Concerns over conduct of Northwestern sexology researcher
Kevin Hsu is a sexology researcher based at Northwestern University on the outskirts of Chicago. In 2013 he sought, and received, approval from the Northwestern Institution Review Board (IRB) – an ethics committee that oversees research with human subjects – to study furries.
Hsu's research is intended to follow work published by Dr. Anne Lawrence in 2009, which references furries as a group possibly displaying a hypothetical phenomenon associated with fetishistic behaviour named "Erotic Target Location Error". Hsu's hypothesis is that many furries – possibly most – are zoophiles, where that attraction manifests as the furry identity and in activities such as fursuiting, and that furries can therefore be classified as "autozoophiles".
Hsu emailed me in November 2014 seeking input and assistance. We discussed Dr. Lawrence's paper and his premise; I have reviewed each of those topics in articles recently published on [adjective][species]:
- Furry Research: Autoplushophilia and Erotic Target Location Error (published 30 March 2015)
- Furries and Erotic Target Identity Inversion (published 20 April 2015)
The review and analysis in [adjective][species] articles is mine, not Kevin Hsu's or anyone else's (except where referenced).
Over the course of our correspondence, I became concerned with Hsu's behaviour toward the furry community. In an email on 9 November 2014, Hsu admitted that he'd been barred from recruiting participants at Midwest FurFest in December 2013 by the organisers, but attended anyway and tried to talk to several furries about their sexuality. He would demonstrate further examples of what I considered inappropriate conduct and judgement over the coming months. I raised my concerns with Hsu, but he brushed them off.
Later in November he asked me to review a draft survey intended to gather data on furry sexuality. I expressed several strong reservations with his survey, which he again dismissed. I continued to correspond with him out of curiosity and respect for his science.
In February 2015, Hsu emailed me with his final survey and asked if I would publicise it on [adjective][species]. I suggested he could submit a draft article for consideration, copying Patch from Dogpatch Press as an alternative venue. On 5 March, Dogpatch Press hosted a short article and link to Hsu's survey, which received several comments from furries who had taken it. (The survey was not linked from [adjective][species].)
On 7 March, Dr. Kathleen Gerbasi – who has spent several years researching furries as part of the International Anthropomorphic Research Project and has a long (and positive) relationship with several furry conventions – commented on the Dogpatch Press piece. She said that the "Northwestern study concerns me greatly", and listed several specific problems. Hsu responded, brushing off Dr. Gerbasi's concerns much as he had mine. Soon afterwards, Hsu emailed me to say that Dr. Gerbasi had raised concerns with his ethics board (the Northwestern University IRB).
On 12 March I emailed the Northwestern IRB outlining my own concerns with Hsu's behaviour and conduct. I made four main points:
- That Hsu had been barred from recruiting at a convention and attempted to do so anyway.
- That Hsu had treated vulnerable members of the furry community without due concern for their welfare.
- That Hsu's survey contained trans slurs (such as use of "shemale").
- That Hsu had possibly breached IRB guidelines.
You can read my submission to the Northwest IRB in full here: page 1 - page 2.
Hsu's survey has since been taken offline. My subsequent emails to Hsu and the Northwestern IRB have gone unanswered.
My intent with this story is twofold:
- To provide information to furries who may have, or may in the future, have contact with Kevin Hsu.
- To inform convention organisers of Northwestern's study. Dr. Gerbasi has raised her concerns with Dr. Sam Conway, chairman of Anthrocon, and it's my hope that this article will raise awareness among other conventions (especially those in the vicinity of Chicago).
I'm happy to be contacted with any questions or further information - email/Skype email@example.com.
About the authorJM Horse — read stories — contact (login required)
a horse from London, UK
Contributor to [adjective][species].
I notice that Kevin is scheduled to attend a preconference workshop symposium (p. 10) on "Erotic target location errors and identity inversions" chaired by Northwestern's J. Michael Bailey (author of The Man Who Would Be Queen) at the International Academy of Sex Research's annual meeting, where he is to discuss "Erotic target location errors and identity inversions in male pedohebephiles and furries". Perhaps some of the more "confusing" questions encountered by survey participants (apparently including whether they find adults sexually interesting) were originally intended for the former group, and were applied to the latter as a means of comparing the two?
Researchers might bear in mind that, unlike hebephilia, many see furry purely as a hobby – one appearing to promote positive self-esteem – and not as a matter for clinical psychology. There is clear potential for inappropriate medicalization, which needs to be addressed.
Kevin's research activities are described in additional detail in a 2014 departmental newsletter (p. 4, right) where it is proposed that "in these two populations, ETLEs would manifest as arousal to the idea of being children and anthropormorphic animals, respectively".
From my own (non-scientific!) perspective, this seems a reasonable line of research, if restricted to just one aspect of the "furry experience"; however, I agree that the way he's gone about it – as presented here – poses concerns. Kevin appears to be an eager student, so hopefully any missteps can be remedied, providing a positive learning experience for him and the rest of his group without impeding his studies.
Flayrah readers, reserve skepticism and question the reporting.
I have no part in Kevin's survey, however I hosted an announcement/link to it, taking care to make no endorsement. I haven't represented it as well designed (I avoided reading it critically so I wouldn't prejudice the announcement), just that questions about understudied topics are worth asking for science.
It was very nice of JM to pass Kevin to my blog (it's always nice to be noticed.) From talking to Kevin I got to look behind the scenes of this topic. A bunch of points in this report jump out at me as biased or disingenous:
- The choice of word to say Kevin was "barred" from a convention. As I heard it, he was simply not granted a pass to do official research. In a similar way, if someone doesn't win their application for a dealers den table, you don't say they are "barred". It strikes me as twisting the facts.
- I did hear that he attended and talked to a few people. OK, what's wrong with that? It's hard to research a group you haven't personally met. Another researcher, Debra Soh, did the same and published a very positive paper about an informal visit to a furry con. She then submitted a piece to my blog praising furries for expressing themselves. Nobody was bugged about it. It gives an impression that since Kevin's work deals with sexuality, the topic is what's causing commotion. There are other reasons to think so (such as the IARP's buddy-buddy relationship with Anthrocon.)
- Reporting that Kevin believes furries are zoophiles... it strikes me as out of context, and inflammatory. First consider the source- JM has articles that make very radical opinions that zoophiles are a discriminated minority. So why are we seeing the word put out harmfully from this source, with that context? Second, to my understanding, "autozoophile" doesn't imply real animals. That would be a hypothesis that some people get aroused by imagining themselves being animals. So what? It implies anthropomorphism and role play (does this sound familiar?) Setting aside the furries who want nothing to do with sexy stuff, and concerning the large amount who do, this strikes me as a completely uncontroversial theory- like an analytical label on something already known. Of course labeling has it's own problems, but research benefits from articulating a framework.
-Concerning the Erotic Target Location Error theory (ETLE), again I sense biased reporting of it, more concerned with dismissing inconvenient politics than science. Thats another topic though.
- Speaking of politics: the mention of Gerbasi and Uncle Kage here strikes me as appeal to authority. Actually that's a good reason to distrust this criticism. Critics and complainers about Kevin seem to come from one source- not the public, or subjects presumed at risk of mistreatmnt - but rival researchers. Jealous rival or not, Gerbasi seems to pull much more cred than I think is due. She's the source of the "species identity disorder" baloney (speaking of dubious labels!) Putting Kage (a chemist) as co author on her research paper might raise an eyebrow. The IARP takes a monopoly as go-to source for press quotes, and we could ask if they would rather be the PR wing of Anthrocon or scientists. Maybe give the kid a break, and let other researchers approach the fetish topic from frameworks apart from identity politics and PR? This is a good reason to comment. (I'm not on anyone's "team", just interested in more and better perspectives.)
- Clumsiness you can find here might be attributed to a newbie approaching a topic that's unstudied, rather than malice or disdain for subjects. I don't hold back from calling bullshit when I see it, but I have no reason to think Kevin's heart is in the wrong place.
Agree with this-
Scientists, we're all about boring data points and facts, until we have to sell our research to the general public.
Then we have to be sure to throw in the sex, disorder, and scientific synonyms for freak to sell our work to the joe public... because sexual research sells paper, and disorder research sells pills.
In the end though, all groups have these types of people: politics, media, religion, or science.
The human species is a narrative based species, and in the end, that is what they all fight over is the power to control that narrative.
I'm sure there are phony scientists selling sensationalism. There's pretend doctors with TV shows doing it.
This isn't such a case. If anything, I have heard the opposite, it's meant to demystify things that people don't understand and treat as taboo or religiously sinful. It's not sensationalistic to say that fetishists exist and some of them are furries... the question is how and why?
The reason I have skepticism is that there are two types of people who would want an answer to that question:
1) Those that find themselves prone to fetishism and are genuinely curious as to what may cause such unusual stimuli to be 'their thing'.
2) Those that want to use the findings to try to find ways to 'cure' these 'taboo or religiously sinful' behaviors.
Group 1 and Group 2, also, may have some crossover in some regards.
Clearly there would be some sort of shift in research tone to get to the 'curing' aspect, but first you need to see how big the 'problem' is first... statistics if you will.
Scientific inquiry doesn't exist? Imagine living in a binary world with only two kinds of people... that would make complicated issues easy to understand.
The people who study sexology would probably appreciate if you read into it - it could help enjoy talking to some of the ones who are friendly to furries:
- Dr. Tibbals did a nice interview for my blog.
