a delicate question: differences in AOS judging centers

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Schopenhauerian

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Hello!

I'm new to the "judging scene", so forgive me if this is somewhat of a delicate question. Is it just my imagination, or are some judging centers a lot more rigorous than others? And if so, is anyone up for naming the best of the best? If you had to recommend one judging center for a student judge to work with, which would it be?

I recently sat in on a judging session with a group of senior judges who were so knowledgeable on so many levels, it blew my mind. Breadth, depth, rigor, precision, accuracy, objectivity...the total package. It occurred to me there's no way ANY of the people in that room would make the kind of Mickey Mouse mistakes outlined in the horror stories you read around the boards. So what gives?

They also seemed impossibly tough: I had a nagging suspicion one of the plants might have been awarded if only the grower had gone somewhere else! Which brings up another interesting question...is there anything to keep growers from "gaming the system" and deliberately going to a judging center they think will be more favorable? Oh well, not looking to bash anybody here so please change all names to protect the guilty. ;)

Thanks again and I look forward to your comments!
 

cnycharles

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Hello!

I'm new to the "judging scene", so forgive me if this is somewhat of a delicate question. Is it just my imagination, or are some judging centers a lot more rigorous than others? And if so, is anyone up for naming the best of the best? If you had to recommend one judging center for a student judge to work with, which would it be?
Hello,
I don't think you will get very many replies, since you don't mention who you are, what orchids you grow, how long you've been interested in judging or anything else like that. People aren't likely to reply to someone who just pops in and then wants to start a discussion about what in the past has been a very divisive topic. Also at times people have asked questions like yours because they wanted an excuse to crab about judges not giving their plant an award. If you were able to point out the very basics of who you are and your interests, I'm sure you'll get more discussion. Also as there are people here who are judges, friends of judges or are vendors who could be negatively affected by having their comments misrepresented or misused, they may not be interested in replying.

For someone to name the best judging center, they would have had to have visited all or many of them. Probably only other judges would have this access; also some of this info would only have gotten around by word of mouth and not direct experience. My experience has been with judges from the New York Judging Center and the Montreal Judging Center. Based on my experience with members of these centers I would have no problem working with either of them as a student judge. People from both have been very friendly.

I recently sat in on a judging session with a group of senior judges who were so knowledgeable on so many levels, it blew my mind. Breadth, depth, rigor, precision, accuracy, objectivity...the total package. It occurred to me there's no way ANY of the people in that room would make the kind of Mickey Mouse mistakes outlined in the horror stories you read around the boards. So what gives?
Which judging center is the excellent one you are pointing out? Also, which ones are the ones you've noticed 'situations' with? Like people everywhere, judges and student judges are humans, and they are also volunteers that have real jobs (hopefully). Though judges are supposed to have a wide experience will as many orchids as possible, it's impossible to have access to them all. People also have their interests and personal knowledge, and also are more interested in judging the quality of the plants and not for some other sort of personal gain. Also some areas have certain genera that are more likely to show up, so that the judges would be more familiar with them. For someone to perform perfectly all the time for something that they aren't paid to do, for every genera and group of hybrids is impossible. Sometimes plants get more awards because they are very rare, or the colors are exciting. Sometimes a few awards may be given out that might be borderline if someone is trying to encourage people who are obviously not vendors, if they have done well with a plant or plants. Also maybe a certain area isn't as organized because the passage of duties from senior members of judging to newer ones wasn't very smooth or there have been personality issues. Every place and group and person is different, and a new day brings new challenges. It would be surprising at best if all centers had perfect records, or even really good ones, all the time. Plus, to be fair, some people really get into being a judge for the ego part and being important, and go too far along these lines. Thankfully I have not had this experience at all with the NY or Montreal centers, actually much the opposite.

