On Teacher’s Kids, and Hugos
Now, I was a teacher’s kid – a child at the same school my mother taught at. Teachers’ kids tend to meet other teachers’ kids. I’ve never heard any one of them have this experienced any differently, so I would guess it is pretty universal: besides, it makes sense. Authority is assumed to bias in favor of its own (whether children, or friends, or merely those like themselves). It is a perception which needs no proof – but needs a lot constant visible evidence to counter. If you’re a sensible teacher who loves their child, you make sure there are no signs of favoritism, and in fact are harsher and less trusting with them, than other kids. If you’re the kid… no matter how much you love your mother or father the teacher, you do not ever show this affection or close bond at school. In fact, if you’re smart, you’re a somewhat naughty brat, and get in trouble with the authorities (the teachers) – worse trouble than the other kids doing the same thing.
Because it is about perceptions, and credibility.
The same is true of competitions or governments. Your friend or cousin Freddie might have the best picture in the show, or might really be the best man for the lucrative government job… but if you want to have any credibility, any trust, any value… you can show no favoritism as the authority. You have to actively display bias against Freddy.
If your foes start saying you’re being a bit harsh on Freddy, you’re doing it right.
They trust you, you have credibility. Your prize (be it the Hugo or the Toronga Junior Prep art prize) is worth having. Your government is an asset, not a predatory liability.
That trust is a hard won.
And very easily lost.
Regaining it is twice as hard, if not impossible.
Now after the Hugos last year, a cabal centered on the site ‘Making Light’ asked for the Hugo Nomination data.
Making Light is essentially the mouthpiece of Tor Editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden and his wife Theresa. Tor as a company are financially affected by the outcome of various awards, they appear to be rapidly moving toward being the leading literary sf/fantasy publisher. Literary sf is really the only part of the genre positively affected in any major way by awards. Many of participants in the site are at least in some way beneficiaries of grace-and-favor from Tor. Making Light was the site on which PNH revealed knowing the outcome of the Hugo Novel category nominations while the result were embargoed, making either the Hugo administrators to be dishonest and unethical (having informed someone with no right to know and a financial interest), or himself part of some form of corruption. It is thus established it is not a disinterested group, or one with a good reputation for ethical behavior. Among them are the prime suspects in the orchestrated media smear against the Sad Puppies last year in which they got libeled as racists, sexists and homophobes. This was retracted (as it was a provably false libel) but mysteriously popped up in other publications. Where possible we tracked back the linkages, and yes, it’s a very interconnected group, and those having both the motive and the opportunity for this are rare. They’re also plainly the teacher’s kids. We have public statements on file from Kevin Standlee, saying what a friend PNH was and asset Tor was.
The people from Making Light wanted the data to test a new voting scheme going by the acronym EPH.
Everyone else out there thought releasing the anonymized data would be a great idea. On the puppy side of the table, we wanted to see if there was evidence that cabals (such as the group centered on ‘Making Light’) were conspiring to do in secret what the puppies had done in public (which it seems is supported by the evidence laid out in here). Now, there is nothing illegal about voting in concert or as a block. To do so in secret – and then to be outraged because others do so in public is, to put it mildly, hypocritical, especially if you have financial interest in the outcome.
The Hugo administrators for Sasquan refused. They cited the fact that it was impossible to sufficiently anonymize the data to avoid breach of privacy rules.
Which was irritating, but their decision to take. I took it as the teacher protecting their kids’ secret little slate. This is always the problem that authorities face with people they are known to favor. They bring their actions under suspicion of bias very easily.
Fast forward to this year. To File 770. Where Jameson Quinn – one of the Making Light cabal plotting to institute EPH announces that he and Bruce Schneier have been given the anonymized data, and tested it. Incidentally (because he’s not too bright, it seems) he announces that there is a weak correlation between the non-puppy nominations and what was nominated, but that this was much stronger in the puppies and what they nominated. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, without knowing the ‘secret slates’ Quinn and Schneier could not separate voters for those cabals from other voters. So: if a ‘weak’ correlation shows up with ALL of the data, there is a high probability that indeed, there was secret concert voting by some. After all, the pattern of ‘you nominate mine, I’ll nominate yours’ is well known and documented from the Nebula Awards, before they anonymized that nomination process. It may well still go on, but it is harder to see. Many of the same authors come up in Hugo nominations, which should be unlikely. The one is supposed to be a peer award, the other a fan award.
