The Puppy Kerfuffle: Winners and Losers

No, not a Hugo Awards reviewer but a reviewer of the extended art installation/interactive game/aesthetic stoush/book rebellion/fandom vandalisation known as the Puppy Kerfuffle.

My summation of the winners and losers in the whole thing – ignoring, of course, the actual winners and losers of the Hugo Awards.


Alexandra Erin: her playful and insightful parody puppy reviews of classic children’s books was one of the most entertaining part of what was an often bitter and unpleasant conflict. I am sure she has gained fans and it certainly lead me to read her published stories.

File 770: The daily Puppy Roundups were not only a must read for anybody following the kerfuffle but the comment section was both lively and creative – spawning its own subculture.

Philip Sandifer: Sandifer’s blog spawned the oddly friendly Sandifer-Vox Day debate but also carried one of the strongest and most insightful accounts of the controversy:

Multiple bloggers: Spacefaring Kitten, Lis Carey, Rebekah Golden , Tegan Gjovagg … and many others (apologies to people I’ve left off) who bravely read then reviewed multiple works of dubious quality.

Vox Day: sad to say. Day’s strategy (probably) was to help promote his vanity publishing house whilst trying to estbalish the niche market it was intended to serve. Day had already burnt all his bridges to wider fandom so all the negative publicity was simply net publicity. Whether his publishing enterprise will be a commercial success is another question but the Puppy Kerfuffle won’t have done it any harm.

Eric Flint: A series of insightful posts on the conflict enabled him to position himself both as an outsider to the supposed ‘establishment’ and a powerful critic of the Puppy campaign.

John Scalzi: as the key Puppy-Hate figure, Scalzi stayed classy (on the whole)

Worldcon: While it is unclear what the financial impact of all the additional supporting memberships is, and it is unclear who these new members are and how they may vote/nominate in 2016, the net gain in numbers is likely to be overall positive.

Marko Kloos, Annie Bellet: Gained kudos by withdrawing their work but gained publicity as well.


Tor Publishing: The Gallo-Affair was a distraction and helped mobilize (briefly) the Puppy’s to Vox Day’s agenda. Tor’s reaction was initially very poor and looked very much like letting Gallo take the blame. The Puppy/not-Puppy-honestly boycott was ridiculous and probably helped Tor by making many people who felt let down by their initial response act more favorably towards the publisher.

Baen Publishing: All publicity is good publicity but much of what was Puppy nominated that was also Baen published was of poor quality. Putting your weaker publications out to a wide, influential and critical audience is unwise.

Larry Correia: Correia had started the whole Sad Puppy process but stayed away from the fray (on the whole) in this most controversial cycle.

Kary English: Perhaps the strongest Puppy nominated author, English had a difficult time trying to steer a course between the multiple viewpoints. I think, on the whole, that she came up on top.


Mad Genius bloggers: some of the oddest, least well thought through and overwrought posts appeared here. Perhaps the assorted group of writers solidified their fanbase but it is hard to see that they would have found a new audience.

John C Wright: A talented writer but who used the Puppy process as a platform for some very odd views and whose slated works were notably weak and inconsistent.

Michael Z. Williamson: Williamson had written at least one decent short story in 2014 but any positive qualities he may have as a writer were overshadowed by the nomination of what is widely regard as the worst thing ever to be nominated for a Hugo Award. Wisdom from my Internet was so awful as to be the ultimate evidence of how appalling Sad Puppies 3 was as an exercise. Additionally the attention from this nomination just drew people’s attention to some of the nasty things he was posting on Facebook under the excuse of ‘humor’.

Peter Grant: A man so keen on joining the Puppy campaign that he started his own side campaign – a quixotic boycott of Tor books. It is hard to see what, if anything, Grant has gained. As a principled stand it seemed to be deeply confused – it required him to assert that he was a puppy (so Gallo’s comments applied to him) but then assert that he wasn’t a puppy so that he could claim that the boycott was not a puppy campaign.

Brad Torgersen: The tragic protagonist of the whole tale. Torgersen repeatedly defended the Puppy campaign even when the criticism was aimed at Rabid Puppies. He then tried to make clear the distinction between the two campaigns but continued to conflate criticism of the Rabid Puppies (and Vox Day) with criticism of him and his campaign. Despite some later more insightful posts, he failed to acknowledge that there was any issue worth discussing with his actions. Unfortunately he will ever be associated with this strange period in the Hugo history – as a vandal of something people loved rather than as a writer.

Revenge of the Petunias

Dave Freer has kindly replied to On Petunias and Whales: Part 9 in comments on the Mad Genius Club blog. This post is a reply. The format of my post is a bit ‘fisk’ like and I’m not keen on that because: The fisk approach I think always ends up being a bit aggressive When I see “fisk” now I can’t help but think of Vincent Donoforio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk in the Netflix TV series of Daredevil. “To fisk” somebody definitely sounds aggressive. Having said that Dave has offered lots of points and I’d like to reply to them in turn and so the quote-reply style makes sense. In terms of quoting Dave’s comments, I am editing them to focus on particular points. This can lead to comments being distorted from the intended meaning and so I would recommend people read Dave’s reply in full in its original context. Dave’s comments will be bold and italic and be preceded by “DF:”.

Continue reading “Revenge of the Petunias”

More Petunias: some extra data [updated]

[updated] I’m even less sure of that data below now. The 100% figure for book publisher seems unlikely. Going to the FEC website and searching on ‘book publisher’ I find lots of hits and some are obviously to Republicans. That isn’t to say the Verdant Labs data is wrong, just without a clear statement of what they did and what they counted it is hard to tell what the numbers are saying. Interesting though.

