Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!
My roommate thinks it’s hilarious to steal test tubes from our university’s chemistry lab and fill them with his bodily fluids. He keeps the test tubes in our fridge. He says he’s saving them to prank someone, but I can’t say anything about how much I hate it because the person he pranks will then be me. I can’t touch them to throw them away because they’re disgusting. So far I just nervously laugh and change the subject whenever he brings them up. Don’t know what to do, and I’m running out of options. — From Jacob
Walt: Buckle up, readers.
Morgan: Oh, my God. Report him. Get a mediator immediately. Jacob needs to go down to the university housing offices as soon as he can.
Walt: I’m still in shock after reading this one.
Morgan: People are terrible.
Walt: I can think of only three or four acceptable reasons to have bodily fluids in the freezer, and “pranking people” isn’t any of them.
Walt: Or four!
Morgan: Don’t even tell me. I just ate breakfast.
Walt: Anyway, barring the possibility that the roommate is lying and the fluids are actually for an embarrassing medical condition, they gotta go. You think the best strategy is to call the housing people? What if they’re in off-campus housing?
Morgan: If they are off-campus, have a sit-down with him and tell him about his problem with the test tubes. But if that anxiety over whether he’s going to get pranked doesn’t go away, start looking for new places. Don’t tell the roommate.
Walt: I think this may be a situation where becoming a fan of fresh, never-frozen foods and continuing to nervously laugh and change the subject is not the worst option!
What if he just threw all the test tubes out? (Bear with me here.) What is the worst thing that could happen?
Morgan: Are you trolling?
Walt: I’m just considering our options here.
When I talked about this internally with a few colleagues, esteemed science reporter Christie Aschwanden suggested getting a test tube of his own and filling it with something yellow and drinkable and then just walking into the room and drinking it. That could make it real enough to end the conversation.
Morgan: Oh, no, absolutely not.
Walt: This guy thinks he’s such a prankster.
Morgan: No. No. No! We are talking about bodily fluids here. It’s too much of a risk! Just talk to the roommate!
Walt: But, realistically, if I think what’s happening is happening, the guy is just keeping a container of clean urine in the freezer so he can pass a drug test after graduation. Which falls under “Walter’s Four Potentially Acceptable Reasons To Keep Bodily Fluids In An Appliance.”
Really, it’s the “not asking first” that is getting to me here.
Morgan: I think this roommate is just weird as hell. Let’s not try to wring reason out of all this. Jacob hasn’t told us if this roommate smokes weed or shoots any type of drug, so it may not even be about a drug test.
Walt: In which case “just throwing them out” violates roommate protocol but not as much as keeping urine in the freezer. So Jacob should just do that if talks break down.
Morgan: But if he does that, I’m worried that roommate might piss in Jacob’s orange juice or something.
Walt: To rip off an old proverb, “The best time to start staying on a friend’s couch is three weeks ago. The second best time is now.”
FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran Aug. 9-12 and received 1,009 responses. We presented respondents with Jacob’s question and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.
Call a mediator if you can.
Sit down and have a talk with this person.
Just throw them out.
Attempt to counter-prank your roommate.
None of the above is good advice.
Morgan: Oh, God. Now I’m nauseous.
Walt: This is not the decisive response in favor of alerting the authorities we were hoping for.
Morgan: Can you REALLY talk to a person like that?
Walt: How negotiable is — at best — urine in the freezer? Can this wild card be reasoned with? I still contend, as do a quarter of respondents, that disposing of the samples is the most expedient route out of this jam.
Morgan: I really think a mediator needs to get involved here. I can’t believe people didn’t think that the most extreme option is justifiable here.
Walt: It seems like a solid majority is in favor of talking regardless of the age; young people were more amenable to phoning in backup:
|SHARE OF RESPONSES BY AGE GROUP|
|Call a mediator||11%||8%||5%||5%|
|Have a talk with this person||46||50||57||56|
|Throw out the fluids||26||27||23||23|
|Counter-prank your roommate||8||3||1||1|
|None of the above is good advice||9||11||14||16|
Morgan: Psh. I am judging these people so hard right now.
Walt: Eight percent of the future leaders of America will roll the dice on counter-pranking the madman. Risky as heck, but, hey, fortune favors the brave.
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