MythCon Ain’t Over – Part Three

[CONTENT WARNING: Mythicist Milwaukee. Also, you’ll want to read the prior two parts.]

We left off with this chart.

The number of Patrons each person had, as of September 30th, 2017.It was rather handy to invoke, at the time, but the more you stare at it the more sinister it becomes. The heights of the bars are on a logarithmic scale, because that was the only way Dan Arel and Dr. Winter’s Patron count could share a graph with Benjamin’s. If I put them on a linear scale…

The number of Patrons each person had, as of September 30th, 2017.… you really see the problem. If Carl Benjamin is not representative of the atheist/skeptic movement, how did he attract so many Patrons? The people who are actively working to make the atheist/skeptic movement more inclusive have a tiny fraction of the support of the shit-lords. If the silent majority of the movement supports them and their work, where is that support?

I haven’t been alone in claiming “hate sells.” There’s two distinct ways to interpret this: the people who promote hatred are highly valued, either as “bigot hype people” like I described last post or via some other mechanism, or they are popular. The two are not mutually exclusive, but if you’re going to argue that hate-mongers are the exception and not the rule, then you’re stuck arguing that any substantial money they make from their hate is primarily through their value to bigots rather than their popularity. The hypothesis that they enjoy popular support, in contrast, predicts that their value isn’t much different from non-hatemongers.

We can evaluate this, but first we need to put everyone’s Patreon on equal footing. Four of the Patreons I’ve looked at pay out monthly, but three (Thomas Smith, Shoe0nHead, and Armoured Skeptic) pay out per video or episode. I’ve already mentioned Smith pumps out roughly 8.7 episodes of Serious Inquiries Only per month, and after eyeballing their respective Patreons I see Shoe0nHead posted four Patron-sponsored videos in the three months before October, while Armoured Skeptic posted eight. We can use those figures to turn their Patreon numbers into an average monthly earning, and then divide everyone’s monthly earnings by the number of Patrons they have to arrive at an average monthly contribution per Patron. This makes a pretty good metric of value.

Average monthly contribution per Patron, as of Sept. 30th, 2017.

Carl Benjamin has the lowest contribution per Patron on this graph. Shoe0nHead, despite fitting the “bigot hype woman” profile better than Armoured Skeptic, carries less value. Delve into the details, and the differences are almost entirely explained by much these people give back to their audience. Thomas Smith, who kicks out tonnes of quality content, does best of all. Shoe0nHead delivers fewer videos per month than Armoured Skeptic. In contrast to everyone else, Dr. Winter’s Patreon has only one reward level ($1 per month), and Benjamin’s has zero. Steve Shives is the strongest exception, as he pumps out a good five videos per week. Maybe he’s stretching himself too thin?

Whatever the case, the “hate is popular” theory comes out on top. This helps explain why those hoping to change the community for the better do not have more support, it’s because a large part of the community doesn’t support them.

On second thought, that’s a bit harsh. There’s another option: most of the community doesn’t value self-improvement. Rather than divide the atheist/skeptic community exclusively into people who care about inclusion and diversity, and those who don’t, we can add a third group that responds with a shrug. Either they aren’t aware of the issue, dismiss it as more heat than fire, or are along the lines of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “white moderate.” We’re not going to see the effect of these people on the above partisans, as most of their Patrons already share similar views.

What we need are people who aren’t known for being SJWs, but nonetheless wound up involved in MythCon in some form or another. People like Aron Ra, Seth Andrews, and Matt Dillahunty. All three would generally side with those trying to improve the community, if forced to choose, but for the most part stay out of the fray. Andrews and Dillahunty in particular have been infamous for critiquing the reformers mentioned above from a centrist perch. Aron Ra and Seth Andrews were scheduled to attend MythCon, then withdrew, while the third attended only to lay out some harsh words for the organizers. If their value jumps up and down like Dr. Winter’s or Benjamin’s, that’ll suggest this third group is small relative to the other two. Unfortunately, I don’t have monetary values for the first two, and no time series data at all for Dillahunty. Fortunately, I’m not completely empty-handed.

Comparing Carl Benjamin's monthly earnings to Thomas Smith's approximate monthly earnings on Patreon, as well as their Patron counts.There’s a correlation between Patron activity and monetary value. This makes sense: if someone’s value drops, it may go low enough for some people to withdraw their Patronage. The correlation isn’t perfect, as post-MythCon Thomas Smith demonstrates, but it generally holds for other creators. The de-trended Patron delta should give us a rough idea of how Aron Ra and Seth Andrews fared around MythCon.

Patron count of Seth Andrews and Aron Ra, detrended.Hmmm. While both show the monthly dive we’ve seen in other Patreons, it’s suspicious that the October 1st dive is noticeably deeper than the two prior ones. There should also be a spike around the time of Seth’s Facebook posts, too, and yet I see nothing. This whole lot of nothing suggests group three is the norm, and that October dive is a half-point in favor of the “bigotry is popular” hypothesis. But this leaves a lot to be desired: we’re inferring value indirectly, we’ve only looked at two people, and both of them were opposed to Mythicist Milwaukee’s conference.

