More Bad Arguments in SF/F

When I commented on the current state of SF/F, I said that the discussion had spread to even people like P.Z. Myers. Well, recently, he added another post on the matter, talking specifically about John C. Wright. Most importantly for my purposes, he linked to a post by Scott Lynch essentially calling Wright a crazy pants liar, which Myers describes this way:

Now that you have a hint of the level of lunacy John C. Wright regularly dispenses, you might be in the mood to read Scott Lynch’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Lying Crazypants Liars Who Lie”. It’s a thing of beauty.

Of course Myers considers it a thing of beauty, because it is devoid of anything that even resembles real argument. I read it out of interest, and couldn’t help responding.

One of the things that philosophy teaches you, it seems to me, is how to quickly assess arguments and come up with reasons why the argument doesn’t have to be true, or how it doesn’t really respond to the statement it is criticizing, or how it doesn’t really make its point. So armed, when you then go and look deeper, you often find that the argument is even worse than you thought it was. Lynch’s post provides an excellent example of both of those tendencies.

Let me start with Lynch’s purported goal:

I have decided to weigh in with a reminder that the narrative Wright wants to push is an absolute full-blown fabrication.

Not an exaggeration. Not something that is truth mixed with lies. An absolute full-blown fabrication. Even if we only limit that to the specific incident between Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Wright’s wife, that’s a rather strong claim to make. You’re going to need very strong arguments and evidence to pull that off. And Lynch … is not going to be able to do that.

First, Lynch tries to catch Wright out in a contradiction (As in the original post, bold is Wright, non-bold is Lynch):

I was asked beforehand more than once if I thought there would be any unpleasantness or insults from the few but vocal pests in jest I call Morlocks who have been steadily infiltrating and corrupting the science fiction community in general, and the Hugo Award process in particular, over the last twenty years. I answered in the negative. The Morlocks are a cowardly lot, and would not dare say to my face the foolish lies they say behind my back on the internet. Besides, like me, they came to have a good time and to celebrate our mutual love of science fiction, and applaud in the fashion of good sports what we each severally take to be the best the genre offers. I thought there would be no incident.

Note the striking way in which the tone of Wright’s rhetoric veers wildly from one paragraph to the next. One moment, his “Morlocks” are a dire threat from outside the field, “infiltrating” and “corrupting.” Three sentences later they share a mutual love of science fiction with Wright, and the circumstances of his disagreements with them have acquired a trivial hale-fellow-well-met sort of cast. Oh, what gentle shenanigans! This tonal shift is a constant tic of his; the opponents that are part of a “silly kerfluffle” will, just a few lines of text later, be described as willing Satanic defilers who must be fought with prayer, fire, and sword unto the ending of the world. You’d think there wouldn’t be much ideologically consistent wiggle room between these two extremes, but what the hell. Magical thinking pants always come with an elastic waistband.

The problem here is two-fold:

1) Even if this is a contradiction, it’s not an important one, and since that’s all he says about that paragraph here, one wonders why he felt the need to include it.

2) In general, it is possible that someone is indeed pushing for terrible ideas that need to be fought while genuinely thinking that they’re doing good, or acting reasonably. So this “contradiction” would be more rhetorical flourish than anything else, and good philosophers will ignore those flourishes and focus on the arguments, or point out that there are no arguments underneath the flourish. Lynch does neither.

At any rate, this is a minor point, as all the paragraph from Wright does is establish an idea that he thought that, in general, the two sides would be generally respectful to each other at the actual event. Lynch probably doesn’t want to argue that that was something he would be stupid to expect.

Why was Wright at the Hugo Awards ceremony? He secured five nominations on the final Hugo ballot for 2015, and in this respect he was the most egregious beneficiary of a premeditated and publicly coordinated slate-voting campaign run by the people fandom has come to know as the “Sad Puppies” and the associated/overlapping “Rabid Puppies.” That’s not allegation, or conjecture, or opinion. It’s what happened. This campaign wasn’t even technically against the rules, though it was fueled by a baseless sense of paranoid entitlement and was certainly shepherded by a number of vocally antagonistic jackasses.