They also seemed impossibly tough: I had a nagging suspicion one of the plants might have been awarded if only the grower had gone somewhere else! Which brings up another interesting question...is there anything to keep growers from "gaming the system" and deliberately going to a judging center they think will be more favorable? Oh well, not looking to bash anybody here so please change all names to protect the guilty. ;)

Thanks again and I look forward to your comments!
If you have a region that has alot of vendors, then there will be a higher amount of very good plants and flowers that get shown. Consequently, it will be harder for many plants to get awards. Also if the genera in those areas are plants that have had many awards, it is likely that there have been many high awards already given. If there have been some fcc's or very high am's for a certain plant, and you have a very nice plant being shown but it's score will be only an hcc or low am, it's much less likely that this plant will receive an award. the bar has been set higher because of the number and quality of awards already given. also if a center doesn't usually have certain genera that have been awarded, it may be less likely that those judges have seen good examples of these plants, and maybe a little more inconsistency in having it judged. also if there are very very many plants that have to be screened for judging there may be high time pressures to get everything taken care of in a timely fashion. where an area doesn't have many vendors, the number of awardable plants may be much lower, and the judges more likely to give lower awards than you might find in other areas.

...and about 'gaming the system', as far as I know, centers are formed in areas that have orchids that need to be judged. if you live in or near an area, you take your plants there to be judged. that's the system. I've never heard anyone say that you shouldn't go outside an area to have plants judged or that there is anything unethical about doing so. some centers may have less plants that are brought for judging, or they allow people to sit in on the judging process so that owners can have an idea about how and why things get awards, and also the process would be more 'transparent', which would make it less likely that someone could have a problem thinking that they were unfairly treated (or their plant in this case). If plants were checked out more quickly and efficiently and the owner could be on their way faster, that might be an incentive to go to another center. Also if judges in a certain area are more versed in a certain genera an owner might be more interested in having their plants checked out by those that know them best, rather than take the chance that it might get passed by because the judges weren't as familiar with them. And hey, if someone wants to spend the time and effort to go out of their area to have their plants judged, why would someone care? It's their problem with the expense involved and if they want to spend that money more power to them. Personally I would appreciate if someone let me know that my plant/flowers were really nice, but since I'm not a vendor who could possibly profit from having awards placed on my plants, having one of my plants receive an AOS award is really an un-necessary expense! ..or at the least I'm not expecting or desiring it, so would have no interest in that expense. Also, the 'award curse' has been in effect with one of my plants that received an AOS award (a phal braceana that received a chm); it and all of it's offspring are dead (I believe there are no seedling survivors) so I'm not likely to want an award anytime soon! :(

So what are your opinions about the questions you've brought up? For someone to drop these questions without stating their own specific opinions may lead us to believe that you might be looking for a pot to get stirred, or create some contention. Others aren't likely to put their opinion on the line, if the person asking questions isn't willing to state theirs (a politely stated observation/opinion).
 

NYEric

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My recommendation would be to work at the nearest center or at a location where you get a lot of experience. Because of my location I get to work [clerking] the GNYOS show, by far the largest I've been to but also NCOS in Washington DC, and also SEPOS at Longwood Garden near Philly. Yes there is some truth to different locations producing different judging results. Imagine if you're in a location that has few besseae/ hybrids grown and someone presents a Mem. Dick Clements w/ 5 flowers; it may get higher consideration oopposed to a location where they come thru all the time. Of course growers can use this to their advantage. It's part of the subjective nature of judging.
 
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Ernie

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I'm very happy with our Chicago center. Have judged in Cinci, Dallas, DC, and other regions and can't complain. There certainly are stories, but you've heard them all before. Some are true, some are gossip. Of course, you'll see localized areas of expertise. I got totally schooled on oncidiums in Dallas because we rarely see them here, but had to take the reigns on a slipper discussion there- that's the nature of the beast. The best way to be a good judge is to see a lot of orchids, start by clerking at shows and sit in as an officiall observer at AOS judging. Get to know the crew. Find people to carpool with... Good luck!

-Ernie
 

Schopenhauerian

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Thanks so much for your replies...I honestly wasn't trying to make trouble or draw attention to myself. I'm still very much in the learning stage, and if I'm not spouting off about the questions I raise, well, frankly it's because I realize others here have a far greater experience and understanding than I do.

For what it's worth, I'm primarily interested in species paphs, Maudiae-type hybrids, and cool-growing standard cymbidiums. Although I got my first orchid in the early 90s, I've never entered anything because I feel like if I didn't cross it and grow it from flask myself, it's not really "mine" to take credit for. I got interested in judging because it's going to make me a better breeder and more knowledgeable hybridizer: basically, it's a free pass to talk to the best professionals in the field and learn everything about orchids from the ground up.

