Phoenix Comicon Apologizes For Survey

Once at a Worldcon a panelist was fielding questions from the audience about a Boston bid. After insisting experience would keep them from repeating the mistakes of the past, he promised with a smile: “We will make only brand new mistakes that no one has ever made before.”

It’s not easy for a convention to make a mistake no one has ever made before. The Phoenix Comicon made a new one recently and attracted considerable criticism.

The Phoenix Comicon let Connor Leshner, a psychology and sociology major at Arizona State University, and a con volunteer, send a message to the convention’s email list asking fans to participate in an online survey.

A fan who took the survey described some of the questions as personal and intrusive, in “Phoenix Comicon’s Latest Survey Making Folks Feel Uncomfortable” at Geek Life:

Admittedly, I did blush when the question came across my screen and can now see why so many of my peers chatted it up on Facebook. Some readers even reached out to me to write about this survey because it was so out of the blue and asked so many intimate questions. However not all of the questions were about romantic or sexual relationships, some of them asked about your personal feelings regarding the fandom we know and love.

One example:

And another:

On March 3, Phoenix Comicon convention director Matthew Solberg responded to the report with an apology.

I made a mistake. I apologize for the survey sent yesterday and if you were upset, offended, or put off by it. I was trying to help a former long-time volunteer who is an ASU student with a research project. To my understanding, it is one of the first studies into cosplay behavior as it impacts social and romantic relationships. I rushed the decision without fully thinking through its implications and I rushed sending the webmail, as is evident by forgetting to remove the templates.

It was never, and will never be, my intent to subject minors to explicit material or to offend anyone.

While I still want to offer help to our friends and supporters whenever possible, I realize this was the wrong way to do it. I hope that you can forgive my mistake and trust that my intentions were not as they appeared.

I want to assure you that your email address was not distributed or sold to any third-party and no personal information was released. I will be much more careful in the future.

I’d like to say this was me trying to do a good deed that sadly backfired.

8 thoughts on “Phoenix Comicon Apologizes For Survey

  1. Can someone clarify something about this?

    If the researcher went through ASUs Human Subjects there would be a requirement to have a disclosure letter before starting the survey. Did the email contain a link to the survey (which has the disclosure letter as the first page), or did the email jump right into the survey after the email posted in this story?

    Having gone through Human Subjects many times for surveys, I doubt they would have approved the intro followed immediately by the survey itself.

  2. airboy: By the time I read the Geek Life story the survey was no longer accessible. And it was not archived by the Wayback Machine. All the documentation I have to go on are the screenshots at Geek Life. If they take comments, you might try asking for further information there.

  3. Yes, consent should always be meaningful and informed so he should have clarified the nature of the questions.

    But I am starting to feel very annoyed at the “exposing minors to adult content” trope. No, this is a lack of respect to humans of all ages, minority doesn’t enter into it. Separately, I have a problem with “protecting” minors from all and any kind of content connected no matter how tenuously with the human reproductive apparatus. Minors deserve to be informed, not shielded: that is what “protection” looks like in my book.

  4. Wow! That was handled badly. Offering a potential prize for participating makes it worse. Absolutely did not think this through before they sent it.

  5. FWIW, it’s common for surveys in at least Sweden to send out some symbolic prizes (like movie tickets) as a raffle or similar.

    What I view as problematic isn’t sending on the survey, it’s sending on the survey without giving any clue as to the nature of the survey and that it was part of an academic study. I guess the survey could have been better designed too.

    Small mistakes compounding and building on each other. Not the first time it has happened, won’t be the last.

  6. “FWIW, it’s common for surveys in at least Sweden to send out some symbolic prizes (like movie tickets) as a raffle or similar.”

    It is!? I sometimes feel like I’m drowned in surveys like this. I’m part of an adult community and it seems like everyone from Satan to his grandma wants to make some kind of academic work around it.

    But never any movie tickets. 🙁

  7. Having been the chair of a college “Human Subjects Research” committee, I’m pretty darn certain that this survey was never approved by such a committee. Which means that the student could be in trouble if they tried to use this in a research project, or if the university found out about this otherwise.

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