SurveyFail

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"Evolutionary Psychology Bingo Card", which began making the rounds during SurveyFail.

Contents

Introduction

SurveyFail was a major incidence of Fail which occurred in the late summer of 2009. It primarily involved research scientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam and members of the media fandom community on LiveJournal

Timeline of events

On July 17, 2009, shaggirl posted on LiveJournal that she had been "contacted by a couple of guys researching and writing about online fanfic."[1] She included the text of their initial message to her, including their specific interest in the demographics of the crack_van community. mecurtin offered in the comments to contact them, and both posted the text of their further communications with Ogi Ogas and associate Sai Gaddam in the later days of July 2009.[2],[3],[4]

Banner ad used to advertise Ogi Ogas' fan fiction survey.

On August 29, 2009, Ogi Ogas posted a survey (warning: link may include triggering questions) on his LiveJournal account entitled "The Cognitive Neuroscience of Fan Fiction."[5] The survey was 70 questions in length and asked numerous questions about the respondents sexuality, gender, life experiences, and beliefs as well as about fandom and fan-fiction. The FAQ posted for the survey[6] claimed that the research was being conducted because:

We're deeply interested in broad-based behavioral data that involves romantic or erotic cognition and evinces a clear distinction between men and women. Fan fiction matches this criteria perfectly. Let us make clear, however: fan fiction is not the subject of our research. Our subject is the human brain. For us, fan fiction is a wonderfully rich source of data--like single-neuron recordings in rhesus monkeys--albeit a unique and invaluable one.

Many members of the fan fiction community on LiveJournal expressed issues with the specific questions asked, as they were seen as leading, offensive, limited in options presented to answer them, heterosexist, misogynistic, and potentially triggering.[7],[8],[9],[10]

The survey's intent was brought into question as Ogas showed limited knowledge of fanfiction norms, such as not knowing there was longer-form fan-fiction including novels and novellas[11] and assuming slash fiction was all of the WNGWJLEO variety.[12] In response to these corrections to his perceptions, Ogas stressed that he was not in fact interested in learning more about fan-fiction, only using its readers and writers for data.[13],[14] To quote:

Fan fiction is not the subject of our research; it's a source of data. We have little or nothing to contribute to the cultural aspects of fan fiction. Our research will not say what fan fiction is or is not, or its value in society. There is much we don't know about fan fiction; we are indeed outsiders. We are very much happy to take fan fiction on its own terms, as explained to us by its fans, such as yourself. We accept what you say about it.[15]

Others expressed unease with Ogas' apparent goals in proving "hardwired" cognitive differences between men and women in regards to romantic and erotic responses.[16] Ogas left a lengthy reply in response, which he quickly deleted and replaced with:

You ask a great question, one that gets to the very heart of our research and survey. Such a great question deserves a great answer. Thank you for offering us the opportunity to talk about why we're doing this research, why we think it's so exciting, and why we think it's justified. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to write it tomorrow, as my first draft was growing incredibly long. But I promise to post my response very prominently, and to do my best to handle any follow-up questions you may have.

Questions were also raised as to the researchers' methodology, including how they were insuring they were not collecting data from minors[17] and whether their survey had been approved by an Institutional review board (IRB).

Members of fandom posted further information on earlier communications which had taken place between Ogas and individuals such as eruthros (one of the moderators of kink_bingo), seeking help in promoting their research.[18] It discovered that the survey work was in fact being conducted for a book to be titled "Rule 34: What Netporn Teaches Us About The Brain",[19] a fact which had not been revealed by Ogas in his survey post or FAQ.

On August 31, 2009, Ogi Ogas opened a new post on his LiveJournal account for people to discuss the problems they had with each of the posed questions, as worded.[20] The situation had already become complicated as the wording of some questions had been changed by this point, invalidating earlier data collected.

Screencapture of a LiveJournal comment thread, with commenters denying their permission to be quoted in any of Ogi Ogas's research work.

