Europe by numbers
Author: Nico Randeraad

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.

Nico Randeraad

1 The first meeting: Brussels 1853 T he genesis of international statistics was inspired by a desire for reform. At the Great Exhibition of 1851 Adolphe Quetelet, 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

in States and statistics in the nineteenth century
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Nico Randeraad

-takers and the people, which brought with it a range of disruptive influences. Precision was the goal, but tainted information was frequently the result. 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 Adolphe Quetelet was the

in States and statistics in the nineteenth century
Nico Randeraad

4 On waves of passion: London 1860 L ondon was the fountainhead of international statistics. Adolphe Quetelet 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

in States and statistics in the nineteenth century
Nico Randeraad

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, Adolphe Quetelet, 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

in States and statistics in the nineteenth century
Nico Randeraad

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 181 chap8.indd 181 02/12/2009 12:16:26 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, Adolphe Quetelet. He made his final appearance in St Petersburg, where he tried one last time to explain the principles of probability to his most

in States and statistics in the nineteenth century
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Coreen Anne McGuire

scale, which was originally invented by Adolphe Quetelet (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

in Measuring difference, numbering normal
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activities to be carried out by each body. Clearly, Maestri and Castiglioni were swept up in their own enthusiasm and 136 chap6.indd 136 02/12/2009 12:15:27 Florence 1867 consequently failed to see that the more nuanced and detailed their project was, the less viable it became. Experienced congress-goers like Adolphe Quetelet, 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 Engel

in States and statistics in the nineteenth century
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1821. He studied mining engineering and visited factories in France, Britain and Belgium in 1847. During his trip, he met Adolphe Quetelet, 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, Engel

in States and statistics in the nineteenth century