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Hugos/Sad Puppies Guest Post by Jameson Quinn

[ 160 ] September 1, 2015 |

Hi folks! Please enjoy this guest post on the Hugos!:

Hi, I’m Jameson Quinn, the guy who came up with the basic idea for the E Pluribus Hugo proposal to fix the Hugo Award voting so that minorities like this year’s Sad and Rabid Puppy slates can’t take over the nominations. I’m also a board member of (the Center for Election Science) and doctoral candidate in statistics at Harvard. Regular readers of this site will probably recognize me from the comment threads here, where I post using a Kafka/Martin inspired nym. I’m using my real name for this post, and ask that you refrain from using my nym in comments please. I also have to say that the political views expressed below are my own. I speak for only when it comes to the voting theory.

Regular readers here are probably also already familiar with the basic outlines of the Hugo/Puppy affair. Here are the basics:

    • The Hugo Awards are important awards in science fiction, which for over 60 years have been both nominated and given by fans attending or supporting the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon). This year’s WorldCon was last week/weekend in Spokane, Washington.
    • For the past 3 years, conservative authors have been promoting slate voting in Hugo nominations. They coyly called their slate the Sad Puppy “List” and denied it was more than “recommendations”, but still explicitly pitched it as a counterweight to fan votes that “skew toward literary (as opposed to entertainment) … [and] skew ideological” based on a “popularity contest”.
    • This year, the nominally-within-the-lines Sad Puppies were joined by the outright-trolling Rabid Puppies, led by troll incarnate Vox Day. Day expanded the list to ensure it had 5 things in most categories (so that it would push out all non-puppy works), adding himself and works he published in many cases. He explicitly called for slate voting from his followers, and asked them to vote whether or not they were science fiction fans at all.
    • The puppies were successful in taking over most of the nominations, including all finalists in 7 categories, though this later dropped to 5 when some of their unwitting nominees withdrew upon realizing how they’d won.
    • However, it was always clear that the puppies were a minority. Indeed, when winners were announced, the only winner on the Puppy slate was Guardians of the Galaxy (which had received more than enough non-puppy nominations that it would have easily been a finalist even without any puppy support). In order to deny the puppies any wins, voters gave “No Award” in 5 categories, using that option as many times in one year as they had in over half a century of history.
    • Fans rallied against such minority takeover tactics. A group including yours truly developed a proportional voting system proposal called E Pluribus Hugo over the course of over four thousand comments on Making Light (and let me say that SF nerds rock; it may have been my idea but it would have gone nowhere without the sophistication, skills, and energy of the community at that blog). At WorldCon, after a grueling business meeting stretching 11 hours over 4 days, the proposal passed by a 3:1 margin; if it passes again next year in Kansas City, the system will be first used for the Helsinki 2017 Worldcon. Also, the controversy meant that there were more Hugo voters than ever; almost 6000 of them. The flagship Best Novel award went to a translated work for the first time: The Three Body Problem.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of these events (aside from getting to meet some of my favorite writers, fictional characters, and even a Dalek) was the dynamics of the Puppies; specifically, the love-hate symbiosis between the halfheartedly-trolling Sads and the fullthroated Rabids.

In order to understand this, it’s important to see that the Sads actually did have the germ of a valid grievance: in past years, many Hugo nominators have been from a pretty small and insular group of authors, editors, and hardcore fans, who often know each other personally and whose vote is probably influenced to some extent by factors extraneous to the work itself. Writings from authors who are personally well-liked, or whose overall body of work is stronger than the individual writing, probably have had a bit of an unfair advantage in getting nominated.

Of course, that’s not to endorse the Sad Puppy point of view. Of their three complaints — that the Hugos have been too artsy-fartsy, that they have been too political, and that they have involved logrolling — the first two are sour grapes, the second two are hypocritical, and the relationship between the three exists only in their heads. Only the third could be even slightly legitimate as cause for organized action; but certainly not for the action they took, which was basically to vandalize the awards as a whole, without any hope of actually accomplishing their objectives.

Still, next to the Rabids, the Sads look positively reasonable. And that set up exactly the kind of environment where trolls thrive: one where they could shift at will from “debaters” to provocateurs to hate-hydrants. So, even though there were initially more Sads than Rabids — my analsis of the numbers suggests that in the nominations there were about 100 party-line Sad Puppies and only about 40 party-line Rabid Puppies, with those numbers inflated 30%-100% by partial sympathizers depending on the candidate — the Rabids quickly managed to spread their poison over that entire side of the debate, and probably picked up to over 500-strong by the time of the second round voting.

