It’s beginning to look as if the troll that’s been harassing a number of blogs for the last 4 months or so has finally been banished, thanks to the dogged detective work of one or two bloggers. My thanks go to them. Since there seems to have been no sign of the troll for a couple of weeks now, I’m relaxing my defences. It’s no longer going to be necessary to log in before posting a comment. I’m reverting to my old practice of just asking for name and email. The comment will appear immediately. I know that a number of people will be pleased to hear this. If the troll re-appears, I’ll revert to log-in mode again.
Apart from that, I’ve been thinking about a question that Lecroix Kwdjer asked yesterday:
I wish someone, some group, would commit to an unbiased study on the issue. How many of us feel a smoking ban has been an earthquake-like social event? How many feel there was a clear before and a clear after? Who could do such research without fear of retaliation from antis or other interest groups?
The issue was smokers’ responses to the smoking ban, highlighted by Simon Clark’s question a day or so back, which elicited a strong response.
What I was wondering was whether we could use the power of the internet to carry out such a study ourselves. I was thinking of drawing up a standard set of questions to ask smokers. Once the questions had been decided (e.g. Do you think the smoking ban is a) wonderful? b) tolerable? c) awful? ), readers of this blog (and maybe other blogs) would print out the questionnaire, and take it with them when they went out, and would ask smokers they encountered if they would care to answer a few questions in a survey about smoking bans, and if they agreed, ask them the standard set of questions, and note their responses (or let them read and fill in the questionnaire themselves).
If 10 or 20 of my readers agreed to do this, and each gathered 20 smokers’ responses, that would provide between 200 and 400 survey responses. If more did, it would be an even larger number. After some period of time – e.g. 2 or 3 months -, these responses would be entered into an email, and sent to me or to whoever was going to process the results. And then they’d be published on my blog or somewhere else, perhaps accompanied by a bit of interpretation.
The merit of the idea is that it uses the internet to get pollsters, and these pollsters would be scattered all over England, and all over the world. And it wouldn’t cost anything. So Lecroix Kwdjer, if he wanted to join in, would get results in Spain, and people living in New York would get New York smokers’ responses, and I would get responses in the West of England where I live, and so on.
I got a bit over 900 hits on my blog today, so I’m reaching quite a few people. It doesn’t seem at all implausible to find 20 or 30 people in that 900 who would be prepared to carry out a survey. And if other blogs could be got to broadcast the questionnaire, maybe a few more could be found.
It’s a survey that I’d be quite happy to do. I quite often get chatting to smokers outside pubs, and I reckon that, after chatting to them a bit, I could bring up the survey as a topic of conversation. And even if I hadn’t got chatting to them, I might feel brave enough to just go and ask them anyway (particularly if I’d already had a pint or two!).
And I wouldn’t see it as a ‘job’. I’d just opportunistically ask smokers as I encountered them. I wouldn’t go looking for them necessarily. And I wouldn’t have a quota.
Some days maybe I’d not encounter any smokers at all, and on another day I might encounter three or four simultaneously.
At the end of the survey period, I’d tap all the results into the computer to send to whoever was going to process it all (perhaps myself).
At the end of it all, some people might have done many more surveys than others (perhaps because they lived in cities). Some might have done none at all (because something had happened to them preventing them). But it wouldn’t matter if one person sent in 30 results, and someone else sent in only 1 or 2. It would all add up.
Furthermore, the higher the number of participants, the less likelihood there would be of bias. And the higher the number of participants, the greater the number of smokers surveyed, and the statistical significance of the survey.
And then, when it was all done, and it had been written up, it could be offered to the BBC or newspapers or (slightly tongue in cheek here) the Tobacco Control journal.
Anyway, I’ve been toying with this idea today, and I can’t see anything obviously wrong with it. I think that clearly a standard set of questions would have to be agreed. And also a set of allowed responses. And maybe a printed format. I think that if non-UK participants were recruited, they’d have to be from countries/cities with a similar smoking ban. Pollsters would have to provide information about the nature of the bans where they lived.
And the survey would be as much for our benefit as anybody else’s. We’d get to find out what most smokers think (which is what I want to know, and I’m sure Lecroix Kwdjer wants to know too).
And it would be a piece of Citizen Science. And it would beat ASH and Tobacco Control at their own game.
Anyway, I invite comments and suggestions and advice. What would be a good set of questions? And an appropriate set of answers? Should written or spoken comments be allowed? Should only smokers be asked? How is a smoker to be identified? You may have some questions of your own.
Would you like to help carry out such a survey?
And you don’t have to log in to comment now!