More Math(s)

Our post 60% Veterans has generated some further discussion and analysis.

Hunter from the Official BRC Census (2012 variant) came to comment:

Hi there, here’s Hunter from the Census Lab. I’m one of the research collaborator and I’ve been in charge of the Census databases since 2012 (i.e., when we started correcting the Census for sampling biases by doing a random sampling of burners at the gate during ingress). I won’t comment in details, but here’s a brief summary of my point of view on the subject.
The question is quite interesting (is there a bias towards virgins?), but, as mentioned above, the math/s are wrong. There is indeed a large proportion of newbies at BM (more or less between 30% and 40% every year, at least for the recent years) and I was surprised to see that at the beginning.
However, it is totally impossible to estimate the probability of getting a ticket without knowing how many veterans vs newbies tried to get a ticket. Also, you seem to believe that veterans (3+y) try to go every year if they can, but this is not what we see in the Census. Even if we take into account only the years before tickets went sold out, the Census data suggest that most veterans skipped one or more years. It might not be the case for highly involved veterans like you or those around you, though.
Also, we have to take into account the fact that the publicity that BM got in the recent years due to some viral videos, documentaries and media coverage probably increased extremely the number of non-burners who would like to go to BM “at least once”.
If we had access to the burner profile database (and no, I don’t have that kind of access), it might be possible to estimate the probability of getting a ticket as a fonction of number of playa years, but I don’t see how it could be done from the Census data.
All in all, I’m not convinced by the data that the probability of getting a ticket if one wants a ticket is higher for newbies than it is for veterans, especially if we take into account a few elements such as:
– the growing number of interested non-burners
– the continuously increasing population in BRC
– the fact that veterans rarely come every year (especially “older” vets)
Also, IF the probabilities are skewed as you suggests, the Org is not necessary the culprit. Lets just remember that a very strong tradition in the BM culture is ticket gifting. Thus, veterans will often provide a ticket to a virgin friend to let them experience the event. Such a tradition definitely skews probability in favor of virgins by providing some of them with an easy access to a ticket, or at least a second chance to get one.

Finally, I’ll add a simple correction to your text. Your argument about BIG data suggests that the info collected via the Census, the burner profile and other Org-related projects end up in a big database in which everything can be analyzed and cross-referenced, but it’s hardly the case, at least for the Census. I’m not part of the Org, so I cannot tell what they do with the burner profile info. However, the Census data are kept separate from any other database and no email is in the database. The Census Lab provides the Org with the Census results, but the Census databases are under the responsibility of the Census Lab to insure a strict confidentiality of the data and respondents.

So, thanks for the topic, it looks like it sparked an interesting discussion. I hope that these clarifications were useful. If anyone of you wants to continue the discussion on playa, you are welcome to drop by the Census Lab (10:00 and Inner circle) and ask for Hunter.

Now just because someone affiliated with BMOrg says “you’re wrong”, doesn’t mean we’re wrong, as readers of this blog should know by now. Since my response got quite long, I’m making a post out of it.

Thanks for coming here to comment Hunter. The whole Burner community benefits from public discourse like this! We presume that helping the community is the reason why this data is being provided by Burners, and collected by your group and BMOrg – and why your group volunteers your time for free to help Burners understand the implications.

You dismsissed our post by saying “the math is wrong”, without any further explanation. I’m going to point out how your reasoning is wrong.

1. The last 3 years of Virgin data are 47%, 37%, 40%. I’m using this to say “40% Virgins”. I am not making that prediction just from 2 years of your census data, I am also making it from my analysis that “the Census data shows something more is going on here than random chance”.

2. You are responsible for the last two data sets, which are both under the new ticketing system. If this year’s data set also shows 40% virgins, this will be more evidence of something going on. Coincidences can’t just keep happening again and again the same way, at some point you have to wonder “maybe the data is being skewed somehow and this is not just random chance”. Who is responsible for the overall collection and analysis of Burning Man data, then? Because, they’re sure collecting a truckload of it.

