I am so tired of Native Americans being left out of diversity studies that I did something about it. I questioned it.
Here is what prompted me. I saw a story today in the Wall Street Journal, which said that Twitter has more diverse users than Internet users. I was hoping to find information about Twitter usage of Native Americans, but was disappointed to learn that “diversity” meant “Black, non-Hispanic” and “Hispanic.” The only other categories were “White, non-Hispanic” and “Other, don’t know, refused.”
Let me be clear. I am a huge fan of demographic studies done by such respected organizations as the Pew Research Center. The one cited in the WSJ story was done by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. I wrote to leaders of the project via email and was pleased to get responses, even though they were not the responses I wanted.
In my initial inquiry, I asked whether I could get data on Twitter usage of Native Americans. In addition, I asked for an explanation of why the sample size of Native Americans are considered “too small.” I received this response from Aaron W. Smith, senior researcher at Pew’s Internet and American Life Project:
“[W]hile it may sound like a cliché, you are in fact correct that we do not report on Native Americans as a distinct group due to sample size limitations. To use the example you mentioned, the survey that the WSJ article was based on included a total of 1,801 respondents–but only 19 of those 1801 respondents identified themselves as Native American. That means that any findings we reported for that group would have a margin of error of plus or minus 26 percentage points attached to them, which is obviously far too large a range for us to feel confident reporting those findings. Believe me, we would love to report stand-alone findings for Native Americans (and for the many other relatively small groups that we are currently unable to report on–Jews, Mormons, LGBT individuals, Asian Americans, the list goes on and on). But the unfortunate reality is that reaching those groups in sufficient numbers is very expensive and we have a very finite research budget to work with.”
I was also given a link to an explanation about why the Pew Internet project does not include Asian Americans in its study on technology, which also applies to Native Americans and other small sample-size groups. Click here to read it.
In a subsequent email exchange, I asked what the cost might be to expand the “reach” to include Native Americans in further studies. Here is Aaron Smith’s response:
“And as to cost, I don’t have an exact dollar figure but my understanding is that it’s quite prohibitive. Some of my colleagues examined this question in the past and quickly realized that doing one survey on basic ownership, usage, and adoption metrics with the required number of respondents to report on Native Americans, Asian Americans, and some of the other small-incidence groups I mentioned earlier would effectively exhaust our entire research budget for the year–meaning we wouldn’t be able to do anything on health, privacy attitudes, teens, politics, the role of libraries, or any of the other subjects we cover. It’s possible that we will be able to increase some of that small-group coverage as we potentially move to greater usage of online surveys in the future, but at least for the moment phone polling is our bread and butter for a variety of reasons.”
I appreciate very much Aaron Smith’s quick responses. It’s helpful to know the limitations. Now I want to find out how standard research methods can be improved upon so that it is easier to gather data from groups that are considered small sample-size groups under the current methodology. Any ideas?
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