- Debra Soh touched on your misconceptions in her piece, "A Lesson Everyone Can Learn from Furries."
Quite a lot of psych has moved away from trying to cure what used to be considered disorders. Bigger problems are elsewhere (especially with American health care)- like overmedicating and catering to Big Pharma, or unnecessary procedures - but neither has anything to do with this.
I'm sure you don't mean every human being correct?
Explore your curiosity, bring humanity forward. Your lovingly loyal AstroKatastro.
Hi Patch, you have an interesting spin on things. I thought I had given an open, referenced summary of the facts, however you seem to have read it a little differently.
I won't respond to your expressions of opinion, but I can clarify a couple of facts for you:
- Kevin told me he was "outright barred" from MFF. Those are his words, not mine.
- Kevin's hypothesis—that furries are zoophiles with erotic target identity inversion—is his, not mine. He explained it to me over email, and I wrote about it on [adjective][species].
Both of these points are covered in my submission to the Northwestern IRB, which I included.
I confronted Kevin about whether he was banned from anything, and got different info than you report. Without him speaking for himself here, giving context for what you talked about together, this is arguably hearsay and not agreed reference. It's possible that a young student may have been shifty about over-sensitive topics, but a mistake doesn't show me malice in his reasons for wanting to research.
Assuming barred is his word for formal research, it still appears that he wasn't barred from attending, opening this to interpretation. It still leaves the question: what's wrong with informal mingling with people at a con to learn? If he's not publishing about those specific people, I don't see it as a problem. More like a personal benefit to him as a researcher. I think research from someone who hadn't been to a con would be flawed.
Again, the interpretation of Kevin's hypothesis seems hearsay, as it appears to conflate two different things. He requested discretion in sharing it, which you seem to have done against his wishes.
We might infer political reasons. Specifically, we could infer pushing politics that follow Gerbasi, and identity ideology that goes against science - like "blank slatism" that ignores how some human behavior is biologically rooted. It is relevant to the ETLE theory (if there is no default "erotic target" in humans maybe we should forget about that Darwin guy.) It's relevant to a niche subculture with essential character different from general society.
Lawrence's paper on ETLE that you criticize, certainly has flaws... the worst one I see is shitty pop culture sources... but the theory itself doesn't come from her, and doesn't fall down by attacking the author and calling her crazy. That shows an ideology motive.
The blank-slatist side has it's crazypants embarrassments, too - Dr. John Money.
Bottom line, there's reasons to suspect that Kevin's research is being criticized for reasons other than being untenable. If there are mistakes in it, it still strikes me as non malicious.
Whether he or other researchers bring perspectives besides the one we get, they would be valuable. I don't see it as a good thing to have rivals tattling to Uncle Kage to stop research about the less-socially accepted side of a subculture. Gerbasi's attitude did not impress me when she discussed Kevin.
Patch, just to clarify a couple more points:
- I haven't attacked Dr Lawrence (I have criticized her science) and I haven't called her "crazy".
- I reviewed Dr Gerbasi's first paper on furry a couple of years ago: http://adjectivespecies.com/2013/05/20/furry-research-a-look-back-at-dr-gerbasis...
Isn't that a little disingenuous? The exact words are "Bonkers", fringe, outrageous, full of falsehoods, ludicrous, laughable. "On my reading, Dr Lawrence comes off as a crank".
Oh hey JM. Didn't think you go here and post stuff here!
"and that furries can therefore be classified as "autozoophiles"."
Well as I would say (I'm actually in a rush here), not all furries are Zoosexuals.
But I think people should be open minded about those type of furries.
Not against it, and I always wonder if I was? I have some attraction but my desire is often by transforming a creature to have more intelligent feelings or for creatures already like that.. No matter what shape on the outside. Eh, I personality won't go further on this personality..
Account abandoned and probably will make a new anonymous account with no trace of evidence of it being me. I think it's justified.
So now we are referring to people with the mental disorder zoophilia under the newly-broadcasted, non-existent, politically correct term of "sexuality"? What's next, pedosexuals? Sorry, but sexual deviants will forever be scientifically labeled under the term "philia", and lobbying to label such disorders under a more pleasant sounding word is disgusting.
How many people or living things have these so-called "autozoophiles" hurt?
Although I don't know how to explain people who take offense from knowing it exists. But, I think they are just hurting themselves.
I would like to throw out one more angle here, to see if it sheds any light on the discussion. Much of the controversy centers around to what degree furry is a sexual fetish - popular stereotypes often portray it as one, where those within the fandom say it's just a hobby. Many of the latter group point out that furry fandom is no different from other fandoms like sci-fi/fantasy, comics, Star Trek, Star Wars, MLP, and by some accounts we've got nothing on anime fandom. No hobby or interest can escape Rule 34.
So someone wants to study sexuality or fetishism of furries? All right, how about we study sexuality and fetishism in all of these other fandoms too while we're at it? Granted, that's probably a much larger and more involved study than most researchers have the resources to pursue (like, about an order of magnitude more than IARP), so I'm not holding my breath, but it would certainly be interesting to see the outcomes if it were feasible. Perhaps there have been studies of this nature done of one or more of these other fandoms that are similar enough to draw meaningful comparisons.
The notion does, however, offer a good litmus test of whether a researcher's motives can be trusted. If their objectives or their approach gives a sense that "we chose furry fandom instead of these others because we're researching sexuality", then they've lost me. If on the other hand they readily acknowledge that all of these fandoms have a sexual element to them and they've simply chosen furry fandom as the one they wish to focus on (with perhaps a secondary objective to compare and contrast it to sexuality in other fandoms) then I'm more likely to be on board with it.
One thing I been hearing is that the Furry fandom is more than just an average fandom (All can be unique, but this one has been evolving much more differently these days).
Fursona, open minded (more common), less certain media focused, sexuality, etc.. And considering how it feels more special.
I don't think it's like what it was when it first started due to many furries in the fandom now. I think this 'simple fandom' (Like the rest) was turned into something more now.
Account abandoned and probably will make a new anonymous account with no trace of evidence of it being me. I think it's justified.
Interesting article about Star Trek and pedophilia.
The Fallacy of Composition.
But Furry fandom is different from other fandoms. There isn't any one show or object of attention, so there isn't a single fandom, more like a collection of interests that overlap. (Some furries say they hate fursuiting, while other ones say it's the reason they're here). It's defined by whoever claims to be a fan. If fetishists say they are furry fans, they are. If their fetish interest is the reason they're here, then it is a fetish for them.
Those members are just as much fans as anyone else, they like sci fi and writing and creativity too. You can call it a sub-section of a subculture. But it's arguable they are not even a sub-section but equally prominent. Look at Reddit's furries - the regular furry board r/furry started before r/yiff, but the newer one got more subscribers in a shorter time without marketing for it. Likely the top most popular business Furry has produced is an adult toy company.
The expression of interest is also different from other fandoms. Others "dress up" as show characters, this one has fursonas that some people play as their selves.
It's important to emphasize that it's tactile. Furry is a touch word.
I have heard it said that sexologists who look at internet culture are very interested in things that aren't easily expressed in visual medium, like touch, smell, and taste based fetishes. They think these things are under-represented by visual internet culture. Other fandoms aren't named for a touch word.
So I agree, being furry doesn't necessarily imply any fetish, but having a fetish and being a furry fan implies deeper things than plain Rule 34 material of other fandoms. If that's true, it doesn't "offer a good litmus test of whether a researcher's motives can be trusted", it's apples and oranges from other fandoms. And the kinksters may not even be a minority or "untrue scotsmen" like some want to think.
Whee - just what we need, another voice in this conversation!
For those who don't know, I'm Dr. Courtney "Nuka" Plante - a researcher with the IARP (and, I suppose, that puts me in the "Dr. Gerbasi" camp to which you're all referring above!)
I don't claim to have any more knowledge about events than anyone else here has. In fact, you all seem to have done your homework on this, and know far more about the issue than do I. I can only really speak to my own experience with this whole debacle. I suppose my hope is to ask for everyone on all sides to calm down just a bit!
I'll begin by defending my colleague, Dr. Gerbasi (and, by extension, the rest of the IARP) - we're exceptionally proud of the work we've done on furries. Moreover, we're exceptionally proud of the fact that we've been allowed to do research on furries at conventions and on furry websites all over North America (and, indeed, we've had furries from all over the world complete our surveys!) Part of this means doing our damnedest to ensure we get it right - making sure we use language that won't offend furries (and being self-critical enough to correct ourselves when someone points out that we do), going out of our way to be completely transparent with furries every step of the way, letting furries into the research process by letting them propose questions for us to pursue, making our findings publicly available to furries after we find them, informing furries, at the start of studies, about just what the study's about, and, most importantly, going through an ethics board to make sure that an independent board considers our research both humane and to have scientific merit.
One thing we've always worried about in the fandom is our image in it. Not because we're politicians, or because we're seeking any kind of "power", but because image is everything when it comes to this research. We're known by a lot of furries, but usually as "those folks who study furries". It's why we've pushed so hard to create a recognizable logo, consistent set of faces representing us, and a consistent website and name. Even so, we have, in the past, been approached by furries demanding that we account for the work of others, or insisting that we MUST have been the researchers who put up survey X or who did study Y. The fact is, people will easily mistake us for other researchers, and vice versa. Which wouldn't be problem if it was a simple issue of mistaken identity.