Also, I didn't name the excellent judging center I was talking about because a) it's an honest opinion and I didn't want to seem like I was trying to score "brownie points" if any of them are reading this forum, and b) I wasn't looking for people to come back with "Oh yeah?! Well how about that one time..." stories. I asked people to keep names to themselves, unless they felt like naming the "best of the best". Surely that's not so contentious, is it? Whew!

Well, anyway, thanks again for your replies so far...I look forward to participating in this excellent forum, and once again apologize if anything I did struck a wrong note. :)
 
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etex

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I will be clerking at our orchid show later this month and am so excited by the learning opportunity!
 

paphreek

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...I've never entered anything because I feel like if I didn't cross it and grow it from flask myself, it's not really "mine" to take credit for. ....
If you own the plant, you have every right to show the plant and bring it for judging. Even if the plant was bred by someone else, you are the one who has cultivated the plant. Flower quality awards are given to the flower, not the breeder. Also, cultural awards can be given to the grower of a plant. Frankly, I hope anyone who blooms out a seedling of mine would submit it for judging, if they think it is worthy. :)
 

slippertalker

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Your questions are reasonable, especially if you haven't ventured around the judging system. My personal experience is that there are many excellent judges in most centers, and they are very dedicated to their craft. That doesn't mean that expertise or lack of expertise in certain genera isn't expressed geographically.

My center won't be as expert judging Vandas as Florida centers, but we will be better than them in Miltoniopsis or Draculas. It come down to what the exposure is with various plants, and for the most part that is entirely a matter of climate. There is a preference for judges to travel out of region for exactly that reason.

Some judges are philosophically stingy and others more generous with their scoring, but it is usually balanced within a team to average out such tendencies. Ironically, those more expert in certain genera tend to be more discerning in their preferred area which can lead to low scores for mediocrity and higher scores for exceptional plants.

In the end, there will be some that aren't happy that their plant isn't awarded, but for the most part those folks simply haven't seen enough plants to make the comparison. I'm a judge and several of my plants have been rejected that I thought were worthy, but I concede to the judgement of people without an interest in the plant. We all think our own plants are better!
 

aquacorps

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You should read the article Terry Root co-wrote a few years ago on problems in the judging sytem. It was published in the electronic edition of AQ.
 

slippertalker

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You should read the article Terry Root co-wrote a few years ago on problems in the judging sytem. It was published in the electronic edition of AQ.
It was an interesting article and was discussed at the last JC Meeting in a roundtable with his co-author. He makes several good points from his perspective, but you also have to understand that a hybridizer has a different framework than judges on what is quality or not. A hybridizer is dedicated to his art and looks for traits that improve his vision of future crosses. Judges look for improvement on the parentage and the standard for the genus. These two perspectives don't always meet.

Also, commercial growers look to the AOS for awards since it aids in the marketing of their plants. When they don't get such an award for something they consider worthy, then they write such articles or complain about the judging system. Judges cannot be coerced into decisions made on any terms but their own judgement. It doesn't matter who owns the plant or made the cross, but instead it is the quality that is paramount.
 

paphioland

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It was an interesting article and was discussed at the last JC Meeting in a roundtable with his co-author. He makes several good points from his perspective, but you also have to understand that a hybridizer has a different framework than judges on what is quality or not. A hybridizer is dedicated to his art and looks for traits that improve his vision of future crosses. Judges look for improvement on the parentage and the standard for the genus. These two perspectives don't always meet.

Also, commercial growers look to the AOS for awards since it aids in the marketing of their plants. When they don't get such an award for something they consider worthy, then they write such articles or complain about the judging system. Judges cannot be coerced into decisions made on any terms but their own judgement. It doesn't matter who owns the plant or made the cross, but instead it is the quality that is paramount.
I have to respectfully agree and disagree with various parts of your post. The problem is that most judges don't see lots of paphs. Nothing compared to what a commercial hybridizer grower does. I agree purely the quality of the flower should matter. Sometimes there definitely is a bias either favorably or against an individual. And when judges haven't seen enough of something they get out a ruler or refuse to consider it at all. The narrow "standard" sometimes means that the flowers can never be spectacular, it can just be good. GENERALLY not always, I've noticed judges prefer balanced and good to spectacular. Spectacular makes them uncomfortable. Lets be honest some people just don't have a good sense of what quality is by their own composition. Some people have better "eyes" than others. Just like some pathologists aren't great at seeing histology as others are. Judging is a tough job, done for nothing except lots of gripping. I don't envy them but things can always be made better or at least there should always be a push for that. The whole judging thing seems almost impossible to me. I prefer to just talk with friends who have the same interests as I do. Whose opnion I trust. That is good enough for me. That is why this board is great. You get to see lots of plants and hear from people with similar interests. For example I enjoyed Tim's posts today more than awards or judging because I am passionate about my hobby and enjoy paphs, especially complexes. This board and my friends that I keep in contact with from around this country and the world remind me I am not the only one who is nutty over flowers.
 

