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Research Ethics

The Earl Survey Research Lab is a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research and is guided by its Code of Professional Ethics and Practices:

Code of Professional Ethics and Practices

We, the members of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, subscribe to the principles expressed in the following code. Our goals are to support sound and ethical practice in the conduct of public opinion research and in the use of such research for policy and decision-making in the public and private sectors, as well as to improve public understanding of opinion research methods and the proper use of opinion research results.

We pledge ourselves to maintain high standards of scientific competence and integrity in conducting, analyzing, and reporting our work in our relations with survey respondents, with our clients, with those who eventually use the research for decision-making purposes, and with the general public. We further pledge ourselves to reject all tasks or assignments that would require activities inconsistent with the principles of this code.

THE CODE

I. Principles of Professional Practice in the Conduct of Our Work

  1. We shall exercise due care in developing research designs and survey instruments, and in collecting, processing, and analyzing data, taking all reasonable steps to assure the reliability and validity of results.
    1. We shall recommend and employ only those tools and methods of analysis which, in our professional judgement, are well suited to the research problem at hand.
    2. We shall not select research tools and methods of analysis because of their capacity to yield misleading conclusions.
    3. We shall not knowingly make interpretations of research results, nor shall we be tacitly permit interpretations that are inconsistent with the data available.
    4. We shall not knowingly imply that interpretations should be accorded greater confidence than the data actually warrant.
  2. We shall describe our methods and findings accurately and in appropriate detail in all research reports, adhering to the standards for minimal disclosure specified in Section III.
  3. If any of our work becomes the subject of a formal investigation of an alleged violation of this Code, undertaken with the approval of the AAPOR Executive Council, we shall provide additional information on the survey in such detail that a fellow survey practitioner would be able to conduct a professional evaluation of the survey.

II. Principles of Professional Responsibility in Our Dealings With People

  1. The Public:
    1. If we become aware of the appearance in public of serious distortions of our research, we shall publicly disclose what is required to correct these distortions, including, as appropriate, a statement to the public media, legislative body, regulatory agency, or other appropriate group, in or before which the distorted findings were presented.
  2. Clients or Sponsors:
    1. When undertaking work for a private client, we shall hold confidential all proprietary information obtained about the client and about the conduct and findings of the research undertaken for the client, except when the dissemination of the information is expressly authorized by the client, or when disclosure becomes necessary under terms of Section I-C or II-A of this Code.
    2. We shall be mindful of the limitations of our techniques and capabilities and shall accept only those research assignments which we can reasonably expect to accomplish within these limitations.
  3. The Profession:
    1. We recognize our responsibility to contribute to the science of public opinion research and to disseminate as freely as possible the ideas and findings which emerge from our research.
    2. We shall not cite our membership in the Association as evidence of professional competence, since the Association does not so certify any persons or organizations.
  4. The Respondent:
    1. We shall strive to avoid the use of practices or methods that may harm, humiliate, or seriously mislead survey respondents.
    2. Unless the respondent waives confidentiality for specified uses, we shall hold as privileged and confidential all information that might identify a respondent with his or her responses. We shall also not disclose or use the names of respondents for non-research purposes unless the respondents grant us permission to do so.

III. Standard for Minimal Disclosure

Good professional practice imposes the obligation upon all public opinion researchers to include, in any report of research results, or to make available when that report is released, certain essential information about how the research was conducted. At a minimum, the following items should be disclosed:

  1. Who sponsored the survey, and who conducted it.
  2. The exact wording of questions asked, including the text of any preceding instruction or explanation to the interviewer or respondents that might reasonably be expected to affect the response.
  3. A definition of the population under study, and a description of the sampling frame used to identify this population.
  4. A description of the sample selection procedure, giving a clear indication of the method by which the respondents were selected by the researcher, or whether the respondents were entirely self-selected.
  5. Size of samples and, if applicable, completion rates and information on eligibility criteria and screening procedures.
  6. A discussion of the precision of the findings, including, if appropriate, estimates of sampling error, and a description of any weighting or estimating procedures used.
  7. Which results are based on parts of the sample, rather than on the total sample.
  8. Method, location, and dates of data collection.

March 1986