On petunias and whales: part 9

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8

A conclusion

Dave Freer’s argument does not show what he thinks it shows. The flaws in the argument are:

  1. His description of a left wing category of authors is probably faulty as it relies on key issues that enjoy more popular support in the US public than some conservatives realize.
  2. Consequently his estimate of 15%, while accurate for genuinely “solid liberal” people, is too low when considering Hugo eligible authors. The likelihoods he needed to model may have an upper range beyond 50%.
  3. The model he uses in his analogy has some flaws but is not unreasonable and the flaws don’t severely undermine his argument
  4. Using his model an expected proportion of 45% for what he calls “red” nominees would produce results that are not highly improbable and which match his analysis of past Hugo nominees for best novel.
  5. His choice of years to analyze may be distorted by avoiding 2004 and by including WorldCon years held in countries other than the US, but his analysis would still hold if his assumption of 15% for reds was correct.
  6. There is some plausible evidence of statistical bias against very conservative authors but overall the evidence of bias is slim
  7. Dave’s argument even if it was sound does not address multiple sources of bias – some of which may be beyond WorldCon (or Puppy) influence

In truth there is no good reason why we should expect the Hugo awards to reflect the political spectrum of the USA. Neither authors, reader or fans are a random sample of the US population. Ideology in the United States has geographic, socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural dimensions. While none of those are deterministic, there is no reason to assume that group defined by common cultural interests would coincidentally be a decent random sample of the US population when it comes to ideology.

The shortest, simplest objection to Dave’s argument is this: any person knowledgeable about statistics would not use science-fiction/fantasy readers as a way of generating a representative cross-section of US politics. Yet the core premise of his argument relies on that being the case – otherwise in what sense is their a discrepancy?

Worse yet the 2015 Year of the Puppy has revealed a very narrow set of nominees, with conservative works being represented by a small number of authors.

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13 thoughts on “On petunias and whales: part 9

  1. The problem with statistical analysis of the Hugo awards along political lines is that it assumes random chance, whereas the voting process is (hopefully) skewed towards well-written work. There are those of us who neither know nor care about the authors or their lives.

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    • Yes and no šŸ™‚
      Yes, it is clearly not some random selection of books.
      However it is reasonable to consider how votes may skew differently when looked at on a political spectrum. If politics has no connection then we should still find a political distribution that matches a baseline. My real issue is that politics can skew in a given direction with no concious bias or shenanigans .

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  2. You might add to this that the political orientation of science fiction fans and writers might have some similarity to that of scientists whose political beliefs are to the left of the overall U.S. population. See this recent report: http://verdantlabs.com/politics_of_professions/index.html

    At the extreme, astrophysicists have 98 Democrats for every 2 Republicans. Astronoiers are 93 Dems to 7 Repubs, and computer scientists are at 89 to 11. Even engineers are 71 Democrats to 29 Republicans.

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  3. Re: timbartik. I think that is an excellent point. It certainly demonstrates that you can’t just expect some sub group of the population to represent the same political profile as the whole population.
    What I lacked was a good source connecting the general readership of SF/F to demographic data. I’m also, when possible, trying to find data like your link that is split on ideological rather than party political lines. Mind you the “Novelist” category splits 82% Democrat to 18% Republican – if SF/F author split in a similar way then we’d expect very few Republican leaning winners.

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