It becomes worrisome, however, if a researcher comes along and ruins the image of scientists studying furries in the fandom. Now, granted, I'm not saying that's what Kevin Hsu has done (more on this in a second). What concerned Dr. Gerbasi, right out of the gate, was the lack of informed consent on the first page. In psychological research, this is a clear and definite, absolute "NO!" and anyone who tells you otherwise is unfamiliar with the ethics process and why it's considered essential in psychological research (namely to protect participants from harm and as a first line of defense against dodgy, unfounded, baseless research). As such, if we see a study without an informed consent, there's a knee-jerk reaction to report it to an ethics board.
Was the reporting some kind of rivalry? Absolutely not. The IARP has worked alongside (and has even helped) other researchers doing research on furry in the past (Debra Soh's work was mentioned earlier - I sat down and gave her an interview at Furry Fiesta for her work, and I still keep in touch with Debra via e-mail, as she will attest). At Furry Fiesta 2015, we sat two tables down from another grad student who was doing a study on furries. Everyone at our table took a copy of her survey to help out (and it seems that, if anything, she benefited from our established credibility - it seemed people thought she was with us, and took her survey assuming it was ours, which ended up reducing our participant numbers a bit - something that disappointed us a tad, but certainly wasn't enough to make us lament her presence!)
So, I'll argue, we don't have a rivalry with other researchers. Do we have a vested interest in watching what other researchers are doing in the fandom, and ensuring they're not breaking rules? Absolutely, unabashedly and honestly yes. As I mentioned above, we get mistaken for other researchers all the time (and, in fact, I've had several e-mails asking me if Hsu was one of our researchers). Whether we like it or not, whether it's true or not, the actions of any one researcher studying furries will be projected on all researchers studying furries. If one researcher acts unethically or does something to offend furries, we may lose the trust of furries who no longer want to be a part of any research, assuming it will be more of the same. This is why Dr. Gerbasi went after the study - not to take down a "possible rival", but because the study's lack of an informed consent raised a big red flag for her, and because we have to be particularly vigilant about how furries see researchers studying them.
Which brings us, at last, to Hsu - I've been asked by more than a few people what I think of the study itself and whether I think there's something fishy going on. Frankly, I've reserved judgment. I've made mistakes as a graduate student before, not out of malice, but out of ignorance, and I'll extend that same consideration to Hsu. I think it was a bad call to not include an informed consent page on the study, and in that regard, he should have his knuckles rapped for that. But, beyond that, I'll assume he's a graduate student attempting to answer a question that's interesting to him.
Do I agree with his ETLE hypothesis? Not really - I think it's a gross overgeneralization of furries that lacks an appreciation of the subtlety of their interests or the myriad of motivational factors contributing to furries joining the fandom. That said, sure, I'll buy that the argument may have merit for at least some proportion of the fandom - though I would contend it's worth asking what this proportion is, and whether it might be worth pulling back a bit on claims that this might somehow explain "all" or even "most" furries. I also feel, in some ways, it's a study that's not likely to answer his question, because of desirable responding. It's one reason the IARP has generally avoided the topic of zoophilia in the fandom - not because we don't think it's a topic worth studying, but because, really, it's hard to get honest answers from people. If we were to ask people "are you a zoophile", a few things likely happen - people don't know what it means, or they know what it means and they react negatively to our even asking it, or they know what it means, identify as one, but deny it on paper, or they know what it means, identify as one, and are happy to indicate as much on a paper. In the end, there's no way of knowing if the number we end up with is a valid assessment of the prevalence of zoophilia, or if it's simply a measure of how many people are openly zoophiles, and trying to make any claims about the prevalence of zoophilia from these numbers would be ignoring these important validity issues.
Which brings me to my final point: did Hsu have any business asking these questions in the first place? In a single, unambiguous word: Yes. Absolutely yes. I don't believe any topic about furries is beyond study. There are, of course, topics I feel more comfortable studying and some I feel less comfortable studying, for a multitude of reasons (e.g., background understanding of the topic, personal interest in topic, anticipated blowback from fandom). In the end, though, if a researcher wants to address a question, they're welcome to do so, and my only concerns will be whether their methodology is up to snuff and valid for answering the question, and whether their doing so will have consequences for my own ability to study the fandom. I may disagree with the application of ETLE to furries, and hypothesize the opposite of what Hsu does, but, in the end, it's an empirical question. No furry, no matter how long they've been in the fandom or no matter how many furries they know, can claim to know, a priori, what, exactly, the findings of the study will be. It's empirical. We won't know the answer unless the data are collected. In other words, if furries truly believe, in their heart of hearts, that the hypothesis is wrong, the best thing they can do is let the study run its course, and let the data speak for themselves.
Now, it becomes a bigger problem if, once the data are collected, they're misrepresented or blown out of proportion. But you deal with that issue if and when it comes up.
tl;dr: the IARP have no interest in a "turf war" or "rivalry" with other researchers, I disagree with Hsu's hypothesis, but see no problem with him asking the question, though I disagree with his failure to include an informed consent on his study. I don't know enough about Hsu, beyond hearsay, to make any other strong statements.
That was a nice sincere comment. (It's good to beware of sincere misguidance when there's a debate about beliefs...)
The topic I want to raise in these comments is agendas. People may not even be aware of holding them. If anyone doubts that there are agendas at work - take another look at comment #9. The reporter got caught fibbing!
So Nuka, let's parse this with an honest aim to set forth what the agendas are. Of course you deserve credit for doing caring research, and not feeling rivalry. But your comment raises some issues while it clears some up.
It's interesting that you didn't address the relationship with Kage (Dr. Conway.) He's both given authorship of IARP papers, and he directs the biggest fandom institution, letting you in and barring others at your request. What kind of independence is that?
Why is there a very close relationship giving research decision-making, to someone who apparently has no professional qualification for social research? He's an experimental chemist, right? Could we get psychoanalysis from a plumber too? It seems the primary role is what you flat out stated - public image, from the top.
In service to Public Relations, Dr. Conway directs policies that are at odds with what the population wants and does. The "family friendly" media PR goes against a lot of activity that a lot of people want. Not that this is bad - but it's very political. That's an agenda.
It makes me wonder - if one researcher is inappropriate for informally attending a convention as a member of the public - why is it OK for another to RUN the convention?
2) Intimate relationships and "science-sonas":
It's suggested that Kevin is an outsider, while Kage and the IARP work with intimate trust. But there are boundaries for that, right? Researchers aren't supposed to sleep with subjects, for example. From a perspective apart from yours, there's reasons to question the closeness. One is above. There's more we can discuss below, with particular concern about confirmation bias.
It's proposed that this is covered by going through an ethics board. A counterpoint can raise criticisms about academia itself - far and above just this tiny social/hobby niche of furry fans - and ways it's politicized towards certain ideology instead of evidence. We could discuss well-known criticisms like the "echo chamber" effect. It's not just speculation that this may come into play. It comes from things you have said.
In one conversation on social media, there was a topic about what forms the membership of this hobby/social group. I have an impression that Maslow's heirarchy is important in social research - isn't a recreational hobby different from basic needs of life? It would filter people in with all kinds of more basic outside influences. For a stigmatized group, one of those could be bullying. That topic came up, and you assumed it meant bullying INSIDE furry fandom. That's surely very low on the list of places that happens to members, and it was concerning to see this tunnel-vision.
A related topic is the way a lot of gay people congregate here - a difference from general society that may say something about essential character. Yet it's a recreational group with undisputably high acceptance and open boundaries, and free choice of membership. Conclusions about such influences get squishy when there's tunnel-vision closeness to the subject. Then research can turn into something else.
Objective research, or PR for friends? Science or propaganda? In all of this defense, pride in the work, touting of trust relationships, and being careful to please people and not offend them - it makes suspicion of so much closeness, it's like role-playing a Furry "science-sona".
3) "Rivalry" and Kevin Hsu:
I take at face value what you said about no rivalry with other researchers. Considering the above, the real topic would be protectionism. That comes from lack of perspective - speaking as a biased advocate, and identifying so closely with subjects that people make non-personal things personal.
That's the reaction I sensed from Gerbasi, who seemed to vehemently overreact to what Kevin was doing by calling it "shameful". Rather than Kevin "brushing off Dr. Gerbasi's concerns" as JM claims above, it appears she brushed him off and ignored his invitation to contact him personally - although other IARP members had nice conversation with him.
In that comment Kevin defends the lack of an informed consent. If you say it's a mistake, OK. As you say, I only sensed he's a well intentioned graduate student attempting to answer a question that's interesting to him, nothing evil. As previously stated, the only complaints I've heard of have come from other researchers and not the public.
You believed his hypothesis is "a gross overgeneralization of furries". Really, did he? Did he generalize, or simply wonder if something might exist even rarely? JM reports he said "many furries – possibly most – are zoophiles" and so forth. I would be very curious to see a source for this. I suspect that comes from JM. All thanks to him for bringing out the topic in the first place, but his writing often shows extreme, out-of-context, disingenuous mischaracterizing disguised as concern. I'll cite some below.
4) "Eliciting response" and an ideology agenda.