In the comments to Part 9 timbartik said:

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:

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

This is an interesting data set. It is based not on survey data but from campaign contribution data from the FEC that includes profession of the donor as part of the metadata. The producers of the data the simply assume that the proportions by donation reflect the proportions by occupation (as explained here )

I think the data needs to be treated with some caution as it doesn’t tell us for any given profession how many actual data points there are in the stats. For example a 80%-20% split in a given profession is less impressive if it only represented 5 people and was a 4 person to 1 person split. Continue reading “More Petunias: some extra data [updated]”

Revenge of the petunias (and whales)

A new sighting of Dave Freer’s argument has been spotted on Sarah A Hoyt’s blog.

But it goes beyond that. Yeah, this started by noticing that anyone who wasn’t parroting the mintruth’s line of the year had as much chance of winning awards (except for the Prometheus) as a snow ball of setting up residence in hell. As Dave freer noted, and file 770 figured, only 19 conservatives earned an award in the last 20 years (and that’s counting as conservative anyone who doesn’t think Stalin had some good ideas but was a bit eager.) This is far less than is statistically likely.

I don’t know which post Freer claimed 19 conservatives in 20 years, as I don’t think it appeared in the Petunias argument. If anybody knows I’d be grateful for a pointer (or if it was in Petunias, which bit).

Anyway. 19 out of 20 years. I’ll assume this awards rather than nominations but I’m unsure of the categories she is including. The more categories, the more unlikely a small number will be. For example, if she was just referring to Best Novel (she presumably wasn’t) then 19 out of 20 would make the Hugos the Fox News of literary awards. If it is 13 categories then we’d expect about 30 winners. 19 or less would be just under p=1%. 12 awards gives p=2.7%

8 awards seems like the best guess (on the grounds that artists and editors and other things may not be very obvious in terms of leanings). For 8 I think it comes to about 54% of 19 or less (assuming 12% as the US proportion of steadfast conservatives) I’ll also assume Hoyt’s characterization of “anyone who doesn’t think Stalin had some good ideas but was a bit eager” if literally applied would provide a different value than 19 – for example by that definition China Meiville would be a conservative (he is/was a Trotskyist – they aren’t keen on Stalin because of the whole ice-pick thing)

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.

On petunias and whales: part 8

In part 7 I found some evidence of bias – specifically a plausible bias against Hugo eligible authors who might fit into the Pew typology (covered in previous posts) of “steadfast conservatives“. Dave Freer’s argument had looked at this from the other direction – considering whether there was a bias in favor of “red” authors.

Overall I don’t think the numbers do suggest an active political bias in the Hugo voting for people who are particularly left wing. However, there may be a bias against people on the right of the spectrum. [NOTE: I shan’t say ‘far right” because that is a whole other argument. The Pew typology I’ve used is looking at mainstream beliefs on mainstream issues. There are fringe views beyond these that will behave quite differently]

This takes me back to Part 1 and Part 2 of this discussion. If you recall I’d discussed the fact that discovering a statistical bias is not the same as discovering some active discrimination, prejudice, vote rigging or nefarious acts against a given group. The bias can come from many directions. Here are a few: Continue reading “On petunias and whales: part 8”

On petunias and whales: part 7

In part 6 I wandered off topic to nit-pick on issues that do not add much to the overall argument.

So far I think I have shown that we can’t, based on Dave Freer’s red/white/black classification of Hugo nominees conclude political bias towards the left in the Hugos. the central feature of that argument has been simply that he the author’s aren’t as left as he might think they are – but the case isn’t closed yet and I’ve made challengable assumptions and broad estimates.

In the next two posts I’m going to do a couple of things. Firstly the checks for bias aren’t quite finished and secondly I need to return to an earlier point – the potential sources and characteristics of bias in the Hugos.

Note that all I’ve shown so far is that we can’t really reject the “unbiased” hypothesis. That is not same as actually showing there isn’t bias – it just shows that using the methods we employed (Dave Freer’s methodology) I couldn’t detect it.

What about the steadfast conservatives?

Dave’s account of past Hugo results was intended to show two things that pertain to bias and I’ve only looked at one of them “too many reds”. The other thing we have not considered is the flip-side “not enough blacks” i.e. not enough outspoken conservatives. Continue reading “On petunias and whales: part 7”

On petunias and whales: part 6

Part 5 was the number crunching post. I promised pedantry and I delivered 🙂

This post is about some nit-picks, caveats and other stuff that are worth pointing out partly because it is important to get the maths right as best we can and partly because they don’t matter that much in terms of the broad sweep of Dave Freer’s argument. Put another way: all models are simplifications and imperfect representations. When critiquing an argument based on a model, figuring out what is a deep flaw and what is a minor departure from reality is important.

Independence day

Dave uses for his analogy a person pulling colored balls from the bag. When he calculates the probability of several of the same color in each row he uses the same probability each time e.g. ” ½ x ½ x ½ = 1/8″. This is not quite correct. Continue reading “On petunias and whales: part 6”

On petunias and whales: part 5

In part 4 I started trying to get a better handle on Dave’s 15% estimate. I explained why category he thinks of “left wing” maybe much larger than he imagines when considering authors as a population.

In this post I’ll try and look at how Dave Freer then models the actual results from various Hugos and what results we might have expected.

Dave starts with 2005 – unfortunately that breaks the model straight away. I assume he picked 2005 to avoid Dan Simmons’s nomination for Ilium in 2004. In fact 2005 is an excellent year to consider bias because it was a year in which the best novel nominations show an indisputable bias! Continue reading “On petunias and whales: part 5”