • And hell, 90 percent of my sales are ebook.

          I know that’s not true of a lot of writers, but it’s still a lot of books being bought and sold that way.

          • Have you seen the Author Earnings report?

            “30% of the ebooks being purchased in the U.S. do not use ISBN numbers and are invisible to the industry’s official market surveys and reports; all the ISBN-based estimates of market share reported by Bowker, AAP, BISG, and Nielsen are wildly wrong.”

            • Yeah, I remember seeing that now that you mention it.

              And that ebook count would be higher if traditional publishers didn’t try to use ebooks to subsidize their dying print model. Honestly, I’d be curious to see print vs ebook sales for someone like Larry Correia or John Ringo (as Baen authors) versus someone with similar success at Tor, Ace, Daw, etc.

              • Couple things about that though:

                1. Baen hasn’t been selling Ebooks though Amazon or B&N until 2013 IIRC while the others were thus skewing your sample.


                2. You can try asking David Weber since he is currently published by Baen (Honorverse, Bahzell, Multiverse) and Tor (Safehold) and getting closer to an apple to apple comparison (Lots of book buyers buy due to author loyalty)

    • Matthew

      The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline

      I think he used it in a couple of short stories, as well.

    • Reality Observer

      Ah, the famed “Thiotimoline” paper. I have heard of biochemistry professors using it in later years, though, to try to get their students to write in a dialect that approximates the English language.

      I do quite a bit of research. I run across papers all the time that, although I *know* the people involved were born, raised, and educated in the Anglosphere, sound like (bad) translations from Outer Mongolian.

    • Aismov was aware of the limits of statistical analysis in that by the second volume of his ‘psycohistory’ concept, (which I grant is an outstanding hard-SF use of statistics to drive the story line) he introduced ‘the Mule’ a.k.a. the black swan event. In consideration that statistics is never perfect, he had the Second Foundation as the backup plan.

  5. I recently read Brian Bova and Eric Choi’s hard-sci-fi anthology _Carbide Tipped Pens_. Their criteria was that each story had to depend on the science. No science, no story. On those grounds, all the stories were diamond hard sci-fi, very well done. One of them, based on statistics and higher math, lost me completely (a wee bit too hard perhaps? But I was also very tired when I tried to read it). However, all but one were depressing, from the very first story straight through. As much as I appreciated the science, the tone of the anthology would put me off hard sci-fi if I wasn’t familiar with the more optimistic side of the genre.

    • emily61

      Is Brian Bova related to Ben Bova? SF doesn’t need to be depressing. I think that depressing stories encourage immobility in their readers.

      • Thanks, for the catch, Emily. It should be Ben Bova. I have two books by Brian [different last names] on my desk, and . . .

        (I’d love to have a comment edit feature on WordPress. But I don’t want to know how badly the “improvement” would foul up the comment system.)

  6. questionableprovenance

    I think you meant The Age and Growth of Callorhinchus capensis. And could you indeed post a link to the article.

    Incidentally, was the elephant nose the “passing little elephant”?

    • eh. someone picked it up:-). Yes it was the ‘elephant fish’. Sorry no link unless some bright spark has digitized it. I have some paper copies somewhere.

  7. The trouble with thinking you can “just look it up” is you have to know ahead of time what you need to look up. And what sources are reliable. And why. It gets messy fast. To use a *completely* non-controversial example (oh I am SO funny) let us take the Yamal tree ring temperature proxy data, the ur-source of the Global Warming hockey stick graph.

    – 10,000 ft. view: The graph shows a sharp increase in temperature in recent years, as measured by tree ring growth patterns (cold=narrow rings, hot=wide rings)
    -1,000 ft. view: The graph is a “weighted” composite of several trees, all in the same valley. The composite algorithm is famous for enhancing small effects. It also can generate a hockey stick graph from random data. Oops.
    -100 ft. view: The upcurve in the graph is the result of ONE tree’s data. All the rest are flat as an ironing board. Ooops.
    -10 ft. view: tree ring growth can be *affected* by temperature, but also by things such as rainfall, available sunlight, nutrients, etc. It is not a thermometer. When the climate scientists asked around, a forester piped up. “Oh, that is a classic growth pattern when a tree has been overshadowed by a larger, older one that then dies and falls. Suddenly it gets more sun and water and nutrients from the decaying tree. Nothing to do with temperature.”

