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Falling Out of Love With EPH

In 2015, I was pretty clearly on the EPH train. I sure did vote for its passage. And now it’s 2016, and I’m tweeting out stuff like this:

So yeah, I am not surprised that got some confused reactions.

To be perfectly frank, this year I voted with the minority against ratification of EPH. I’m not going to claim that the passage of EPH is going to Destroy Life As We Know It And The Cats And Dogs Will Play Shuffleboard Together. I am not upset that it passed. But I’m no longer convinced that it’s the great solution I thought it was in 2015, because I’ve been doing a lot of listening and thinking.

First of all, we had some data to look at with how EPH would have processed this year and previous years.

  • It’s become very obvious that EPH isn’t the silver bullet that will slay all slating that I think a lot of us convinced ourselves it was. For the most part, it would have only made a 1-2 nominee difference in this year’s categories, and a weaker difference in 2015, which seems very counterintuitive considering the slating was much stronger last year. (This year there were actually more nominating ballots than final voting ballots, which is weird.) So yes, it’s better to have one or two “genuine” nominees in a category than none at all. But having categories that are still composed mostly of shit is really not a workable long-term solution.
  • I’m extremely concerned how EPH will affect the dramatic presentation categories, which were not included in the report on Sunday just because they were such an unholy mess to figure out. But one point we can’t ignore is that for those categories, there’s so much less on offer that people are likely to cluster around certain works in ways that will act as a natural slate—and considering that this is all about trying to stop the deliberate manipulation by the shitbag faction of the fandom, I don’t think it’s fair that the organic growth of something that would appear slate-like to the un-nuanced eye of an algorithm be treated in the same way.
  • Looking at the previous year’s data, EPH would have eliminated one of the Hugo winners from 2014. In the meeting, Dave mentioned this as something of a surprising aberration. And if it’s a thing that only happens once, good. But I find myself very concerned that similar unintended consequences could happen. The rule should really be first do no harm, here.

After talking to a lot of people and listening, I’ve also got some concerns about how EPH as a system will affect voter confidence in the process.

  • It’s still damn complicated. Yes, I’m aware that you can boil an explanation of EPH down to a single powerpoint slide. And if you grasp it well enough to explain it from that slide, good for you. I know I can’t, and I rarely have a powerpoint at hand when this comes up in conversation. I don’t think this is terribly good when it comes to trying to promote participation in the process. (Seriously, it’s hard enough to explain how the ranking works for the final voting.)
  • And considering all the points above? If I’m concerned and I’m among the group of high information voters when it comes to the mechanics, how is someone who hasn’t gotten to go through the all the presentations and question times and the like going to feel?
  • EPH is effectively a black box. It doesn’t really allow for simple hand verification. That doesn’t help efforts at transparency, which is the number one thing that encourages people to have any kind of faith in the system. And let’s not forget the conspiracy-mongering, just-repeat-something-until-it’s-true shitbag that made all this necessary. It’s not that I give a crap one about actual comic book villain Theodore Beale’s good opinion, but the less transparent something is, the easier it is to make up things about it.

I’ve become a convert to the Three Stage Voting proposal. We get told again and again that the practice has always been to leave it to the voters and have faith in them. And we’ve seen over the last two years that the voters as a whole have definite opinions about people who try to manipulate them, the system, and their beloved award. So I’m willing to have faith that the voters can decide in a semifinal if they think someone doesn’t have any business being one the final ballot with a purely up or down vote.

That said, I think we’re going to be fine. EPH has been amended so that it can be easily suspended for a year by the business meeting if there’s something going really haywire with it. We’ll see what 2017 brings.

By the way, Cheryl Morgan has written a good post that covers this and other WSFS stuff. You should read it.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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