In that conversation buried somewhere on social media, you discussed IARP research results that appeared to reveal "sexism" in a way that was heavily biased. Your survey failed to give any operational definition for "sexism", leaving it entirely feeling-based in the eye of the beholder. It fails to define things like "degradation" by pornography - the drawn cartoon kind (really?) - not even allowing that research can't show real (legal) pornography as causing negative influence. You admitted segregating apart your chosen subjects, a group of female furry fans, to "elicit response." Isn't that what PR, advertising and propaganda does?
It was if they were too weak and fearful to honestly speak for themselves, without being directed to give you the results you already had in mind. The questions prepared the answers by throwing out an undefined term many times before the survey started - like, how much sexism do you feel from the sexists who dominate the sexist culture?
That's the advocacy and confirmation bias. Here's the echo chamber effect and disingenous mischaracterizing that follows: http://adjectivespecies.com/2014/05/05/dogpatch-press-on-women/
Reducing the ideology to it's most absurd basic premise, we learn that "sexism" is the reason for gathering together any group of two or more males. (Gay bars must be the most sexist places on earth!)
That article comes from a dogmatic aversion to evidence and reason, that comes with lots of links in the article being mischaracterized with cherrypicked attacks: http://dogpatchpress.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/all-humans-welcome/
Credit to JM for other topics he's good at, but this one is the most stinky piece of rancid bullshit I've ever seen coming from this fandom. It's patronizing, and more than a little toxic towards the existing membership, especially their motivations to join out of free will and positive interest.
Of course, any group of two or more males is not evidence of "sexism". But it's easy to prepare people to get answers you already know, if you treat it like it is. Then, you can go ahead and ignore all the reasons the belief is flawed and wrong, with cultish devotion: https://dogpatchpress.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/nerd-culture/
That brings us to here - there are agendas at work that need to be disclosed if we want honest conversations. If you say there's no power or rivalry, OK - there's still plain devotion to dogma.
It's even in loaded words. "Sexism," Degradation, "Male-dominated." Male-populated isn't male-"dominated". People's reasons for being here shouldn't be reduced to body parts. There's plenty of apples-and-oranges differences among different kinds of people, and that's not bad. I look forward to when we can honestly discuss that with minimal agendas.
Kevin's research seemed to me to depart from that framework and maybe raise questions about biology. ("the fact that men are far, far more likely to develop fetishes than women was always a clue that there was some underlying biological predisposition in the male brain towards developing fetishes." https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/billion-wicked-thoughts/201205/fetishes-do-... )
Completely apart from how MUCH this comes into play with furries (or even how good his attempt), I think it's a good reason to encourage more research and not block these questions. I'm glad you seemed to welcome that.
"He's both given authorship of IARP papers, and he directs the biggest fandom institution, letting you in and barring others at your request."
I think you'll need a source for that statement. Kage's been known to be protective of a particular image of the fandom of his own regard, so to me I can see him blocking other researchers at his own beheast instead of a direct request from IARP.
Is Kage allowing IARP in because their agenda is at best matching his feelings toward the fandom and at worst mostly harmless to the image of the fandom? Absolutely. But, until you have a written document that shows this kind of alliance and that kind of contagion agreement then it is just coincidence.
In addition your statement also kind of makes it sound like Kage is a member of the IARP or something, he is an chemist, who happens to run a furry convention, and as the one running the thing (with the board) they can include or exclude whomever they want for whatever reason they want. There's no scientific reasoning needed for who they exclude from the convention.
And it was not Kage who excluded Kevin from MFF, because Kage does not run MFF, so more and more this seems like a straw man that distracts from the rest of your comment.
"To inform convention organisers of Northwestern's study. Dr. Gerbasi has raised her concerns with Dr. Sam Conway, chairman of Anthrocon, and it's my hope that this article will raise awareness among other conventions (especially those in the vicinity of Chicago)."
He isn't independent from the IARP, he's a member. He is credited as author of their research papers. I will explain the comment (since it seems misunderstood) as a reference to the IARP's power relationships, not to Kage's actual opinions on this. I have no idea what he has or may have to do with Kevin - it's simply a fact that the IARP is figuratively "sleeping" with the highest power in Furry for reasons other than his qualifications.
BTW, I'm cool with how he works the media.
If Kage is a member of the IARP, then I would agree that is dubious, though I never knew he was a member.
I think for his sake, and for IARP's if this was one of those "honorary member" things (which I'm guessing it is since I doubt Kage, other than hosting them at a con, actually does any data work) that has no meaning then it would probably be in Kage's and IARP's best interest to call it off. Because this 'honorary title' does generate the question if Kage's questioning of other research inquiries as legitimate or as politically motivated, as clearly shown here.
Is Kevin doing unethical things? Sure, but the 'shining light' gets a little blurrier when Kevin could equally accuse the IARP research team as conspiring to influence the furry convention runners by indoctrinating their leaders. Two wrongs clearly don't lead a right and Kevin will probably have to deal with the ethics bored for his acts, but I'm sure if he wants to argue or make the fight bigger and take down the accusers with him he could raise the ethical concerns you raise here as a 'revenge' offensive.
So if there there is no reason for giving Kage the membership other than "being nice" or a "friendly gesture". It may be a gift with too much a cost that can only harm both the recipient and the giver, and so should be discarded.
But on that other vain, the quote is from JM from this article. The quote still does not prove that the reason that Kevin was rejected from researching at MFF was because of any grand conspiracy between Kage, Gerbasi, and MFF. It seems like all of this 'conflict' outlined in the article between the IARP and Kevin accured in Feb - Mar of this year. So in fact, MFF, independently, said "No" to Kevin even before all this (in 2013), and Kevin didn't know "no means no".
Kevin's not engaging this, it's just us here.
I mean, Kage has an important role and his approval means a lot. I think it's just good to disclose and maybe criticise what that means.
Kevin wasn't barred from attending MFF. He attended as a member of the public. That's arguably separate from approval for research (which he didn't do, as far as can be read here, he just talked to people for self-learning.) I would think, a researcher about Furries who hasn't been to a con wouldn't be well equipped to do any.
Great comments Patch! I’ll endeavor to answer them, to the best of my ability, point-by-point! =) I’ll also qualify this by stating that my answers are my own, as a co-founder of the IARP, but also as only member of the IARP. I can’t claim to speak on behalf of all of my colleagues!
I agree with you that it’s absolutely critical for scientists to be self-critical and aware of any and all potential biases when conducting research: this includes potential conflicts of interest, being academically dishonest (not just when it comes to obvious things like data fabrication, but also far more subtle things, like setting up intellectual straw men to represent your opponents, or hanging on and defending your position long after it’s been shown to be demonstrably false). One such concern, as you’ve raised, is the issue of “agendas” – though I’d prefer to use less ambiguous terms such as “conflicts of interest” (agendas sound like cloak-and-dagger conspiratorial affairs, which is why I think so many people get immediately defensive at the suggestion that there may be a hidden agenda – something which seems to imply intentionality and insidious intent.)
I concur with you, and think, in the interest of fairness, it’s worth discussing such possible agendas, not only to recognize what they might be, but, in the interest of being proactive, also discussing what can be done to improve the state of affairs (any fool can show that a system is flawed; it takes someone far brighter to suggest a better alternative!)
“It's interesting that you didn't address the relationship with Kage (Dr. Conway.) He's both given authorship of IARP papers, and he directs the biggest fandom institution, letting you in and barring others at your request. What kind of independence is that?”
I assure you my failure to address Kage had nothing to do with me trying to dodge an issue =) I suppose I was trying to tackle the issue of my thoughts/feelings toward the Hsu incident (which, I admit, were a tad on the rambly side), and I suppose I never got around to addressing it! I’ll try to do so now!
I’ll point out, first and foremost, that his being given authorship on Gerbasi et al., 2008 happened prior to both the IARP’s and to my addition to the furry research team. As such, I am completely unaware of Dr. Gerbasi’s rationale for including him on the paper (were I to guess, I would assume it was in some capacity as an advisor to her regarding the furry fandom, given that, at the time, she was completely new to the furry fandom, and may have felt more comfortable with writing on the subject with a person more immersed in the fandom as a co-author on the paper). Again, I’m only speculating here – I’m not Dr. Gerbasi, nor can I claim to know her rationale. I can say that in the time since the IARP has been founded (the only time which I can speak to), Dr. Conway has not been on any of our papers, nor has there been any discussion about including him on any papers.
Regarding his “letting us in and barring others at our request” – again, I can only speak, here, for myself, and not for my colleagues. I have never made any such request. If, as I’m being led to believe, it was Dr. Gerbasi suggesting to Dr. Conway that Hsu be banned from Anthrocon, I can only infer it is because of her concerns regarding the failure to follow ethics protocols that, as I mentioned above, are of critical importance to psychologists anywhere, and perhaps it’s the case that she’s informing Dr. Conway of something in which he might otherwise not be aware. The IARP certainly has no power or authority at Anthrocon, nor would we ever want that kind of authority. Again, I can only speak for myself, and any further questions you might have about this particular point would have to be directed to Dr. Gerbasi herself, as I honestly can’t give you any information beyond that. I wouldn’t, and didn’t, bring the issue up to Kage; I feel a sense of responsibility, if I see a researcher violating ethics, to report it to their school’s ethics board. The only time I would think to bring it up with a convention organizer is if I felt there was potential for serious ethics violations or potential harm to be done, and, were that the case, I would raise those issues to the convention chair and let them decide for themselves the appropriate course of action.
“Why is there a very close relationship giving research decision-making, to someone who apparently has no professional qualification for social research? He's an experimental chemist, right? Could we get psychoanalysis from a plumber too? It seems the primary role is what you flat out stated - public image, from the top.”
