1. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Lying, dog-faced pony Marine Supporter Contributor

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    Research ethics: Forums

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Iain Aschendale, Dec 4, 2017.

    WIP is back in progress. Urban fantasy, MC is going to discover what he thinks is some sort of demon (it is), and make a panicked trip to online supernatural/occult/paranormal research forums to find out what to do and how to protect himself.

    One way to find out what the realistic range of responses is would be to go to an online supernatural/paranormal/occult forum, create an account, and claim to have seen something spooky that I don't understand and see what happens. However, I'm getting an uneasy feeling in my ethics center about doing this. I don't believe in the paranormal, but a) it's very real in my character's life, and b) I have to stipulate that it's real in the minds of the members of the online occult forums.

    Addendum: I wouldn't be claiming to have seen a demon, probably just saying that there was a constantly cold room in my house where the plants always died, or something along those lines.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    I don't see why this would be a problem. It's not like you're asking them to drive cross country for an ad hoc exorcism.
     
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  3. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

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    Surely you could find genuine posts like the one you're describing and see what kinds of responses they got?
     
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  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Or why not just say that you're writing a book and would like to discuss scenarios?
     
  5. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Lying, dog-faced pony Marine Supporter Contributor

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    Good idea, I'm probably not the first person to run to a forum with a one-off question :)

    I definitely am going to do that, but on a separate community (no sock-puppeting, in other words). I'm in the middle of setting up an account now, and I'll clearly identify my purpose and reason for being there. The reason I was thinking about masquerading as a freaked-out person with a real problem is to see how an occult forum would react to that, what the level of belief in the problem would be, what sort of suggestions would come up that way. Kind of a secret shopper vs. audit from corporate view of things, if that makes any sense.
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I feel disapproving, but that comes partly from my participation in a couple of forums that have Very Very Clear privacy policies, where doing such a thing would be a major betrayal. Without such a policy, it may be a "Meh." issue.

    But...yeah, I think that if these people are sincere you're getting them to invest their time and emotional energy in a false problem, and that's problematic. Now, I struggle to believe in their sincerity, because I don't believe in the stuff, but I am thinking of how people react when they go full-tilt to help someone in a forum on toxic families where I hang out (I definitely believe that toxic families exist :)), only to find that the person was a troll. It's definitely experienced as hurtful. Sure, the Internet is full of trolls, but that's separate from the issue of being one.

    So my view is that there's ethics badness.
     
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  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I agree that this is questionable, just from a "do unto others" perspective. I wouldn't appreciate it if someone did something like this for a topic I care about, so...
     
  8. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    I don't see the ethical dilemma here. Whomever you're dealing with on these paranormal sites is by definition, unethical. They propagate nonsense, and very often at the expense of people with mental disorders.
    I would go with your original plan, create an account and make your fanciful claims, and see what happens next. You'll get to walk a mile in your MC's shoes. You can't beat that.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think if you go to these forums and take the time to read what's already there, you'll probably get your answer. If you don't then I think it's okay to ask ...but like many others here, I wouldn't pretend to be something I'm not. Attitudes like that ruin the internet experience for many people.

    The internet is a great way to connect with folks whom you will probably never meet in real life, but who share your interests (like writers on a writer's forum.) But when other folks turn up just to jerk your chain and make fun of you? As @ChickenFreak said, the whole experience is a bit hurtful to people who are acting in good faith.

    How would you feel if a very experienced bestselling author joined this forum under an assumed name, and asked all sorts of rather stupid questions just to discover what kind of people respond and what their answers would be? And then your answer turned up in some book that makes fun of the process? In essence, that's what you'd be doing by joining a paranormal group and asking leading questions with the intention of finding out just how insane the other members can be.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2017
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  10. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    But presumably they're not deliberately misleading others?

    I mean, I'm not religious, so I think people on religious sites are propagating nonsense. But it'd be a dick move for me to go on one of them pretending to be someone having a spiritual crisis and needing guidance, wouldn't it?

    If they believe something, and I'm on their site, then I should show at least some respect for their beliefs, I think.
     
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  11. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor Contest Winner 2022

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    While I don’t see anything ethically wrong with doing undercover research, I agree with izzybot that A google search will find a real post like that. There are lots of superstitious people out there.
     
  12. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I don't see a problem with under cover research where necessary - if you are looking at a group you don't want to have your real identity (criminals, white supremacist's or whatever) but its not really necessary for what you are suggesting - I'd either google or ask them openly
     
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  13. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Lying, dog-faced pony Marine Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks to everyone for your input, I think I was right in feeling uneasy about "going undercover," if for no other reason than I should be able to find the reactions I'm looking for by searching through the various occult forums without creating another semi-troll thread.

