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Biom J. 2018 Jan;60(1):155-173. doi: 10.1002/bimj.201700021. Epub 2017 Sep 27.

Multiple sensitive estimation and optimal sample size allocation in the item sum technique.

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Department of Economics, Statistics and Finance, University of Calabria. Via P. Bucci, 87036, Arcavacata di Rende, Italy.
Department of Statistics and Operational Research, University of Granada. Campus Universitario Fuentenueva, 18071, Granada, Spain.


For surveys of sensitive issues in life sciences, statistical procedures can be used to reduce nonresponse and social desirability response bias. Both of these phenomena provoke nonsampling errors that are difficult to deal with and can seriously flaw the validity of the analyses. The item sum technique (IST) is a very recent indirect questioning method derived from the item count technique that seeks to procure more reliable responses on quantitative items than direct questioning while preserving respondents' anonymity. This article addresses two important questions concerning the IST: (i) its implementation when two or more sensitive variables are investigated and efficient estimates of their unknown population means are required; (ii) the determination of the optimal sample size to achieve minimum variance estimates. These aspects are of great relevance for survey practitioners engaged in sensitive research and, to the best of our knowledge, were not studied so far. In this article, theoretical results for multiple estimation and optimal allocation are obtained under a generic sampling design and then particularized to simple random sampling and stratified sampling designs. Theoretical considerations are integrated with a number of simulation studies based on data from two real surveys and conducted to ascertain the efficiency gain derived from optimal allocation in different situations. One of the surveys concerns cannabis consumption among university students. Our findings highlight some methodological advances that can be obtained in life sciences IST surveys when optimal allocation is achieved.


Horvitz-Thompson estimator; complex sampling; indirect questioning methods; sensitive research

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