A great deal of the vital information that forms the backbone of the social sciences is collected through surveys. The problem with this is that most of the surveyors are academics, and therefore the surveyees they have ready access to are unrepresentative of the population at large. They are, to use a popular acronym, WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Beyond that, college students tend to be unrepresentative of even the WEIRDos; they are the weirdest of all. Even if it is very hard to imagine surveying many non-WEIRDos at less-than-prohibitve cost, we should strive to find a way to make at the very least a broader cross-section of Americans available to social scientists, somehow.

What if I told you, then, there is a place where millions of Americans from almost every stratum of America’s diverse socioeconomic fabric spend a tremendous amount of time just…waiting? Doing nothing? Simply sitting? That almost any engaging activity proposed to them would sound amazingly appealling right about now?

Well, there is such a place – the Department of Motor Vehicles. Americans rich and poor, old and young, of all colors and faiths spend hours just waiting to renew liscences or take exams. And it is during those long and painful waits that America’s social scientists should shake down that captive audience for all the input they can muster.

So my proposal is – DMVs should generally open their doors, free of charge, to any researcher from any accredited university who would like to conduct a survey of folks waiting at the DMV, obviously still contingent on the individual consent of each subject. I imagine plenty of people, otherwise bored out of their wits, would love to spend that time conversing with a human being, taking a test, whatever. There you go. Free idea, America.

Advertisements