I have worked in Social Research for fourteen years. I’ve worked on several types of research studies from medical to institutional. The one thing they all have in common is that all the data is gathered from voluntary subjects and everyone has the right to refuse to participate.
The problem is that more and more people are refusing to participate. They either have a plethora of reasons, or no reason at all. I could blame the media for this, but it’s not their fault. I do blame the scam artists. These are the ones that create some bogus company just to get into someone’s house. Or they tell you they’re not selling anything, then trick you into buying something. The people on the take have made my job, as a researcher, difficult.
The best way to gather good, clean data, is in person. I fly all over the country so I can sit in your living room, or visit your classroom, and ask you questions. I can gauge your responses and probe if I need further information. These are important details and nuance that you just can’t get over the telephone. I also feel the level of honesty is higher when I can make eye contact with my subjects. Honesty in research is key.
I just finished a study and read online that a segment of the population is very upset that the results did not fall in their favor. While I can not elaborate with details, I can tell you this. I’m not at all surprised the results ended up being what they were.
The issue in question was one that had the local populace up in arms and fighting to keep their livelihoods afloat. Their general attitude was volatile and confrontational and I can’t blame them. Many of them were facing financial ruin and this study was aggravating. In the field I faced locals that were very angry, but instead of talking to me and giving their opinion, they shunned me. I was called a bleeding heart liberal and one guy even called me a bitch. I was run off of public property, I was yelled at and I was threatened. Each time I tried my best to remain neutral and to educate them. This was their chance to make their voice heard. Some of them did begrudgingly talk to me, but the majority of this group was openly hostile and suspicious.
So, who did I end up talking to the most? I talked to the people that had the least to lose, the visitors. That’s right! The people that were willing to give me their opinions and answer my questions were the ones that wouldn’t be affected negatively at all if the results of the study fell one way or the other.They didn’t even live there!
Counting and working an algorithm in situations like this means that whoever happens to be within my GPS longitude/latitude coordinates, gets to talk to me.
Throughout my career as a Social Researcher I have been pushed, threatened, yelled at, screamed at and propositioned. I’ve had doors slammed in my face and I’ve had dogs released on me. I was so scared one time that I inched my way out of the situation, ran to my car, drove a bit, pulled over when I felt safe and sobbed with fear. I am always aware of my surroundings and I work smart, but sometimes you just get caught off guard. You have to keep your wits about you and think on your feet and always take care of yourself.
Reading all of the above I’ll bet you’re thinking I must work in some really bad neighborhoods. Well, you’d be wrong. Everything I have experienced in the most negative way has all been rained down on me by Middle Class White Americans, age bracket 35-50 years old. Surprised? Me too. Most MCWA’s have no desire to give their opinions.
So, who do I get most of my data from? Lower income families, different ethnic groups, students and the elderly. These days it’s become difficult to get data from the elderly because their MCWA children have scared them into never answering their door or giving out any information to anyone.
And you know what? The MCWA are the first ones to whinge and complain when policy changes are made that are not in their favor. They are the first to yell “Foul!” when the stoplights go up on their streets or the movie theater closes. They want affordable healthcare, but they don’t want to pay more taxes. They want better schools for their children, but they don’t want to talk about the school curriculum. They want a President they can trust, but they won’t give their opinions on the issues. And did you know that a high percentage of them don’t even vote?
MCWAs say they’re afraid of scams. They’re afraid of identity theft. They don’t like people coming to their door to ask questions. They won’t participate in surveys. They won’t do studies. They call researchers, like myself, solicitors. They don’t want to be on call lists or mailing lists. They like their anonymity and their solitude. They don’t want to be bothered.
It’s okay to be fearful, but be smart too. Your opinion counts. When a researcher knocks on your door, listen to what they have to say. Take down their name, get a website or a toll free number for their office. Call the Better Business Bureau and find out if their research firm is a member in good standing. Did they let you know in advance they’d be coming by? Are your neighbors participating? Do your own homework. If they check out, do the study with them. Make your voice heard.
If you want something to really be afraid of, just wait until the researchers stop knocking on your door.
When that happens we’ll all be living in a very different world.
And no one’s opinions will count then.