More or Less: How Many Furries Are There?

28 Aug 2014 | Guest Poster

Guest post by Ralphie Raccoon. 

Hi, I'm Ralphie Raccoon, and this is hopefully the first in a small series of short articles presenting some important and interesting (and perhaps some less important, but hopefully still interesting) questions about the fandom, and attempting to answer them as best as possible through the eyes of statistics and data. If you're British and listen to Radio 4, or enjoy listening to the BBC World Service if you are from the rest of the world, you may have heard of the programme "More or Less". Well, this is sort of like that. Except it's a blog post, not a radio show. And it's not on the BBC, it's on [adjective][species]. And rather than a bunch of guest speakers, you just get me. Sorry about that. Anyway, I hope that you find these articles enjoyable, or, at the very least, slightly informative.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional (or even really an amateur) statistician. I have never taken, and probably will never take, a proper statistics course in my life. So if any professional (or amateur) statisticians notice any errors or incorrect terminology, feel free to come over to my house and beat me with a big stick (or just leave me some constructive feedback, whatever you prefer).

For this first article I'm going to try to answer what is perhaps the biggest question of all: Just how many of us are there? It certainly is an important question to answer. After all, a fandom's popularity is defined by its size, and while we may still pale in comparison to other big fandoms like science fiction, anime and fantasy, in recent years our numbers have swelled as awareness grows, and some of the stigma begins to wither away.

Total attendances at furry conventions have grown by over 500% since 2003 (Wikifur), and it would be fair to assume that the fandom has probably grown by a similar amount, if not more. But while we instinctively know that the fandom has grown in recent years, it is hard to work out how big it has actually gotten. What are the chances, for example, if you got 100 random people into a room from around the globe, that one of them would be a furry?

It's not an easy question to answer. The fandom is not a club, we do not have any way of knowing how many "members" there are, people are free to join and leave without notifying anyone. Censuses such as the Furry Survey are entirely optional, and while they do produce valuable data, it is not possible to extract an estimate of the total number of furries on earth purely from the number of responses. However, combined with the aggregate attendance data of conventions from Wikifur, there is another way...

The Convention Method

One way to calculate the population of something is by using a known quantity of a subset of that population, and knowing what percentage that subset was of the total population. To put it in laymen's terms, if you had an unknown quantity of marbles, but you knew that 10 of them were green and 10% of the marbles were green, you would instantly know that you had 100 marbles. We can do a similar thing here, by using the aggregate attendance data of conventions as mentioned previously (the known quantity), along with data about what conventions furries attended in 2011 from the Furry Survey.

Now, we can't just say that X% of the fandom attended a convention in 2011, as we know that many furries would have attended multiple conventions, but we do have data on which exact conventions (from a list of the most popular conventions) each responder to the furry survey attended in 2011. If we add up all the convention attendances, and divide them by the total number of responses

Total convention attendances (Furry Survey 2011) 0.4 conventions attended per response.
Number of responses (Furry Survey 2011)

So we now know that according to the Furry Survey, each furry on average attended 0.4 conventions in 2011. Now, if we take the sum of all the attendance numbers from conventions only from the list on the Furry Survey, in 2011, from Wikifur, and divide that by 0.4, we now have an estimate of the total number of furries in the world:

Sum of attendance at conventions listed in the Furry Survey in 2011 (Wikifur) = Sum of attendance at conventions listed in The Furry Survey in 2011 (Wikifur) × Number of responses (Furry Survey 2011)
0.4 Total convention attendances (Furry Survey 2011)

≈ 60,300

So there you have it, there were approximately 60,300 furries in the world in 2011. But is that really an accurate answer? As mentioned previously, the list of conventions that the Furry Survey collected data on attendance for was only limited to the most popular conventions, so many attendances at smaller conventions (particularly those from countries with small furry populations) would have been missed, meaning that the average convention attendance number is lower than it should be, and therefore there are less furries in the world than the statistic suggests.

However, my "gut instinct", so to speak, actually points in the opposite direction, that 60,300 is actually too low a number, rather than too high. There really needs to be another estimate collected using different data, in order to give the number more (or less) credibility. You could use this methodology on something like, FA accounts, for example, as long as you could persuade Dragoneer to give you the numbers (If he's kept any!). The more estimates like this that can be collected, the more certain we will become of an accurate number of people in the fandom.

There is also the issue of language. We perhaps assume that since the most popular furry websites are in English, and that most conventions are held in English speaking countries, that the vast majority of furries are at least proficient enough to be able to complete an internet survey. Is this a good assumption to make? Perhaps, but that is probably a whole other topic in itself*.

And finally, what about the question at the beginning, about the chances of there being a furry in a room of 100 people? Well, if we divide 60,300 by 7 billion, we can work out that approximately 0.0008% of the world's population were furries in 2011. So to answer that question, if you got 100 random people into a room from around the globe in 2011, the chances of one of them being a furry would be approximately 1 in 125,000. Better odds than winning the lottery, I guess.

* This article was revised on 31 August to include this paragraph, which was mistakenly cut from the final version of the article. Bad editor-horse!

Coming soon: What is the "furriest" country in the world?

Ralphie Raccoon (not his real name, and he is not planning to ever change it to that) has a BSc in Special Effects Development at the University of Bolton and an MRes in robotics from the University of Plymouth, neither of which really had anything to do with statistics. He currently lives in a little house on a windswept hill just outside of the great northern English city of Manchester, known for its lively arts and music scene, trams the size of lorries, and rather excessive amounts of rain. At work he plays with big robots and deadly deadly lasers (no, really, that's what he does. Trust me, it's not as exciting as it sounds). Apart from hiding in trash cans and hissing at the neighbours cat, he also likes to watch TV, play computer games, burn himself on soldering irons in his workshop, and generally reflect on life and the universe in general.