The obvious analogy, of course, is with the Republican presidential candidates, with Trump making his rabid pronouncements, and the rest of them watching sadly.

And that brings me to what you knew was coming: voting systems. Because with both the Hugos and the Republican primaries, flawed voting systems end up feeding the trolls. The non-proportional Hugo nomination system enabled a minority with less than 15% in certain categories to take over those categories entirely. And similarly, the vote-for-one primaries enable Trump to be a clear and enduring frontrunner with just 30% of the Republican voters on his side, and higher negatives than any other candidate.

Better voting systems are, of course, available. In the case of the Hugos, it was E Pluribus Hugo. This system gives 1 point to each nominator, so if you nominated 5 works, they would each get 1/5 of a point from you. The points are totalled, and the two works with the lowest points go up for elimination. Of those two, the one nominated by the fewest people is eliminated. This means that in comparing the two, your nominations count at full strength, and a “bullet voting” strategy of nominating only your favorite work could not help it at that point. Then, points are redistributed (so that if one of your 5 nominations had been eliminated, the remaining 4 would now be getting 1/4 of a point each from you), and the process is repeated until only 5 works remain. The result is that slate works end up eliminating each other until just 1 or 2 remain, while non-slate nominators points naturally concentrate onto the strongest works.

At the convention, I was handing out “E Pluribus Hugo” ribbons every time I made that spiel, so I can say with certainty that I made it to over 250 people. When I initially offered the ribbons, the biggest source of skepticism was that the proposal was too complicated. But once I’d explained, people shifted to merely worrying that it might be too complicated for other people. As you can imagine, it felt pretty good to see that when the chips were down, those “other people” turned out to make up less than 25% of the people who cared to vote on the proposal.

Under a voting system like EPH which doesn’t give an outsized voice to minorities, I don’t think that the rabids’ outright trolling would have gotten the same traction. And I’m not the only one who feels that way; in the final debate over E Pluribus Hugo in the Worldcon business meeting, one of the speakers in support was a Sad Puppy who liked how EPH would have prevented the Rabid Puppy takeover. Remember, according to my best analysis, there were about 100 committed Sads and about 40 committed Rabids, yet because the sad slate had fewer than 5 candidates in many categories, there were a number of rabid-but-not-sad finalists, giving an exaggerated impression of Rabid strength. Under EPH, the Rabid ballots would have spent their strength nominating cross-listed candidates, and probably no Rabid-only candidates would have made the cut. Furthermore, when it came to the vote on whether to adopt EPH itself, the rabid puppies’ trollishness was actually the best ally of proposal supporters like me. In such a simple up-or-down vote, any voting system is fair and majoritarian, the depth of bile that their hateful rhetoric inspired was clearly no match for the breadth of the backlash.

In the case of presidential primaries, too, there is a way of voting that wouldn’t “feed the trolls”, and where outright hate would tend to backfire. I’m talking about approval voting, where each voter could approve as many candidates as they wanted. Instead of throwing away ballots voting for more than one, we could just count them normally. Anti-Trump voters could approve the candidates they consider more serious, and Trump, with majority disapproval, would probably be well down the list of frontrunners. While he would still have made a splash, his racist rhetoric would lack some of its triumphant appeal. Any way of avoiding fanning those flames is a good thing.

Epilogue: I wrote some of this on the train home. It turns out that about a dozen fans decided to extend the convention onto the train, calling it “TrainCon”; though I missed it on the way in, I was with them on the way back. One night, they had a sing-along in the snack car, and they invited me to give a quick lecture on E Pluribus Hugo beforehand. At the beginning of the sing-along, two singers from the group Sassafrass sang several songs, including one beautiful piece that expressed their patient, clear-eyed optimism about the long term prospects for space flight. To me, the prospect of better democracy through reforms such as E Pluribus Hugo fills me with that same kind of optimism; though I know that the way forward is not short or easy, it gives me a reason to believe tomorrow can be better. Listening to their beautiful singing, and remembering the inspiring success of the proposal, is an experience I will always remember with pride and hope.

Hollywood Sequel Doctor

[ 125 ] August 29, 2015 |

Key & Peele is, like most sketch shows, hit and miss. This sketch, however, achieves brilliance. Or at least achieves making me laugh my ass off.

“Studios just bring me into oversee things when they ‘bout to drop a deuce.”

