DARE Tactics

Jeff Elliott's article on DARE ("Drug Prevention Placebo," Mar.) illustrates a problem that has plagued drug abuse prevention efforts—the tendency to support programs based on how well they fit society's current assumptions about illicit drugs without regard for any evidence on their actual effectiveness. With the current emphasis on policing and increased punitiveness, it is not surprising that a drug education curriculum implemented by police is so popular. As long as a program such as DARE fits popular concepts of what drugs do and why people use them, few will question whether the program really works.

The "boomerang effect" which plagues DARE and many other drug education efforts is the predictable result of their use of what Arnold Trebach has called "prophylactic lies"—exaggerations of drug dangers which are intended to scare kids away from drugs. When they are first told those lies in elementary school, our children believe them and become motivated young drug warriors. But as they grow older, their own experience and that of their friends exposes those lies for what they are. They see that some of the best students in their school smoke marijuana without any sign of brain damage or progression to heroin. They learn that some of their friends use cocaine occasionally without any sign of becoming hopeless addicts. Having discovered that their teachers and parents are liars where drugs are concerned, they can no longer trust anything they have been taught about drugs. This leaves them with little reason not to try drugs.

We need to start paying attention to the need for evaluation of drug education curricula. We also need to start telling the truth in drug education. If we don't, our efforts to solve the problem of drug abuse will only serve to make the problem worse.

David F. Duncan, Dr. P.H.
Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies
Brown University
Providence, RI

The DARE program, like the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and other anti-drug groups, has been censured for telling lies about marijuana. A DARE instructor in Los Angeles was quoted in the Downtown News as saying that marijuana use leads to heroin use—obviously based on the never-proven "gateway" theory. And teachers who have attended DARE sessions have quoted the officer running the session saying, "I can't tell you that smoking pot causes brain damage….But that's what it does."

The DARE program is clearly a menace that seriously misinforms children about drugs and is willing to censor any who oppose them.

Andrew Williams
Rockville, MD

Last fall I told Jeff Elliott I had not yet seen an accurate news account of the Research Triangle Institute's (RTI) study of DARE. Regrettably, that remains true today, even after publication of Mr. Elliott's article.

DARE used my 1987 evaluation to justify its national expansion, but that was a burden my preliminary study was not designed to carry. Contrary to Mr. Elliott's insinuation, I am fully aware of the study's limitations and listed them in my article. Better-funded studies came later. Some show DARE to be effective, some do not.

I object to Mr. Elliott's portrayal of me as the Great Defender of DARE who ignores overwhelming evidence to the contrary and says DARE works. What I do say is that RTI's meta-analysis study has limitations of its own, which RTI wrote about in the American Journal of Public Health but glossed over in an attention-grabbing press release.

Mr. Elliott decries DARE's hamhanded efforts to protect its good name, but all of the actors involved in this story have an agenda: DARE wants to shine. RTI wants news media attention. And Jeff Elliott wants to be the Great Muckraker. Unfortunately, nobody's agenda included an objective search for the truth.

William DeJong, Ph.D.
Department of Health and
Social Behavior
Harvard School of Public Health
Boston, MA

Mr. Elliot responds: While William DeJong's 1987 article does list some of the study's limitations, his colleagues have pointed out much more serious flaws with his research, and further noted that his claims of improvement were exaggerated. Example: Dr. DeJong states that "DARE students reported significantly less use of cigarettes and hard liquor." Only by carefully reading the table is it apparent that the improvement by DARE students was barely measurable. No difference at all was found for use of marijuana, speed, downers, inhalants, or PCP.

Worse, the DeJong study downplayed the "boomerang effect," where DARE seems to have encouraged some of its students to experiment with drugs. When the results were analyzed by gender, DARE boys showed a slight improvement in drug use, knowledge, and attitudes. DARE girls, however, became worse by almost exactly the same degree. But in his discussion, Dr. DeJong emphasized the good news and hid the bad: "Boys who had DARE showed much less substance use, whereas girls displayed few differences between the DARE and NO DARE groups."

