Survey Research Is Not Scientific Or Empirical

Survey researchers/askers are al the time puffing themselves up by calling themselves “scientists” (e.g., Groves, et al., 2002, xiii), asserting that asking is a “scientific” method, referring to answers as “empirical” and by claiming to “observe”. (e.g., Rainey and Bozeman, 2000). None of this is correct.  Survey researchers are NOT scientists.  Scientists don’t ask (except, now and then, what’s for dinner?); accordingly, asking is NOT a scientific method. Answers are NOT empirical, as that term is used in science. “Empirical”, according to the science, dictionary, definition means data derived from observation or experiments (Barnhart, with Steinmetz, 1986, 191); answers are derived from questions. Moreover, survey researchers do not observe and do not acquire observations; at least not as these terms/concepts are used in science. Whereas scientists observe empirical phenomena, askers only READ or HEAR answers to questions.

I describe in greater detail how askers puff up themselves and push the asking method in my book, The Problem with Survey Research, Chapter 11, “Addicted Askers”.


Barnhart, R. K. with Steinmetz, S. (1986) Hammond Barnhart Dictionary of Science. Maplewood, N.J.: Hammond.

Groves, R. M., et al., eds. (2002) Survey Nonresponse. N.Y.: Wiley.

Rainey, H. G., and Bozeman, B. (2000) “Comparing Public and Private Organizations: Empirical Research and the Power of the A Priori”. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 447-69

About georgebeam

George Beam is an educator and author. The perspectives that inform his interpretations of the topics of this blog–-as well as his other writings and university courses -–are system analysis, behaviorism, and Internet effects. Specific interests include quality management, methodology, and politics. He is Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Administration; Affiliated Faculty, Department of Political Science; and, previously, Head, Department of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
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