It’s called “Hollywood Sequel Doctor.” It’s about a flamboyant guy who crashes a meeting of “Gremlins 2″ writers. He’s Magic Jackson, the Hollywood Sequel Doctor and here’s here to make sequels more fun!!! If you don’t want to watch the sketch, here’s a quick synopsis:  The doc goes around the writers’ table, asking that each writer “create his own Gremlin.” The dumber the idea, the more thrilled with it he seems to be. The sketch is all Peele’s and he’s on fire through the whole thing. Some highlights from his jaunt ’round the table:

To the suggestion that the movie have a “brainy” Gremlin: “You talkin’ about a gremlin with glasses who could talk and sing ‘New York, New York’. That’s brilliant. It’s in the movie. Done.”

To the suggestion Hulk Hogan star: “You sir are a raging psychopath. Don’t let this town take that away from you.”

To the suggestion that the movie have an “electricity” Gremlin: “You just said noun and gremlin, like you playing Mad Libs. You just like a child. You have the brain of a child. You do not have a high IQ, but you haphazardly came up with a gremlin that’s just made out of bolts and is zig-zagging all over the room and is done completely in animation. You a crazy person, and your idea’s in the movie! Done. Next.”


Here’s the thing: the sketch ends with Key’s character saying “You know none of this stuff is actually going to be in the movie, right?” And then the words “All of these things were actually in the movie.” flashes on the screen. Never having seen Gremlins 2, I was like “NUH UH.” Then I wikipediaed it. Holy Magic Jackson. It just makes the sketch more delicious.

So, it’s an homage to crazy sequels. I know a lot of sequels are bad. But some sequels are as good as or even better than the movie that spawned them. Discuss.



I Blame Loomis for this Creature Feature/Links Post

[ 52 ] August 28, 2015 |

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 9.38.01 AM

My son is silly.

When I Am President Mondays Will Be Abolished

[ 46 ] August 26, 2015 |

And I promise a lasagna in every pan! You know I’m sincere about this because my Garfield posters say I am.

Republican voters, ladies and gentlemen…

bspencer/Garfield ’16!

Tuesday Odds and Ends

[ 15 ] August 25, 2015 |

Hugo Awards/Puppies Open Thread

[ 249 ] August 23, 2015 |

Ask and you shall receive.

GamerGate a Year Later

[ 95 ] August 23, 2015 |

Her lips say “Let’s play.” but her eyes say “I can’t believe I’m the mascot for these assholes.”

GamerGate was a months-long distraction for me. As I am not a gamer or involved in the gaming world whatsoever, or even a prominent feminist, I could dip my toes in its fetid poo-waters and remove them whenever I liked. And at one point I did, completely. I could just walk away. For the women who were targeted by the movement it wasn’t so easy.

I came at GamerGate from a weird angle, as the gaming world is pretty foreign to me. But I recall being at once completely absorbed and repelled by the politics at play in this “movement.” (You say “consumer,” I say “bowel.) I recall following the hashtag religiously. I recall following a handful of accounts of some of its most vocal critics. Most of all I remember following Zoe Quinn and then reading my timeline to discover that her past as a sex worker had been shouted from the rooftops by slavering Gators. (I don’t know when or in what capacity she worked in the industry, nor do I care.) And I remember my chest aching when this woman I didn’t know from Adam declared that the people in the sex industry had treated her with far more respect than the Gators had. Zoe Quinn doesn’t get to just walk away from GamerGate. She’s been hounded and harassed and humiliated for a year. That’s something you limp away from, even if I’m guessing (hoping!) she’ll fare better and better as time goes on.

LGM poster Origami Isopod sent me two GamerGate-related links recently. I thought  to  myself “Do I want to open up these old wounds?”  Then I counted myself lucky that I considered them “old” wounds, because for the women directly impacted by GamerGate those wounds are still quite fresh.

Tangentially related: here is Amanda Marcotte on the right-wing pile-on of #BlackLivesMatter’s Shaun King.

When Diversity Disappears

[ 23 ] August 21, 2015 |

I noticed something recently–conspicuous diversity becomes inconspicuous quickly. Here’s what I mean:

  • When I watch MSNBC I’ll note (approvingly) that a panel is is comprised only of people of color.
  • When I watch “At Midnight” I’ll often note (approvingly) that a panel is comprised of only women.
  • When I watch science shows on Discovery or History Channel, I’ve noticed that the producers have obviously tried to scout out women scientists and scientists of color. (I think that’s awesome and has only improved these shows.)

