This book is a history of an illusion. It is also a history of the dream that preceded the illusion. The book discusses statistics as the field of tension between the scientific claims of neutrality and universality on the one hand and the political and economic reality of the conflicting interests of nation-states on the other. The various paths of state- and nation-building that European countries traversed in the nineteenth century are recognisable in the objectives of government statistics and are reflected in the topics selected for statistical study and in the categories used in the research. Each congress was clearly dominated by the specific interests of the country in which the statisticians convened. The book shows in each case how the organisation of government statistics and national concerns influenced the international agenda. It describes the perceptions, goals and dilemmas of the protagonists and their contact with each other, and in so doing unravels the complex relationships between science, government and society, wherever possible from their point of view. The genesis of international statistics was inspired by a desire for reform. Belgium's pioneering role in the European statistical movement was informed both by its liberal polity and the special status of statistics within it, and by Adolphe Quetelet's key position as an intellectual. The consolidation of the Grand Duchy of Baden, a new medium-sized state in the Rhine Confederation and later in the German Confederation, offered great opportunities for the development of official statistics.
The first meeting: Brussels 1853
he genesis of international statistics was inspired by a desire for reform.
At the Great Exhibition of 1851 AdolpheQuetelet, born in Ghent in
1796, recognised that Europe was on the cusp of great economic and scientific breakthroughs. Knowledge about the changes taking place was of primary
importance if the pace of reform and balance in society were to be maintained.
Statistics could provide the information required, but there was no shared body
of knowledge about statistics. In Europe, statisticians did not know how
-takers and the people, which brought with it a range of disruptive influences. Precision was the goal, but tainted information was frequently
Methodical to a fault, most statisticians tried to invent solutions for every
potential problem in advance. The first phase of their dream involved collecting uniform data, by country and, if possible, for all of Europe. They exchanged
information with each other, sharing the results of their research as well as their
ideas about organising the science of statistics and its objects.
The Belgian AdolpheQuetelet was the
On waves of passion: London 1860
ondon was the fountainhead of international statistics. AdolpheQuetelet
enjoyed visiting the British capital. Early in his career he had discovered that
many British thinkers shared his vision of statistics. He had a hand in the establishment of the Statistical Section (Section F) of the British Association for the
Advancement of Science and the Statistical Society of London. In 1851 he chose
the Great Exhibition of London as the stage for launching the European statistical congress. He expected the British to be very
as well as that of major roads, railroads and canals.
While this may have been a useful suggestion, it was not an ingenious idea of a
great scientist (which he clearly thought he was).2
The absence of the peacemaker, AdolpheQuetelet, may be one reason for
Dieterici’s about-face and less-than-conciliatory attitude towards the French.
The great pioneer of European statistics had suffered a stroke in July 1855 and
was too ill to travel. Quetelet was a master at engineering compromises and
striking the right tone. His absence was nearly as palpable as his presence
brief eulogy for Christian David, who had represented Denmark since
1853. Others paid homage to Samuel Brown, Hermann Schwabe, director of the
Berlin statistical bureau, and Edouard Horn, who had only recently returned to
States and statistics in the nineteenth century
Hungary, his home country after roving around Europe.
But the man who was missed most of all was, of course, AdolpheQuetelet.
He made his final appearance in St Petersburg, where he tried one last time
to explain the principles of probability to his most
scale, which was originally invented by AdolpheQuetelet (1796–1874). Quetelet was a mathematician and astronomer who introduced statistical methods to the social sciences. 60 He did pioneering work in what we would now term cross-sectional-style studies of human growth, and developed ‘the Quetelet index’, a formula that estimated whether a person was healthy by dividing their weight by height in metres squared. This method of measuring health was dubbed the ‘Body Mass Index’ by Ancel Keys in 1972. But its ancestor the Quetelet Index was developed and used by
activities to be carried out by each
Clearly, Maestri and Castiglioni were swept up in their own enthusiasm and
consequently failed to see that the more nuanced and detailed their project was,
the less viable it became. Experienced congress-goers like AdolpheQuetelet,
who incidentally said very little in Florence, and Alfred Legoyt immediately
put their finger on the problem: uniform institutions could not be imposed on
states.23 This was a hard-won freedom that the nations of Europe enjoyed. At
He studied mining engineering and visited factories in France, Britain and
Belgium in 1847. During his trip, he met AdolpheQuetelet, who made an indelible impression on him. Engel would refer to the Belgian statistician frequently
in his writings. In 1883 – after his retirement – Engel published a paper on one
of his favourite topics, the economic value of the individual, in which he again
lavished praise on Quetelet as the founding father of the inductive method.3 In
a publication dating from 1895, more than two decades after Quetelet’s death,