Who the Fuck Are All Us Burners, Anyway?

statistics cartoonIt’s a good question. Someone you’d think who might know, is the BMOrg. I mean, we give them $22 million+ a year, and they’ve been profiling us in ever increasing ways for over a decade. It went from surveys at center camp, to surveys when entering the ticket lottery, to surveys in the line to get in. And no real sense that this data gets collated in one central database, from which meaningful reports are run…instead of silo’ed into increasingly unuseable and un-integrated buckets, out of touch from the ageing and changing population, from which hardly any useful reports are run. They seem to ask a lot of questions, and not disseminate or process very much knowledge and wisdom. Last year BMOrg announced new Census moves – we weren’t fans. But now the results of that Census have been published: under the enormously arrogant headline “You Were Counted – Did You Count?” Did all that intrusive questioning by people in lab coats, lead to actionable insights, for Burners or for BMOrg? YMMV

why did we do this? This year we expanded our Census project to include data collection from a randomized sample, which was a first for us. Why you ask?

The first reason is that, for ten years, we’ve collected data about the population of Black Rock City through a long-form survey, as part of the Census project, but it’s a “convenience sample,” and we really wanted to adjust that data with a “randomized sample.”

errr…what? I might have only done first-year college-level statistics, as part of a New Zealand university business degree not a Stanford or Caltech maths degree…but this sounds like number fudging more than data gathering. Maybe I didn’t do enough post-grad courses to understand how to adjust 10 years of convenience samples from Center Camp with a “randomized” sample of some people at the gate who chose/were chosen to opt in. Statisticians and all the Burner game theorist advisors, please flame us and discuss!

ManateecountThe randomized data collected by the samplers at the gate were used to weight the data we collected in the census long forms, which means that we have a much more representative picture of our population. (And yes, we realize that this is not a true census, because we’re not able to collect data on all 50,000 plus burners at the event. But I hope you’ll indulge our playful use of the term “census” in this context.)

People keep asking us…why you gotsa hate? Why don’t you just indulge BMOrg in their bullshit? After all, they’re trying really hard, and a lot of them are unemployable volunteers.  The answer is, first of all $20 million+ to them for a party where we Burners do most of the work and cover most of the expenses from our own pocket, they don’t hire any talent and almost all their artists are struggling – which we could admire as an incredibly profitable business, if it was admitted to be as such, but unfortunately there are all kinds of smokescreens and propaganda brainwashing making Burners think that something different is going on; secondly, if we weren’t pretty much the only ones on the Internet with the balls to call them out, then yes everyone would just indulge them as in the past 25+ years. Presumably, because they’re afraid of “shunning” attacks by the extended volunteer anti-wealth hippy army, who think that all of the art cars and theme camps and art projects they see at Burning Man were funded by the annually-increasing by 10% or more expensive tickets…money which in their sparkley, pony-like eyes, gets recycled through some mysteriously opaque process by the BMOrg to be then shared with the community of freebie gifters. They admit “we can’t count“, and then they imply “you don’t count“…unless their “experts” counted you with this “new scientific method”. Let’s see where all that’s gonna get us. Their way of special thinking isn’t going to magically turn shite into shinola; instead it leads to shark-jumping groupthink like “let’s have a third of the party  be Virgins” [actually, it’s 39%…according to the survey results we’re discussing here]. The consequence of that decision is to piss off all the old camps who’ve contributed far more to get us where we are today, than 22,000 Virgin Millenials are going to any time soon. You want to replace Opulent Temple and Root Society and Slut Garden, with Justin Bieber and One Republic and the Kardashians? [rhetorical question!]

If you want to indulge the BMOrg yourself in their frequently eyebrow-raising statements, be our guest, keep filling out the surveys and making the extra donations, come to the comments of this blog and launch a bunch of straw man and ad hominem attacks on us in the absence of providing any real defense to their actions…so they can continue to make all these clever decisions which somehow every other party in the world doesn’t get affected by. Like, the 6 Burning Man’s worth of 330,000 people going to Ultra Music Festival in Miami next month. Anyway, back to their justifications…

dabsjabs_rahul_gandhiThe second reason for doing the randomized sample is that we wanted to get sound science behind some basic demographic profiles of all you incredible people. Simple stuff, like age, gender, and citizenship.

umm…what’s the science here? Is there a Nobel prize for “playful statistics”? See the end of our article for more.

But we also looked for some other potentially useful data on questions about how often you vote,

useful to whom? Are they selling/sharing this data with the government? Or political parties? What the fuck does it have to do about naked people who are mostly wasted in the desert, to know what party they vote for? How does that help in any way? Like, wouldn’t it help more to know what percentage plans to take drugs, who plans to take no drugs, who’s only going to do alcohol or cigarettes? Or, “do you use a condom during sex at Burning Man”? “Do you have an STD”?

…and how you got your ticket. In fact, the data we collected about ticket source and ticket price indicates that very few tickets to this year’s event were purchased from scalpers.

haters be hating, but here’s yet another call correctly made by Burners.Me, despite vehement BMOrg denials at the time

BiomassSTRIP(MIINI)We have analyzed that short-form data already (see below!). And we are currently working on the re-weighting of the long-form Census data. We’ll use the sample data to adjust the Census data so that it more accurately reflects Black Rock City, and we’ll get those results to you just as soon as we can.

