Monday, May 05, 2014

The Five Percent Rule?

Over at Clarkesworld, Neil Clarke has an editorial discussing his proposal to do away with the five percent rule in regards to Hugo Award nominations.  The five percent rule is simply that in order to make the final ballot, a nominee must have a minimum of 5% of all nominating ballots for its particular category, and also be in the top five of total nominations.

Though I'm not going to quote the entire essay (you can click on the above link), I do want to note some things that Clarke talks about.  He uses examples of 2011 and 2013, two previous years when the short story category had fewer than five nominees, as  has also happened this year. But, where we do not yet know the nomination counts from this year's Hugo Awards, we do know those of the previous years.

Clarke notes
One of the effects of the five percent rule is that it helps prevent an over-abundance of nominees in a category when there is a flat pool of nominations. In 2011, the rule eliminated one story and did not prevent a tie, but in 2013, it prevented a four-way tie for fifth place that would have resulted in eight nominations.
One of the issues is that of perception.  When only three stories meet the five percent rule, as occurred in 2013, it looks bad for the Hugo Awards and for science fiction.  It looks like there were only three stories that were "good" enough to garner a nomination. The truth is obviously more complicated than that, with only three stories surpassing the five percent rule, a fourth story with only four fewer votes than the third, and four stories a mere two fewer votes than fourth. The five percent rule says that only those stories securing five percent of the nominating ballots will make the final ballot.

If we simply do away with the five percent rule, as Jason Sanford has suggested this year and last, we would have had eight nominees in 2013, which is just as bad as having only three.  Not everyone would agree with that opinion, but I share Clarke's thought that too many nominees is equally broken as too few.

This is where Clarke's proposal takes shape.
The solution I’d like to put forward is to drop the five percent rule, place an upper cap of six nominees and instate a tie-breaker rule. In cases where there are seven or more, we simply eliminate works tied for the last available spot. For example, in 2013’s four-way tie for fifth place, all four would be eliminated. There would have been four nominees, instead of the three allowed under the current rules. In 2011, these rules would have provided us with five nominees. 

I like it.

Cheryl Morgan pointed out last year that without the 5% rule, with some of the less popular categories, the cut off Fan Artist in 2007 was 8 votes at 5%.  All of the nominees were well over that minimum required margin, but it was still possible for a nominee to only have 8 votes and make the ballot.  Without the 5%, it would be possible for a nominee to have fewer than 8 nominations.

I see the point, and I do understand that as the nominating pool grows, it may become harder to reach that five percent bar and with Clarke's proposal, there is still a chance of having a nominee with a relatively small number of votes.

I think that the risk of this is acceptable.

No system is perfect.  I think that Clarke's proposal mitigates the risk, because the more diffuse the votes, the more likely a tie - and the proposal deals with ties that stretches the maximum number of nominees over six. Eliminating those ties from the ballot would likely also eliminate those with less than five percent of the vote and with a relatively small number of nominating ballots.

It would be a small step forward. 


Fin O'Reilly said...

Hi Joe,
Interesting piece, but your link to the Clarkesworld page is broken

Joe said...

Well, that's just awkward. Thanks for the heads up.

The link is fixed now.