Editorial: Drugs – beginning the discussion

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At last: the publication of the infamous Saint drugs survey. Whether you came across it on our Facebook page, on our website or when the president of the Students’ Association decided to email you about it, it probably won’t have escaped your attention.

First, a discussion of providence. The Saint decided to run this survey not to stir up trouble or to enhance our CVs with ‘risqué’ investigations (as one Twitter commenter was kind enough to speculate), but because we feel genuinely concerned about the extent of drug use in St Andrews. We wanted to find out whether our fears were justified, and the simplest way was to ask.

We are not YouGov. We are also not Ipsos, ICM, Gallup, the Pew Research Center or ay other polling organisation. We do not have professional experience in designing and carrying out surveys, and we do not have the resources to ring up most of the town and then weight our results according to demographic data (or to enlist any other techniques that might be expected of a multinational firm). What we do have is a website, an audience and the ability to ask them pertinent questions.

Should that prevent us from trying? Does it make our results “completely unusable”, as Chloe Hill suggests in her comment on our lead article today? We have always made clear the questions we asked and the way we asked them. We have certainly never presented our survey as scientific; anyone can see that it is not. We are aware of the limitations of online polls and we invite our readers to treat our data with all due scepticism.

But also treat with scepticism the other claims being made around the issue of drugs in St Andrews. The University says an “extremely low” number of people seek help from Student Support Services: might that mean that students suffering from problems with drugs are not seeking them out? The police have said drug use is “no cause for concern” in St Andrews, but they also made 135 charges for possession of drugs over the last five years. It is a newspaper’s job not to take anything on faith, and this newspaper encourages its readers to think equally critically.

Our results today suggest that there is cause for concern, with one third of survey respondents saying they have used illegal drugs at least once and 24 per cent of those not using drugs willing to consider them. In many ways, however, the precise results of our survey are not what we should focus on.

Ultimately, all we wish is that our results be treated as the beginning of a discussion. No other such survey has been carried out in St Andrews and it would be foolish to dismiss ours out of hand until more research can be done. Ms Hill and the Students’ Association have been quick to criticise; we would welcome some constructive effort on their part rather than adopt such a blasé attitude.

Drug use can seriously damage the lives of students and so it is the responsibility of the Students’ Association to take it seriously.

Let’s work together on this.

2 COMMENTS

  1. You might not be a multinational firm with access to all their resources, but you do have access to a whole department full of statistics students and staff. Why did you not ask them to at least help remove some of the bias from your data before making bold statements such as “a third of students have taken illegal drugs”.

  2. Can the next article for the saint please include details about the high horse they seem to have acquired? They’re riding it everywhere all over town, and I’d like a ride too.

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