I was a taller girl too, once. (regala_electra) wrote,
I was a taller girl too, once.
regala_electra

Survey!Fail - I should have known better

Forgive me, but this is something of a serious post regarding survey!fail and how I stupidly engaged with Ogas in an email conversation about fanfic.

The links to get your learn on:

Unfunnybusiness has a post that has tracked the events as they have unfolded since Monday.

Linkspam's comprehensive collection, excellent place to find informed, intelligent discussion. Helps with the timeline of events and it has been extremely helpful to me.

And I would always recommend jonquil's posts on any subject so for anyone who is still "bzuh?" about Survey!fail, please read her posts.

As deadlychameleon posted yesterday regarding Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam's connection with Boston University:

I called the Boston University IRB office. The direct approach works.

They've gotten a lot of emails regarding Dr. Ogas. He is no longer in any way affiliated with Boston University, except as a recent graduate. They have asked him to stop using his official Boston University email address in connection with this project, or his website. He is officially on his own, and this project is NOT IRB APPROVED.

That is the official status as stated by the Boston University IRB office.

The problem with this is threefold:

1. The researcher has no expertise in the area he is researching, nor has he recruited anyone to give him guidance.

2. The researcher has substantial profit motivation to produce work in this area (book contract with Penguin) which may lead to unethical conduct/a tendency to misrepresent his results.

3. The research is in no way overseen by any external body which can examine it for potential unethical conduct.

In addition to all of these, the researchers have now alienated their participant population, who are now very likely to become unreliable participants.

The only way to salvage the study at this point, I believe, would be for them to change it to an observational one.


As this will be a long post detailing my own unfortunate involvement with Ogas in the apparent pursuit of "understanding" fanfiction, here is what Ogi Ogas conveyed to me regarding why he presented himself as being connected with Boston University:

I was in fact associated with Boston University until September 1, including the time when I contacted you. But I am not conducting the research as part of any Boston University program.


This was emailed to me this morning after I informed him that my email to him on August 28th (Friday) should not be used as any part of his research. Personally I think he's just covering his ass there.

Below the cut I have included the unedited exchange between myself and Ogas. Except where I have included a bolded comment in brackets, everything is exactly as it appears in my gmail. Prior to the first email I received from Ogi Ogas, I was not aware of any research being conducted by him or Sai Gaddam nor of any of their previous contact with fandom members.



I received the following in my gmail account on Thursday August 27th at 5:59pm:


Hi:

I'm a cognitive neuroscientist at Boston University studying the brain regions involved with processing erotic fiction. Along with my collaborator Dr. Sai Gaddam, I'm writing a commercial non-fiction book for Penguin about fan fiction and slash that will be released in late 2010.

I read your "Five Lies Godric Regrets" on LJ (very emotionally taut) and I was very much hoping I could ask you a few questions about slash, and True Blood slash in particular. (I'm a True Blood fan myself.)

Let me know if I can answer any questions about our research or book! Thanks!
Ogi Ogas, PhD
[email removed; BU email address]
http://cns.bu.edu/~ogiogas/ [link now states page does not exist]
Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems
Boston University


On a whim (I was in a good mood? I'm a complete idiot? I'm still asking myself what I was thinking.), I decided "what the hell?" and responded to him that day at 7:32pm:


Hi,

I do occasionally read studies about fanfic/fandom participation so I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.


I then received the following on Thursday 8/27 at 7:44pm:


Hi, Regala:

Thanks so much for responding! We're very much interested in the subcortical neural circuits that govern romantic and erotic attraction, and in particular how these circuits differ in men and women. Fan fiction, and slash in particular, offers a wonderful opportunity for a new perspective on the operation of some of these circuits.

I thought it was very interesting how you were able to use the very disciplined literary structure of 5 drabbles to evoke such emotional (and erotic) tension. Do you usually try to follow self-imposed structures on your fan fiction?

