Language, Drugs, and (Questionable) Science

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that the English language was something that I spent a lot of time working at before I got where I am today.  It was a lot of work and due to this huge effort; I am in some ways hyper-vigilant to wording.

Below is a picture I took while on the Metra in the middle of 2014.

image of vector study participants

In case you can’t see it:

3 out of 5 teens agree that teenagers who use marijuana are more likely to try heroin.  (In small print: Based on a recent online survey of U.S. teenagers conducted by Wakefield Research…

Now, do you see the problem with this?  Let me explain, in case you don’t feel like raising your hand.

The key word is ‘agree.’  This is research about an opinion; it is in no way about facts but might actually present as facts.  There are two problems with this.

1) Who or what do the teenagers agree with?

Is it other teenagers?  Is it Wakefield Research?  At the beginning of this survey some statement was made to the participants, what was the statement?  Was Likert used?

2) Who cares if they agree?

It doesn’t in any way say that these dope smoking teens are using heroin, just that 60% of teenagers feel that they do.  But even further, it isn’t the individual responding who admits this; they’re just admitting it about other teens.  It’s confirming what their internal stereotype is.  Which is influenced by many things which aren’t based in reality.

When you look at this statement, I can’t help but laugh.

I have to wonder, though, is this intentionally misleading?  Or just poor research.  I don’t know if I can totally say one way or the other but do you know how we can find out?  Find the paper!  Put on pants people, we’re going out.

Some time later…

Well, I did some google-fu and found out that Wakefield conducted an online survey of 400 students and the Rosecrance group/institute paid for it.  Rosecrance is a treatment center for teens / drugs.  Ah, well that explains things.  I couldn’t find the true source of the statistics though.  In a situation such as this, where the results are given but the underlying data is not, it can be easy to assume it is hiding something or working towards a specific agenda.  It is more common to see news articles today about how this Corporate Funded research totally shows that their product is the best.  It removes the impartiality of the situation and causes me to distrust anything they say.

But this is just me.

Here is the text of what I did find though.

The online study, conducted by Wakefield Research among 400 US teenagers ages 13-17, found that:

  • Seventy-six (76) percent of teens believe that with the legalization of marijuana, teenagers may be more likely to experiment with the drug
  • Seventy-three (73) percent of teenagers believe having easier access to marijuana may accelerate teens in trying other drugs
  • Sixty-one (61) percent of teens said that teenagers who use marijuana are more likely to try heroin, a potentially fatal drug

As a side note… the third statistic made me think of ‘DiHydrogen Monoxide poisoning.’  A potentially fatal substance.  Click here for the joke.


Even delving into this detailed examination of advert, I am still confused.  I still don’t know the purpose of it.  Assuming that there was no intentional misleading (excluding Scenario 5), what was the point of it?

Scenario 1: To warn parents of what their kids might be doing?

Scenario 2: To advocate their services?

Scenario 3: The title of the paper makes the case that this is a potential downward spiral if Marijuana is legalized, is this an attempt to fight back against it?

Scenario 4: Is it hoping to rely on some underlying bias we have towards drugs use?

Scenario 5: That the wording was such so they could trick people reading it, that teens who do pot will, 60% of the time, graduate to heroin.  And we need to protect our children.


There is just so little there, there is no call to action or punchline.  I have my feelings on this, share yours if you want otherwise have a great day!

Disclosure:  I don’t know how it is for anyone else but I know that where I grew up, everyone knew someone who died from an overdose or drug related issue.  I don’t want this piece to seem like I am advocating against outreach programs or the health of teens.  I care deeply for this subject matter and it pains me for families and friends to go through the damage drugs can cause.  I just distrust this vagueness.

Follow-up:  As of today, March 9th, 2016, I have received no response to either of my inquiries for additional information about the study.  The PR person never responded.  I, also, contacted someone at Rosecrance who replied and asked what my intended use of the information was and never responded thereafter.

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