Hugo Committee, release the data

After agreeing to release the nomination and voting data for the Hugos this year, at the request of the EPH crowd, it seems the Hugo committee has changed its mind and is claiming it cant release the data without risking the privacy of Hugo voters. This change of heart causes me some concern because the Hugo committee has in its power the ability to settle a large number of arguments about the voting this year and also the ability to completely destroy any credibility that the voting committee has.

Before I explain why, lets get something out of the way. My day job consists of working in the medical research field and if there are concerns about peoples confidentiality and privacy with regard to the voting data, I am happy to offer advice, after talking to my number crunching colleagues, on how to remove necessary identifying information from the data to address this concern. In the medical research field patient privacy is everything so there is likely to be a way to redact the data so that it will still be useful for analysis while insuring that nobodies privacy is breached.

Onto the problem. It would seem that there are 4 possible outcomes from an analysis of the data. They are:

  1. Everybody voted honestly, there was no bloc voting, log rolling during the nominations or anything untoward by either side and the whole thing is a giant misunderstanding.
  2. The Puppies have been involved in bloc voting and seeking to rig the awards while the Anti-Puppies are entirely innocent of all charges.
  3. The Anti-Puppies have been involved in rigging the selection process and have been guilty of massive bloc voting while the Puppies are entirely innocent of all charges.
  4. Both sides are guilty of bloc voting and seeking to rig the selection and award process.

I think we can probably rule #1 out. Of the remaining options, a release of the data will settle the argument, one or both sides will be publicly embarrassed and can apologize for their behavior and there can be a movement towards reconciliation. I am open to suggestions for other possibilities but I believe my list properly enumerates all of the possible broad outcomes.

I suspect all this talk of “concern for privacy” is probably another way of saying, “People with something to hide are threatening us and don’t want their perfidy revealed”. I don’t think this should stop the committee from releasing the data These people have already acted badly and covering up for them wont do anything other than destroy the credibility of the Hugo voting process.

Through all of this debacle both sides have always maintained that the Hugo committee acted honestly and openly. Abiding by the voting rules and seeking to be impartial. If the Hugo committee decide not to release the data, after saying they would, it forces people to ask questions about the truth of this original belief.

If the data is released will it suddenly be demonstrated that the Hugo committee actually lied about the results and that they didn’t operate honestly after all? This will always be the suspicion regardless of the truth. Only by releasing the data, and doing so in a timely fashion, will they clear themselves of this suspicion.

Sorry Hugo committee you’ve backed yourself into a corner here. The data can be properly sanitized to maintain every bodies privacy and reneging on the release will not only make sure that arguments can’t be settled with data and foster the suspicion you are not nearly as honest and beyond reproach as everybody thought.

For the sake of the future of the awards, release the data. Nothing in there could be worse than what people will imagine you are trying to hide.

  • Foxfier

    Unless they’re using something radically different from any other database I’ve seen, shouldn’t they be able to export it to a spreadsheet, select the “name,” “address” and “email” sections– and any other personally identifiable info– and hit “delete”?

    • sciphi

      It is probably a bit more complicated than that Foxfier.

      There are 4 pieces of information to consider.

      1. Names/email/etc of voter. Obviously this would be removed.
      2. The ID of the voter, that ties a nomination and a final vote together.
      3. The date they bought a membership
      4. How they nominated and how they voted.

      Renumbering all the voter ID’s would need to be done as well, or else it would be possible to look at someones actual vote if you know their ID. It might also be worth removing the date the membership was purchased, although this would hide bloc votes bought as a bundle on the same day that all voted a particular way. They might also remove the ID’s entirely, severing peoples nomination from the vote cast. This would again lose information but I still think I lot of interesting information could be derived from data with those pieces missing.

      I don’t believe for a second if the data showed clearly that the anti-puppies were innocent and the puppies guilty as charged that the data would not already have been revealed.

      My principle concern at this point is that the Hugo committee is actually guilty of falsifying the results and that they wish to hide this.

      • Foxfier

        The various systems I worked with in the Navy were always a pain to export, but it’s a “this took a day to get it reasonable” pain. It’s not like they didn’t already have the voting options listed.

        I’d probably sort it by date purchased and over-write that with sequential numbers, in addition to deleting the billing and contact information. (Don’t want to do names because there’s a list of names on the website, and SOMEONE would be willing to put that in a spreadsheet and tell who voted for what.)


        My bet is that someone decided to toss out all the ballots that didn’t have everything ranked; I know several people objected to the very idea of ranking “No Award” at all, so that would be a simple rule that didn’t technically violate the existing voting rules that I saw, but that definitely didn’t go along with the instructions on the website or what my husband and I heard about our votes prior.