But the thing is, I noticed these things for about 60 seconds. Then the mental note was gone and I found I was just watching a panel of people discuss the news, or talk about the solar system, or crack jokes.

When Janet Mock appeared “The Daily Show,” at first I recall thinking “Wow, a trans woman.” But two minutes into the interview, she ceased to be a trans woman and simply became a person. This is not to say I want to disappear that fact that she is trans. I just want to note that when women, people of color and LBGT people are given the same visibility and  voice that straight white men enjoy they cease to be symbols of diversity-they simply become people, the norm.

This phenomenon destroys the idea that straight white men are the default. And this is a gateway phenomenon. Because when women, POC and our LGBT brothers and sisters are allowed a place on the stage, it will only be a matter of time before they afforded the same authority and gravitas we tend to grant only the current default. It means that women, POC and LGBT people will be accepted as funny, as smart, as experts.

This is why people fight so ferociously against what they perceive as forced diversity. Because when diversity becomes the norm, it ceases to be notable. And when that happens it will mean a staggering loss of privilege for straight, white men.

Random Fluffy Questions for You + Artists in the Mist

[ 55 ] August 21, 2015 |

I have a couple of good posts I’m going to write when I’m done doing the drudgery of keeping my home and exercising to mitigate my love affair with food. In the meantime, I have three fun Friday morning questions for you:

1.) What are you favorite songs to work out to? What gets you pumped.? Seriously, tell me. I need to throw together a good playlist.

2.) What are you favorite vegetarian dishes? Here’s the catch: It must be beanless. (Hubby won’t eat beans. I know, I know…)

3.) Do we have any artists in our midst? I know I’ve asked this before, but I plan on asking roughly every six months, just because people come and go and take up new hobbies along the way.


If you haven’t please check out Chris Bertram’s lovely photography at Crooked Timber. I’ve been admiring it from afar for months now.

Here is my latest.



Preschool Begins

[ 97 ] August 19, 2015 |

My son entered preschool today. I have been taking care of him 85% of the time by myself for the past four years (I was pretty much by myself when he turned 2) so dropping him off in his class had me feeling a mixture of sad and relieved. I’ve been really busy the past few years. And that hasn’t allowed me to be the best blogger in the world. But I think that’ll change now. It’s been cool sharing trifling, fun stuff with you all but I’m really looking forward to doing stuff that’s a maybe a wee bit more serious and substantive.


In the meantime, I found this on twitter:

I was like:

Then I was all like:

Then someone made me a t-shirt:

Have a nice day!

Madam, Could You Direct Me to the Lady Buttplugs?

[ 173 ] August 14, 2015 |

You will know the anti-Target weirdos by their bleeding eyes.


As far as I know adult toy shops do not segregate merchandise by gender. Target has begun following their lead with their children’s toy sections. The rightwing weirdo backlash has been hilarious, but even more hilarious is the dude who created a fake Facebook account just to troll the weirdos.

Ophelia Benson has more. She quotes “Do you only buy a television if it’s a “girl” television? ” Which I know is meant to ZING the rightwing weirdos but now has me slavering me for a pink television. Oops, too late, it’s a thing…and it’s SO SAD.



I think this is a terrific development. Toys are toys, or should be; they shouldn’t be impromptu gender/sexual orientation tests.

Linkin’ Around with bspencer

[ 64 ] August 11, 2015 |

Happy Tuesday, everyone.



  • Ron Fournier is concerned that libs are “smug, condescending jerks.” Untrue. The Jerk Store called and they said they only have one jerk in stock and it’s RON FOURNIER.
  • Soon it won’t be necessary for me to nag everyone to watch the finest movie ever made–“The Room.” Soon people will have to watch it if only because they don’t want to be troooolololled. It will be a purely defensive instinct instilled in everyone. My plan is working excellently!
  • This article about writing about female artists is a few years old, but still very relevant I’d reckon.
  • Folks, the next cookbook you need to buy is “Sheet Pan Suppers.” The recipes are decidedly unfussy but not completely devoid sophistication. Sample suppers include: Hearty Ratatouille with Goat Cheese, Quick Chicken and Baby Broccoli with Spicy Peanut Sauce, and Baked Turkey Meatballs and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes. Each recipe is accompanied with a little story and lots of extra info about ingredients. It’s written in an extremely pleasing conversational style that makes you want to try the recipes and maybe even break bread with the author.


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