3. Could you provide more details of how you bias the sample? Could the sampling bias of the gate survey have an impact on the 40% virgins? How large was the sample size for 2012 and 2013? Here’s what we have:

There was an inherent self-selection bias in past surveys
• 2012 complemented census with a random sampling at the gate
• Random sample allowed them to weight the collected data
• Variables used to weight the 2012 Census:
– Gender
– Age
– Are you a Virgin?
– Foreign
– English Speaker
– US Party Affiliation

How was this done? What was the difference in numbers of the “Are you a Virgin” question between the gate census and the Center Camp census? What does US Party Affiliation have to do with Census results?

4. You state “it is totally impossible to estimate ticket probability without knowing number of newbies trying and number of veterans trying”. You also admit you have no access to the database information from the Burner Profiles. So, if profile data was being used – algorithmically or manually – to influence the number of Virgins at the party, how would you be in a position to know, any more than we are? Are you saying “it is totally impossible that Burners who answer NEVER in their profile have an increased chance of getting a ticket”? No, you’re not. You’re actually saying “assuming this is all random chance, we need these numbers to make our prediction more accurate”. My entire post is saying “I don’t think this is random chance”.

5. I agree that estimating an attrition rate for veterans should be applied. Another commenter Cupcake has suggested 20%, which I am happy to run with. Your comment that “the two years of data I’m looking at from gate surveys of the new ticketing system say veterans don’t want to go back”, is analysis based on flawed reasoning. It could very well show that either a) veterans don’t care about completing your survey so much, or b) the system is skewed to prevent veterans from getting tickets, so they never arrive. How else can you know what the intentions of the 659,000 veterans were towards getting tickets?

6. You then say that “even looking at the years before, veterans skip years” – this may be true for some Veterans, but the population of Veterans is always growing.

7. You take BMOrg’s line that YouTube videos and media coverage have led to exploding newbie demand. From the earliest survey data we have, 2001, media coverage was the biggest reason people heard about BM (after Word of Mouth and Other). Despite what BM says on the ticket terms and conditions “The organization does little to solicit attention from television or media companies…and does not seek to artificially grow the event itself by exposure through the mass media”…BMOrg employs multiple PR people specifically for this purpose. The exposure has included Malcolm in the Middle, South Park, the Daily Show, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, Town and Country and Vogue – all long before 2012. Mass media promotion seems to be a constant factor.

I note that when they first started this lottery thing, which was at the height of the YouTube and media blitz, the population of BRC actually dropped from the previous year – presumably because Veterans gave up when they couldn’t get tickets, and this had a ripple effect through the community. You’d think it would’ve continued to be a sold out event, if there was a massive population of Virgins wanting to go.

8. “The culture of gifting encourages people to give tickets to newbies”. I’ll concede that you could be right, but it’s hard to say how much of a factor this truly is. This is an area where it would be great to have the Burner Profile data. To me, it doesn’t sufficiently explain “a jump to 40% Virgins for the last 3 years in a row”. If anything, it would suggest that the Virgin percentage would have been much higher years ago, when the Veteran population was smaller (since you’re implying Veterans bring Virgins, and also Virgins bring Virgins).

9. You say that “data doesn’t end up in a big database”; at the same time you admit you don’t have access to BMOrg’s databases, and you don’t know what they do with the data once you provide it to them.


If less Veterans want to go because all BMOrg’s rules and procedures and new ticketing ideas have a negative effect on their motivation to return, this doesn’t change my point – the ticket sales are being manipulated to discourage Veterans and encourage Virgins. It would just be a different method, death by culture rather than death by algorithm.

bm shark jumpingWho is more motivated to create profiles and jump through all these hoops to get a ticket, Virgins, or Veterans? Maybe the veteran attrition rate is increasing, as “jumping the shark” becomes a catchphrase and publications like Salon and Vanity Fair proclaim “Burning Man is dead” – this makes Virgins want to go even more, and Veterans want to go even less. My personal view is that most people who make it out to Burning Man like it, and want to return. Hunter is right that maybe my bias is skewed by knowing a lot of Burners and writing a blog for Burners.

If there are always more Virgins who want to go than Veterans, then the ticket distribution will always be trending higher towards Virgins. Veterans is always growing, minus the attrition rate. This means that the number of Virgins who want to go each year has to be growing by more than the Veteran population, to keep the proportions the same. Virgins is growing, attribute that to media if you want, but surely there is a peak – not every person in the world wants to go to Burning Man. It seems like when they first started the lottery, more Veterans wanted to go than Virgins, and that is why the annual population shrank. In 2014, is Virgins who want to go, growing faster than Veterans who want to go? Will the growth rate of the former group slow down this year, because there wasn’t a Dr Seuss video?