    Now this is an example of *scientists* not knowing what to ask. Why would a climate scientist talk to an arborist or a forester? Sure you can look it up. But to sort it all out properly will take a hundred years–and you will *still* only know the basics of a handful of disciplines. NOBODY knows it all. Sorry.

    • Worse is when a forester or other on the ground type tells you that your CO2 crap is BS and you start smearing and screaming “denier.”

      The antics of Mann and his cronies would amusing if weren’t for the public policies enacted because of their “work.”

    •         And then there’s the one foot view: the data show flat temperatures till the 20th Century, rising temperatures in the early 20th Century, and then falling temperatures at the end of the 20th Century: but that falling temperature data isn’t included in the dataset.

  8. “The problem is scientists are actively discouraged from writing accessibly.”

    I don’t have to trust you on this, I know first hand. When I was in college my adviser and I had a conversation about Colin Turnbull and Stephen Jay Gould writing for the masses. He showed considerable contempt towards them, as well as Donald Johanson and the Leakey’s, for writing to the masses. I’m not sure where he thinks his funding comes from.

  9. Even in ‘soft’ science fiction, the rules need to be rigorously applied and understandable as science. I gave up on one book Saturday that forgot that.
    My current book, almost finished, is about time travel. No understood rules, so the protagonists have to figure them out for themselves. Which means I have to figure them out ahead of time. NOT easy. Oh, for a machine where you dial in location and time and lo, you’re magically there! Make it a bracelet you wear, so you never get lost from your magical thingy.
    Meanwhile, I’ve been studying Nikola Tesla. He faced enormous resistance because he had revolutionary discoveries he wanted to develop, which threatened the financial status quo. It was true then, it’ s true now. So a major character will be something like Tesla, while others will deal with finance, government regulation, jealousy, envy and greed, I’ve got three books in the series mapped out so far, in sufficient detail to begin writing. Hopefully I can have all of them finished by the end of the year. First title, The Ship, so you might want to watch for it. My current project, out later this month, is Veil of Time.

  10. questionableprovenance

    You imply that Baen does not publish sales records. Why?

    BTW, TOR has committed many unforgivable sins. One of the worst is the David Weber Safehold series, which has degenerated into a time sink for Weber’s output, thus ensuring that the Honor Harrington series has come to a dead end.

    • Uncle Lar

      Same basic reason you don’t post your IRS return on Facebook. Sales records along with a few other bits of information would give the competition far too much visibility into Baen’s financials. Given the regard that most traditional publishers have for Baen, it’s almost certain such info would be used against them one way or another. Keep in mind that bookkeeping at trad pub houses is almost as evil and twisted as that of the music industry. They are masters at twisting numbers to their own advantage.

    • I’m not implying anything. I’m stating that outright. Neither does any other publisher. Besides the good job Uncle Lar did in answering the ‘why’, the truth is some of them may actually not know (yes. I am serious). In part this is due to the ‘sale or return’ policy to book-sellers. Given that sometimes huge volumes of a book are ‘pushed’ (booksellers are told ‘If you want Honor Harrington (or some title for which there is substantial demand), you’ll take at least xyz, or the publisher agrees to substantial ‘bribe’ to have a book in book dump at the counter, or on display in display rack or front window – typically this means the publisher paid a large advance,BTW, ) that can mean ‘sales’ are 10 million today but actual copies sold finally could be all 10 million or a few thousand. So by ‘sales’ you have to carefully define what you mean by sales. Books actually sold to customers would be a great measure, and in theory, that is what Nielsen Bookscan captures. In practice… it’s GIGO. Not all outlets do it and there is I believe some ‘calculation based on the stores that do.’ The end result is a few years ago a bunch of us got the Bookscan figures. They represented as little as 30% of Royalty figures in some cases, and as much as 80% in others (so either some people sell a lot through outlets they don’t capture, or the publishers are fiddling the figures.)

      • Craig

        Always amuses me when people use a source like Bookscan or Locus to compare sales between Baen and Tor. Hell, even Amazon.

        Other publishers at Amazon: new HC $19ish, Ebook $12.50-$15
        Baen: HC $19, ebook $10.

        Deeper discount = greater likelihood of ebook adoption.

        Baen, via Baen only: $15 for eARC, $18 for bundle (both prebuys).