I’m not entirely sure I understand your first sentence here. If you’re suggesting that the IARP has any power over Anthrocon, then I would say you’re vastly overestimating the power of this team of researchers. Again, I can only speak for myself, but I have absolutely no interest in making any sort of decisions for Anthrocon. Each year, we apply to Anthrocon for a table (just like any other vendor would), and we put in a special request to get permission to hand out surveys to folks standing in line for registration. We put in a request for a debriefing panel, just like anyone else does. There is, as far as I know, no special treatment or privileged position of the IARP at Anthrocon. We apply for a table, explain what we’re doing that year, keeping everything above the table so there are no last-minute surprises (e.g., “Surprise! We’re actually going to run around filming people without their consent!), and that’s that. The IARP and our research have no relationship to Anthrocon’s PR, nor do we have any interest in being a branch of Anthrocon’s PR.
In fact, the only thing even remotely close to this is the fact that Dr. Conway, as Chairperson of the convention, gets to say whether or not we get to do research at his convention. It’s true that if we were to propose a study which he decided was inappropriate for his convention, he could, in theory, tell us he did not want us to conduct such a study. In our time at Anthrocon, this has never happened. And, lest you think that the IARP is somehow shying away from “adult topics” in the fandom, I’ll remind you that our most recent research from Furry Fiesta this year (made available on our research website) involved a study that had participants, furry and non-furry alike, look at pornography (furry and non-furry), and rate it.
The rest of your sentence is setting up a straw man – I would completely agree with you that a plumber is not a psychoanalyst (though I would argue that I would generally not seek psychological advice from a largely-antiquated field of psychotherapy, and would recommend seeing cognitive behaviour therapy, as it has a far better track record of empirical validation!) I agree, Kage is a chemist, not a psychologist. Again, I can’t speak directly for Dr. Gerbasi’s reasons for his inclusion on one paper back in 2008 except to suggest that his inclusion might have been for his expertise as a long-time member of the furry fandom, not as a psychologist, but again, you would have to ask her directly!
“It makes me wonder - if one researcher is inappropriate for informally attending a convention as a member of the public - why is it OK for another to RUN the convention?”
The IARP does not run any convention, and, as I’ve stated above, we have no power at Anthrocon. Nor have I made any statement regarding Hsu attending a convention as a member of the public. In fact, I believe I said that I am withholding any and all judgment on that issue because much of the evidence seems to be based on hearsay. If it is true that Dr. Gerbasi spoke to Dr. Conway about Hsu, I imagine it was as a precaution regarding her concern for the seeming breach of ethical practice by not including an informed consent page on his survey. Beyond that speculation, I can’t comment further, as I am neither Dr. Gerbasi, nor have I spoken to Dr. Conway about this issue.
2) Intimate relationships and "science-sonas":
“It's suggested that Kevin is an outsider, while Kage and the IARP work with intimate trust. But there are boundaries for that, right? Researchers aren't supposed to sleep with subjects, for example. From a perspective apart from yours, there's reasons to question the closeness. One is above. There's more we can discuss below, with particular concern about confirmation bias.”
Who is “suggesting” that Kevin is an outsider? Neither I, nor the IARP, as far as I know, have made any claims about Kevin Hsu as an “outsider”, except to make the factual statement that he is not a member of the IARP. The IARP has worked with Anthrocon, with Kage as a point of contact at the con (being the con’s Chairperson), for nearly 7 years, following the same protocol I outlined above: We apply for table space, apply for a panel, and make it clear what our research will entail at the convention to make sure we aren’t violating any rules (e.g., disrupting the attendance line, exposing minors to explicit material, etc…) We have fostered a sense of trust with Anthrocon over the years as a result of demonstrating, time and again, that we a) do what we say we’re going to do when at the convention, b) we don’t go out of our way to publish sensationalistic or unsubstantiated claims about the fandom, and c) we adhere to the principles of doing “good science” – backing up any claims made with empirical evidence in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
You keep going on about Anthrocon and a supposedly cozy arrangement that we have with the convention, but I don’t see why you’ve stopped here. Should you also be questioning the fact that, for the past five years, the staff at Furry Fiesta have allowed us to conduct research there, giving us a table in front of the Dealer’s Den to hand out surveys? What about at Oklacon, where we’ve been allowed to conduct focus groups and give talks for the past three years? Or at Furnal Equinox, where we were given permission to set up a table and conduct focus groups? What about with FurAffinity, where we paid for advertising space that allowed us to launch our 2011 international survey? Or Flayrah, Furry News Network, [adjective] [species], Wikifur, and FurCast, all of which have helped us to disperse our findings and to help us recruit participants. In all of these cases, the IARP has worked with these organizations to establish mutually beneficial arrangements: at conventions, we provide an activity for interested furs (getting to participate in research and putting on panels that many furries find interesting); websites like Flayrah and [adjective][species] benefit because our research generates a number of interesting stories and discussions. Would you similarly argue that we’ve got a bias or vested interest here too? And, more to the point: can you propose an alternative scenario that allows us to conduct research at conventions and disperse our findings online that doesn’t involve establishing a cordial relationship with the administrators of those websites or the chairpersons of those conventions?
It seems like your biggest concern lies in the inclusion of Dr. Conway on a single paper back in 2008 and an exaggerated claim that the IARP has somehow acted to ban someone from attending Anthrocon. But even being charitable and assuming that this represented a demonstrable conflict of interest, the fact remains that the vast majority of our published research involves research conducted not just at Anthrocon, but at other conventions, or through our online surveys. In fact, by my count, based on what’s currently on the IARP website, this would constitute an issue with 5 out of approximately 20 of the IARP’s studies. So, even then, giving you the complete benefit of the doubt, your concern applies to only a fraction of the IARP’s studies. Though, I readily admit, it is worth asking the questions you’re asking, I’m hoping that the IARP’s track record of working with other conventions, making our results, methods, and statistical techniques publicly available for scrutiny by both the furry fandom and by other psychologists, and our continued support by not one but two independent institutional ethics review boards speaks to your concerns.
You also mention confirmation bias, with is an unrelated issue to conflicts of interest, but I’ll address that point when you raise it.
“It's proposed that this is covered by going through an ethics board. A counterpoint can raise criticisms about academia itself - far and above just this tiny social/hobby niche of furry fans - and ways it's politicized towards certain ideology instead of evidence. We could discuss well-known criticisms like the "echo chamber" effect. It's not just speculation that this may come into play. It comes from things you have said.”
It sounds, at this point, like you’re asking me to defend far more than just the IARP’s relationship with Anthrocon, or even the way the IARP does research. You’re not even asking me to defend the field of psychology – you’re asking me to defend the entirety of social research? It seems a bit beyond the scope of this article, but sure! I’ll point out, first and foremost, that an institutional research board is more than just a handful of people who rubber-stamp psychological studies. It consists of experts from a multitude of fields – meaning that we don’t just get reviewed by other psychologists: we get reviewed by ethicists, sociologists, and people whose job it is to make sure the university can’t be sued because of something illegal or unethical that’s been done by a researcher. Put another way, a university has a vested interest in making sure that whatever gets approved by an ethics board is a) ethical, not likely to cause harm to participants, and b) a study that has scientific merit. Ethics boards are independent of the researchers who apply to them, meaning they have no qualms about shutting down a study if it’s crap – it’s their job to do so.
You also seem to take a jab at social research as a whole, implying that it’s focused on ideology instead of evidence. I’m not entirely sure what you define as “evidence” in this case, or if you’ve even read one of the IARP’s papers, but I challenge you to read any of our papers and point to a claim that’s unsubstantiated by evidence. If you can find misuse of statistical methods or baseless claims made without evidence, I will happily cede to your point. Moreover, if you find you are unable to access our papers, feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I would be happy to provide you with a copy of them for your perusal =) I stand proudly behind our work, not just as a “soft social scientist”, but also as a “hard scientist” (my first degree is a Bachelor of Science, with a significant background in biology).
In other words, I would contend that the onus is upon you to demonstrate how the IARP’s published research falls into the category of being an “echo chamber” of ideas, not for me to defend that it’s not.
“In one conversation on social media, there was a topic about what forms the membership of this hobby/social group. I have an impression that Maslow's heirarchy is important in social research - isn't a recreational hobby different from basic needs of life? It would filter people in with all kinds of more basic outside influences. For a stigmatized group, one of those could be bullying. That topic came up, and you assumed it meant bullying INSIDE furry fandom. That's surely very low on the list of places that happens to members, and it was concerning to see this tunnel-vision.”
You would be incorrect to assume that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is important in social research (it is, in fact, a concept that has been outdated for quite some time now, having been significantly criticized since at least the mid 70s). Moreover, you state “one conversation on social media” – this is rather vague (who was in this conversation? With whom? In what context? Am I now to account for anything ever said on social media about or regarding our research?) If you would kindly point me to this conversation and/or to the argument being made, I’d be happy to speak to it! If this is an attempted jab at social research, however, I will point out that there is a significant difference between what is said on social media and what is published in the scientific literature. I would hardly hold the field of astrophysics accountable for what Neil deGrasse Tyson says on his Twitter feed or based on a joke Stephen Hawking makes in response to questions during a Ted Talk.