One interpretation of the data could be “veterans are souring on the event, and their population is naturally declining, being replaced by Virgins”. However, I’m not making that interpretation. Mine is “Virgins are somehow deliberately being favored in the ticket allocation”. The most likely way I can see to influence that would be using the Burner profile information where you are specifically asked if you’re a Virgin, and if not to indicate all the years you attended.

We look forward to seeing the Census data from 2014.

11 comments on “More Math(s)

  1. Pingback: 28% Veterans: Virgin Import Continues | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. Pingback: Burnier-Than-Thous Ruin It For Everyone | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  3. Where’d you get 659K? I saw that as the total cumulative number of populations at BMs over the years. If so, that assumes 100% virgins every year, and no such thing as veterans, ‘who go every year, like addictive drug users’.

    If we go with a rough guess of 80% veterans (when the event didn’t double in size) – which feels about correct – and the .33% virgins come back – starting say, 1991 when BLM required permitting. And assume that one year’s attendance makes you a vet:

    (caveats: rounding, sig. digits, other slight monkey-biz)

    1991 – 250 == 120 vets from 1990
    1992 – 600 == 350 virgins == 58% newbies (more than doubled)
    1993 – 1K == 678 vets (480 r.vets; 198 r.vir) 322 vir == 32% newbies
    1994 – 2K = 1K vets == 50% newbies (doubled)
    1995 – 4K == 2K vets == 50% newbies (doubled)
    1996 – 8K == 4K vets == 50% newbies (doubled)
    1997 – 10K == 7,720 vets (6,400 r.vets;1,320 r.vir) 2,280 virg == 28% newbies
    1998 – 15K == 6,928 vets (6,176 r.vets; 752 r.vir) 8,072 virg == 54% newbies
    1999 – 23K == 8,206 vets (5,542 r.vets; 2,664 r.vir) 14,794 virg == 64% newbies
    2000 – 25.4K == 11,447 vets (6,565 r.vets; 4,882 r.vir) 13,953 virg == 55% newbies (income skew staring)
    2001 – 25.7K == 13,763 vets (9,158 r.vets; 4,605 r.vir) 11,937 virg == 46% newbies
    2002 – 29K == 14,949 vets (11,010 r.vets; 3939 r.vir) 14,051 virg == 48% newbies
    2003 – 30.5K == 16,596 vets (11,959 r.vets; 4,637 r.vir) 13,904 virg == 46% newbies
    2004 – 35.6K == 17,865 vets (13,277 r.vets; 4,588 r.vir) 17,734 virg == 49% newbies
    2005 – 35.5K == 20,144 vets (14,292 r.vets; 5,852 r.vir) 15,356 virg == 43% newbies
    2006 – 39K == 21,182 vets (16,115 r.vets; 5,067 r.vir) 17,818 virg == 46% newbies
    2007 – 47.3K == 22,826 vets (16,946 r.vets; 5,880 r.vir) 24,474 virg == 52% newbies
    2008 – 49.6K == 26,336 vets (18,260 r.vets; 8,076 r.vir) 23,264 virg == 47% newbies
    2009 – 43.4K == 31,145 vets (23,468 r.vets; 7,677 r.vir) 12,254 vrig == 28% newbies (decreased pop & rolling instabilities in numbers)
    2010 – 51.4K == 28,960 vets (24,916 r.vets; 4,044 r.vir) 22,440 virg == 44% newbies
    2011 – 54K == 30,573 vets (23,168 r.vets; 7,405 r.vir) 23,427 virg == 43% newbies
    2012 – 56K == 32,189 vets (24,458 r.vets; 7,731 r.vir) 23,811 virg == 43% newbies
    2013 – 68K == 33,609 vets (25,751 r.vets; 7,858 r.vir) 34,391 virg == 51% newbies
    2014 – 70K == 38,236 vets (26,887 r.vets; 11,349 r.vir) 31,764 virg == 45% newbies

