A month or so ago, this exchange happened during a reddit AMA:
Reddit user vlatheimpaler:
Have you been surprised that there's such a strong interest in watching you play Fallout 4 instead of extra writing spent towards Doors of Stone? I figured it would be 50/50, or maybe skewed a little bit towards writing, but I was surprised that Fallout 4 wins every single day.
I think it shows pretty clearly that people who howl for book three aren't as interested in donating money to make the world a better place.
The context, in a nutshell, is that as part of Patrick Rothfuss’ annual (and very generous) fundraising for Worldbuilders, he let people pay to choose whether or not he would play Fallout 4 or spend extra time writing his next book.
There was a mild (and probably justified) kerfuffle about Rothfuss’s tone in this response, but then, the dude’s also raised $1m+ for charity this year. Let’s allow him a brief moment of crankiness.
In the past, I've looked into the hypothesis that 'readers are better people', and found it (to my surprise), demonstrably (and gratifyingly) true. So in the interest of testing another hypothesis, let's look into this one: "Are the people demanding Doors of Stone less likely to donate money to make the world a better place?"
QUICK, TO THE MATHMOBILE!
I’m going to set aside the Fallout 4 vs Doors of Stone experiment that’s already happened. If we look at it as a proper test of the 'howlers' hypothesis, well... it isn’t. There are all sorts of problems in the way it was presented, and it is hard to see that as a fair test. (Not that it was meant to be.) We can get into framing and presentation bias in the comments if anyone cares, but for now, we'll leave it be.
What we can do, however, is compare segments using YouGov’s profile tool - which collects 120,000 data points from over 250,000 people. That gives us a lot of data to draw upon, the big caveat, of course, being that these are all from the UK.
Defining the test
So, let’s find some Howlers! Unfortunately, none of the 120,000 data points explicitly covers 'impatient Patrick Rothfuss fans'. YouGov doesn’t capture that (yet). But we can mix up some other data points to create a pretty specific segment.
For the purposes of this test, I’ve defined 'Howlers' as:
- Fantasy readers (they say they enjoy reading fantasy fiction)
- At least 22 years of age (in order to maximise the Howlers' perceived grievance, they should be waiting for The Doors of Stone for the longest possible period of time - meaning we want folks that were at least 14 - an arbitrary 'reading adult epic fantasy' age - when The Name of the Wind came out in 2007.)
- Agrees with the statement: 'I readily express my feelings' (Howlers can't be shy.)
- Self-described: 'Demanding' (Howlers howl, yo.)
- Internet users (I’m assuming the 'howling' is online, and not outside his window. We're looking for aggrieved fans, not werewolves.)
This makes for a pretty narrowly-defined segment, but, out of respect for the hypothesis that we're testing, I think it is important to make these folks as howly as possible.
Incidentally, my gut feel is that the Howlers are mostly guys (as I think we are, in general, noisier with our entitlement issues), but that’s a bias I can’t actually prove, so we’ll leave gender out of this. Moreover, according to YouGov, fantasy readers skew slightly female (52% of fantasy readers are female; compared to 51% of the general population). Which is a nice little stat to have in your back pocket for the next time someone is being an asshole about fantasy being mostly read by dudes.
The one missing thing in Rothfuss’s hypothesis is a control group. Who are we comparing our Howlers too? In the interests of fairness, let’s compare our Howlers to three different populations:
- The national population
- Readers of any fiction genre
- Fantasy readers
And, of course, the questions:
- In the past 3 months, have they made a financial donation directly to a charity on an ad hoc basis? (e.g. donating to Worldbuilders as a one-off)
- In the past 3 months, have they sponsored a friend / colleague / family member for a charitable activity? (e.g. sponsoring Rothfuss to play Fallout 4 for Worldbuilders)
Those cover the range of Rothfuss’s hypothesis nicely, and have the benefit of being about actual behaviour (rather than intent), so we can judge if people actually have donated, rather than saying they will.
For the hell of it, I’ve also thrown in two more:
- In the past 3 months, have they volunteered for a charity?
- In the past 3 months, have they made a financial donation to a charity on a regular basis (e.g. set up a direct debit)?
Both of which are slightly off-brief, but still help us figure out the general character of these Howlers and their commitment (or lack thereof) to ‘making the world a better place’.
Well, see for yourself.
As you can see, the Howlers, at 51.7% ad hoc giving and 40.7% sponsorship, are well above any other category. Readers and Fantasy Readers, in general, are more likely to give in an ad hoc way than the national population. And about equally likely to sponsor someone. But Howlers are nicer yet. In a scenario like Worldbuilders, Howlers are, in fact, statistically significantly more likely to donate money to make the world a better place than any other segment.
And for the other two charity metrics, regular giving and volunteering:
Readers and Fantasy Readers are much more likely to give regularly than the national population, and slightly more likely to volunteer.
And our Howlers? They're still top of the class; substantially more likely to do engage in both activities.
Just to put things in perspective, here’s everything together:
Howlers aren’t just more likely to be charitable than everyone else. They’re actually more more likely to be charitable in the specific ways relevant to this hypothesis.
Was Patrick Rothfuss's hypothesis wrong?
Based on this data, the statement “people who howl for book three aren't as interested in donating money to make the world a better place” is not true. In fact, those people with howl-like tendencies are significantly more likely to donate money to make the world a better place. (Again, in the UK. Passionate Rothfuss fans elsewhere in the world, you’ll need to defend yourself. Sorry!)
And, on a pleasantly empowering note: we (makes hand gestures encompassing the readers of this blog) are all readers - and fantasy readers - and maybe even Howlers. We can all feel a little better about ourselves. Just because we devote ourselves to imaginary worlds doesn’t mean we aren’t taking care of the real one.
And that’s a pretty nice thing to know.
If you’re interested in further nudging the statistics, you can donate to Worldbuilders here. Or our favourite, the terrific Doctors Without Borders. Or any other number of organisations that help make the world a better place.