At the end of Dr. DeJong's paper he makes a pitch for DARE funding. While he concedes that "DARE represents a major investment," he adds, "Public officials are convinced, however, that this cost is inconsequential when compared to the price their city pays each year in ruined lives and street crime caused by substance abuse…the preliminary results of this short-term evaluation indicate that this investment in Project DARE has a good chance of paying dividends." A footnote even includes an address for DARE to write for further information. Such a naked endorsement makes Dr. DeJong's complaint that "nobody's agenda included an objective search for the truth" all the more interesting.

Movie Time

Charles Oliver, comparing the running times of modern movies to those of older movies ("Epic Burnout," Mar.), did not look up enough older movies to make his conclusions valid. Had he looked up the running times of films from just after WWII, he would have encountered more running times comparable to those that he complains about in today's films.

The running times for such contemporary entertainments as True Lies (138 minutes) compare with those of such 1945-1946 non-epics as Rhapsody in Blue (139 min.), The Jolson Story (128 min.), Mr. Skeffington (146 min.), and Humoresque (125 min.). The lengths of such recent Academy Award winners for Best Picture as Dances With Wolves (181 min.) and Schindler's List (192 min.) compare with the 1946 and 1948 Best Picture winners, Best Years of Our Lives (178 min.) and Hamlet (153 min.), and all four are a half-hour shorter than 1939's Best Picture, Gone With the Wind (222 min.).

Mr. Oliver says that audiences would not miss the alleged "fat" in movies were they to be shorn of 15 minutes, and yet some failed in pre-release screenings precisely because their makers were deprived of the opportunity to properly tell their stories. Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin once wrote of seeing The Godfather before release in a 2 1/2-hour cut that was not as emotionally moving as the release version, which benefited from a half-hour of additions that fleshed out subjects that had previously been unclear or without motivation. James Cameron (director of True Lies) added a half-hour back to his The Abyss for video and theatrical re-release, winning converts from those previously unenthused about his movie. I was astonished to learn what vital scenes had to be excised from the 173-minute version so the title could be booked into theaters as a 145-minute film.

When Mr. Oliver brings up Harry Cohn's remark about a movie being too long when Cohn's butt is tired and argues that today's audiences spend more time than we should at one screening, Mr. Oliver errs again. When an audience sat down to the feature films of the 1930s and 1940s, the main attraction was preceded by a newsreel, a travelogue or filmed band performance, one or more comedy shorts, possibly a cartoon, and the ever-present coming attractions trailers. In many cities, the customer saw a double feature, particularly due to the large assortment of hour-long features made for that purpose (routine westerns, Charlie Chan, the Bowery Boys, and offbeat stories with rising talent). When a single feature approaches the length of a double feature, there's always the possibility of an intermission.

To decide whether a film is too long, one sometimes needs to know what was shot and then unseen—although we can still say that the release version contained elements that were neither necessary nor entertaining.

David Hayes
Los Angeles, CA

Mr. Oliver responds: Mr. Hayes has a point. Randomly looking up a few of my favorite films from various eras and relying upon the subjective impressions of movie critics (no matter how numerous) isn't the most precise way to judge whether films are getting longer. Fortunately, since I wrote my article, I have found that Entertainment Weekly has done a comprehensive survey that confirms my premise: On average films have been getting longer over the years, especially since the 1960s, and today's films are noticeably longer than those of decades past.

When I cited Harry Cohn's remark about his ass getting tired when a film was too long, I wasn't talking about the simple length of time one sits in a theater seat. Rather, I meant that when a film's quality does not match its length, one becomes aware of physical discomforts that one might ignore during a better film.

Mr. Hayes's example of The Godfather says nothing about my contention that today's films often contain quite a bit of fat. Obviously, if the 30 minutes added to that film "fleshed out subjects that had been unclear or without motivation" and made the movie more "emotionally moving," they were not fat.

Indeed, The Godfather actually confirms my central point about the increasing control that artists have over their work having some potential problems. In his recent autobiography, Robert Evans, head of Paramount when The Godfather was made, recounts the problems he had convincing Francis Ford Coppola to make the film longer. Evans also admits that while he and Coppola usually got credit for the movie's success, some of the key scenes were actually the work of the film's editors. (Compare the success of The Godfather, artistically and financially, to that of One From the Heart, a film in which Coppola did have total control.)