As a fan of True Blood, I expected there would be an abundance of TB slash on the net, given what I imagined to be the vivid slashiness of the series. Yet, it seems to be there is relatively little (unless I'm looking in the wrong places). Do you have any thoughts about why there is not more TB slash?

How were you first introduced to slash? To remember what your initial reaction was?

Do you have a conscious goal when you set out to write a (slash) story, or do you start out with a pairing and see what develops?

Thank you so much! Any thoughts at all would be tremendously appreciated! :)
Ogi Ogas


The next day because I love talking about the writing process and I thought these were relatively generic and innocuous questions, I emailed Ogas the following (8/28 11:54am):


I can sometimes be a bit long-winded so I tried to edit my answers as best I could. If you have any further questions or want me to expand on something, please let me know.

Do you usually try to follow self-imposed structures on your fan fiction?

It can vary. Sometimes I'll write things on the fly but I tend to prefer using some structural or stylistic choice/constraint in my writing. The limit of 100 words helped me narrow my focus on what I wanted to say in the story. "5 Things" stories have become something of a familiar structure in fan fiction writing (I think it started in 2001 if I recall my fan history correctly) and it's one that I like to use when I begin to explore something new, whether a new kind of story or take on characters. I had a title and five "lies" to work off of (one of the lies was removed when it didn't work in the context of the drabble and switched out with a backup "lie" that fit better). The drabbles were written roughly in the same order as they appeared in the final story.

Giving myself a set of boundaries helps me in the writing process and in making final editing choices. I may have a lot of ideas of what I want to do in a story but too many ideas can lead to a story never getting finished or to the story failing because I put in too much information or not enough. I often find my most successful writing experiences are when I've sat down and challenged myself to accomplish something within a set of parameters even if it's not a structural requirement.

I tend to write a focused third person perspective and I usually write in the present tense but I'll sometimes break out of my usual style for the story's sake or I'll do something where I challenge myself to write a character POV without naming the character in the story at all. I like playing with the reader's expectations versus my (the writer's) knowledge of the story. In editing the final drabble for my True Blood fic, I had to cut out the signifier that it was Godric speaking in the last line of dialogue. Interestingly (to me at least), the couple of friends who I spoke to about that last bit of dialogue assumed Eric had said it.

Do you have any thoughts about why there is not more TB slash?

Actually it's something that I've been curious about myself. Normally with livejournal-based fandom communities there is organization amongst very active participants and usually there are fan-run "newsletters" which dedicate themselves to collecting any fan-created materials. I've not actively sought out where the True Blood livejournal writing community hangs out and it seems that there's more graphic-based art being created as opposed to writing.

Part of the reason why that is could be that I consider True Blood to be a very cheesy show (and I use that in a good way, I enjoy frivolous entertainment as much as more serious stories). The first season of True Blood was decent but it wasn't great and the romance between the main characters felt at times like a parody of Southern Gothic tropes. It also didn't help that the actors' accents were highly mockable. Which is a shame because I'm extremely fond of many of Anna Paquin's previous movie roles but I can't excuse how annoying Sookie Stackhouse often behaves.

I think a lot of fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series, including myself, watched True Blood in its first year with a hint of frustration because we've seen good vampire drama that has an engaging canon we wanted to explore further. The second season of True Blood greatly improved on the first. With the increased use of secondary characters to fill out the show, it became much more entertaining to watch. Still, the show feels like a guilty pleasure. You admit that you watch it, but you add a qualifier to why you watch it.

There's no perfect formula to how a show gets an active/loyal fandom. Sometimes it's because there's something vital lacking and on the "slash" front, True Blood does have an openly gay character, Lafayette, who is so good I don't think I'd want to write him because he's already perfect and played by a tremendous actor who brings so much to the portrayal. At the same time, that may be why another fan decides to start writing fic about him because he's that good.