Now, any writer with the self-awareness of an eggplant casserole would have known to tread lightly in fandom following this clusterfuck, which, let me repeat, was a result of vote engineering by a dedicated minority rather than of general acclaim from the field. Instead, according to Wright’s very own account, he strolled good-naturedly into the Hugo Awards in the blithe expectation that everyone else would conveniently ignore the chicanery that had brought him there.

Oh, wait, no, he does. He wants to argue that while what the “Puppies” did was well within the rules, and while they did was, they argued, only openly what was done behind closed doors, that the “fandom” would treat him badly for what he did, and so he should have expected a complete lack of respect and so should have known to “tread lightly”. This becomes even more egregious later in the post since, other than going over to talk to Hayden, Lynch gives no examples of how Wright’s wife failed to “tread lightly”, as Wright suggests that she just wanted to talk about burying the hatchet and coming to some kind of polite accommodation. What did she do that would foster a hostile response?

Also, Lynch’s argument is actually that there was no such hostile response:

This is a load of crap. Having heard Patrick’s (hereafter also referred to as “PNH”) version of these events directly, and the version reported by several others, I say without hesitation or qualification that John C. Wright is a liar.

So what was Wright “lying” about?

At the reception just before the Awards Ceremony itself, my lovely and talented wife, who writes for Tor books under her maiden name of L Jagi Lamplighter, and who had been consistently a voice of reason and moderation during the whole silly kerfluffle, approached Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden at the party to extent to him the olive branch of peace and reconciliation.

Before she could finish her sentence, however, Mr. Hayden erupted into a swearing and cursing, and he shouted and bellowed at the tiny and cheerful woman I married.

So, let’s pause for a moment. What part of that do you think that Lynch ought to be focusing on if he wanted to claim that Wright was a liar? That he didn’t cut off her attempt to extent the olive branch? That he didn’t swear and curse? That he was open and not at all hostile to the attempt?

Well, if you’re Lynch, you focus on arguing that, well, he didn’t really shout and bellow:

NH did not “erupt” into anything, and there was no shouting or bellowing. PNH and Lamplighter were at a reception attended by roughly ten dozen people, including a number of notable SF/F creators, editors, and fans. Isn’t it curious that none of them noticed an alleged shouting fit by one of the most instantly recognizable editors in the field? That none of them reported or commented on such an immediately newsworthy incident? That Wright himself, who was physically present at the reception, did nothing there or afterward, but was perfectly happy to take his story to the web a day later? What was that about other people not having the courage to “say to your face the foolish lies they say behind [your] back on the internet,” John?

The encounter between PNH and Lamplighter took place within arm’s reach of a small group of witnesses, including Laura Mixon, from whom I received a recollection of events before writing this. According to Mixon, she turned away from PNH and Lamplighter after Lamplighter’s initial approach, and took a seat that placed them directly behind her. The first notion Mixon had that the conversation had ended was when PNH sat down beside her a few moments later. That’s how much “shouting” and “bellowing” were involved.

Well, okay, let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that the shouting and bellowing was an exaggeration (remember, it’s not enough for Lynch to show exaggeration considering his starting point). How, according to Lynch, did the encounter go down?

As PNH told Mixon: When PNH realized who Lamplighter was, he said (closely paraphrased): “I’m a practicing Catholic, and I found your husband’s comments about me hurtful. His comments about Moshe Feder were the next thing to Blood Libel. I don’t want to talk to you, and please tell John C. Wright to shove his opinions up his ass.”
After PNH sat down, Lamplighter attempted to re-engage him in conversation twice despite his repeated declarations that he didn’t want anything to do with her. Mixon finally said, “Can’t you understand that he doesn’t want to talk to you?” and Lamplighter took the hint at last.

First, Mixon’s account doesn’t count as an independent third party account here, because she didn’t hear it and is only reporting what Hayden said he said. Second, I’m not sure if Mixon is paraphrasing here or Hayden is, but that doesn’t matter much. If we take the account as reasonably accurate though, the account pretty much confirms all of the above questions. Hayden cut her off before she could finish what she was saying, as he replied as soon as he figured out who she was. The quote, even paraphrased, is very hostile, and contains swearing … and it’s reasonable to think that that hostile a statement would contain more swearing than the paraphrase admits. So, other than the actual volume of the diatribe, it seems to have gone down precisely the way Wright describes, and I’ll be willing to forgive someone for describing this as “shouting and bellowing” when it was this hostile, as we know what can happen with memory and all that.

