One of the big problems with crowdsourcing a “best of” consensus list is the fact that you never know if the people voting actually know anything about what they’re voting for. This is true of pretty much every voting process, of course, and while I don’t want to be all down on democracy, it nettles me when I see things like NPR’s new Top 100 SF/Fantasy list. NPR has, with the help of readers/listeners and an “expert panel,” selected 100 titles from which every voter will pick 10, culminating in the Ultimate Top Ten, I guess. There’s nothing wrong with listmaking. It’s just that I wonder if everyone voting has actually read every book on the list of 100 titles. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only read 23 (more like 30, if you count the series and books of which I’ve only read a part, but not the whole thing). That’s a very small number. It’s pathetic. So I’m not going to vote. But I’m guessing that of all the people that will vote in this poll, less than half will have read most of the titles. (By “most,” I mean something like 85 or more.) Most people will probably have read far less. They have a right to vote, but that doesn’t mean their votes are informed or meaningful, which means that the eventual top 10 will be neither informed nor meaningful. I’m not saying that an “expert panel” would have a more authoritative list, but one would expect the experts’ list to be better-informed. To wit, look at the side-by-side comparison of the Modern Library’s lists of the Top 100 Novels. This was a case of an expert panel selecting 100 novels, and then a separate list was compiled from votes by average readers. Only one title in the readers’ top ten is anywhere in the experts’ list, and the other nine do not appear in the experts’ list at all. Which isn’t to say there wasn’t quite a bit of overlap; there was. (Ulysses was #1 in the expert poll, and only missed the readers’ top ten by a hair, coming in at #11.) It’s just clear that there’s a vast difference between popular taste (or perhaps the taste of the people who heard about that poll and submitted ballots) and the opinion of experts. Neither list is necessarily right or wrong, but keep in mind the biases of both sample groups. I have no doubt that the final top 10 list for the NPR poll will be a representative list of the taste of NPR listeners (and whoever else has heard about it via hyperlinks and whatnot). The thing to keep in mind is this question: will everyone too ignorant to make an informed ballot abstain out of conscientious principle? You know the answer. I know the answer. And you and I both know that this is a phenomenon not limited just to silly taste consensus polls on the Internet. ☕
August 3, 2011
NPR’s expert listeners tell you what the best Sci-fi/Fantasy books are. Mm-hm.
Reads. Writes. Watches movies. Occasionally stirs from chair. Holds an advanced degree in heuristic indolence. View all posts by tardishobbit
This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 at 2:51 pm and tagged with democracy, fantasy, lists, NPR, sci-fi and posted in Rants and Lists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.