The popular War Stories column, which presents humorous tales of life in the research trenches, is compiled by Art Shulman, president of Shulman Research in Van Nuys, Calif. If you want to share your own outlandish or otherwise entertaining experiences of research gone just-slightly awry, submit your own War Story today!

Diane Okrent of Do Research tells about a able crafts show focus group. To qualify, respondents had to be interested in crafts. Going around the table, Okrent came to a participant who said, “I’m really not crafty.” Of course, that respondent couldn’t contribute much to the discussion.  

At the end of the group, Okrent asked the respondent to stay while she retrieved her screener. Before she got back, though, the respondent had collected her incentive and disappeared.

The next day, Okrent called the project manager and asked for an explanation of how the unqualified respondent got into the group. After some research, it turned out that the actual respondent had been detained at work and she told her sister-in-law to show up in her place (and make some money).  

Similarly (maybe even worse), a researcher who prefers anonymity reports on a focus group he conducted among cigarette smokers, back when smoking was much more prevalent but starting on its decline. The session was going fine, with many seeming insightful comments. The last portion of the session involved a comparison test where respondents were to light up their current brand, which presumably they brought with them, and then compare it with the client’s new product. 

But when the moderator asked respondents to light their current cigarette, one by one each respondent claimed not to have their cigarettes with them. “I think I left it in my car,” “They’re on my desk at home,” etc.  Finally, everyone confessed.

Turns out none of the respondents smoked. 

Can you believe it? Some focus group respondents o...