Coomber, R. (1997) 'Using the
Internet for Survey Research'
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Received: 3/1/97 Accepted: 19/6/97 Published: 30/6/97
There is no comprehensive list of individuals who use the Internet, nor is there any certainty about how many users log on from any particular node. ... Complications stem not merely from individuals having multiple accounts at various nodes or multiple memberships in various Internet groups (something analogous to having multiple phone lines) but also from the ability of 'lurkers' to read and reply to messages posted for groups to which they may not formally be registered (Fisher et al, 1996: p. 16).
And so, rather than trying to sample individuals 'out there', they decided to target a range of USAENET newsgroups and LISTSERV (email) mailing lists. Within this, they further stratified their samples by selecting obviously political and non-political groups. By sampling from a large enough number of groups of each type (30 or more) they assumed, utilizing the central limit theorem, that their samples would be of a reasonable spread.
2 The term adulterant is used in this paper to refer to substances added to illicit drugs in the process of selling and distribution. Adulterants proper, are in fact other psychoactive drugs (like caffeine, or paracetamol) which are much cheaper than the main substance, have a similar or complimentary effect when mixed with it, and therefore help hide the fact that the substance has been diluted. Substances which are not psychoactive, such as glucose and lactose, are more formally known as 'diluents'. These are added to a drug to increase the amount of drug available to be sold. It should be noted however that some substances which are found in street drugs will be the result of the particular manufacturing process used to make the drug. In this sense those substances might be more properly referred to as 'impurities'. 'Excipients' found in drugs (primarily pills/tablets) are the products used to bind the drug together. Common excipients are starch, gelatin or other gums (ISDD, 1994).
3 Five responses were self-evidently 'spoof' ones. Characteristically, they tended not to finish the questionnaire, apparently getting fed up half-way through and did not attempt to answer the questions sensibly. If any of the 80 responses considered reliable were false responses then these respondents tended to answer the questionnaire in full, with apparently consistent, informed and non- sensational answers. The researchers knowledge about common adulterants and diluents and other aspects of the dealing/cutting process aided in the assessment of how reliable the responses were. All survey research however suffers from the possibility that some returns will be disingenuous. In this case it is felt by this researcher that the 80 considered were reliable. This is partially supported by the similarity of returns to the 31 dealers interviewed in Coomber (1997b) where all were known to be drug dealers.
4 For those interested in a more complete account of this research and the findings see Coomber (1997c) and for a historical account of how and why such beliefs have emerged and are perpetuated, Coomber (1997d).
5 I state 'around' 17 because it is clear from a perusal of the data that many of those who said that they sold only to friends and acquaintances are not reasonably put in the friend-dealer category. For example, it is clear that 'acquaintances' was interpreted very broadly and often essentially meant that drugs were sold to individuals they trusted. Thus whilst these respondents were not selling to anyone who asked them they were also not only selling to friends as it is normally understood.
6 'Surfing the internet' is a colloquial term for people that ride over the electronic waves of the Internet from one destination to another. Basically, it is a way of describing a user of the Internet who is using it fairly indiscriminately. For example, wishing to know more about a particular topic, you can key in a search, be given the option of viewing a number of related Web Sites from which the search may then extend to where you know not useful and useless information being gained on the way as you 'surf'.
7 You could set the storage programme up on the hard disk of desk-top machines but this is of course far less secure (in a range of ways - from disk/file corruption to theft) than having it on a secure server which is regularly backed up as a matter of course. For those who have access, an arrangement with the manager of an institutional server linked to your Web Site would be preferable.
8 It is not essential to set up a questionnaire in this way but it is useful. The software needed to do this is increasingly user-friendly and will continue to become so. At this moment in time, access to help (eg. Computer Services in academic institutions) on setting up the questionnaire and database behind it is recommended.
9 Although this is true, institutions which provide Internet services (including the University of Greenwich server I had the data sent to), do log the address of the host machine although this information is rarely accessed, or used. The trick is to send it via a 'public' host machine, and thus make it impossible to be traced to an individual.
10 I say easily because it can be done through text based WWW client systems like Lynx but this is not terribly straight forward and most users of the Internet are increasingly using Web Browsers like Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer.
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