Later in the day of August 31, 2009, the link to the original survey was removed from Ogi Ogas's LiveJournal with the comment:

Seeing the amazing about of feedback we've received over the past 24 hours, and realizing we can't possibly process and discuss it all in a timely fashion, we've taken the survey offline while we read through all the comments and criticisms in the hope of revamping and improving the survey. It's certainly our hope and intention that the survey not only serve our own research needs, but offer something useful to fandom. With all the comments people have so generously offered, we're optimistic that if we listen carefully we can improve the survey. We still invite further comments, but please understand we're going to first try to dig through all the comments we've already received!
We're grateful for the amount of feedback we've received so far, and will do our best to enhance the utility of the survey!
Ogi[21]

In the comments to the new post, many expressed doubt that Ogas had in fact learned anything from the experience, and began to request that none of their responses or information collected in the comments exchange be used in any way for his research or book project.[22] The situation had alread turned into a metamob attack on Ogas by this point, one which led a commenter to state:

Honestly, I have to hand it to you. I've been in fandom for eleven years. I was there through Racefail and Amazonfail and Strikethrough. I have never seen anything mobilise and unite fandom against a cause as quickly and thoroughly as you guys have managed.[23]

The situation was beginning by this point to be referred to as SurveyFail, BrainFail, and/or ScienceFail in various parts of LiveJournal fandom.

On September 1, 2009, shaggirl made a LiveJournal post[24] offering her perspective in the aftermath of the survey going live, defending Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam's work and giving more details on her involvement with betaing the survey questions.

Ogas continued to only reply directly to members of the LiveJournal fan community in comments on shaggirl's posts. He angred many in a comment made in response to a question from romaine24[25], in which he stated:

why are you focusing on slash in your survey and not just relationships in general for fanfic without regard to who the pairings are?
Thank you for your questions!
Well, slash is kind of the female equivalent of the straight male interest in transsexuals. That is, the opposite of what culture would predict. So it probably reflects a more direct subcortical effect. Also, there's already data out there about romance novels we can use, which probably overlaps with relationships in fan fic, but we do have a few questions that aren't specific to slash. Maybe we'll have more in the next round.

Ogas was also criticized for his use of the word "tranny" which he claimed he had been using because "that's the term they use for themselves and also the term used by people who love them (as people); at least in the adult industry".[26] His attempt to pathologise asexuality in the following response was also criticized:

For example, perhaps someone who was truly asexual might have some neural feature analogous to the genetically-induced absence of blue photoreceptors. Then it would be helpful to take a look inside their brain. But even without a peek inside, the nature of the asexuality might give clues to neural processes, in the same way that the very existence of red-green colorblindness suggests there's some special linkage between blue and yellow in the visual system.[27]

On September 2, 2009 Boston University's IRB office was directly contacted. Ogi Ogas is no longer affiliated with the University, except as a recent graduate. His research is not IRB approved, and the IRB board has asked him to remove his BU email and website from any materials related to the project, and create some type of consent form explaining his current situation. They claim he has been very receptive to those suggestions.[28]

Screencapture of post by Ogi Ogas on September 2, 2009. This post was quickly locked down with the rest of Ogas' journal after massive macro-bombing and mocking.

Ogi made a new post on the afternoon of September 2, 2009, entitled "How is straight female interest in slash fiction like straight male interest in "shemale"* models? And why in the world does this matter?" (see screencap). The post was quickly macro-bombed and mocked in the comments, and soon after Ogi locked down his entire LiveJournal.

On the morning of September 3, 2009, Ogi Ogas posted the following apology to his LiveJournal:

Apology
We wish to apologize for any offense caused by our survey, which was certainly never our intention. We can clearly understand how strong feelings were evoked by the specific nature of our interactions. We deeply regret this. We appreciate tremendously the invaluable feedback we've received, and certainly hope to improve our work and grow as people as a result of this experience.
Sincerely,
Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam[29]

On September 3, 2009, shaggirl received an e-mail response from Ogi Ogas that said:

