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The Trouble with Surveys

Thomas L. Wayburn, PhD, Executive Director


These share all of the difficulties of other surveys besides being an incredible imposition upon the person who is called. How does the surveyist know that the respondent is not an insomniac who has gotten to sleep after three days of torture followed by a remedy that has a window of opportunity to act of five minutes, say, after which arousal means more insomnia! How does the surveyist know that the respondent (the person answering the call) is not the type of person who cannot resist answering his phone because each call may be the golden opportunity that knocks but once (or because of a compulsive curiosity about who is calling him); so, even though he is on the point of the greatest orgasm of his life, he stops everything and picks up the devil's invention, the telephone! (Sometimes I think the devil invented the computer too, and I am a computer expert. But, this is only a metaphor.) Stephen Klineberg, who conducts the Houston Area Survey out of the "prestigious" Rice University, calls numbers at random, so even those with unlisted numbers are not spared. All of this is reprehensible behavior. But, don't worry, they'll get theirs.


These are usually worse than worthless besides the trouble they cause. Of course, only idiots answer them, so the opinions reflect those of the stupidest people in society, of which the surveyist should be aware. In general (I mean without exception), they are invalid for the purposes for which they pretend to be intended. Usually, however, the last question is "Will you send us money?", so we understand their true purpose. They are just another disgusting sales gimmick.

Let me illustrate with a survey I received from the Drug Policy Foundation (DPF) only today. Basically, I favor their cause, although they are extremely conservative in their demands and have no philosophy worth mentioning. Presumably, their real purpose is to make their leaders famous. (In America, you are famous or you are no one.)

Question 1. Some people believe that heroin and marijuana should be available to citizens suffering from painful and often terminal diseases. Should doctors be allowed to prescribe such drugs in treating the pain and suffering of cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other diseases?

Yes. Sick people deserve to have whatever medicine is available.

No. Allowing sick people to have these drugs sends the wrong message to the general public.

Commentary. If I answer yes, it means I accept the medical monopoly on the distribution of drugs. I can't answer no; that would be unconscionable.

Question 2. The world honors the United States as a country that respects its citizens and their rights of privacy. Some people perceive that the search, seizure and testing for drugs is undermining this American tradition. Do you agree?

Yes. The individual rights of our citizens are our most important priority.

No. Drugs are so dangerous we may need to sacrifice some of our rights.

Commentary. I could answer with a yes; however, a yes seems to indicate that I agree that the world does indeed honor the U.S. as a country that respects etc. First, the world does not honor; and, second, this is not a country that respects ... But, suppose I were concerned about right-wing militias and I approved of the BATF raids on their headquarters. This is not the case, but suppose it were. I don't want just not to be searched for drugs, I want equal rights for drug users - in employment, housing, education, ... everything AND copious reparations for the suffering I've had to endure because of these draconian, immoral, and irrational laws.

Question 3. We spend over $20 billion each year on drug law enforcement - over two-thirds of the total drug control budget. Should other methods such as treatment programs and drug education be allocated a higher percentage of that budget?

Yes. Our tax money would be more effectively spent funding treatment and prevention programs.

No. We should continue funding punitive measures of drug enforcement and build more jails.

Commentary. If I answer yes, I indicate approval of treatment and prevention programs, which I thoroughly discredited, along with some others, at the 1990 Drug Policy Foundation. (Nevertheless, the foundation dishonestly persists in its invalid policies - regardless of the outcome of the debates at that meeting. The DPF has no intellectual integrity.) If I answer no, I appear to support law enforcement, and I don't even approve of the enforcement of the law against murder! In fact, I know who killed one of my best friends and the police will never find out from me. Never, but never, go to the police. If you must, handle it yourself.

Question 4. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of all AIDS cases started at the point of a contaminated syringe shared between drug users. Should we take action to prevent the spread of this deadly disease by allowing IV drug users to exchange used syringes for sterile ones at approved outlets?

Yes. Preventing the spread of AIDS is more important than a policy of zero drug tolerance of drug users.

No. Providing IV drug users with sterile syringes sends the wrong message.

Commentary. If I answer yes, I appear to approve of control of some kind over the sale of syringes, which I don't. The no answer is ridiculous and extremely cruel. In fact, the "wrong" answers are purposely exaggerated to make the "sucker" more willing to answer the crucial seventh question "right".

Question 5. Drug-related theft, violence and turf wars bring danger to our streets and harm many innocent people, including our children. How do you think we should deal with this growing problem?

By taking the profits away through the decriminalization or legalization of some or all drugs.

By being tougher with enforcement and doing whatever it takes to get drugs out of our country.

By developing new methods of control, education and treatment.

Commentary. All three answers are unacceptable. If you can sell anything for profit, you can sell drugs. Actually, though, it's immoral to sell anything or, for that matter, to accept a return for anything one does, gives, or says, but one has to understand my entire philosophy to understand that.

Question 6. The most important policy for the Drug Policy Foundation to work towards is (check one):

Making clean needles available to prevent the spread of AIDS and other blood-borne diseases.

Making drugs like marijuana and opiates available to the seriously ill.

Decriminalizing drug use.

Protecting individual rights of Americans.

Commentary. None of the above. The DPF should adopt my policies for drug reform, which includes working to eliminate capitalism and the profit motive and overthrowing the government. Anything less is like pissing in the wind.

Question 7. Will you support the Drug Policy Foundation's efforts to mobilize the American people and the Federal government to examine alternative solutions to the drug crisis?

Yes. Enclosed is my tax-deductible contribution of:

$200 $150 $100 $75 $50* $35 $25 _______ Other

(Please make your check payable to The Drug Policy Foundation.)

No. I can't give my support to DPF at this time. However, I am completing my 1995 Drug Policy Survey and have enclosed a gift of $12.50 to help with the processing.

Commentary. What about the possibility of sending what I can afford to send: a sincere criticism of the DPF's policy. Why would not this be worth a fortune to a person who wishes not to persist in error! An honest person would state at the outset that this is an appeal for money, presumably to make Arnold Trebach and Kevin Zeese as famous as they can arrange to become. It's like the joke about the carpenter who was informed about a good deed done by another carpenter. "If he did it," quoth the first carpenter, "he did it to get his name up." I am the outstanding thinker in drug policy of whom I am aware and I read the two proceedings of the DPF symposia that I attended from cover to cover. (I don't say this out of egotism; it's a plain statement of fact.) Yet, I have never received any recognition from Arnold, Kevin, or anyone in the DPF. They are too busy looking out for themselves. Meanwhile, mediocre individuals receive awards because the DPF gains more from giving the award than the recipient does from getting it. Don't worry, I don't bother with that. I don't accept awards. I have written a short essay proving conclusively that they are harmful and a significant part of THE problem and, therefore, a significant part of the drug problem.


Typically, when the results of one of these surveys is published, it comes with a margin of error. Frankly, I don't know how this calculation is made - perhaps by partitioning the data. The point is that the margin of error could be 100% because everyone may give Answer A when they really mean Answer B. It cannot be known how effective these polls are and my guess is that they are considerably over-rated. In any case, they are a public nuisance with few if any redeeming features in the vast majority of cases. Moreover, I do not consider surveying to be a qualified scholarly endeavor. In particular, college professors should not be able to get away with calling it research.

Houston, Texas

October 14, 1995

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