Survey Chicken

by a literal banana

As a banana who lives among humans, I am naturally interested in humans, and in the social sciences they use to study themselves. This essay is my current response to the Thiel question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” And my answer is that surveys are bullshit.

In the abstract, I think a lot of people would agree with me that surveys are bullshit. What I don’t think is widely known is how much “knowledge” is based on survey evidence, and what poor evidence it makes in the contexts in which it is used. The nutrition study that claims that eating hot chili peppers makes you live longer is based on surveys. The twin study about the heritability of joining a gang or carrying a gun is based on surveys of young people. The economics study claiming that long commutes reduce happiness is based on surveys, as are all studies of happiness, like the one that claims that people without a college degree are much less happy than they were in the 1970s. The study that claims that pornography is a substitute for marriage is based on surveys. That criminology statistic about domestic violence or sexual assault or drug use or the association of crime with personality factors is almost certainly based on surveys. (Violent crime studies and statistics are particularly likely to be based on extremely cursed instruments, especially the Conflict Tactics Scale, the Sexual Experiences Survey, and their descendants.) Medical studies of pain and fatigue rely on surveys. Almost every study of a psychiatric condition is based on surveys, even if an expert interviewer is taking the survey on the subject’s behalf (e.g. the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale). Many studies that purport to be about suicide are actually based on surveys of suicidal thoughts or behaviors. In the field of political science, election polls and elections themselves are surveys. 

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