Heheh, well it happened faster than we expected, but we expected it. From a research point of view, it's already a smashing success: even discounting the "sabotage" responses we're getting, we cleared 2,000 responses in the first 24 hours.
If you'd like, I can remove the reference to Crack Van in our FAQ; you've been so generous to us, I don't want you to feel publicly affiliated with us in any way.
One thing I've learned about research though: the harder it is, the more likely you'll be the first to discover something interesting.
Personally, I've been the recipient of massive flaming on a larger scale than this (though I admit this is starting to hit similar levels), and since I believe in what I'm doing, I try to be as sensitive as possible to others' concerns and do my best to elevate the conversation. This is the first time for Sai, so he's maybe having a little more difficulty, so I'm telling him not to post anything!!
Shaggy, I can't express enough how grateful I am for your guidance. I won't make any further public reference to you to spare you any collateral damage! :)
But thanks so much for asking about how we're doing--you're a supremely decent person!
Ogi [30]

The news that Ogi Ogas was still going to publish the results of his work quickly made the rounds on various posts on services such as LiveJournal.[31]

Meanwhile, on September 2, 2009, alchemia posted a piece of "Ogi/Sai : RPS, exhibitionism, partial cross dressing, and tentacle porn fan art featuring Ogi Ogas described as "Ogi/Sai : RPS, exhibitionism, partial cross dressing, and tentacle porn."[32] She later added an extra warning for potential "rape fantasy" trigger potential in the image. Fan reaction to this image was mixed and caused a minor kerfluffle within all of the SurveyFail discussion. While some found it funny and an appropriate form of satire and protest art, others found it offensive and crossing the line. There was also mixed reaction to the Ogi/Sai RPS fiction which had been posted, some in the comments of Ogas' own journal, and members of fandom began to debate the merits of both the fan-fiction and the fan-art being created as a result of SurveyFail.[33],[34],[35],[36]

SurveyFail, Part II?

On November 10, 2009, a new LiveJournal account posted a Supernatural/Wincest Survey which made many suspicious because of its similarities (even in journal style) to SurveyFail.[37] The genericresearch LiveJournal account was created on that same day, November 10[38] with a biography statement of:

This journal is being used primarily for research of gender/sexual identity and other sexual topics. No offense or harm is intended this is purely for educational (unbiased) purposes.
Our current research topic is "Wincest", any and everyone is encouraged to follow our progress.

The organizers of the survey refused to identify themselves in their disclaimer[39] beyond stating "we are a small group of college students conducting research for a class presentation. We are unaffiliated with major groups and are only researching Supernatural and Wincest because we find it interesting. We have all followed this show and subculture for several years out of personal interest, but our current class has given us an opportunity to delve into it in more depth than can be found by simply searching communities and journals."

Some in fandom even wondered if this new survey was in some way associated with the original SurveyFail organizers. By later in the day on November 11, those behind genericresearch revised their disclaimer post to read:

Supernatural/Wincest Survey Disclaimer

We have spoken to our advisors and done the research many of you have suggested. Before receiving many of these comments, we were quite unaware of all the issues that go into surveys like these, figuring something like this would be little more than an 'amped-up' Livejournal poll. We sincerely apologize for causing anyone any trouble and will not bother anyone again until we figure out our clearance.
Though it obviously brings us no absolution, we wanted to let you all know that we really are not a malicious group, and the only reason for our continued anonymity (other than our desire for impartiality of results) was fear of what can happen when you give out your information on the Internet.
We apoloogize again, and we hope you believe us when we say it. We really didn't know.
Note: This whole post will be removed in a day or two, probably along with this journal. The original survey found here will be replaced with this same message and also eventually removed.

See also

External Links

Discussion and posts related to SurveyFail

July 19, 2009

July 22, 2009

July 27, 2009

August 21, 2009

August 29, 2009

August 30, 2009

August 31, 2009

September 1, 2009

September 2, 2009

September 3, 2009

September 4, 2009

September 5, 2009

September 6, 2009

September 7, 2009

September 9, 2009

November 11, 2009

I have no confirmation that the same researchers are carrying out this "survey", but circumstances are suspicious. Chameleon on November 11, 2009

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