All Over But the Shouting

Kevin Standlee of the FOLLE committee points out in a comment that the Ackerman and Ley Hugos were reclassified as Special Awards five years ago, the change first appearing in the Noreascon 4 Souvenir Book. Questions about Ackerman’s estate only surfaced the issue for debate. But Rich Lynch, a fellow member of the FOLLE committee, feared there was decisive resistance to making the correction – which triggered his protest to a fannish listserv.

I really dislike making Kevin the lightning rod for this deal simply because he’s willing to discuss it in public. He’s already corrected the official Hugo Awards site. It’s not even clear he had a hand in the decision: “Honestly, I don’t know who the specific person was who changed it, but the change had stuck and was in the FOLLE records.” Nor do the FOLLE committee reports attached to the minutes of 2004 Worldcon Business Meeting give any details about why changes were made to the Hugos, only those made to Worldcon history are explained.

So I will confine myself to a couple of basic questions. Kevin, you were on the FOLLE committee at the time, didn’t all members know about the changes – how was that work done? Also, it would not have taken five years for this question to come up if FOLLE annotated its work on the Hugo list the way it does the Long List of Worldcons — what would it take to have that done, something which will add transparency and credibility to the work?

The FOLLE committee was created in 2003 at the TorCon 3 business meeting, and its original members (in office when the changes were made) were Mark Olson (Chair), Kevin Standlee, George Flynn, Joe Siclari, Vince Docherty, Rich Lynch and Craig Miller. The committee’s organizers told the TorCon 3 Business Meeting:

[Our] policy is to have the Long List include the version which in our judgment best reflects the facts as understood by the people involved, and to document whatever variations or details we have discovered in the notes. We will respect historical judgments as long as they are not clearly in error, and we will attempt to objectively verify any corrections or notes we add.

I have always admired that vision statement, and the latest revelation concerns me because the result isn’t consistent with the goal.

It’s easy to make an educated guess whose database is perpetuating the change. The FOLLE report in the 2004 WSFS Business Meeting minutes mentions:

We have made huge progress in developing a Long List of Hugos using data supplied by Dave Grubbs and the ISFDB and are now (slowly) working to perfect the entries. (N4 has somewhat diverted the chairman’s attention, but we’ll get back to work…)

The Internet Science Fiction Database still characterizes the Ackerman and Ley Hugos as “Special Awards.” That designation was given to all committee awards on the list published in Noreascon 4’s Souvenir Book (2004), making clear there was a reclassification involved, not just a layout decision.

Can it be that the Long List of Hugo Awards was more accurate before people set out to perfect it?

Before leaving the subject I want to field a couple of questions that hit my e-mail today.

Q: Should I include Slater on the Hugo winners?
I think not. Ackerman was voted the Hugo by the participating membership. Ackerman’s gallant gesture ought not to be confused with an actual legal right to overrule the voters’ choice.

Q: Was Ackerman’s Hugo identical to, say, Alfred Bester’s Hugo?
I can’t say from personal experience. I would expect Ackerman’s Hugo to be identical to the others (or as close as Jack McKnight could produce them) since they made a point of giving his first. But even if it is identical, that wouldn’t by itself decide the conceptual argument of how Ackerman’s award should be classified. For example, Chesley Bonestell’s special committee award was a Hugo rocket — and that’s why the rules were subsequently changed to forbid giving Hugos rockets as committee awards. At the time of the first Hugos there would have been no bar to doing so.

I’ll end by repeating that the most helpful piece of evidence in this debate has been 1953 Worldcon committee member Bob Madle’s confirmation that all the categories were voted on. So there’s no justification for reclassifying Ackerman or Ley.

3 thoughts on “All Over But the Shouting

  1. Kevin, you were on the FOLLE committee at the time, didn’t all members know about the changes – how was that work done?

    We knew about changes called out as changes. If someone computerizing the data off of old paper records essentially made a data entry error — and that’s what this looks like to me — then nobody would know unless someone actually specifically noticed it.

    You’re not getting to the point where you should be asking Mark Olson, who is Chairman of the FOLLE committee your questions. He has direct access to the web sites and the person maintaining the database that (eventually) drives this. He’s more likely to know exactly what happened, whereas I’m just speculating.

    Both you and Rich seem to be assuming that there was a deliberate decision made to change those two categories. I have no memory of the FOLLE committee discussing this issue back then. I really think this is a case of an accidental data-entry error than of some sort of malice. Remember that printed lists include things in them that aren’t Hugo Awards but that were presented at the same time. It is not always obvious, particularly before the Hugo Awards’ rules and administration process were formalized, what was a Hugo Award and what was something else. Reducing all of that paper material, printed from year to year in different Worldcons’ souvenir books, to a consistent computerized form is not as exact a process as everyone might expect.

    Can it be that the Long List of Hugo Awards was more accurate before people set out to perfect it?

    That depends on what you mean by “more accurate.” Prior to the FOLLE committee trying to do something, the lists were only on paper, primarily in Worldcon souvenir books, and were subject to new errors being introduced annually as a new editor placed his/her stamp upon it. The FOLLE work included trying to get it into a consistent form in a database (maintained by Dave Grubbs). But getting it into that form could indeed have generated new mistakes, just like every time the list changed forms from year to year.

    The list is now more consistent, but is not necessarily more accurate. But because it’s in a consistent form at its root, it means that errors, when found, should only have to be corrected once rather than being chased every single year, like the “Farber Footnote” on the Worldcon Long List.

  2. I have always admired that vision statement, and the latest revelation concerns me because the result isn’t consistent with the goal.

    Again, it appears to me that you (and Rich) assume more deliberate consideration of something than I think actually happened. If, while doing the transcription of all that paper, someone had mis-spelled Willy Ley’s name or accidentally spelled the category as “Excellent if Fact Article,” it would not mean that the FOLLE committee had deliberately decided that Ley’s name should be spelled differently or that the category should be reclassified. It would mean that someone make an innocent mistake and nobody noticed it and called it to the attention of the committee for five years. And because that much time went by, it might be possible that people on the committee might react with a “prove it” question automatically when told “your data for 1953 are wrong.”

    There may well be other mistakes lurking in that data. As someone whose paid job is to design computer databases, one thing of which I’m certain is that most databases have mistakes in them somewhere.

  3. “Can it be that the Long List of Hugo Awards was more accurate before people set out to perfect it?”

    Don’t get me started.

    And the fact that both Bruce Pelz and George W. Flynn are dead makes the question quite hopeless.

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