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In her review of my book No Illusions: The Voices of Russia’s Future Leaders, Sarah Mendelson (“Generation Putin,” January/February 2015) wrongly criticizes my research methods. She writes that random-sample surveys would have added more information to the focus groups of Russian students on which I based my book. But as any social scientist will tell you, mass surveys might tell you what people think, but focus groups are much better at revealing why they think it. My research for the book was about a particular group of young elite Russians, the country’s likely future leaders, not average Russians; the latter may be suited to mass surveys, but the former are not. For data about opinions and attitudes that are representative of all of Russia, readers can—and should—look elsewhere.
Mendelson also expresses surprise that I did not follow up with my subjects to gauge their reactions to current events in Russia. But this would have been impossible. As the focus groups maintained the strictest confidentiality, I had no access to the students’ contact information. Beyond the aliases they used in the sessions, I do not even know their names. Such confidentiality is the norm in research concerning human subjects, and it undoubtedly contributed to the startling candor with which the students spoke to one another. Indeed, the groups talked animatedly, with no break, for two hours straight. As a scholar, I chose to employ the most solid instruments of research for credibility and utility.
ELLEN MICKIEWICZ James R. Shepley Emeritus Professor of Public Policy, Duke University