        So, using any non-Baen measure of Baen sales leads me to exclude a lot of ebook purchases from the more devoted in the fanbase — people that need their fix now, so buy the eARC in advance, and then may not rush to buy the final copy; and people who like enough different by Baen to buy the bundles.

        Nor are the bundles or eARCs new things people can be excused for not factoring in.

  11. Uncle Lar

    Funny, just did a search on blithering idiot and darned if Cat Valente’s picture didn’t come up top of the list.

  12. Michael Crichton’s “Andromeda Strain” was written as a pseudo scientific report, complete with bogus references. I understand both Asimov and Crichton heard from librarians who were aggravated by students demanding access to the cited (not existing) works.
    There’s also a short study, I forget the author, about the Law of Averages. It seems suddenly people all started to do things as a group, rather than individuals, so the entire population of the city decided to take Thursday off and go to the beach. To combat that, the Law of Averages had to be passed.
    On the other hand, there are fingers. And these fingers have just finished typing a review on Laura Mixon’s well researched and documented report on RH/BS. Laura got the job done, I believe largely in part because she is an engineer, and understands the significance of data.

    • Pat, her graphs are GIGO. As bad or worse than Jason Sanford’s. With a science background she really has no excuse for that. She was using them as cover for her own bias, IMO.

    • Reality Observer

      The link to her “report” is dead for some reason, Pat.

      I do remember it, though, like Dave. And it was seriously flawed.

      • Yep, since I posted the review, the link to her blogged report went south. It’s still up as a PDF at
        It’s been several years since I took my last statistics class, but I have had several, grad & undergrad. I didn’t find anything wrong with her methodology. And she specifies that her report was written to counteract the calls of those in the community to move on, to forgive and forget. Her point was that the things that RH/BS were doing were severe, pervasive, and on-going. I don’t know what other bias drove the report. If you could give me specifics of the flaws, I will update my review accordingly.

        • The problem, Pat lies in her sampling. She was using reports to her (so voluntary, self-selected — always a BIG warning sign) obtained through her network of friends and contacts rather than any systematic method to eliminate such bias. She is not a neutral sampler – she is heavily biased and involved and sympathetic with the people she claims were the principal targets (she got involved because it affected friends). She found, in other words, what she wanted to find = confirmation bias. To prove there is none (if you hold a strong position a priori) you have to be rigorous in showing that you sampled fairly, and then took a neutral position in analysis. She made no attempt to get a neutral perspective, which she could have. I do have some slight sympathy – if she had showed that actually this was an equal opportunity bully, her ‘set’ would have excused the abuses just because they like the bullying people they dislike. That was at the heart why they put up with RH’s behavior: they enjoyed her abusing their enemies. That she did so was no secret.

          • Dave, I agree that there her work is not the type that would be published in a peer-reviewed journal. In order for that to be the case, she would have needed to do exactly what you describe with respect to sampling. However, that’s not at all what she was trying to do. She wasn’t in the role of the detached scientist; her role was more like that of a detective. Now, maybe my terminology, in calling what she did ‘research’ was poor, and I should have called it “investigation.’ That is MY error, and not hers. I point specifically to what she said was the problem:
            “It’s easy when a controversy like this occurs to shrug and call it fanwankery, or a tempest in a teapot; or to loftily counsel the participants to stop feeding the energy creature and move on. It’s certainly easier to do that than it is to investigate and sort out the actual issues. It’s very complicated; there’s a lot of he-said-she-said; and it’s hard to find direct links for some of the most damning allegations. I’ve already seen calls for everyone to just move on, let the current ruckus die down, and trust that things will eventually sort themselves out with no help from the rest of us.
            Bluntly, I disagree.”
            I restate: People were saying that what RH/BS did was no big deal, and it was time to move on, and she disagreed. She felt that what RH/BS did was wrong, damaging, and still happening.
            Why am I having to discuss this point?
            As far as I can tell, Laura J. Mixon and I agree on practically NOTHING in the realm of ‘social justice,’ but I can see that what she did in this case was a good thing: she sought and discovered evidence of wrong, damaging, and enduring bad behavior on the part of RH/BS, and exposed it. The apologists for RH/BS have very little ground to stand on.
            I regard that as a good outcome.

        •         I just tried that pdf link, and it works.

