[OPE] Philosophical development of graduate students today

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sun Aug 30 2009 - 05:44:32 EDT


I do not want to discourage anybody from doing a survey - new data can
demolish prejudices or distorted views we had - it is just that in my

- even otherwise intelligent people demonstrably fail to understand the
appropriate "means and ends" of a statistical survey
- many people nowadays find demands for participation in statistical surveys
"too intrusive"
- lack of good professional ethics in the use of confidential information,
by a certain group of surveyors, spoils the surveying opportunities for bona
fide researchers.

In New Zealand where I worked until 1994, it is mandatory or good practice,
that for each social and economic survey questionnaire administered, the
respondent is appropriately informed "what the data will be used for" and
under what authority it is collected, and that confidentiality of
information is explicitly guaranteed ("Confidentiality policy"). New Zealand
government surveying is subject to three main statutes:

- Statistics Act 1975
- Official Information Act 1982
- Privacy Act 1993

Here in Europe and in the US, I found that surveying agencies more often
take a rather "cavalier" approach to surveys, which is sometimes criminal
and corrupt, because of one or more of the following main kinds of reasons:

- survey questionnaires and official forms are typically badly designed from
a scientific and practical point of view, creating a high response burden
and low data quality
- questionnaires are not administered, enumerated and processed in a uniform
- the surveyor cannot provide proof of identity to the respondent, and does
not offer an option of being informed about the results
- those administering the survey to respondents are not appropriately
trained for contact with respondents
- respondents are not informed that a survey is being taken, or not
appropriately informed what the data will be used for, and under what
authority it is collected
- survey results are, in reality, used for purposes - such as political
purposes - quite different from those stated to the respondent
- "confidential" information is "farmed out" formally to various contracting
parties other than the surveying entity, without respondent's permission, or
"informally" distributed to third parties.

In the EU, there exists no generally applied or legally defined code of
ethics for statistical surveys, although there are some steps in that
direction, see e.g.
http://www.respectproject.org/ethics/ At most, different branches of the
survey industry have their own professional codes; breaches of information
ethics can be contested under an amalgam of different statutes depending on
the case. In the US, you have for example CASRO

It remains a very "messy" area, both because (1) rich academic consultants
creaming off rich helpings of tax money in truth lack the multi-disciplinary
and practical skills and experience to understand what is really involved,
so that you get absurd rule-making schemes which cannot be applied and
therefore aren't applied, and (2) governments can always find a way to
intrude on your privacy, and if you do not defend yourself against that,
they think you consent to it.

If you want to dip into the sociology of all this, Pierre Bourdieu among
others has some interesting insights to offer, see e.g. Loic Wacquant (ed.),
Pierre Bourdieu and democratic politics. Polity Press, 2005.
One of Bourdieu's earliest articles on "The manufacture of opinion" was
published in the two-volume anthology "Communication and Class Struggle" by
Seth Siegelaub/Armand Mattelart (eds.), International General, 1979, which
is hard to get now.


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