“A related topic is the way a lot of gay people congregate here - a difference from general society that may say something about essential character. Yet it's a recreational group with undisputably high acceptance and open boundaries, and free choice of membership. Conclusions about such influences get squishy when there's tunnel-vision closeness to the subject. Then research can turn into something else.”
You’re right, “a lot of gay people congregate here” – in fact, the IARP has quantified and validated estimates of the relative proportion of people in the fandom who self-identify as gay, and have shown it to be significantly higher than the general population (meaning we don’t have to rely upon vague hunches and anecdotal evidence when making such claims!) I would also agree that for many furry is a recreational group that is marked in its acceptance openness to others (again, factors demonstrable in our research). You say that conclusions about such influences get squishy – what sorts of conclusions? You’re being vague here in your assertion! As far as I know, the findings on the IARP website related to these topics have shown pie charts and bar graphs illustrating the relative frequency of gay people in the fandom or the extent to which furries agree that the fandom is an open and accepting place. What people do with that data, once we’ve collected it, and their interpretation of it, is left up to them. When we do publish in academic journals, it’s with regard to testing the validity of a theoretical model, usually involving hypothesis testing that involves statistical techniques like structural equation modelling or multiple regression. Keep in mind that much of what we publish in scientific journals is far more advanced than what we present in talks at conventions or in the data summaries on our website – in part because we attempt to make the data more accessible to the average furry (who doesn’t have a firm grounding in structural equation modelling or a course in research methodology). That said, we have always provided copies of each of our manuscripts to those who request them, and they’re welcome to critique any particular methodology, hypothesis test, or statistical technique. But if you’re going to attack the quality of our research, you need to make a specific challenge (e.g., point to a particular conclusion in a particular paper as an example). It’s insufficient to broadly state that we operate in an echo chamber (especially when we provide objective data and transparent statistical methods to back up any claims we’ve made in scientific papers).
“Objective research, or PR for friends? Science or propaganda? In all of this defense, pride in the work, touting of trust relationships, and being careful to please people and not offend them - it makes suspicion of so much closeness, it's like role-playing a Furry "science-sona”.
PR for what friends? I’m not clear what you mean by “PR” in this case? I fail to see how Anthrocon, Furry Fiesta, or any other convention or website we’ve worked with has benefited from the IARP’s publishing research in academic journals. I fail to see how our publication about biological essentialism in stigmatized minority groups in the British Journal of Social Psychology somehow benefits Furry Fiesta, or how our research testing the Minority Stress Model in the journal Leisure/Loisir provides PR for Anthrocon. The goal of the IARP is, first and foremost, to conduct scientific research on the furry fandom. This involves going to conventions and studying furries who are in attendance. If you can suggest a better way to do this, let me know! And I’m unsure as to which of our academic papers you’re referring to as propaganda. And, if so, propaganda for what? I don’t have any vested interest in promoting the minority stress model (a model which is not my own), in advancing an argument for self-dehumanization as a mediator underlying the relationship between therian identification and concern for animal welfare, or in suggesting that biologically essential beliefs about fandom membership are a strategy employed by furries in response to threats to their identity.
3) "Rivalry" and Kevin Hsu:
“I take at face value what you said about no rivalry with other researchers. Considering the above, the real topic would be protectionism. That comes from lack of perspective - speaking as a biased advocate, and identifying so closely with subjects that people make non-personal things personal.”
Hopefully I’ve addressed some of your previously-rated issues pertaining to “protectionism” – I’m not entirely sure what, exactly, we’re meant to be protecting? Moreover, I’m not sure what you mean by a “lack of perspective”. If you’re referring to the fact that I am a furry conducting furry research, I’ll point out that, up until this year, I was the only member of the IARP who was a furry. Moreover, I’m not sure what you mean by “identifying with subjects that people make non-personal things personal”. Do you mean to say that the IARP lacks perspective because we are passionate and interested in the subject we study (because, if so, I would argue that nearly all researchers are subject to this). You may need to elaborate on this point, as it’s unclear what you mean.
“That's the reaction I sensed from Gerbasi, who seemed to vehemently overreact to what Kevin was doing by calling it "shameful". Rather than Kevin "brushing off Dr. Gerbasi's concerns" as JM claims above, it appears she brushed him off and ignored his invitation to contact him personally - although other IARP members had nice conversation with him.”
Again, I can only speak to my own experience here – As far as I know, Dr. Gerbasi went straight to Kevin’s IRB to raise a concern she had regarding the lack of an informed consent page on his survey. While Kevin maintains in the comment you link to above that clearly displaying an informed consent page is not necessary (as he puts it, “any research study being openly circulated should be assumed to have such approval”), this is problematic for at least two reasons. First, were this the case, there would be absolutely no way to distinguish between a survey thrown together by someone in their basement one evening and research supported by and independently reviewed by a university’s ethical research board. Second, it’s worth taking a gander at this page here: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informed_consent#Research); in short, it summarizes what most psychologists are taught (and, in fact, is something that nearly any research methods textbook, including the one that I use to teach my own research methods course, teaches), and that is that informed consent is a crucial part of research with human participants. Illustrating this, you can see that, according to the Tri-Council Policy Statement (which governs university research conducted in Canada, http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/pdf/eng/tcps2/TCPS_2_FINAL_Web.pdf), informed consent is an essential aspect of research with human participants. I WILL concede that some institutions do allow a waiver of such informed consent if the study is deemed to be of minimal risk to participants. That said, it could be argued that a study which involves potentially sensitive or controversial topic such as Kevin’s would, for most IRBs, fall under the category of “more than minimal risk”. At VERY least, I would argue that Dr. Gerbasi was well within her right to approach Kevin’s IRB to ensure that the study itself was following their guidelines.
That said, I will concede that it was wrong of Dr. Gerbasi to call Kevin’s actions “shameful” (though, I don’t personally know of her using these words, if they were said, it would be an overreaction). I do believe, however, that her going to the IRB was the correct thing to do, and, if she genuinely believed that there was an ethical violation happening, I could understand why she would want to make sure that furries (including Kage) were aware of this as a possible issue. From what I know of the situation, she contacted the IRB several times to follow up and find out what became of the concern she raised, but she never heard back from the board itself.
It’s at this point that the story becomes messy and breaks down into he said / she said, and hearsay. Ultimately, I think the whole thing is based on a misunderstanding. As I mentioned earlier, and as you seem to agree, this seems more likely a case of a potential mistake or some misunderstanding, rather than Kevin being out to “ruin furries”. I’ll extend that same courtesy to Dr. Gerbasi: I think it was a genuine misunderstanding on her part: It seems to me like she saw something that would make most psychologists knee-jerk (seeing an online study without an informed consent), and assuming that there was something possibly questionable going on. I do agree that her response was probably overzealous, and I, personally, think that the best course of action would have been to approach the IRB and to have left it at that. I think, if she went to Kage about it, it was with the best of intentions, and not out of any kind of territorial need to protect the IARP’s “turf” or anything like that (in the same way you might warn someone not to talk to that particular reporter if you suspected that they were out to do a particularly bad piece about furries).
Put simply, I’m willing to concede that, if it’s true what Kevin’s said that his IRB doesn’t necessitate the inclusion of an informed consent, I’m a bit baffled by their decision, and disagree with it, but accept it, and acknowledge that, if this is the case, he didn’t do anything wrong. I won’t fault Dr. Gerbasi for her vigilance in going after what seemed to be a potentially dodgy study, though I will state that she should have reserved judgment until after hearing from their IRB (though, as far as I know, they never did get back to her).
“You believed his hypothesis is "a gross overgeneralization of furries". Really, did he? Did he generalize, or simply wonder if something might exist even rarely? JM reports he said "many furries – possibly most – are zoophiles" and so forth. I would be very curious to see a source for this. I suspect that comes from JM. All thanks to him for bringing out the topic in the first place, but his writing often shows extreme, out-of-context, disingenuous mischaracterizing disguised as concern. I'll cite some below.”
I believe that there are a great many people looking to “explain” furry, in one form or another. And I think it’s an endeavor that, in the end, is likely to fail, in part because furry is so complex, idiosyncratic, and multidetermined (as are a great many behaviours). It is my opinion, based on numerous attempts to locate “sources” for what “makes a person a furry”, that there is no one such factor, or even any factors that stand out as statistically significant predictors which explain “why furry” and “why not something else?” That said, I entertain the possibility that I may be wrong – its’ an empirical question. I believe his hypothesis is wrong, yes. I really do. My believing his hypothesis is wrong does NOT mean I’m saying he can’t or even shouldn’t test it. I even said, in my comment, that I think he SHOULD be allowed to test it. Science is built on the idea of two people disagreeing, collecting data, and finding out who’s right. I would be a terrible scientist if I didn’t acknowledge the possibility that he might be right. But I’d also be a terrible scientist if I denied my own hypothesis that he was wrong. In the end, it comes down to what the data say – data I’m more than happy to see for myself (as I said in my post above).
4) "Eliciting response" and an ideology agenda.
In that conversation buried somewhere on social media, you discussed IARP research results that appeared to reveal "sexism" in a way that was heavily biased. Your survey failed to give any operational definition for "sexism", leaving it entirely feeling-based in the eye of the beholder. It fails to define things like "degradation" by pornography - the drawn cartoon kind (really?) - not even allowing that research can't show real (legal) pornography as causing negative influence. You admitted segregating apart your chosen subjects, a group of female furry fans, to "elicit response." Isn't that what PR, advertising and propaganda does?