    • Reality Observer

      Yep, completely dead, even through her own website. Not your fault at all. It apparently has become an “unreport.”

    • Someplace I once read (no idea where now) that when Crichton was writing different things, when he would sometimes come back to something he had done research for earlier and had a difficult time distinguishing the actual researched documents and what he had simply made up out of whole cloth.

    • Timid1

      I have seen Eaters of the Dead in a library’s non-fiction setting, so . . .

  13. So… I have to be writing a science paper (soonish) for my English class final and my subject might be appropriate for Baen as “things that a sci-fi writer might find useful to know”. I realize that it’s a long shot but anyone know the process for submitting for non-fiction there?

    (If nothing else, the assignment is meant to target real publishing situations and appropriateness is part of the grade.)

  14. Draven

    Of course, one thing that makes writing hard SF fun is how things change… ‘hard SF’ from 25 years ago could have had people walking around with portable computers on their waist with 2 GB of memory and 16 GB of storage and someone would have thought it preposterous, especially if you had almost everyone having them. Or you would have ended up pigeonholed as proto-cyberpunk. And ordering something online from a vendor and having it delivered to your door in two days instead of ‘two to four weeks for delivery’? Don’t be ridiculous.

  15. What’s the Locus bias in attention paid, reviews, lists etc ? I honestly don’t know.

    • Draven

      Short answer: none of their recommended reading for the Hugos is published by Baen, going back several years.

      • Craig

        Draven: Bujold is the one exception. Excluding her, you have to go back to 2009 (2 novellettes in Jim Baen’s Universe; several other JBU entries in previous years) to find the word Baen. For the last full book, the Schmitz collection Trigger & Friends in 2001.

        This year’s Nebula award nominee Charles Gannon couldn’t crack their list this year with his nominated work, and they list 30 SF titles (well, 28, but one’s a compilation of 3). Nor could Campbell winner Wen Spencer with her several Baen titles, bestsellers like Flint & Ringo & Correia & Weber, nor anyone else. Just Bujold, and only Bujold, has been on a novel list for any year starting with a ‘2’ while writing for Baen.

        • emily61

          The reason that Bujold is an exception is that they think she’s literary. She may be literary, but her books flow and have action and are fun to read.

    • Locus has historically allowed its reviewers (some of whom are authors themselves) to choose what they review – which is fine, but not as a sampling technique where it is potentially subject to bias (which, when you look at the reviews by socio-political or publisher breakdown does show up) I believe in the last ?year (very recently anyway) they have attempted to change that. There are a couple of other metrics one can look at – for example there is no logical reason why the longer term reviews/list should not roughly reflect publishers by market share. That’s – given the lack of accurate data – hard to calculate precisely, but if one takes it as represented by the number of releases per month (making the reasonable assumption that there is a roughly equal minimum threshold of financial viability for any major — not one guy in his mother’s basement or as a part time ‘hobby’) You can get an indicative figure. I’ve just come back to life from a hard drive crash, and lost-at least for now my exel files so I can’t give the exact figures. I’ll be redoing them if I can’t recover them. But there isn’t the degree of congruency one would expect.

      But for me the irritating thing about Locus is that one reviewer (Carolyn Cushman) there would occasionally review my books -and I am a very, very small potato, but my friend Eric Flint (who is a NYT Bestseller- gameable metric if you are willing to do so, Wall Street Journal Bestseller – on bookscan figures and earns substantial advances, is one of Baen’s top three sellers…) has never had a review there. So yes, I am a trifle biased against them :-).

  16. Mary

    Hal Clement. The defining type of hard SF. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned him. His idea of writing a book was to invent a planet, develop it until it stopped being fun, write down all the facts on index cards, organize the facts in a suitable order to be discovered, and then introduce some cardboard cut-outs to so discover them.

    • emily61

      What about Larry Niven?

    • I beg to differ! Barlennan was NOT a cardboard cutout!

      The good Captain was an armored caterpillar. 😉

    • Draven

      Many (MANY) years ago at RoVaCon, I went to a room for a piece of programming (that I found out was cancelled when i got there) and a bunch of people were sitting around having a discussion on concepts of God. I sat in and chatted with the folks and then it was “Well, its 2:00, time for the next piece of programming…” and then Mr. Clement stood up from our little discussion group and walked up to the front of the room for his ‘scheduled program’.