tomkalina

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I'm really trying not to get involved in this thread, but I whole-heartedly agree with Bill on this one. The statement that "most judges don't see lots Paphs." is nonsense. The Genus Paphiopedilum is considered by the AOS to be one of the major genera, and all judges that I've ever met or judged with around the U.S. have a pretty good grasp of the judging standards involved. This doesn't mean that all judges in every center have as good a grasp as others, but that's to be expected, especially if the judges haven't had a chance to accumulate a lot of judging experience beyond their centers. Each judging center has a continuing education requirement that is taken quite seriously, and everyone must accumulate a minimum number of hours in this pursuit. Assuming this thread isn't just some attempt to discredit the system, I'd suggest the originator visit his closest center and sit down with the center chair to discuss these issues; because I sense there might be a deeper issue here.

One change that I would like to see in the judging system is to let probationary judges begin to specialize in a particular Genus as they progress through the system; not to the exclusion of other of the major genera, but to develop above average judging capability in one or maybe two genera. These judges could then be used as reference by other judges when there is a question. We've done this in the two judging centers that I was assigned to both as a student and probationary judge, and I think it worked quite well. I've judged in several different systems internationally and I think ours is one of the best in terms of objectivity; not perfect, but I think we are lucky to have a group as dedicated and impartial as we have.

Sorry for the length of the reply. As a commercial grower specializing in slipper orchids, I was also going to address the issue from the standpoint of a commercial grower, but I don't think I have much to add beyond the fact that the best way to change the system is to get involved: clerk, observe, whatever. If the system needs changing, I learned long ago that it doesn't change from without, but from within.

Thanks,

Tom
 

paphioland

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I guess "lots" of paphs, phrags is relative. I should have inserted quality. Some judges just aren't good period, there is no way around saying this. It is the same as with anything else that requires skill and although the path is tedious the admission criteria is not stringent, ie standardized tests or testing stations. I am sure most people laugh but this is done in every professional field. In reality it shouldn't be done because as Ernie said before there is no fame or fortune awaiting orchid judges. So there would be a major shortage of judges if there were very stringent testing criteria as in other fields. They do it hopefully because they love it. I do agree that having a specialist would help however this could also open another bag of problems. I guess in the end awards are silly. If you are going to buy a very top quality flower you better see it in bloom or picture with measurements and commentary on how accurate the picture is or really trust the person's judgment who has seen it. Buying an expensive paph because it received an award is pure craziness.
 

paphioland

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I was told my caudatum 'perfection' wasn't pulled for judging at a show because it might be a hybrid such as grande. Machan told me a few days prior to the show after seeing it that is was in his mind definitely a gold medal caudatum. If anyone has seen Machan evaluate paphs and phrags his abilities are about as high as ones get.True story

I guess to ask anyone or group to have as good an eye as Machan is asking lots. To me it means lots more what he says than almost any other group of people. No he did not sell it to me and had no real interest in the plant.
 

slippertalker

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I was told my caudatum 'perfection' wasn't pulled for judging at a show because it might be a hybrid such as grande. Machan told me a few days prior to the show after seeing it that is was in his mind definitely a gold medal caudatum. If anyone has seen Machan evaluate paphs and phrags his abilities are about as high as ones get.True story

I guess to ask anyone or group to have as good an eye as Machan is asking lots. To me it means lots more what he says than almost any other group of people. No he did not sell it to me and had no real interest in the plant.
The difference between caudatum and Grande is obvious to anyone that knows phrags........There is a lot of variation in caudatum and that's most likely what is happening here.

There are some changes being discussed about provisional awards of questionable species and hybrids that should alleviate such problems. If there is a question of parentage (or species) that could be a possibility in either direction, the new wording would tends towards granting the award and having it reviewed by a taxonomist or expert in that genus.
 

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