Dr. Herbert Irving Abelson, formerly Chief Psychologist, Vice President and Director at Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) who served on the Boards of CASRO and AAPOR, died September 9, 2018 in Cary, North Carolina, following complications of dementia. He was 92.
Herb was born January 13, 1926 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and attended Clark University, where he majored in psychology. In 1947, he enrolled as a doctoral student at the University of Maryland and received his Ph.D. in psychology in 1952. During this period, he also spent a year as an instructor in psychology in Germany and in England as part of the University of Maryland European program for the armed forces.
His first full-time job was three years spent at a research facility of the Department of the Army, housed at George Washington University. He directed several studies featuring new procedures for debriefing refugees and escapees from eastern European countries, and he developed tests for selecting personnel for the newly organized Army Special Forces.
Herb moved to Princeton, New Jersey to join Opinion Research Corporation (ORC). What he expected to be a brief learning period in the private sector became his career: applied social and consumer research employing survey methods for companies and government agencies. Herb became one of the key social science researchers during this period to apply principles from the academic social sciences and statistics to the practice of commercial survey research. Companies were only starting to use these methods for non-academic purposes after WWII.
In 1963, Herb was appointed to a National Academy of Sciences study group in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The subject was civil defense in the Cold War, an area in which he had conducted and reported relevant research. The study group included physicists who had worked on atomic weapons during World War II, among other scholars. In 1966, Herb went to Vietnam for CBS News, to organize the first nongovernmental wartime survey of the civilian population of South Vietnam.
In 1969 he resigned from ORC to co-found Response Analysis Corporation (RAC), an applied consumer research firm conducting inquiries for government and not-for-profit agencies as well as for for-profit companies. Of particular importance were several national surveys conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and for the U.S. Department of Energy. These studies utilized new ways of sampling respondents, new interviewing techniques and new procedures for collecting data.
Herb accepted an appointment at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University in 1993. There he spent ten years teaching courses in survey methods and assisting faculty and students whose academic research included surveys. He was active his entire career in the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), serving as President in 1974. In 1995 he was the recipient of the AAPOR Award for “Exceptionally Distinguished Achievement.” He also served as Chairman of the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) in 1982.
Herb is the author of a well-known textbook entitled Persuasion, How Opinions and Attitudes are Changed (Springer, 1959). Persuasion was translated into several languages. A second edition was published with Marvin Karlins (Springer, 1971).
Memorial contributions may be made in memory of Herbert Abelson to McCarter Theater Center, 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540.
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