    I will join, openly and as a writer (although probably not under the "Iain Aschendale" name) one or two and ask for opinions from believers. While I'm free to create my own magic/supernatural system, I think it would be better to get things "right," or at least have some... informed? enthusiastic? opinions as to what "right" is before I go tramping about.

    Kinda like if Steven Spielberg had met an archaeologist before doing Indiana Jones, y'know?
     
  14. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    You people are so disgustingly ethical. I once organized a full-on political argument between two forums, creating a thread on both and posting the best responses of each community on the other. It whipped up something like twenty people total into a frenzy. Wildest time of my life.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2017
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  15. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Haha... that makes you a highly evolved, extra-special troll.
     
  16. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    Aside from the ethical issues involved in this thread, of which I think are minimal, your post brings up something else that would be more interesting to discuss. As writers, how much deference should we have for beliefs we don't cotton to, especially when those beliefs are front and center to our story?

    I absolutely abhor polemic fiction, of preaching one's beliefs under the guise of storytelling without first sincerely trying to understand the other side of things, and even admitting the failings of one's own views. My WIP has at front and center, a convent of nuns whom really existed in 1792, and who carry on today. Because of their devotion to God and their faith, sixteen of them were sent to the scaffold and met their God via the guillotine.


    The movie scene I've linked to depicts their final moments. What you'll see is a fairly accurate portrayal derived from firsthand accounts. Within the time it takes to read this post, 16 of their order where executed with the utmost efficiency. As an atheist, how do I do these women justice? I begin by researching who in fact made up their ranks, what they might of been like and what led them to their fate. Then, I come up with an alternate fiction... turn these Nuns into something a bit more fierce, ladies of mayhem who on occasion resort to murder. They go head to head against the Freemasons, of which most of the notable architects of the French Revolution were, and who in turn sent thousands to the guillotine, and even more murdered in secret. Unlike Dan Brown and his ilk, who romanticize the Freemasons and make them out as "Keepers of the Flame", and even worse in the case of Dan Brown, as champions of feminism... my writing partner and I will explore a more aggressive feminism.:)

    But to the deeper question of belief in God, which I have none, how do I write a story which inexplicably has God at its center? First, I won't preach to either end, but write a story that neither falls this way or that on the ultimate question. The reader can decide what agency drives the story. There will be ample evidence that God has a hand in it, or that a curious cascading of events have taken on a life of their own. Gaslamp Fiction with a touch of gothic supernaturalism!

    I'm not saying it's easy to be objective, in fact it's impossible! But I'm rather enjoying the process of putting my own beliefs on hold, or at least in quarantine for awhile, and seeing what drives true believers.
     
  17. Laurus

    Laurus Disappointed Idealist Contributor

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  18. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor Contest Winner 2022

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    I have a feeling that most of the people who visit sites like those are actually trolls anyway. Fake science tends to attract more trolls than they do dupe uneducated people.

    We’ve all seen the flat earth society thing. You mean to tell me someone is smart enough to see the geoemtry to know that a sun circling a flat sky would produce shadows as though it were, but not know the concept of parallax? Give me a break.

    Same thing with ghosts, educated people have heard of pareidolia. “I saw with my own eyes,” has exactly zero scientific merit.
     
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  19. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Lying, dog-faced pony Marine Supporter Contributor

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    I'm off the idea of going undercover, but I feel there's one point worth mentioning that I don't think I made clear. Although I'm not a believer, in my story, the occult is absolutely a real and factual thing, albeit something that the general populace isn't really aware of. Think of a universe akin to the television show Supernatural, where ghosts and demons can and do really pop up, however many if not most of the "believers" are going to be deluded or charlatans. My MC will be going through a process of discovering this secret world and being "screened" by those that pass for the Elect. The purpose (now discarded) of going undercover would be to see how rank and file membership of a supernatural believers forum would react to a n00b popping up with story that jibes with their belief system, kind of like the way this forum has the occasional new member who claims to be 60,000 words into their first novel but need a beta-reader ASAP.

    This is the key. It's not for me to judge who on their site is a true believer, who's a scam artist, and who's just having a non-trollish lark thinking about "what if fairies were real?" The key is that it's their house. It would be easy to view this forum as a delusional circle-jerk of people with no chance of "making it" as real authors. For a lot of us (I'm emphatically including myself in the lower circles here), that's true, but it would be rude for an outsider to come in and start saying so. Hence, I'll come in with writer colors flying, check with mods if necessary, and ask my questions in good faith if it's allowed.
     