Here are the results of the random sample. We have given our estimate for each variable along with 95% confidence intervals–which means that we are 95% confident that the true value fall in this range. Enjoy!

Under 20 years: 4% (1% – 7%)
20 – 40 years: 71% (65% – 77%)
Over 40 years: 24% (19% – 29%)
Average age: 34 (33 – 36)

Female: 38% (32% – 44%)
Male: 60% (56% – 65%)
Both/neither/fluid: 1.5% (< 1% – 3%)

Percent of population who are at Burning Man for the FIRST TIME
39%* (32% – 45%)

*Note: We assume that this number is higher than the true value. Remember that we started sampling on Sunday, after many returning participants involved in major projects had already arrived on playa

statistics-cartoonerrr…wasn’t this one supposed to be the completely random sample, to include everyone without any discrimination, because the other 10 years of stats were biased by not being a purely accidental sample? Wouldn’t the absence of the  thousands of volunteers who build the city, or the 15,000 or so people with early entry passes last year, affect the integrity of the sample? Sorry to be difficult, I just actually read the words of their press releases and official blog posts, and think for myself. If the statistics are clearly untrue, why should we “re-weight” ten years of data based on them?

…Next year we would like to extend our sampling window to include these early arrivals, which will improve the representativeness of all our results.

Burning Man: 60% (55% – 64%)
friend: 27% (25% – 28%)
stranger: 6% (2% – 11%)
third party reseller: 3.3% (2.6% – 4.1%) [contrast with Larry Harvey’s claim from December 2012 that it was just over 1%…is there even one person in this group who really knows what’s going on with the whole thing?]

More than face value: 6% (4% – 7%)
Face value: 74% (72% – 75%)
Less than face value: 8% (5% – 11%) [not sure if this would include Low-Income Tickets; based on their updated population numbers, this is 4,491 people]
Gift: 5% (3% – 7%) [2,807 – making a total of 7,298 people out of 56,914 who didn’t pay full price; whereas 3,369 suckers paid more than face value; in total, 10,667 Burners who didn’t pay the correct ticket price – almost 20%]

Percent of eligible voters who VOTED in at least one of the last four federal US elections
83% (80% – 87%)

Political party affiliation among eligible voters
Democratic: 34% (30% – 38%)
None: 33% (26% – 40%)
Republican: 24% (18% – 29%)
Other: 3.5% (2% – 5%)
Green: 1.5% (< 1% – 2.2%)

Percent of the population for whom English is their first language
86% (81% – 90%)

Percent of population who reside in the US
76% (59% – 93%)

obama-economy-jobs-debt-deficit-political-cartoon-drone-strike-unemploymentAgain, sorry to be difficult by pointing out the completely obvious flaws in these relatively meaningless statements…if 24% of the party aren’t from the US, and 33% of the party don’t vote…and 14% of the party surveyed don’t really speak English…then how can we be so sure of these statistics? Are we sure that none of that  non-resident 24% (that’s about 15,000 people) who live outside of the US, were included in the voting stats as “eligible”? Or vice versa, can we be sure that the non-US residents who were still voters, were included? What about the 6.3 million US citizens, eg military personnel, who live outside the US but still can vote? That’s about 3% of the national eligible vote, so wouldn’t this be statistically significant in this poll – which seems to have an accuracy range of +/- 10% ? Especially if Burning Man really thinks that in some way it’s important to know what political party – Ass or Trunk – American Burners vote for. Difference Between Republicans And Democrats(3)Can we be sure that those stats are based on a sample eliminating the people who weren’t eligible, either by residency or because they maybe couldn’t even understand the questions, and yet included others who were completely eligible but didn’t fit the other criteria? I see nothing else to indicate that this survey was particularly statistically rigorous. While “95% confidence” might be an industry standard level of truth, it means that out of 60,000 people, their own estimates predict that they were wrong about at least 3,000 of them. How do they even assess that confidence level? It’s clear that they could not have interviewed a massive proportion of the population, who were early arrival Burners. And a truly useful stat would have been an exit poll – why did so many leave early this year, even before the Man burned? Was it the Dust storm? Boredom? Fear? They ran out of drugs camping supplies?

Did this extra survey lead to new insights compared to what we’ve had in the past for Burners, or the Burning Man Organization? You tell us…


There are huge arguments to begin with that the entire field of statistics is sociology not science; in a similar way that economics is not a science in any way, shape, or form. For anyone interested in opening their mind enough to make up their own mind, I can’t recommend highly enough Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books, especially his latest philosopher king master-work, Antifragile.  Unfortunately he’s a better writer than speaker, the video is not as engaging as the spectacularly entertaining and thought-provoking book; but if you don’t have the hours to immerse yourself in a tome that may change your thinking for ever, you can get the gist of his ideas from this brief lecture:

Who the fuck you think we are?

One comment on “Who the Fuck Are All Us Burners, Anyway?

  1. Pingback: Conspiracy Theories, meet Burning Man | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

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