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American Association for Public Opinion Research

AAPOR Finds Gilbert Burnham in Violation of Ethics Code

Press Release - February 4, 2009

AAPOR Finds Gilbert Burnham in Violation of Ethics Code

Wednesday, February 3, 2009 -- The Executive Council of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) announced Tuesday that an 8-month investigation found that Dr. Gilbert Burnham violated the Association's Code of Professional Ethics & Practices.

AAPOR found that Burnham, a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, repeatedly refused to make public essential facts about his research on civilian deaths in Iraq. In particular, the AAPOR inquiry focused on Burnham's publication of results from a survey reported in the October 2006 issue of the journal Lancet. When asked to provide several basic facts about this research, Burnham refused.

AAPOR holds that researchers must disclose, or make available for public disclosure, the wording of questions and other basic methodological details when survey findings are made public. This disclosure is important so that claims made on the basis of survey research findings can be independently evaluated. Section III of the AAPOR Code states: "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."

Mary E. Losch, chair of AAPOR's Standards Committee, noted that AAPOR's investigation of Burnham began in March 2008, after receiving a complaint from a member. According to Losch, "AAPOR formally requested on more than one occasion from Dr. Burnham some basic information about his survey including, for example, the wording of the questions he used, instructions and explanations that were provided to respondents, and a summary of the outcomes for all households selected as potential participants in the survey. Dr. Burnham provided only partial information and explicitly refused to provide complete information about the basic elements of his research.

AAPOR's President, Richard A. Kulka, added "When researchers draw important conclusions and make public statements and arguments based on survey research data, then subsequently refuse to answer even basic questions about how their research was conducted, this violates the fundamental standards of science, seriously undermines open public debate on critical issues, and undermines the credibility of all survey and public opinion research. These concerns have been at the foundation of AAPOR’s standards and professional code throughout our history, and when these principles have clearly been violated, making the public aware of these violations is in integral part of our mission and values as a professional organization."

AAPOR is the leading professional organization of public opinion and survey research professionals in the U.S., with nearly 2,200 members from government agencies, colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, media corporations, and commercial polling firms. It is committed to the principle that public opinion research is essential to a healthy democracy, providing information crucial to informed policymaking and giving voice to the nation’s beliefs, attitudes, desires, and shared experiences. To ensure that public opinion research can continue to play this critical role, AAPOR has a strong interest in protecting and strengthening the credibility of survey research. AAPOR promotes the sound and ethical conduct and use of public opinion research, along with greater public awareness of these standards.

Burnham is not a member of the organization


Richard A. Kulka
Abt Associates Inc.
4620 Creekstone St., Suite 190
Durham, NC 27703
Phone: (919) 294-7710
E-Mail: [email protected]

Standards Chair
Mary Losch
University of Northern Iowa
Center for Social & Behavioral Resources
221 Sabin Hall
Cedar Falls, IA 50614
Phone: (319) 273-2105
E-Mail: [email protected]

Associate Standards Chair
Stephen Blumberg
National Ctr. for Health Statistics, CDC
3311 Toledo Rd., Rm. 2112
Hyattsville, MD 20782
Phone: (301) 458-4107
E-Mail: [email protected]

Kristin Povilonis
Executive Coordinator
Phone: (913) 895-4794
E-Mail: [email protected]