As I was reading about the petition to recall Gail Marshall, I formed a theory. My theory was that many people would sign any petition put in front of them, so long as the title sounded good. So I did an experiment.
I drafted a realistic-looking petition with the title “Petition to Protect Our Beaches.” It consisted of a short paragraph that stated the desire for cleaner beaches and then had a list of items that the undersigned agreed with and supported. The first five or so items were ideas for environmental legislation combined with plenty of meaningless legal jargon. After that, there were three clauses that said any persons who signed this petition believe that the earth is flat, consent to have sexual intercourse with a snowy plover and agree to confiscate property rights from everyone in the county named George.
On Jan. 31, I stood near the Arbor for about four hours. Any questions about the nature or effects of the petition were answered with plausible-sounding lies. Many people immediately said no without stopping to talk to me. Of those who stopped, 175 signed the petition. Only 23 people didn’t sign it because they read the petition thoroughly. This means that about 11.6% of the people who stopped to talk to me read the petition all the way through. If I circulated this petition for a week, or if I had a few friends help me, I don’t doubt that I could get a thousand signatures.
There is a moral to this story. READ EVERYTHING YOU SIGN THOROUGHLY! There are petitions out there worthy of signing, but many are deceiving. This goes for contracts, too. My petition was just a harmless joke, but be warned: This is how the Recall effort got so many signatures. This is how landlords screw their tenants out of money. This is how con artists scam their victims.
David Golden is a senior computer science major.