64th ISI World Statistics Congress - Ottawa, Canada

64th ISI World Statistics Congress - Ottawa, Canada

The Role of Statistics in Nation-Building


Dr Jana Asher


  • JA
    Dr Jana Asher
  • JB
    Mr Jean-Louis Bodin
  • MA
    Margo Anderson
  • DB
    Dan Bouk
  • SS
    Prof. Stephen M. Stigler
  • Category: International Statistical Institute


    For Margo Anderson: Statistics and Nation Building: The American Case

    The discipline of statistics, official statistical systems, and representative democracy grew up together, so to speak. The paper will treat the American case. In the 18th century, the victorious colonists resorted to census taking and public fiscal record keeping as solutions to some of the problems they faced constructing a stable state structure after the American revolution. The “framers,” as they are called, wrote a decennial census into Article 1 of the new Constitution, as a mechanism for assessing the tax responsibilities of and allocating political power among the disparate former colonies, now “states” in the “United States.” They also required a public federal public, and for the President to make a “periodic” – now annual – report to the Congress on the “state of the union” [Article 2]. What we now call the “federal statistical system” has been a function of the American state ever since.

    The paper will explore this history and the implications of what we would call today “data” for understanding and managing democracy and political conflict ever since, and how that grounding also shaped the discipline of statistics.

    For Jean-Louis Bodin: Many nations suddenly came into being at some point in history when they did not exist before or had not existed for some time. It can be difficult to prove in the eyes of the international community that they really exist and that their creation rests on a solid foundation. Very often in these cases, statisticians play a very important role: the production of a large and coherent statistical compendium for these new nations was clearly the proof of the existence of these newly created nations; the statistical system put in place allows the new administrations to achieve their objectives in an efficient and rational way.

    This presentation will illustrate, through famous historical examples from 1830 to the present day, the fundamental role played by statistics during the emergence of new nations or supranational institutions and its importance for the processes of ‘nation building’. When creating these new political decision-making spaces, the need to govern based on reliable, objective, relevant and transparent economic, social and environmental data appears, thus demonstrating the need and interest for governance by data.