Does Being GoH Tilt the Playing Field?

Janice Gelb says she wishes Worldcon GoHs would recuse themselves from the Hugo Awards too:

Personally, I wish more authors had this sense of nicety — I think that authors who are GoHs of a worldcon should not accept nominations. While they obviously cannot directly affect the workings of the Hugo subcommittee, the fact that their names are on every piece of publicity coming from the worldcon to me gives them an unfair advantage, albeit possibly subliminal, in the minds of voters.

I’ve heard people speculate before about the edge a Worldcon guest of honor possibly has in the Hugo Awards. This is the first time I’ve read anyone advocate that GoHs keep themselves off the ballot.

Is there a way of testing this perception? I suppose the best place to start is by reviewing Hugo history. (Note – the following statistics include “Special Guests” as GoHs. Whatever your view is about counting these as Worldcon GoHs, their names are in all the advertising which is Janice’s concern.)

The Hugos have been given at 58 Worldcons and at 14 one or more of the GoHs won a Hugo (24%). So it happens almost a quarter of the time. There have been 16 Hugo-winning guests altogether. That’s not insignificant.

A nominating phase was added to the Hugos in 1959. Since then the Hugos have been given 53 times and at 24 of those Worldcons one (or more) of the guests made the final ballot (45%).

A quarter of the time a GoH wins a Hugo. Half the time a GoH gets nominated for a Hugo.

And the closer you get to the present the more common it is, because now we have a lot more categories, and there’s also a trend to have multiple GoHs. Since 1959 a total of 30 Worldcon guests or their works have been nominees. Of that subset, 10 won (33%).

The numbers could be argued to show that being a GoH biases the outcome. Indeed, counting things to test for bias is one of the great pastimes of the Internet.

But when you consider who gets to be a Worldcon GoH doesn’t this become a which-came-first question? Think about the track record a person in our field needs to have before anyone will consider inviting him/her as a GoH. Why would you assume that kind of person is getting a Hugo because he/she is a GoH that year if they’ve been in contention, and even winning, all along?

Nevertheless, if you perceive a problem and want GoHs to recuse themselves, there are other perceptions to take into account. What about the mixed message “Our Worldcon wants to honor you, but we won’t let you have all the honors fans might want to give you!” Then, if you expect the GoH to make the call, like removing the ruby slippers, these things have to be done delicately. Look at how carefully Patrick Nielsen Hayden fielded the question of a possible withdrawal here a few weeks ago. He is aware a generous gesture is susceptible to being misrepresented as an arrogant assumption about one’s prospects. Is it fair to put every Worldcon GoH in the position of having to walk such a public relations tightrope?

Just speaking for myself, if you wonder why I withdrew when I was a Worldcon chair but not when I was GoH, that was about my inner perception, not the public’s perception. As chair, I felt my level of responsibility meant I shouldn’t be up for an award. As GoH, I felt no conflict. Just one fan’s opinion.

A list of all Hugo-winning and losing Worldcon GoHs follows the jump.

Worldcon GoHs who Won:

1953     Willy Ley     Excellence in Fact Articles
1956     Arthur C. Clarke     Best Short Story (“The Star”)
1957     John W. Campbell     Best American Professional Magazine (Astounding)
1958     Richard Matheson     Outstanding Movie (Screenplay, The Incredible Shrinking Man)
1968     Philip Jose Farmer     Best Novella (“Riders of the Purple Wage,” tied)
1969     Jack Gaughan     Best Professional Artist
1975     Ursula K. Le Guin     Best Novel (The Dispossessed)
1978       Harlan Ellison     Best Short Story (“Jeffty Is Five”)
1987     Jim Burns     Best Professional Artist
1987     David Langford     Best Fanzine (Ansible)
2001     Gardner Dozois     Best Professional Editor (IASFM)
2002     Vernor Vinge     Best Novella (“Fast Times at Fairmont High”)
2006     Connie Willis     Best Novella (“Inside Job”)
2009     Neil Gaiman     Best Novel (The Graveyard Book)
2009     David G. Hartwell     Best Professional Editor – Long Form
2010     Shaun Tan     Best Professional Artist

Worldcon GoHs who were nominated and lost:

1959     Poul Anderson     Best Novel
1970     Robert Silverberg     Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Short Story
1971     Clifford Simak    Best Novella
1973     William Rotsler     Best Novella, Best Fan Artist
1976     George Barr     Best Professional Artist
1979     Brian Aldiss     Best Related Non-Fiction Book
1979     Harry Bell     Best Fan Artist
1986     Terry Carr     Best Professional Editor
1990     Andrew Porter     Best Semiprozine (Science Fiction Chronicle)
1995     Samuel Delany     Best Related Non-Fiction Book
1997     Don Maitz     Best Professional Artist
1998     Stan Schmidt     Best Professional Editor
1998     Michael Whelan     Best Professional Artist
1999     J. Michael Straczynski     Best Dramatic Presentation
2000     Bob Eggleton     Best Professional Artist
2003     Kelly Freas     Best Professional Artist
2003     Mike Glyer     Best Fanzine, Best Fan Writer
2009     Taral Wayne     Best Fan Artist

8 thoughts on “Does Being GoH Tilt the Playing Field?

  1. I was nominated for the Semi-Prozine Hugo in 1990 when I was fan GoH at the worldcon in the Hague, Netherlands, but still lost that year to Charlie Brown. Oog.

    And LOCUS was nominated for the Hugo this year, when Charlie was a GoH, though a deceased one.

  2. Charlie died in 2009, so I didn’t count him. But even if his contribution to Locus in 2010 was minimal you might be right that he should be listed.

  3. How well did Worldcon GoHs fare in the years surrounding their GoHships? If there’s a spike in the year as GoH, that means one thing. If they tended to win a lot consistently, that’s another.

  4. Does being a GoH bias Hugo results? Probably. Should nominees to recuse themselves?

    I notice many books with “Hugo award winner” stickers. Book jackets and other PR copy often refers thereafter to the author as “Hugo award winner”. I’ve never seen a single instance announcing that the author was a “Worldcon GoH”. If there was an expectation of recusal, an author’s financial self-interest (and certainly the publisher’s) seems likely to lead them to recuse themselves from being a GoH rather than from being a Hugo nominee.

  5. Since, as you mention, these people are picked for GoH precisely because they are big name writers/fans/editors etc, you need to do a control group.

    I suggest comparing the % of times a Worldcon guest won a Hugo the year they were GoH, to the percentage of these same people who won a Hugo three years before they were GoH (so before the advertising started).

  6. No.

    The chance that a chosen GoH will not have a work nominated the year of their attendance is slim to none at this point.

    We’d either be asking an author/artist to drop out of being GoH (disastrous) or give up on possibly winning an award – which is one of the things they’re doing what they do.

    Is a guest going to stop producing a year before to avoid the potential conflict?

    So a GoH gets nominated and they really believe they’ve got a shot, so they withdraw from the guesting thing – which shoots them in the foot as all of the voters are now pissed at them…

    It would really put potential guests into a ridiculous dilemma – two years or more out and you’re asking them to guess where their career is going. Are they better off (two years from now) with a Hugo (maybe) or a GoH ribbon?

    Seems to me that game theory suggests their best option is to simply avoid being asked to GoH in the first place.

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