A Statistical Look at the Campbell Awards

There are often discussions online and in real life about the age of award winners. Be it the Hugo, the Nebula or other awards. Statements like “old people win now, but that wasn’t true in the beginning” abound. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a single source of information to decide whether or not this statement is true.

This is the seventh of a series of posts that attempts to rectify this shocking situation. This week, we’ll be looking at the ages of nominees and winners for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Of all the awards we’ve seen, this is where all the young nominees and winners should be; after all, potentially every novel or short story published during a writer’s life is eligible for the Hugo, the Nebula or the WFA, but you can only win the Campbell at the beginning of your career.

Before starting, a quick word about how these numbers were obtained. I looked for the year of birth of nominees and winners on Wikipedia, www.isfdb.org, and my trusty Nicholls and Clute Encycopedia of Science Fiction. I also spammed politely asked a number of people who kindly responded. To get people’s ages, I simply substracted their year of birth from the year the Awards took place (yes I know, if someone’s birthday fall’s after the convention then they would have been a “year” younger — I will leave the obtention of more exact information as an exercise for the student.) Co-authors of a nominated work are counted separately. For multiple winners, the average age of both was used.

First we’ll look at the nominees.

This graph plots the average age of nominees in red, the age of the oldest nominee in green and the age of the youngest in orange. Like previous graphs, the Silverberg Standard is still there.

If we do a linear regression on these numbers, we get the following equations:

Oldest nominee:
f(x) = 0x + 44.11
R2 = 0

Youngest nominee:
f(x) = 0.16x + 25.19
R2 = 0.18

Average age:
f(x) = 0.08x + 34.04
R2 = 0.05

We can see that the age of the oldest nominee is not increasing at all, but the age of the youngest nominee is, and so is the average age. The Campbell is similar to other awards this way.

Next, let’s compare the average age of nominees (red) and their median age (burgundy). The light grey area represents the age range of the nominees.

Linear regression on the median gives us:

f(x) = 0.06x + 33.83
R2 = 0.02

We see the same slight increase we saw for the average age. Finally a look at the winners (dark blue). Again, the shaded area represents the age range of nominees.

Linear regression on the age of winners:

f(x) = 0.06x + 34.88
R2 = 0.01

Again, almost matching the average. The curve increases by about 2 years over the history of the awards.

A few other bits of information:

Age of the oldest nominee was: 57
Age of the youngest nominee was: 20
Age of the oldest winner: 52
Age of the youngest winners: 25 (Ted Chiang, one of only two people to win one of the awards we looked at at that age – the other being Delany)

So what can we conclude from this?

While there’s a bit of aging with the winners and the youngest nominees, it’s nothing as dramatic as we’ve seen before. What will really tell us something is if we compare the Campbells to the Hugos, after all, it’s the members of the Worldcon who nominate and vote for both.

And yes, there’s a definite difference here. The average Campbell winner is about a decade younger than the average Hugo winner. Which is as is should be, after all, it is more likely for a new writer to be young – though there have been exceptions and several Campbell winners have been older than the same year’s Hugo winner for best Novel. This is also easy to explain: not every writer starts their writing career at a young age, many have done quite a few other things first. What’s interesting is that the aging for both awards is almost exactly the same, the average winner for both awards have aged slightly more than 2 years since 1973.

This is the final post of this series. After looking at these seven awards, there’s a few limbs I’m willing to go out on.

First, while not impossible, it is highly unlikely that there have been a large number of under 25 winners in the other categories (Best Novella, Best Novelette, etc…). Similarly I don’t think anyone under 20 was ever nominated. And the few winners we have seen who are under 30 don’t justify the theoretical hordes of young winners some people say used to exist. So, the old saw that “people under thirty always used to win” is definitively a myth.

Second, it is true that there has been some aging in most awards, but for the most part it has not been too drastic. There’s no way to know for sure, but it might simply be a reflection of the aging population in general and the aging of genre writers in particular – there were very few genre writers above retirement age fifty years ago, compared to today. On the other hand, the pool of writers hasn’t aged that much, so there is still new blood appearing every year. Assuming the writing community is a subset of the genre community in general, the “greying of fandom” is probably not here just yet.

Finally, from a statistical standpoint, there is enough of a difference between awards and even between different categories in the same award to show that it’s not always the same people winning – and another myth gets a nail in its coffin.

I know that there is a lot more data that could be collected. There are many other awards it would be interesting to get these numbers for (the Philip K. Dick, the Tiptree and the other Campbell Award all come to mind right away). In an earlier post, a commenter pointed out that it would be useful to know the ages of all (or at least, most) potential nominees on any given year, while I agree this would be useful data, it is a bit beyond any single person’s means to gather it all it a timely fashion.

Note: I am missing the ages of one winner (Amy Thompson) and twelve nominees (Raphael Carter, Kevin Christensen, Larry Correia, Barbara Delaplace, Richard Garfinkle, Karen G. Jollie, Karin Lowachee, Daniel Marcus, Susan R. Matthews, Jesse Miller, Carrie Richerson, and Lezli Robyn). This missing information may well drastically change the trends we’ve been looking at! (Oh dear!) If anyone has solid information on the year of their birth, or for any of the other people mentioned in the first post of this series, please contact me in private, either through my Tor.com shoutbox or via e-mail at [email protected] While this series of posts is finished, I do plan to keep this data up to date.

René Walling is a fan of SF, animation and comics, this has led him to co-chair Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, be involved with fps magazine for more than a decade, write reviews of francophone short fiction for The Portal, and start Nanopress, a Canadian small press. He’d like to thank fellow blogger and neighbour Jo Walton for allowing him to photograph her awards for the last few of these posts.


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