AMERICAN MENSA MEMORANDUM
Date: August 15, 1978
Copies to: AMC, Rita Levine, Margot Seitelman, Jan Williams
Herewith the report of the Subcommittee on Editors' Awards, but before I get into recommendations for future action, I'd like to mention how this year's voting went.
THIS YEAR'S VOTING
This year's voting was carried out the same as it has been the last four years in two ways: the newsletters were divided into small, medium, and large group categories, and the editors did the voting. But it was different in three ways: group size was based on total circulation rather than on parent-group size (as a more accurate indication of resource base and scale of production); ballots were mailed directly to the editors rather than being printed in InterLoc; and preferential rather than single-choice voting was used.
Ballots were mailed directly to the editors in an attempt to increase participation. On the surface. It appears to have been successful, but the data are hardly conclusive. The historical voting record is as follows:
It may be that, in Mensa as elsewhere, only some percentage of the "registered voters" is actually going to show up at the polls no matter what encouragement may be offered. However, those who are enamored of percentages may correctly say that this year's participation represented a 50% increase over last.
Preferential voting was used in an attempt both to offset the editors' apparent tendency to vote for themselves and to decrease the resultant number of tie votes, and was, I believe, an unqualified success. In the small, medium, and large categories 20, 17, and 20 newsletters were named, so, apparently, half to two-thirds of the editors voted for themselves one way or another. However, the editors were asked to vote for second and third places also, and when the votes were tabulated, a first place was assigned a value of 3; second, 2; and third, 1. Thus a maximum of 90 "points" was available (in the unlikely event that all the editors voted first place to the same newsletter). The voting was as follows (top five contenders):
There were no ties among the first three place winners, and the winners' scores clearly separated them from others for which any votes had been cast.
SIZE CATEGORIES DON'T WORK
I think the Editors' Awards is another of those instances where we've become so blinded by tradition that we've lost sight of what we were trying to accomplish. For example, dividing the competition according to group size. Once upon a time when all local groups were considerably smaller and on a more equal footing, this division might have been more reasonable. I think that many of today's "medium" groups may well have been yesterday's "large" groups, and with more stable groups, more resources, and more talent, it becomes harder to rationalize the size distinction. Compare, for example, Tampa Bay Sounding (#31, circulation 321) and Proteus (#6, circulation 1,186).
This size division really is quite arbitrary. Almost invariably (and it happened this year), the two newsletters that just squeezed into the next larger category are quite bitter about it, feeling that they have suddenly been thrust out of their league. Moreover, because the group sizes do changeand particularly if an attempt is made to keep three more or less equal categories by numbersone group may bobble back and forth from one category to the other from year to year with no appreciable change in the newsletter.
Not necessarily in conflict with what I said before, it does seem apparent that at some point size does make a difference, and, in general, the ten largest groups are able to put out "more newsletter" than the smaller ones. Hence, if we try to separate out the "super-groups" to compete among themselves, either we wind up with one category of 10 and two of 35, which is unfair, or eight categories of 10, which is ridiculous.
1ST, 2ND, AND 3RD PLACE RANKINGS DIFFICULT
Another place where we have become tradition-bound, I believe, is in selecting a first, second, and third place winner within the size categories. As Hans suggested by developing a rating scheme, it is difficult to decide what makes for "first best," second best," and so on. It seems obvious to me that when we select a best newsletter we are basing our judgment on some perception of qualitybut it also seems obvious to me that a kind of averaging process takes place, that flash may offset substance, or that some measure of worth may atone for a less creditable presentation elsewhere in the newsletter. This sort of judgment, while usually tending in the right direction, does tend to be somewhat capricious and arbitrary.
A LOGICAL CONCLUSION & ITS BENEFITS
It therefore seems perfectly logical to me to suggest, as a means of obviating these problems, that awards be given for specific accomplishments. This would have three major benefits.
Examples of categories might be
I don't mean to suggest that any or all of these categories should be used. I would suggest that ninethe number of awards now madebe selected or developed. I would also recommend that the Special Mention and Owl awards be continued (insofar as Cybis can be persuaded to continue to donate the statue or Mensa is willing to foot the bill).
The other major question yet unanswered is whether the awards selection should be made by the editors or by a panel. And if specific categories are used instead of group size, etc., the only objection to the editors' voting is the indefinite slatenot all editors receiving all the same newsletters. Personally, I do not favor using a panel, and for the following reasons.
My recommendations, then, are
I am not recommending that the AMC levy this method of selecting Editors' Awards by fiat. Rather, absent objection from the AMC, I propose to mall to all the editors the full discussions by this subcommittee, together with a ballot offering the following options:
I think that the hardest part of this subcommittee's work was to define real choices (methods) available, and I do believe that the editors should determine how their awards are madeas they have done in the past. The groundwork has been laid: if specific categories are chosen, I will work with the editors to develop those categories, and if a panel method is chosen, then we can assemble something along the lines of the monstrosity I presented in New Orleans.
But when the vote is in, the system is decideduntil the next time somebody decides to stir it up again.