    1993 lost 120 vets & 420 never come agains
    1994 (200 vets)
    1995 (400 vets)
    1996 (800 vets)
    1997 – lost 1,600 vets & 2,680 nca == 1,720 & 3,100
    1998 – lost 1,544 & 1,528 nca == 3,264 & 4,628
    1999 – lost 1,385 & 5,408 nca == 4,649 & 10,036
    2000 – lost 1,641 & 9,912 nca == 6,290 & 19,948
    2001 – lost 2,289 & 9,349 nca == 8,579 & 29,297
    2002 – lost 2,753 & 7,998 nca == 11,332 & 37,295
    2003 – lost 2,990 & 9,414 nca == 14,322 & 46,709
    2004 – lost 3,319 & 9,316 nca == 17,641 & 56,025
    2005 – lost 3,573 & 11,882 nca == 21,214 & 67,907
    2006 – lost 4,028 & 10,289 nca == 25,242 & 78,196
    2007 – lost 4,236 & 11,938 nca == 29,478 & 90,134
    2008 – lost 4,565 & 16,398 nca == 34,043 & 106,532
    2009 – lost 5,267 & 15,587 nca == 39,310 & 122,119
    2010 – lost 6,229 & 8,210 nca == 45,539 & 130,329
    2011 – lost 5,792 & 15,034 nca == 51,311 & 145,363
    2012 – lost 6,115 & 15,696 nca == 57,466 & 161,059
    2013 – lost 6,437 & 15,953 nca == 63,883 & 177,012
    2014 – lost 6,722 & 23,042 nca == 70,605 & 200,054 nca
    +/- an additional 1,400 vets from 1994-1996

    Anyways – using this model – it looks like there’s as many veterans who aren’t going (can’t get tickets, dropped out of BM, died) as there are people who’re going this year. And only around 1/3 of a million (out of 313M in the US alone) who’ve ever been to BM.

    So, given straight numbers, ignoring cost(s)/income levels, equitable ticket distribution, pretending that every burner is from the US – only .00108 of BM should consist of veterans.

    So, when 80% of these numbers == the American population then growth needs to come from outside the US (currently, 18-20% of BRC is from foreign countries). Also, we’d need to figure in the death rate; because every 80 years == all new people. So, pretty much, given the population cap/road cap, and population of the US and the World, there is *always* going to be more demand by newbies than by veterans. Period, end of sentence.

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    • ~e

      What a load of crap. Your fake monkey-biz spreadsheet assumes 1/3rd of burgins come back. The last census had 2/3rds of burgins coming back. Spreadsheet that Oh, but that ain’t matching your compny line? Why don’t you go back to driving your board deeper into the ground? Keep on banning everyone that resists assimilation by the almighty BORG Instead of spewing the coolaid from your socks. ‘K?

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    • I updated the 60% veterans post with that. All I could get by going through the Afterburn reports was:

      2011 – 47% Virgins

      2010 – 22% Virgins

      2007 – 33% Virgins

      they kept the number to themselves, the other years.

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  4. Second-timer here. I think you must be right! I was able to get a ticket in the main sale, after only waiting 40 minutes. I’m enjoying my fireball right now and it tastes like the tears of butthurt vets and bloggers! On top of that, I got a gift ticket due to my involvement in a sponsored art project. Oh the riches!

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  5. Pingback: 60% Veterans [Updates] | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  6. Questions are valid, and valuable.

    Facts>opinion.

    Bottom line, BRC is just too small for all the burners and burners-to-be in the world who want to go – and getting smaller by the minute.

    IMHO, the regionals are seen as a great alternative by the old and jaded, and as a limp-dishrag consolation prize by current and recent virgins who want the full-octane burn.

    If we can’t continue to expand our BLM pop cap (and expand the road between Wadsworth and Gerlach to 8 lanes to accommodate the growth) the number of disappointed souls will grow, and even more exotic and questionable ticket markets (and sneak-in schemes) will arise.

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    • Thanks Mack. You’re right that the roads put a cap on the population of the desert event. One answer would be “more Burning Mans” – which they hope they can address with these Regionals, but they’ve been trying to do that for nearly 20 years.
      I note that when they first started this lottery thing, the population of BRC actually dropped from the previous year – presumably because Veterans gave up when they couldn’t get tickets, and this had a ripple effect through the community.

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