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Title: Statistics as facts about society : the functions of statistics in Britain in the second half of the 20th century.
Author: Ray, Thomas
Awarding Body: Open University
Current Institution: Open University
Date of Award: 1999
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A synopsis; the development of the coordination theory An End-of-Grant Report to the Social Science Research Council of 1983 (item ii in the list of publications) explains that the original research proposal had assumed that the function of statistics was to 'reduce the area of uncertainty in policy making ... by unobtrusively narrowing the area of disagreement' . But the research did not find this starting assumption meaningful. The End-of-Grant Report concluded that the emphasis given to the role of statistics in policy making in the original proposal was misleading. Section 2 of this Covering Paper reinforces this conclusion by indicating the difficulties for government in recognising statistical needs in anticipation of policy developments (revealed by reference to items i. and ii. in the list of publications). Section 2 also qualifies this conclusion in arguing that statistical systems have a policy confirming rather than a policy developing influence. The End-of-Grant Report articulates the coordination theory that the principal function of statistics is to support organizational coordination. Section 3 of this Covering Paper, and two 1984 papers 'Why Have Government Statistics?' and 'Statistical Information Systems and Management' (items vi and vii) express the coordination theory. The coordination theory aims to cover intra- as well as inter-organizational uses, and non-government as well as official statistics. Sections 4 to 9 explore the application of the coordination theory. Section 4 (supported by item vii) indicates how the coordination theory helps to identify variations in the situations, and variations in the likely consequences, in which performance indicators are used. This variation casts doubt on the justification for the current popularity of performance indicators. The coordination theory suggests that, rather than raise standards, the use of performance indicators may result in conformity and the derogation of unmeasured aspects of performance. Section 5 (supported by items v, vi, vii and ix) discusses the implications of the coordination theory for the use of statistics within organizations. Application of the ccordination theory (a) contradicts the widely held belief that hierarchical structures can be justified in terms of information flows, (b) shows how the influence of statistical information poses questions about the significance of organizational boundaries, and (c) points to the advantages of statistical information systems that achieve credibility because they are seen as independent of 'management'. Section 6, supported mainly by the paper 'Statistics as Organizational Products' (item xii), explains how the coordination functions determine the categorisations used in economic statistics and how these categorisations invalidate economic statistics as measures of economic welfare. Section 6 points out that statistics of 'real' income depend upon price indexes that are blind to this invalidation. But the importance of the coordination functions of economic and price indexes augments their influence, inhibits discussion of their limitations and hinders development of alternatives. Section 7 (supported by xi, xii through to xvi, xxi and xxii) reports on recent publications on unemployment conducted on the basis of research informed by the coordination theory. Most of these publications focus on the strengths and limitations of the Count of Claimants and the LFS unemployment series. The 1998 paper 'How enlarged Travel to Work Areas conceal inner city unemployment' (item xv) focuses on the misleading nature of the main statistical series for unemployment for local areas. The part-chapter for the Kerrison and McFarlane book (item xxii) includes an update of the TTW A paper with reference to the deceptiveness involved with the publication of workforce unemployment statistics for local authority areas. Section 8 examines the implications of the coordination theory for the organization of government statistics. Section 8 discusses the 'Integrity of Statistics or Integrity of Statisticians?' article (item xviii) that argues that the emphasis on the integrity of statistics in the 1998 Green Paper is misleading. The article proposes recognition of the role of statisticians as public servants with responsibilities to society over that of civil servants with responsibilities limited to the government of the day. Two seminar papers (items xix and xx) argue that the problems identified by the Green paper are attributable to the drive to integrity among statisticians that distances them from statistics about society. The second seminar papers discussed in Section 8 ('Professional Barriers to Interdisciplinary Activity' item xx) points to the neglect of statistics about society by the social sciences. Section 9, based on the 1996 paper 'Statistics as Organizational Products' (item xii), argues for the importance for the social sciences of examination of the unwitting evidence given by statistical systems - both for evaluation of the witting evidence given by the statistics, and for understanding the influence of statistical systems on society. The coordination theory, in helping to reveal the motivations, assumptions, and functions associated with statistical systems, illuminates such examination.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available