My interest in slash is usually because of the dynamic between two characters (male or female, as I do occasionally write femslash). There's been no real dynamic to think about in the first season of the show; I don't really care for the character of Bill at all and I've always had a personal rule that I don't write characters that I dislike because I've always felt that it's insulting to the character if I go in with a biased dislike. The implications between Eric and Lafayette this season are pretty fascinating but I'd rather watch Lafayette onscreen than read/write about him (for now). That leaves Eric and Godric, who have an obviously fraught history and that right there is candy to slash writers. Of course, he's dead now but whether the pairing will become more popular once the second season ends is left to the fans.

How were you first introduced to slash? To remember what your initial reaction was?

I was roughly around the age of 16 or 17 and I was messing around looking at fan websites for Farscape (my favorite TV show ever). Because the show was on an odd airing schedule where the US audience would get the show ahead of the UK audience but the US viewers would not get the last 4 episodes until after the UK had seen them, I'd go online to see the fan reactions. Eventually I saw fan fiction noted on some of the websites, clicked the links and began my first foray into reading fanfic. When I first saw a (very poorly designed) website dedicated to slash I was weirdly out. [edit: oh man such fail for not noticing I meant "weirded out"] The word slash isn't very pleasant-looking one when you first read it without have any clue what it means. I tend to like the "look" of words (I'm a visual person) and slash implies violence. But I've always been odd about that. I prefer grey over gray despite "gray" being the correct American spelling because gray looks ugly to me.

Eventually I discovered fanfiction.net. This was back in the days it was pretty much anything goes and many adult stories were posted there. I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer so I began reading any fic I came across that appeared to be decently written. I'm a huge reader in general and finding fan fic online was like finding free books/stories and I was delighted to find stories written about characters that I wanted to know/understand more about.

My favorite slash pairing at the time was Angel/Spike, which I'd always found to be a given on the show itself. I'm kind of amused at myself for again falling for the doomed vampire relationship yet again.

Do you have a conscious goal when you set out to write a (slash) story, or do you start out with a pairing and see what develops?

For the record, I'm not the usual expectation of a slash writer. I started off writing "het fic" - stories revolving around heterosexual pairings and in some former fandoms I've participated in, that's what I'm remembered for. I tend not to like to label myself; I write het, slash and gen (stories not about a romantic/sexual relationship). I don't qualify a slash story any differently although the same pronouns can make writing the sex scenes a bit more tricky.

When I'm writing any story about a relationship, I do definitely start out with a pairing (or several) in mind. Or when I write a story that centers around a single character and his/her sexual/romantic relationships (perhaps involving original characters), I then develop the story as a study of that character.

I'm a character-driven writer at the beginning, middle, and end of the process. I ask myself what about the dynamic between these characters that keeps me engaged and hopefully makes the reader engaged as well.


I hope that anyone who knows me can tell that the information I supplied was something I'd happily post publicly to my journal. I'm sure I've at the very least stated my origins to the fandom & reading fanfic in the past.

I received the following email from Ogas on Friday at 3:06pm:


Regala:

Wow! I really don't know how to thank you for such a detailed, thoughtful, and eloquent response. It really exceeded all expectations, and is so very helpful to our research. It's going to take some time for us to digest some of your reflections (it's interesting to hear that you wanted to "understand more about" certain characters through fanfic), but I expect I'll have some follow-up questions for you.

I was, however, hoping I might solicit your generosity a little more. We're assembling a survey about slash and fanfic which we hope to eventually distribute through the relevant parts of fandom. Since you clearly have knowledge and experience regarding fic and slash, I was very much hoping you might look over our draft of survey questions and let us know if you think any questions are confusing, awkwardly worded, or strike a wrong note. This survey is available online at [link removed; originally linked to the survey at appspot], but it might be easiest for you to just look over the list of questions below. Again, I'm not requesting that you answer the survey questions, simply that you let us know if there's anything wrong with the questions. Any suggestions or ideas would be deeply appreciated!