Ah, here we go – at last we get to the part where you go after our “ideology”. The research you’re referring to (which, I will point out, is an exceptionally small, new, and still very preliminary portion of the IARP’s total research) is based on feedback that the IARP received from numerous women while attending several conventions. A number of these women asked us whether we had ever looked at gender issues in the fandom, to which we replied “no”, we hadn’t. It was a question that interested us: just as the question of “bronies” in the fandom interested us after several bronies raised the issue with us, just as the issue of therians in the fandom interested us after several therians raised the issues with us, and just as the issue of furry species and their possible correlations interested us after questions were raised by several furries about the issue. In short, we tackle two kinds of issues in our research: research inspired by psychological theories/literature, and research inspired by questions furries have asked us.
We approached the issue of sexism in the fandom in a very exploratory way: we put together a focus group at Furry Fiesta in 2014 to try and more systematically assess what variables were of interest to women, to figure out what issues, in particular they were interested in. This is, as you put it, the focus group where we “segregated our chosen subjects”. To put it simply: yes, we did this. We wanted to know what the perspective of women, who constitute a numerical minority in the fandom, thought about the fandom, and some of the issues that interested them. This is something difficult to do if the room consisted mostly of guys (for the same reason that, if a company wants to know how six-year olds will respond to their new toy, they will bring in a group of six years olds, NOT a group of six year olds AND teenagers; it’s the reason why, if we want to know what FURRIES think about something, we ask a bunch of furries at a furry convention, not a bunch of people in the street). We threw a few questions out there and solicited their suggestions for future research on the subject. This research was exceptionally preliminary. Despite the fact that we did not operationally define the term “sexism”, we DID operationalize the specific items we asked women in those groups. This research was NEVER intended to be the last word on the subject, but was, instead, primarily to collect ideas for questions to ask at Furry Fiesta 2015, as you will see if you look in the Furry Fiesta 2015 results on our research website. The issues raised by women in the focus group WERE asked to all participants in the 2015 Furry Survey, and the results of these findings are presented. The data paint an interesting picture: several of the issues raised by women were found to not be unique to the experience of women, but to also be shared by men. Nevertheless, there were also a few issues that seemed to be raised more by women than by men (for example, women seemed less comfortable with the portrayal of women in pornography). Nowhere on the IARP’s website do we make any claims regarding what “ought” to be the case, or what the fandom “ought” to do. We make no strong claims about whether this is “right” or whether pornography is “wrong”. All we point out in the Furry Fiesta 2015 results is what the results of these questions are. We leave it to others to draw their own conclusions. If, in a summary of our results, someone interprets it one way or another, that’s up to them. It’s not failure of our methods or our data.
“It was if they were too weak and fearful to honestly speak for themselves, without being directed to give you the results you already had in mind. The questions prepared the answers by throwing out an undefined term many times before the survey started - like, how much sexism do you feel from the sexists who dominate the sexist culture?“
You’re making pretty strong claims here about our intentions – that we were directing participants to give results we had in mind, especially given that the only example you give of a “loaded” question is one that we didn’t actually ask. As I mention above, the purpose of the 2014 focus group was to find out the issues that women considered to be issues so that we could ask about them in the 2015 study. You’ll note, in our wording in the 2015 study, the questions are asked in gender-neutral ways, to fairly test whether the claims made by women about their experiences in the fandom are unique to them, or whether they’re shared by men as well. The fact is, this was a question we sought out because numerous furries asked us about it, and we make a point of answering questions that furries ask us. Just like the questions we’ve been asked time and time again about personality correlates with fursona species: we, as psychologists, have little interest in whether or not a person who chooses a dog or a cat differs, personality-wise, from a person who chooses, say, a dragon. But it’s an issue that interests furries, and so we went out of our way to give it the fairest test we could. Was the 2014 study qualitative, based on a small sample, and done for purely exploratory purposes? You bet! Was the 2015 study far better in its execution, learning from 2014 and done with the intent of more objectively testing the hypothesis? I like to think it was. But if you have a concern about any of the items or the statistics we used to test the difference in men’s and women’s responses to the questions, I’m all ears!
“That's the advocacy and confirmation bias. Here's the echo chamber effect and disingenous mischaracterizing that follows: http://adjectivespecies.com/2014/05/05/dogpatch-press-on-women/”
That would be a great point against the IARP, except for the fact that neither myself, nor any of my colleagues, were responsible for the writing of the piece. In fact, the only mention of the IARP, from what I can see, is the citing of one of our statistics, showing that the fandom is predominantly male. Surely you don’t think that our methodology for assessing this is flawed? You can’t really go after the IARP if others use our data to make an argument; if the Westboro Baptist Church were to use our statistics to argue that furries were a hotbed of sin and Satanism, would you also accuse us of sharing their ideology?
“Reducing the ideology to it's most absurd basic premise, we learn that "sexism" is the reason for gathering together any group of two or more males. (Gay bars must be the most sexist places on earth!)”
I have no strong opinions one way or another regarding sexism in the fandom – the IARP collected data on the subject, first using a very rough, very exploratory 2014 study (which, I will concede, had poor questions, but was never intended to be published in a scientific journal or to be anything more than just that – a first look at the subject, to get our bearings on what issues were worth asking about), and secondly through a much fairer, gender-neutral assessment of these particular issues with less-charged wording. You have a valid concern regarding the tendency for ideologies to blind people to evidence and to lead to poor methodologies when it comes to collecting and analyzing data. But it’s unclear to me how our 2015 Furry Fiesta study on the subject falls into this category. Please, correct me if I’m wrong, or if you see any egregiously problematic items or errors in our data analysis.
“That article comes from an extreme aversion to evidence and reason, that comes with lots of links in the article being mischaracterized with cheap cherrypicked attacks: http://dogpatchpress.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/all-humans-welcome/”
Not an IARP article.
“Credit to JM for other topics he's good at, but this one is the most stinky piece of rancid bullshit I've ever seen coming from this fandom. It's patronizing, and more than a little toxic towards the existing membership, especially their motivations to join out of free will and positive interest.”
Again, JM is not a member of the IARP, and his views are not the IARP’s views. If you’ve got a problem with his opinions, I suggest you take them up with him!
“Of course, any group of two or more males is not evidence of "sexism". But it's easy to prepare people to get answers you already know, if you treat it like it is. Then, you can go ahead and ignore all the reasons the belief is flawed and wrong, with cultish devotion: https://dogpatchpress.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/nerd-culture/”
Again, not an IARP article – if you’ve got a problem with JM’s opinion, I suggest you take it up with him.
“That brings us to here - there are agendas at work and they need to be disclosed if we want honest conversations.
This agenda is even in loaded words. "Sexism," Degradation, "Male-dominated." Male-populated is not male-"dominated". People's reasons for being here shouldn't be reduced to body parts. There's plenty of apples-and-oranges differences among different kinds of people, and that's not bad. I look forward to when we can honestly discuss that with minimal agendas.”
I’ve been as transparent as possible regarding where the IARP stands on these issues, and I hope I’ve addressed your concerns. The IARP has no strong stance regarding issues of sexism, gender, or pornography in the fandom – we aim to quantify these phenomena as best we can, so others can have these debates. Some of our measures may not be the best, but we work to refine them as best we can. And we encourage you to offer your own items as well: if you think we could have worded our items better, or address the issue in a more neutral or balanced perspective, please, propose a methodology or a set of questions that you think are worth asking!
“Kevin's research seemed to me to depart from that framework and maybe raise questions about biology. ("the fact that men are far, far more likely to develop fetishes than women was always a clue that there was some underlying biological predisposition in the male brain towards developing fetishes." https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/billion-wicked-thoughts/201205/fetishes-do-... )”
I definitely don’t deny the possibility that biology may play a role in the furry fandom and the factors contributing to it. You’ll recall that I strongly advocated that Kevin be allowed to test his hypothesis, despite my seeing several significant flaws in his methodology, and my general belief that it is wrong, based on what I’ve seen from our own attempts to “explain” what leads people to the furry fandom (as opposed to other fandoms). I’m more than happy to be proven wrong (which, in and of itself, should illustrate the fact that I am approaching the issue from a critical, scientific perspective, and not the perspective of an unquestioning ideologue).
“Completely apart from how MUCH this comes into play with furries (or even how good his attempt), I think it's a good reason to encourage more research and not block these questions. I'm glad you seemed to welcome that.”
I didn’t just “seem” to welcome open inquiry and study of the furry fandom: I live and breathe this! I’ve done my best to help and encourage others to study furries, whether for high school science projects, undergrads looking to do reports and research of their own on the fandom, or by helping graduate students to develop projects that involve the furry fandom. I don’t have to agree with the hypothesis of other researchers to nevertheless believe that the very idea of testing those hypotheses are worthwhile, in and of themselves.
Hopefully this long response has adequately addressed the concerns you’ve raised about the IARP! I readily agree that it’s worth having a frank and critical discussion about issues of conflicts of interest, concerns about objectivity, and challenges to methodology. While most of your criticisms seemed to focus more on challenges to our objectivity and possible conflicts of interest (which are valid and worth suggesting), I feel like you could make stronger arguments if you went after the specifics of our methodologies, perhaps by challenging the assertions we make in our published scientific journal articles (the stuff that’s actually peer-reviewed “science”).