Given this, what important information is Wright lying about? The best Lynch has done here is show that he and/or his wife is exaggerating about how loudly Hayden was talking. That’s not full-on fabrication by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ll put aside the point over whether Hayden destroys the careers of people who don’t share his politics, as that would require more research than I care to do at the moment, other than to comment that just because he’s edited some books from some people who don’t share his politics that doesn’t mean that there aren’t political views that he will act that way towards, and a quote from someone else on what TOR does doesn’t in any way mean that Hayden doesn’t act inappropriately.

So let’s move on to the subject of TOR dominance of the Hugos:

Before I continue, I should explain to the reader that Mr. Hayden, and no one else, was the driving force behind the corruption of the Hugo Awards in these last fifteen to twenty years.

I must at this point apologize to the reader for understating my case. John C. Wright is a lying hysteric. Full stop.

So, what are Lynch’s arguments against this?

• How would this campaign of corruption be funded? Do you imagine SF/F editors as a career class are rolling in cash? If so, incidentally, how long until you start kindergarten?

Um, the claim — made in Lynch’s very post — is that the Puppies invalidly influenced the nominations and maybe even the voting on the Hugos. How much money do they have access to directly? Given no actual opposition, how much money would they need? Why does he think that money is required, anyway? The quote from Wright doesn’t in any way claim that they bought the awards, so why does he think that this is such a relevant point that he needs to bring it up first, as if it’s a strong point at all in his attempt to prove that Wright is a liar? What claim of Wright’s does this actually refute?

• How would it be coordinated? Other people would, sooner or later, need to be suborned or at least consulted. How would messages be sent? How could fifteen to twenty years of necessary notes and e-mails remain completely hidden? How is it that in all that time, not one person approached by this alleged conspiracy would have felt uncomfortable with it, refused to participate, and then made its existence public?

So, here, Lynch jumps to official and complete conspiracy theory, rather than a movement of word of mouth and recommendations and the like, and assumes that the people involved directly would think it immoral. Without Lynch pointing out Wright’s specific claim, there’s no reason to think that this is what Wright is asserting. In short, Lynch has to argue here that everyone is “on the take”, as opposed to a small number of people being selfishly motivated and using recommendations and selective attacks to mislead others into doing what they want … which is what the Puppies are accused of doing, BTW.

• How would all the non-Tor publishers and authors be induced to cooperate with Patrick’s plans?

If Hayden and those he can influence have enough influence, it’d just be a matter of those influential voices recommending in a block rather than explicit direct discussion … again, like the Puppies were accused of doing, only they were pretty open about what they were doing.

• Even if Patrick were to dispense with controlling the voters and go straight to fudging the results, how would he have been able to suborn the Hugo vote-counting process that is overseen by a different group of people in a different geographic location every single year?

Where does Wright argue for direct vote fixing? Again, Lynch here invents arguments and then tries to defeat them. But this only works if he can establish a) what Wright’s argument actually is and b) that all of the other options are impossible. Since the other options are what the Puppies are accused of actually doing, that’s … not a good argument.

It’s only much later that he quotes a statement of Wright’s actual argument:

Thereafter, the Hugo voters awarded awards to the Tor authors Mr. Hayden selected based on their political correctness, and expelled those whose politics the clique found not to their taste.

So, Wright is accusing a clique of putting forward recommendations and arguing based on their politics and not the quality of their work. Larry Correia claims that this is exactly what happened to him, which is what got him to start a movement like this. How much Hayden is directly involved in that is debatable, of course … but Lynch hasn’t in any way argued otherwise.

And then … Lynch tries to disprove the idea that over the past 15 to 20 years TOR books are winning more often, by looking at the Hugo for Best Novel:

If you look at the actual evidence from the Hugo results dating back to 2000, you’ll see that Patrick’s inexorable PC blitzkrieg has been so devastatingly effective that it has delivered best novel Hugos to Tor books a whopping five times out of fifteen. If you examine Wright’s larger figure and count back twenty years, you’ll see that Patrick’s all-consuming Social Justice Shoggoth has crapped out even worse, delivering a mere six out of twenty.

