I received a survey link from the Chronicles of Higher Education today. The publication is working on an article. Read for yourself:

The Chronicle of Higher Education is working on an article about how cuts in federal support for scientific research are affecting university labs. We are asking principal investigators like you to tell us if budget pressures have influenced the kinds of research you do, how your lab is staffed, and how you advise young scientists.

They found me – not a university scientist – by blindly combing the PI lists (which I am on because I have received grants as a PI on behalf of the corporations for which I work) for the NSF and NIH:

Your name was among those listed by the National Science Foundation and/or the National Institutes of Health as a principal investigator on an active grant.

So it seems that the demographic they think they are surveying is not the demographic they actually are surveying; at least, some fraction of it is different (because it is quite clear from the opening paragraph and the questions in the survey that they are targeting university professors). One wonders, then, about what to make of the results from the survey. Of course, they probably won’t realize this or wonder about this, so then, one REALLY wonders about what to make of the results of the survey.

And what about the survey…

Here’s the opening paragraph (before any questions begin):

Although it appears that the federal budget agreement for the 2014 fiscal year will mean shallower cuts in the next round of the sequester, federal support for scientific research has been flat or declining for the past 10 years, and the trend is expected to continue. To help The Chronicle understand and write about what those budget pressures mean for academic scientists, please take a few minutes to answer these six short questions.

“shallower cuts”, “flat or declining”, “budget pressures”…does this seem like a survey that is trying to be objective? They’re certainly seeding the minds of the surveyors in a particular way with this intro paragraph.

So what happens when I fill out the survey? Do I fill it out accurately? Do I enter results that are incorrect and intended to support or reject what I believe is the agenda of the group that sent me the survey? That those two preceding questions can even be reasonably asked – regardless of the answers – surely casts doubt on whatever the results of the survey might be. And yet, the survey will happen, it will be published, and people will take the results to Congress and the popular media in an attempt to make some profound point about the state of science funding in the US.

-JD Cross