Editor's note: Doug Berdie is president of Consumer Review Systems. 

I have experienced a sad decline in the quality of marketing research and other social research practices and data since my initial entry into the field in 1974. Back then, researchers went to great pains to obtain representative samples and to ensure that good response rates were obtained from those samples so that data could be confidently generalized to the populations of interest. Care was taken to extensively pre-test the wording on survey questionnaires and to be certain more objective data from records were accurate, timely and could be clearly interpreted. Some of these practices took time and were expensive but because the decisions to be made based on the data had major financial implications, the extra time and expense to get “good data” were deemed well worth it.

As technology moved forward in great leaps from the late 1980s and up to now, methods to obtain data became cheaper and faster and, hence, were readily adopted. Back in the 1970s and earlier, many governmental organizations and businesses would decide which geographic areas to survey by randomly selecting block samples and, then, randomly selecting households within those blocks, using city directories and other sources to do so. They didn’t stop there, though. They selected random samples of people (usually adults) within those households to constitute the sample. And, finally, great effort was made to obtain data from those exact people, which meant if, for example, a researcher doing in-person interviews knocked on the door of a selected home and a different adult answered the door because the selected one was not home, the researcher would not interview the door-opener but would ask when the selected person would be home so a return visit could be arranged. Time and expenses were allocated to follow-up techniques (in this case, return visits to the home) to ensur...