So, in the time period from 1995 to 2000, TOR books won an average of one award every 5 years. From 2000 to 2015, they won an average of one every three years. Lynch tries to present it as it having to be a well-oiled machine that produces wins in this category every year, but that increase looks … suspicious, to say the least. But the time period is a bit short for conclusions, so let’s look at just this category and include nominations, which it has been shown can be easily gamed, starting from 1990 (from Wikipedia):

1990 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1991 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1992 – 1 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1993 – 2 TOR nominations, TOR win.
1994 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
1995 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1996 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1997 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1998 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
1999 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2000 – 1 TOR nomination, TOR win.
2001 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2002 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
2003 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
2004 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2005 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2006 – 2 TOR nominations, TOR win.
2007 – 3 TOR nominations, TOR win.
2008 – 2 TOR nominations, TOR win.
2009 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2010 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2011 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2012 – 1 TOR nomination, TOR win.
2013 – 1 TOR nomination, TOR win.
2014 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
2015 – 3 TOR nominations, TOR win.

So, from 1990 – 1999, TOR won once, and didn’t get a single nomination in this category 3 times. From 2000 – 2009, TOR won four times, only didn’t get a single nomination once, and achieved 3 nominations once. From 2010 to 2015, TOR won three times, only didn’t get a nomination once, and again achieved 3 nominations once … 2015, the year the Puppies gamed the system. And note that their win there was not the Puppy slate choice, at least not from the Rabid Puppies, as Vox Day said that he would have had it on his slate if he’d read it before he made it, because it was deserving of the win. So this is the TOR book that wasn’t on the Puppy slate, and it won anyway.

But from the numbers, we can see a massive increase in TOR getting nominations in this category over this time period. If the 2010 – 2015 numbers hold, TOR will likely hit 5 or 6 wins, and only miss getting a single nomination at most twice. There may be reasons for this massive increase from the 1990 – 1999 time period — a loss of SF/F publishers, improved quality, changing times that TOR has grabbed onto more than their competitors — but the numbers look suspicious, to say the least. It almost starts to look like a trend … which is exactly what you’ll see with a campaign based on quiet influence rather than direct cheating. So, no, if we look at the numbers, Lynch has some ‘splaining to do, methinks.

So, in summary, this post shows no examples of out-and-out lying, and at best some examples of exaggeration, most of which are unimportant. Lynch’s own numbers are suspicious when he tries to use one category “Best Novel” against Wright, and when we look at it in detail we can certainly see that the numbers are suspicious, to say the least. So this post completely fails to make its case, and so is a complete failure when it comes to actual argumentation.

No wonder Myers likes it so much …

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3 Responses to “More Bad Arguments in SF/F”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    This is a load of garbage.

    I have worked with L. Jagi Lamplighter personally. She has a blog. Go and read it. And read her responses to Mr. Wright, in the post where she announces this. You know what she said? Mr. Wright is exaggerating this, but only a little bit. After getting the information from Mrs. Wright.

    Her blog and her posts at superversive SF are completely non-confrontational. In fact, she tries to assume good motives, or at least fair ones, whenever possible.

    She has been extraordinarily helpful to me, without me asking her, has never insulted ANYBODY involved in this (including Mr. Hayden – seriously, read her account of the even in Mr. Wright’s blog post). Accusing her of lying about this is revolting bullshit. I do not believe it for a second. And the fact that we are blaming HER for wanting to personally respond to vicious insults thrown in her face is such a dickheaded thing to say that I have lost all respect for P.Z. Myers – though to be fair, I never had any.

    He is an angry fool and he should apologize to Mr. Wright immediately. But because he has no honor whatsoever, he won’t.

    I find his “logic” ridiculous and insidious.

    And believe me, if you knew Mrs. Wright at all you’d agree with me.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      To be fair, it was Scott Lynch who accused her of lying, not Myers. Myers just linked to it approvingly, but clearly has no idea what’s going on.

      Even if we take Lynch at his word, all he manages to establish, as I said, is that how loudly Hayden was talking might be exaggerated. That’s far from what he claims he can do, and if we look deeper we can even see that his attempt to prove Wright HIMSELF wrong fails when we look at the category that he himself wanted to use to disprove him.

  2. Let’s Play a Game | Malcolm the Cynic Says:

    […] a thorough summary of Myers’ arguments and a thorough takedown you can take a look at the Verbose Stoic’s post. Here is my addition to […]

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