In 1945, Leo Crespi wrote “The prevalence of so-called ‘cheating’ by interviewers in the process of obtaining public opinion and market research data has become an increasingly grave concern to responsible opinion researchers” (Crespi 1945). He could have said essentially the same today of all personal interview surveys, though the causes are much more complex now.
The forms of survey data fabrication we are now facing are also more diverse, and in some cases more insidious than individual interviewers sitting on the proverbial curbstone and making up survey responses. Bottom line, Crespi’s charge from 70 years ago remains pertinent.
“Any precise figures upon the incidence of fabrication are, in the nature of the case, difficult to obtain. But it is no secret that the prevalence and amount has been in many instances far from negligible, and it is widely agreed that the problem must be solved if the opinion research technique is to preserve its status as a reliable tool of inquiry.” ( Crespi 1945).
To explore Crispi’s conviction further, an international conference was held earlier this year at NORC’s offices in Bethesda, MD, bringing together researchers working on survey data fabrication issues in various capacities from around the world. The NORC conference was the fifth in a series of NORC events over the preceding 15 months. References, recordings, and websites for the papers and presentations from these five sessions can be found in the September issue of the IAOS Journal.
The resulting papers, presentations, and conferences have moved the conversation forward in some important ways, both in terms of technical advancements, and in creating a community of like-minded professionals focused anew on fabrication threats.
In this sense, the conferences and sessions have been enormously beneficial, since the literature on fabrication remains underdeveloped relative to the seriousness of the problem. Some instances of apparent data fabrication have never been covered in the literature or dissected for the technical information on fabrication that may be available. ________________________________________