  20. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Will he need to credit and pay these people?

    Side note, I asked a question on reddit archery as if I was an archer, got my answer, then told them it was really for a book. Doubt it bothered them.
     
  21. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You just wait until the Archery Anti-defamation League gets ahold of yo ass... those cats don't play.
     
  22. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    ikr

    The three upvotes are a feint. About to get an arrow through the window.
     
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  23. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think that sounds like a very worthwhile story goal. If you can put your own 'beliefs' on hold and explore what others believe, I think you'll be acquiring what I'd call 'writer's perspective.' You'll read up on the kinds of things other people believe, do some observation, and then put yourself in their shoes, for story purposes, and ask yourself, 'If I believed this stuff myself, what would I do about it?'

    I guess the ethical dilemma comes in if you deliberately pretend to be a 'believer' in order to get others to trust you and open up to you. It may be effective, but.... dunno. I don't think I could do it, myself. Once the deception was uncovered, that would be you finished with them—good luck if you have follow-up questions!. You'd leave them with a very bad taste in their mouths about trusting others, which they probably don't deserve. (It's not like being a righteous narc, really ...although the procedure is the same.)

    Instead, I would probably go to a religious person and/or group, and say something like, "I'm writing a book about nuns whose belief is strong enough to willingly go to their deaths to preserve it. Can you give me some insight into how that would work? What would their feelings be? Would you do this yourselves? If so, why?"

    That's honest, and will probably yield results without compromising your own integrity. Not to mention, they would probably be really happy to help you 'see' things from their perspective, and you might emerge from the experience with ideas you didn't have when you went in. The fact that you're asking these questions would make them feel valued—and I hope you do value the people you draw your ideas from, even if you don't share their beliefs.
     
  24. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    At some point I'll need to send off an email to the Carmelite Nuns... it's too weird researching history that's over 225 years gone by and see that the order of nuns you're using have a very professional website and an online store.:)
    That will be one email for the ages...

    Dear Sisters of Carmel, cheers!
    My writing partner and I are currently working on a novel wherein your order are pivotal players. Indeed, the story revolves around three young girls who, through a series of curious events, become entangled with your very own Carmelite Nuns, and the French Revolution. I'll cut right to the chase... we've sort of revamped history some. In our story, the Sisters of Carmel are caretakers of a leper colony, their convent on a mountaintop. I've included an excerpt below so you can get a feel for the story we're working on. It's very edgy, I think you'll enjoy it.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Valerie felt the heat rise up in her cheeks as she recalled her brief foray into the murky world of assassination. It had only been a month ago that a small contingent of Papal Guards came to evict the nuns from their mountaintop abbey; as night fell the men had approached the final ascent up the steep path to the convent, but they’d met with some misfortune and failed to carry out the Pope’s orders, and have not been heard from since. There’d be more uninvited visitors from Rome, of that the nuns were certain. The matter required a swift resolution. So it was, under the guise of bearing urgent news from the queen, Valerie had bribed a cardinal to secure an audience with the Pope; she was shown to his salon and, after sharing pleasantries, handed Pope Pius the fictitious letter wherein the queen begged him to bestow his mercies on the nuns in their humble retreat. Gauging that his reaction was not to her liking, nor to the satisfaction of Reverend Mother who had sent her, she cautiously took the switchblade from a fold in her dress and held it behind her back, poised to send His Holiness to the hereafter. But just then a mouse scurried across her heart — her hand trembled and she dispatched the blade from its ivory handle prematurely, not across his throat as intended, but into her own left buttock. The blood had ran freely down one leg, and the Pope, looking up from the letter, noticed her standing dumbstruck in a spreading crimson puddle. He had gave her a cheerless smile, and then delivered her a stinging slap across the face for menstruating in the presence of the Lord. She had a blurry memory of being hastily escorted away and told to never return.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


    I think you'll agree that it's quite a punchy scene! Btw, the aforementioned Paper Guards met with an untimely end, in that your order have conjured up a Hellhound they employ to guard their convent from unwanted guests. Yeah, I know, super clever idea! If I could get some information regarding those Carmelites of 1792, something that doesn't appear in the histories, I would be most grateful.

    Best Regards,
    Iain



    ... I may have to work on this email a little more. I might ask them if we could offer our book in their online shop.;)
     
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  25. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Lying, dog-faced pony Marine Supporter Contributor

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    You might do better pretending to be the long-lost great-granddaughter of a Carmelite nun.... :)
     
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