The only person I was aware of that was on MythCon’s side was Richard Carrier. He weighed in before MythCon with “Why Mythicist Milwaukee is Right and Their Critics Wrong,” an exercise in selective minimization and maximization that embraces the Golden Mean fallacy. Afterwards, he had glowing praise for the MythCon organizers, even as he derided the Smith-Benjamin “carnival show.” It’s bizarre to see someone who leans left declare Thomas Smith to be “far left,” or declare anti-feminists to be “definitely leftist liberals” who “have been burned and mistreated so frequently by feminists and social justice advocates that they have become highly critical and skeptical of both,” or offer a defense of the Kekistani flag and deny its obvious connection to white supremacists, or… sorry, nearly got sucked down a rabbit hole.

I’d rather not rely on a sample of one, though, so I dug up an excellent companion: Godless Engineer. Most of his output is agnostic towards feminism and social justice issues, but when he does weigh in on the subject… yeeeeahh. While that dates back a few years, I don’t think his views have shifted much since. Back in the here and now, Godless Engineer has been a solid defender of MythCon. In some ways, he’s a better indicator of the size of the third group than Carrier: by steering clear of social justice topics in general, but defending MythCon in specific, Godless Engineer is a better indicator of the size of this indifferent group.

Comparing the detrended value of Godless Engineer and Richard Carrier on Patreon.Hmmm. None of the Carrier’s spikes before MythCon line up with anything related to the conference. His biggest loss came the day he announced a new online course, and his initial defense of MythCon was on September 6th, after both upward spikes in value. Godless Engineer’s biggest spike upwards came a week after he first published a video on MythCon, and doesn’t seem tied to anything in particular. Carrier saw a drop in value at the exact time of MythCon, one that can’t be tied to monthly dips, but a few days later he saw a huge spike at the same time as he published glowing praise of Mythicist Milwaukee. Godless Engineer saw his biggest gains in value around the same time, but I should pour some cold water on that: over that entire timespan, he had one new Patron sign up and another leave. He has fewer Patrons than Dr. Winters but more than Dan Arel, which could point to statistical noise here. Richard Carrier has significantly more Patrons, roughly half of Steve Shives, which makes the large jumps in value a puzzle. Shouldn’t more Patrons smooth that out? If there’s a silent and indifferent majority here, I’d expect less of an October spike.

I know, I know, you’re waiting for me to get to the main event: how did Mythicist Milwaukee’s value change over this timespan? After all, most of the atheo-skeptic community roundly condemned them post-MythCon, and you’d expect a drop in value because of the outrage. I’m sure a few of you are predicting a gain, especially if you’ve read this far.

Mythicist Milwaukee's detrended Patreon value, per video/podcast.This just screams “low sample count.” Would you be shocked to learn that each of those major spikes coincides with a single Patron signing up? Or that as of that last spike, Mythicist Milwaukee had a whopping twelve Patrons? It doesn’t do a lot to help the hypothesis that they were rewarded for MythCon, but the hypothesis that they were harmed by it fares a lot worse. At best, they earned tepid support for MythCon….

Mythicist Milwaukee's detrended Patreon value, per video/podcast, brought up to date.… within that timespan. If I extend the series to the present day, Mythicist Milwaukee fares a lot better. Not all of that is for MythCon, admittedly; the November 5th spike was probably due to something unrelated, but those late October spikes came when the organization was loudly standing up for MythCon. According to their Patreon stats, MythCon was a net plus for Mythicist Milwaukee.

To be fair, I could have come to the same conclusion by looking at their GoFundMe. Mythicist Milwaukee claims to have lost $12,000 hosting MythCon, which they hoped to offset with crowd-funding. Not only did they reach that target in less than three days, the fundraiser sits at $18,847 as I type this. The comments are illuminating:

I appreciate what you guys did, giving a platform to multiple perspectives and not caving to the hysterical, moral outrage brigade.

Thank you for supporting open dialog between disagreeing groups. Keep it up!!!

Sargon vs. Smith was epic!

Thank you for your hard work and courage in hosting this convention. This sort of dedication in the face of adversity should not go unrewarded. You deserve this. Let this money go to ensuring that Mythcon continues in 2018 and for many years to come.

The Thomas Smith – Carl Benjamin debate alone would’ve worth it.

I watched your Thomas and Sargon discussion. It was enlighting, thank you.

Thanks for sticking to your guns and not giving in to the pressure of people trying to censor opinions they don’t agree with. Here’s to hoping next time around all the speakers invited will stick to their guns, too.

Your mythcon video on Facebook was some of the best content I’ve seen in ages! Keep doing your stuff an resist outside pressures

Thank you for standing your ground in the face of such harassment by promoting dialogue and debate. I hope you will have Sargon back again.

Love that you stood up the SJW hate mob and let some people speak.

Attention all SJWs, we are taking back the movement you’ve stolen from us!

It is heartening to see all the outrage over MythCon, but we don’t just proclaim our values by speaking them aloud. Money has value, and where we spend our cash shows what we think has merit. While the data from Patreon isn’t that clean, it does suggest that despite all the talk, the atheo-skeptic community sees significant value in people like Carl Benjamin and conferences like MythCon. I don’t see any evidence that most atheists or skeptics think otherwise; in fact, it’s more likely that the supporters of Benjamin are the rule and not the exception. As for MythCon, it will almost certainly return, with solid attendance numbers, and other conference organizers may be tempted by the same template.

If this terrifies you, put your money where your mouth is. Support people and organizations trying to advance social justice within the atheo-skeptic community. See how you can volunteer. And whatever you do, don’t think this is finished or isolated to one conference. The sum values of the atheo-skeptic movement depend on it.

[HJH 2017-12-04: Those last two paragraphs badly needed a rewrite. This absence from blogging has rusted my word-smithing skilz. 😛 ]