Which leads us to: how did Quinn and Schneier get data which was not available to everyone because giving it to anyone breached voter confidentiality and privacy rules? I don’t know either from Adam — but Quinn & Schneier came from a group which has a questionable reputation, has a financial interest in the outcome of the Hugos. Unless they are babes-in-wood those who provided the data to Quinn and Schneier knew that they were not people who could be considered neutral by a substantial number of the people whose data they were handing over. The two ‘researchers’ also knew full well they were not considered neutral or trusted: Quinn posts on File 770, another well-known anti-puppy site.
I see. A non-disclosure agreement… with a pair of ‘researchers’ from a partisan group with a questionable reputation and a financial interest. In secret.
My, that looks REALLY ethical. And no one spoke up. Not one of the Hugo Admins involved went public. Even those who objected… thought if they kept quiet, they’d get away with it. I see. Rather like: “I complained to him when he was molesting the little girl, I tried to get him to stop, but he did it anyway, and I didn’t go to the cops, because he was one of us.” My word! We can TRUST you after that. You would never permit anyone to diddle the system for their favorites.
And Jameson Quinn promptly breached their non-disclosure agreement. Well, what did you expect? Rules are for little people. They’re hoping for publication in a journal. I suggest they target the Huffington Post. Or Mother Jones, and even those might balk at this. Having breached a NDA makes it unpublishable. So does having data which cannot be independently assessed and verified. The ethical standards required by almost every reputable Institution make the use of confidential data without consent… pretty much a fire-able offence, let alone being able to use it in a publication. “Do you want fries with that?” is a phrase I would start practicing, were I a ‘researcher’ of this caliber. Or go into Social ‘science’.
I liked this this comment by Brian Z – which summed up effectively my feelings on the matter.
“I find it alarming that multiple administrators have chosen to secretly hand nomination data to persons associated with one of several rival factions within the membership.
The polite fiction that this data was provided for research purposes has already been exploded by Mr. Quinn, who is attempting to achieve his personal and political goals by selectively releasing information in order to convince 2016 voters to radically alter their voting strategies during the 2016 nomination phase, as he described in the original post.
We may assume that Mr. Schneier has more integrity than Mr. Quinn, who wants to “stop the puppies” by hook or by crook, but he has also violated your NDA. He has revealed additionally that he was given access to confidential nomination data from prior years. As a Loncon 3 member, I would also like to know whether 2014 data provided was raw, or “badly anonymized.” What additional years were provided? Was there any NDA signed with the other administrators to cover data from other years? Do the terms of the NDA really allow Mr. Quinn and Mr. Schneier to continue using the data for their desired political or research agendas after violating it? Halting the research immediately certainly seems like it would be the ethical thing to do.
And if other WSFS members are not allowed to review the same data on the same terms, well ahead of the close of nominations, the Hugo Awards may have lost all integrity for good.”
Well said, Sir.
That’s pretty much what I would have said, except that I would have also called for those who were involved to be named and shamed, and made an example of to try and fix it. Look: the harsh treatment that a teacher would meet out to their son or daughter, is the only way they can hope regain credibility for Hugo Award process. I hope – for the sake of prior winners, they have the courage and integrity to do what needs to be done.
I am still shocked that the Hugo Administrators thought that bias like this for their ‘favorites’ was acceptable.
Maybe they hoped no-one would notice – which makes them even less fit.
Well, we have.
And like Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s advance knowledge of the nominations, we’re going to bring this unethical behavior from Hugo Administrators up at every opportunity. If they allowed unethical behavior once to help out their favorites, without punishment or consequence… what’s next in cooking the process?
How can we trust them?
What’s any award worth, without that trust?
For years the Hugo Awards participation has been dropping, and its value declining. That is sad for the great authors who lifted the award’s prestige and made it something important. For their sake I hope some dramatic remedial action is taken.