American Sociological Association

Case 23. Avoidance of Personal Gain


The president of a small survey research firm, Mike Brown, receives a contract from a local government agency to conduct a survey of the local community to help design a policy on the most effective use of funds used to pay for heating costs of the low income and the older population. Mike has a professional interest in energy-related policies, so he includes three extra questions in the survey (at no cost to the government agency and without telling them) that he planned to analyze for a presentation at a professional meeting.

After the survey was done, Mike used the questions, along with two others collected for local government and some demographic data to prepare the paper. He did not ask the government agency for permission to use the data or allow them to review the paper because he said the data were public and the extra questions he subsidized.


  1.     Did Mike inappropriately use the questions collected in the survey?
  2.     Was it appropriate to add the additional questions without telling the government agency?
  3.     Would it have been acceptable to analyze only the questions he subsidized?  


Mike's decision to add the additional questions would be an attempt to gain at the expense of his client. The startup and design costs for a survey were paid by the client and only a little of costs of data collection were paid by Mike. In addition, he did not ask permission to use the questions that the client paid for, even if they were publicly available data. 

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