The Question at Hand

I read of this particular school-administered survey the other morning on one of the news websites which form my morning reading, in lieu of the local newspaper – which I gave up some years ago upon realizing two things; practically every non-local story they printed I had already read on-line through various sources some days before appearing on the (rapidly diminishing) pages of the San Antonio Express News, and when it came to opinion columnists and cartoonists, most of the local offerings were … pathetic. Seriously – when I could read the best and most incisive opinion bloggers like Wretchard at Belmont Club and Victor Davis Hanson – why would I bother to read a dead-tree version of whatever lame establishment national columnist had offered a cheap rate to the SA Express-News?

Anyway, I read about this survey of schoolchildren – an optional survey, according to the linked local story – and completely understand why the parents who are incensed about it all are so incensed. There was once a military-ordained survey touching on similar issues which went around sometime between 1985 and 1990 which excited almost the same degree of distrust and simmering anger. I was stationed at a base in Spain at the time – and while I was not one of those selected by some arcane method to be one of the respondents to the survey, some of my coworkers were – and they were every bit as outraged by the intrusive nature of the questions asked in the survey. If I remember correctly, the survey was intended to pinpoint needs in addressing problems of substance abuse and family violence – but as one of our troops pointed out, honest answers on certain questions meant essentially confessing to an act punishable under the UCMJ. And they did not for a moment believe any promises of confidentiality regarding such answers.

Cynical about the military? Yep, you bet: it was a common saying that the Air Force would take care of you, so never turn your back on it for an instant. Even in the late 1980s we were very aware of how surveys like that one – ostensibly for a benign, even helpful service – could be used to data-mine more than just an idea of trends and needs for social intervention programs. No, we did not trust any promises of confidentiality, and I don’t think we found the stated rationale for the survey to be particularly convincing, either. We were essentially a captive audience for just about any social science researcher with a pet project who could talk a good game to the DOD and ensure cooperation. If memory serves – there was such a ruckus kicked up about this survey that respondents were allowed to skip over the questions they objected to the most.

I’m not the least surprised that parents in Indiana are furious with this survey – especially now that it is sort-of-common knowledge how easily stuff can be deduced about your life from simple things like grocery store receipts. Given the nature of some questions on this present survey, and knowing how intrusive local and federal authorities have become lately when they perceive an action to be in the best interests of society as a whole, I’d reject having anyone in my family participating in this survey.

(Crossposted at The Daily Brief)

9 thoughts on “The Question at Hand”

  1. I’m a small business owner but large enough to have an overseas office. I just got the formal request letter from one of the government data operations that we will be getting a questionnaire on foreign direct investment (and that we are compelled to answer it). I’ve done all sorts of these for 20 plus years and while a nuisance, they were usually routine data stuff. But now with the IRS/administration war on American citizens and companies doing business internationally, I’m a little worried about this. In the past this stuff was used for pure economic analysis on how much international business American companies did (with the base assumption that this is a good thing). Now since the left has taken up the meme that overseas trade is just a way to hide from the tax man here in the USA you get worried. Now maybe the answer’s I give will be a little less clear than in the past.

  2. Exactly, DJG – we just did not have any trust that the answers on the survey would be A) confidential, and that those whose purpose it was to prosecute and punish offences under the UCMJ would not be able to resist the temptation.
    Now, with the IRS, EPA and the rest of the alphabet federal agencies weaponizing and targeting ordinary citizens with attitudes at odds with the Obama administration? You’re darned tooting I’m not going to answer searching questions on official surveys.

  3. I do not trust surveys of any kind. An answering machine screens my calls. Especially during election years, it is interesting how many times a “please respond to this survey” message is left on the machine. Mike Huckaby was particularly interested in knowing my opinions.

    When Bush was still President I got a survey mailed from the Democrat National Committee. It said I had been selected because I was “a leader in the community.” I suspect that it was because I owned my own home. The questions were biased. For example, for a question regarding “When should we leave Iraq,” there was no choice about “When we win.” At the end of the survey, there was a plea to “please contribute.” A year or so later, the DNC once again sent the survey. This time I replied. I doubt I answered all of the questions. I wrote on the survey that the questions were biased, and that while I used to be a Democrat, I long decided I would never again vote for a Democrat.
    No more surveys came in the mail.

    Some government-mandated questions that physicians ask are also intrusive, IIRC.

    I DID answer a telephone survey once. About 30 years ago, someone with a Lon Giland accent asked me questions about household insect pests, which abound in Texas. I gave as many inaccurate questions as possible.

  4. I’ve got a “survey” story for you. My wife works as a contractor for a small business; the employee pool is the owner and my wife. As such, she gets a 1099 rather than a W2, etc. A couple of years ago we get a letter from the IRS at tax time. Just a survey. One of the questions is “estimate the gross income of the employer’s business”. My lawyer said “don’t answer that”. We declined. Four times. They got into a snit, but eventually let it drop.

  5. Act I starts out with some abused child with drug addicted parents failing in school.
    Act II begins when some well meaning official says, What we can we do to find these kids and help them?
    Act III is a survey that asks kids to tell the officials all about their home life.
    Act IV is routine searches and informant networks. To protect the children, I’m sure you understand.

    Anyone opposed to Act IV supports the abuse of children.

  6. “Some government-mandated questions that physicians ask are also intrusive,”

    I was reading 372 pages of medical records from Kaiser today. They were from a kid applying to the military. You have no idea how intrusive those questions are ! Lots of questions about sexual partners when the kid was 14. Seat belt buckled smoking, etc, I didm;t see one about guns in the home but the Academy of Pediatrics mandates them for pediatricians to ask.

  7. ” . . . why would I bother to read a dead-tree version of whatever lame establishment national columnist had offered a cheap rate to the SA Express-News?”

    In order to criticize them. In order to share your understanding of what they are doing wrong with people who know less than you do, or don’t think as clearly as you do.

  8. Sgt. Mom – I understand those limits all too well, and was not criticizing your choices — though it may have seemed that way.

    But I do want to make the general point that it is important that some of us criticize what I usually call our “mainstream” journalists, because the distorted pictures they give our fellow citizens have done so much damage.

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