Shoot the messenger?

Pogie, over at Intelligent Discontent, has done some excellent spading on the Montana Meth Project. I won’t steal the thunder of that post (go read it, I’ll wait right here), but I know what comes next. Peg Shea, the ever-so-highly-remunerated Executive Director of the project, will belittle our erstwhile blogger!

That’s right – instead of defending against the charges or providing counter arguments, I can predict Shea will come out swinging: Saturation-level marketing with all the scary reasons why we wouldn’t dare believe a single criticism. Like an attack dog, it’ll be snarling, political posturing. Maybe we’ll even get a veritable posse of upset high-schoolers?

That’s the warm Montana welcome that scientist David Erceg-Hurn, of the University of Western Australia, got when he concluded in a peer-reviewed journal article that “there is no evidence that reductions in methamphetamine use in Montana are caused by the advertising campaign.” (Gregg Smith, at Electric City Weblog, has a link to the journal article here).

Initially, all Peg Shea could say was that Erceg-Hurn’s “limited analysis and statements are greatly outnumbered by the positive changes in attitudes detailed in our surveys and third-party research.” Many of us are waiting to see that third-party research published, fully open to scientific scrutiny. We might be waiting a long while.

Then former Montana Meth Project employee (and UM history major) Tony Brockman came out with the following piercing critique: “The report is from Western Australia … We can walk out on Main Street and see the differences here.

And now in a letter to the Missoulian, Peg Shea hisses ,

He has never been to Montana, and has never bothered to sit down with me or anyone else to discuss his research or to ask questions about our data. He and his organization do not respond to calls or letters from researchers about their methodology. Although he presumes to study our young people and to tell our legislators how to spend our money, Erceg-Hurn has spent no time actually speaking with Montana teens.

I suspect that Erceg-Hurn checks his mailbox every day for the $2,000 plane ticket to come over and meet Ms. Shea. However, as a scientist that’s not his first instinct. Instead, he is probably already designing the next study, reading all the prior research, planning the data collection, cranking the analysis, and writing up the next paper for consideration by his scientific peers. I am sure he is eager to see his first paper debated in scientific circles.

I don’t think Shea would have shared her data with a researcher clearly skeptical of the project. I’m not even convinced she has scientifically reputable data to share. Either way, I think Erceg-Hurn’s methodology is obvious enough in his published journal article. It’s not complicated. Maybe it’s not even very good. But Shea probably doesn’t know that. She’s too busy attacking the messenger.

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6 Responses

  1. […] and this one which analyzes the money spent and the efficiency of the project’s successes. Bunk the West then went at the same topic, questing what Montanans are likely to see in the near future from the […]

  2. Thanks for this post – I didn’t know about Peg Shea’s letter until stumbling across your blog.

    I have submitted the following response / letter to the Missoulian…

    Montana Meth Project Executive Director Peg Shea recently attacked a study I conducted that criticized the Meth Project (Missoulian, 13/2). The study was reviewed by independent drug prevention experts prior to being published in a prestigious scientific journal. I examined the Meth Project’s own research reports to try and verify claims the Meth Project has made about its ad campaign being a dramatic success. My study found that there is little evidence the ads are effective, and that the Meth Project has portrayed unremarkable and unflattering research findings as dramatic successes. This has resulted in many people incorrectly believing that the ads are effective. Shea’s letter suggests the Meth Project is unlikely to change how it promotes its ad campaign anytime soon.

    In her letter, Shea criticized the Montana media for covering my study and stated they should examine the facts more closely. Examining the facts closely is exactly what I did in my study, by reviewing every research report released by the Meth Project since 2005. After examining this research, I criticized plans to allocate half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money to fund more Meth Project ads, because there is no proof the ads work. It is in the public’s interest for the media to cover all sides of this debate, rather than simply accepting the Meth Project’s position, especially in such tough economic times.

    I was perplexed that Shea accused me of failing to respond to questions about my study. Numerous Montana residents, including school children, teachers, journalists, bloggers, drug counsellors, researchers and the Governor, have contacted me about my study. I have happily responded to their questions. Peg Shea has never contacted me. The researchers that have contacted me have praised the study, and encouraged me to make policymakers and the wider Montana community aware of its important findings. This is what I have endeavored to do.

  3. […] Bunk in the West, we learn that the highly paid director of the Meth Project Peg Shea, is angry that media would […]

  4. As an addictions counselor with 22 years experience, I remember well when Tom Siebel rolled into MT with his vast wealth saying “meth is a real problem in MT.” I remember well the number of people/agencies that lined up at the trough to lap up some of the dollars involved.

    Problem was, meth use among teens was already in a six year decline. Using state data from 2004, listing primary, secondary and tertiary drugs of choice, alcohol was #1, marijuana was #2 and at a distant #3 was meth in Great Falls.

    Pretty easy to tout success. The ads aren’t even very effective as most teens didn’t believe the ads to begin with. They either knew people who have used or were using meth that didn’t look like the ad characters, so credibility was shot from the get go.
    I’m glad that Mr. Erceg-Hurn took the time to research the MMP and expose the flaws in the “success” that people have been duped into believing.

  5. David, Thank you for your reply. Your openness to questions about your research is admirable, particularly given the time consuming nature of many requests.

    Mike, Thanks to you, too. You are out there working with kids who struggle with addiction and I admire your fortitude. I wonder where prescription drugs factor into the list of drugs of choice? Somehow I doubt that the state would spend so much money to shout to Montanans that we are abusing alcohol and pain killers.

  6. I am glad I am not the only one questioning this “project”. You are treated like a criminal if you even question the tactics. I was told by a teacher that you have to carry a special permission card to sell or promote anti-meth materials. What? It would seem to me that anyone who really wanted to put a dent in this problem would want all the help they could get. The only way we will get answers is to band together and demand real answers and demand accountability for all of these people basking in their imagined successes. Thanks for speaking out.

    -Cathy

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