Thanks again for your comments and criticism! It’s obvious you put a lot of thought into them, and, above all else, it’s nice to see others who are thinking critically and challenging the things they see/read! =)
Also, holy crap - this took me nearly 3 hours to write! >.<' Good thing I love my job more than I love sleep =P
It is, in fact, the longest comment in Flayrah's 15-year history, beating this by almost 4500 characters. Crossaffliction gets the next two - the latter winning bonus points for being a) almost entirely non-furry, b) the first and only reply to his own story, and c) five-star rated. (He also called JM a "pretentious douchebag", but he doesn't get any points for that.)
Sometimes, I ever impress myself. (I also fail to see how calling I'm names is not a bonus.)
I don't think I'll be defending my title(I didn't really have) here though. On the other hand, it's getting a bit heated, in a passive aggressive sort of way; maybe a 5 gazillion word non sequitur would be a nice palate cleanser?
Very nice, 3 hours is dedication :)
As impressions go, it's interesting to see Kage on one of the first research papers that really stands out as "furry research" (for dubious reasons, the "species identity disorder" thing.) Among all the other examples of interaction you mention, that's the only one with the head of a con (the biggest con) having an author line. Seeing "Gerbasi gets Kage on the phone" as the bottom line of this current article further piques interest. OK, so this is merely a superficial connection, and old, and not cozy- thanks for the opinion.
Since we mentioned the "family friendly" PR, it leaves a topic of two camps in this social group (Mickey Mouse or Fritz the Cat?) We'll hear about that more in the future.
Regarding social media comments, that wasn't some random thing attributed to you. It was you, speaking to me, although I don't expect you recognized the handle.
Regarding "ideology", settle down- you aren't to blame for what others run with, and others bring to you and ask you to research, fashionable trends behind it, or myths that persist. However there's reasons to use strong words, and it's a wide topic that nevertheless you're part of no matter if you say "Not an IARP article". If not by pushing it yourself, then by even passively taking frameworks for granted, or having credit given. (You're not disclosing everything about that, you're quoted in JM's article - although I do like how you related use of your data there with how the Westboro Baptist Church works. I enjoyed organizing a "fursuit hug in" to coincide with one of their threats to protest a con! No show, but it was fun anyways.)
Regarding "jabs" and "straw men", this isn't my profession and I don't have time to read research papers too often. But I'm aware that these are not vague gripes "at the entirety of social research". They're positions represented by specific people and schools of thought, taking social research forward. Some are considered "dissident" from fashionable ideas currently dominating academia. Political correctness exists. You call psychoanalysis "antiquated", and so too in the future, some ideas popular among some of our friends (like JM) will be. Name one dissident? Roy Baumeister, I guess. Beyond this small internet debate, there's more meaning in this outside of furry fandom. Like, I've been proud to host the leader of an important social policy reform lobby on a political tour, and keeping an eye on what's fueling the fights. Happy to bring some of the frank and critical discussion about it for you. :) I leave it to others to challenge your specific methodologies, which some have done well since 2008. Also I always think it's really cool what the IARP research says about orientations - it's pretty tough to assume anything about anybody!
I'm a huge fan of Baumeister's work, actually! ^^; In terms of other dissenters, one of my favorites is Uri Simonsohn, a person I consider a bit of a personal hero of mine for taking the field of social psychology (my field) to task for doing bad statistics and doing the kind of biased, hypothesis-confirming, cherry-picking practices. Some (myself included) would consider the creators of Terror Management Theory (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski) to be dissenters, given just how many feathers they ruffled up with their theory and that their theory has for so much of social psychology. Another well-known dissenter in the field is Jonathan Haidt, who's raised the ire of a LOT of members of my field for suggesting that there's a HUGE liberal bias in my field, and that we need more conservatives in social psychology!
At any rate, if you're interested in Baumeister, or just love reading about psychologists who frustrate other psychologists and challenge the field itself, I'd recommend checking out the work of these folks!
Terror Management Theory sounds really interesting! 5 stars.
It most definitely is! It is, in fact, the theory that motivated me to pursue social psychology in the first place (prior to that, I was a cognitive psychologist studying object recognition through reaction time data - some of the most boring research imaginable!)
Terror Management Theory, I kind of always said "We're just keeping ourselves occupied until we die." didn't know there was a theory behind that.
But I have another one that I've begun to observe as far as a culture theory. I believe all distinct adult hobbies, and fandoms, could be construed from what the adult had utilized to escape from the stresses of late childhood and adolescence.
In essence: If someone is a sports fan, then they played in or got involved with the sports as youth and utilized it to escape the stresses of academia. Adversely, those who grew up into academics were probably more rewarded by the system and used it to escape the stresses of other physical social expectations.
Some may use religion to escape. Other video games, cartoons, movies. When that is found at this time that tends not to change. With the advent of the internet, those who used similar methods are more likely to find one another and thus form fandoms.
But the side of it that may be more interesting to modern social psychology is what happens when the hobby group tends to feel threatened by 'outside forces'. Because this hobby was the thing that 'defended' the childhood psychological health, the person involved in the hobby may tend to will feel the need to defend it. Sometimes just verbally or sometimes violently, probably in proportion to the amount of stress being escaped from.
Things like that can explain things from Gamer Gate movement to fervent religious movements to rioting because your sports team lost in a real close match and was eliminated from a tournament (I mean, the other team basically took away your means of escape from your real life stresses pre-maturely, but you'll eventually calm down when you realize they'll have a go again in less than a year).
In essence, it's sort of what I call 'psychological territory', where each form unique ideological boundaries in which when one crosses it can trigger the same response in individuals or groups that actual physical territory trespass would induce.
But that's just my theory on it.
Suggestions from those with intimate knowledge of the subject of a paper may represent an significant contribution. Beyond that, I suspect honorary authorship is still common in academia as a "thank you" for those who've helped in non-academic ways with the creation of the paper - for example, by providing a table and distribution of surveys at a major furry convention.
Of course, if Kage is suspect, then so am I, having "advised" the IARP - which basically comes down to me giving my personal opinion on proposed researched or published findings, in person or by email. (I should really get around to doing the latter now that Inkbunny's new cache is in place.)
I doubt that anyone involved intended to quash a reasonable line of research, or prevent a graduate student from proceeding with their studies. But as Nuka has said, they might well be concerned about research practices which might risk their own ability to work - just as the leaders of a public fursuiting event might take issue with murrsuiters humping in the park, regardless of their honest belief that it brings them closer to their spirit animals. Basically, it's not so much the what of the research, but the how.
Interesting... "just as the leaders of a public fursuiting event might take issue with murrsuiters humping in the park"
How often has that happened? Because, speaking of agendas, there's an anniversary of a hoax coming up, and an article about it.
I'm afraid I couldn't say! I'm not a fursuiter, nor particularly active in those circles. I did have that story in mind as an example, but also stuff like this (and the related poll, which proved that statistics can be misleading).
Funniest incoming search term at Dogpatch Press this week: "what does a fursuiter's butt fur smell like"
Love that poll :) The topic they love to hate!
Honorary authorship is contrary to all authorship guidelines I'm aware of and is expressly warned against in general discussions on authorship. Authorship is supposed to be reserved for only those that made significant contributions to the paper/research and minor contributions and assistance is meant to included in the acknowledgements section.
I might as well also take this point to address something that came up previously. Just because Kage is a chemist says nothing about his ability to contribute to a sociological paper. If he provides a contribution then he can be included as an author. You don't need to hold any specific degree or training. All the support needed for the argument will be included in the paper. If that's there then it doesn't matter your background because your argument is properly supported. If it's not there then all the fancy degrees you have are irrelevant.
"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~
I address this directly in my long-winded point below. But, put simply: No, Dr. Conway is NOT a member of the IARP. He is a co-author on a single paper authored back in 2008, two years before the formation of the IARP. He is co-author with a single member of the IARP (Dr. Gerbasi), who constitutes only one of the founding members of the IARP.
Your statement is factually incorrect. He is credited as an author in a SINGLE research paper.
Speaking as an anthropologist, I have very strong concerns about the questionnaire based on the types of questions and the wrongness of question choice.
All survey instruments come with a bias, and the researcher has to first do a lot of research (which apparently was NOT done) about the community to find the correct questions to get valid results. They should be neutral toward the subject and to the experience and should not wander off into areas that are not culturally connected.
If you select the wrong instrument for your population, you get absurd results... with the wrong survey you could probably "prove" that all five year olds are aggressive pedophiles.
These questions are very clearly taken from sources used to interrogate sexual experiences (and particularly pedophilic ones.) The questions do not allow any sort of correction (very rigid scales of 1-5, no ability to modify or change, no possible way to respond "this does not apply", etc.) so the picture that is obtained is twisted by this bias. The starting bias seems to be that fursuiting and furries are inherently an erotic culture and that there is particular interest in pedophilia-type interests.
The questions for fursuiters were taken from a survey for transvestites...which really isnt' the same thing at all.
I have concerns about what will be published using this data.
A wise man once said "those who study sex have stopped having it".
I would like to inject this debate with a dose of philosophy. What is sex? And before someone says "procreation", I say bullshit. These studies, and all such studies, approach the subject from the position that sex is procreation (often labeled to be subconscious). And when the "scientists" see a weird person mass-debating to a JPEG, they have to tie that to procreation SOMEHOW.
Close minded fools.
Go ahead, downvote this post and call me stupid.
Well, I'll be...
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