Regala, thanks for your time and guidance!
Ogi Ogas


I believe screencaps of the original survey (and its edits) have been produced. What I received was a very long email that gmail helpfully opened up in a separate page of a survey that appeared to be in its early drafting stages. The text was in different fonts, colors, and sizes, showing that it was very much ongoing. I read it briefly as it was the end of my workday and I had little time or inclination to edit someone else's survey. I did think the survey seemed stupid. However I was busy at work and because, hey, it's the weekend, the survey completely slipped my mind as I headed home to get packed up and begin my traveling since I was visiting my family.

I tend to treat my weekends as vacation from the internet + family catchup time.

I was a bit busy Monday morning and didn't think too much of the email I still hadn't answered regarding the survey. By then, it had been released and much wiser folks in fandom picked up on the absolute bullshit and shoddy research.

Monday, August 31st at 1:58pm, I emailed the following, deciding to stay vague about what I had learned, amazed that Ogas did not seem to understand the clue-by-four much wiser folks in fandom were trying to tell him:


Ogi,

I tend not to participate in surveys so I don't really have an opinion either way.


Which was kind of ass of me. But I'm kind of bad at confronting people and didn't know how to phrase "you are extremely suspect" in a calm manner.

I had received a quickly jotted off email (deservedly so) at 3:09pm: Thanks anyway, Regala! :)

You know my first warning should have been the smiley faces. No good can come of them in email conversations with supposed professionals/academics.

Today after reading shaggirl's post I Was Wrong regarding her own interactions with Ogi, I came across a troubling comment he made that very much sounds like "well that's fine; the lurkers support me in email!":

Shaggirl stated the following: He is quite certain that his values align with those of the bulk of fandom, and crows a bit about still having contacts in slash fandom who are apparently "blissfully unaware" of SurveyFail. She then posted the final email she had received from Ogas, which states: Actually, I still do have a few slash contacts that are evidently not hooked into meta-fandom, but none of them are as articulate and enthusiastic as you.

Perhaps, due to my hesitance in writing Ogas a pissed off email on Monday morning about the absolute FAIL he was conducting (because I naively assumed he was simply clueless), he assumes I am one of these slash contacts who are not in the know.

Indeed I am aware. I shot off my final email which I hopes severs all contact with Ogas, as it seems I didn't have any information that would support his claim that "Well, slash is kind of the female equivalent of the straight male interest in transsexuals." (Originally posted here and now deleted but fandom knows how to screencap.)

I don't think I have the words to express my revulsion with the post he then made to his livejournal which supposedly support that notion (it is now deleted but I admire everyone who commented to that post, including all you awesome macro and gift posters). jonquil and others have taken screencaps of the absolute fuckery. (Screencap here.)

I emailed the following to him this morning at 10:19am:

Ogi,

I have been greatly troubled by your conduct over the past few days. It has come to my attention that you do not have the proper approval to conduct your research and you have falsely presented your association with Boston University.

Because of your failure to disclose this information, I am withdrawing any implied consent for you to use any of my responses as "research" for your book.


At 10:25am, I received the following (and hopefully the last email from Ogas):


No problem; I will be sure not to use any of your responses in any material authored by me. I have no wish to cause you or anyone trouble, and will dispose of all communications with you.

I was in fact associated with Boston University until September 1, including the time when I contacted you. But I am not conducting the research as part of any Boston University program.
Thank you,
Ogi


Normally this is the point where I'd be sarcastic or draw my own conclusions but I don't know what else to say that moment. His original questions seemed innocent enough, the type I would answer to anyone asking them of me but I should have checked him out thoroughly. I deeply apologize that I engaged without the foresight to look to my wiser flist the day I received that first damn email.

I have not stated anything on the matter until today because I am absolutely appalled at the suggestion that Ogas and Gaddam are going to continue to speak with other fanfic writers and fans who are likely not aware of their unprofessional behavior, misrepresentations, and bad science.

Coming forth with a clear context of my own involvement does at the very least serve as a personal reminder to think before you act.

When we are fortunate to have our own thoughtful academics and scientists willing to share their knowledge on matters, we should engage them whenever something like this happens.

Next time, I will know better.

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