RSS sections and groups meeting reports

History of Statistics section: The origins of national statistical systems

Written by Cecilia Lanata Briones on . Posted in Sections and local group meeting reports

A meeting titled: 'The origins of national statistical systems: across national history of Argentina, Canada, France and Mexico' meeting took place on 14 September 2018 at the Royal Statistical Society in London. Four country presentations occurred followed by a rapporteur. There was a change in the programme as the speaker who was planned to elaborate the Mexican case study was unavailable. Thus, there was an impromptu presentation on the UK’s official statistics.

Claudia Daniel from the Universidad de Buenos Aires and Centro de Investigaciones Sociales, (CIS-CONICET/IDES) (Argentina) explained the origins of the Argentine statistical system, focusing on the period 1880s-1910s, when the statistical apparatus was formed and configured. She particularly focused on the descentralised characteristics of that system, by talking about the different statistical agencies. She also commented upon the development of population censuses and the role of statisticians like Francisco Latzina.

Jean-Guy Prévost from the Department of Political Science, Université du Québec à Montréal (Canada) presented the Canadian case by focusing on three periods: 1866-1942, 1945-1985, and 1985 onwards. He discussed the role of Joseph-Charles Taché, Robert Hamilton Coats, Nathan Keyfitz, Simon A Goldberg and Ivan Fellegi as well as the development in legislation and enquiries. He placed particular emphasis on the relevance of sampling.

Béatrice Touchelay from the Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion, Université de Lille (France) spoke about the French statistical system. She explained the institutionalisation of French statistics in three stages. First, the role of the General Statistics of France as a laboratory (1833-1941); the change of scale that relates to the demographical service and SNS (1940-1946); and the times of the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (INSEE) (1946 - ...).  

Mike Hughes, RSS fellow and member of the National Statistics Advisory Group, discussed the UK’s official statistics system. He began by explaining that although statistics branches had existed in some departments for many years, the genesis of a coordinated system lay in the creation of the Central Statistical Office in 1941 to aid the war effort. He then mapped out events leading up to the Statistics and Registration Service Act and UK Statistics Authority of 2008. He focused on events like the creation of the Government Statistical Service in 1968, the Rayner Review in 1980, the creation of the ONS in 1996 and the launch of ‘National Statistics’ system and Statistics Commission in 2000. In his explanation he emphasised the relative youth of the UK system compared to the other countries.

Finally, Jean-Pierre Beaud from the Department of Political Science, Université du Québec à Montréal (Canada) provided a synthesis and commented on the differences and similarities concerning the evolution of the four case studies. He emphasised on the tensions between de-centralisation and centralisation within statistical systems. He also mentioned the need to consider the specificities of country trajectories despite the search for generalisations. In that instance he highlighted the works of Alain Desrosières, which he considered crucial for the discipline named socio-history of quantification.   

History of Statistics Section

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