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Title: The scientific rationality of early statistics, 1833-1877
Author: Okazawa, Yasuhiro
ISNI:       0000 0004 7660 8469
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis examines the activities of the Statistical Society of London (SSL) and its contribution to early statistics-conceived as the science of humans in society-in Britain. The SSL as a collective entity played a crucial role in the formation of early statistics, as statisticians envisaged early statistics as a collaborative scientific project and prompted large-scale observation, which required cooperation among numerous statistical observers. The first three chapters discuss how the SSL shaped the concepts, practices, and institutions of statistical data production. The SSL demonstrated how the use of a hierarchical division of labour and blank form minimised observers' leeway to exercise individual observational skills and ensured uniformity in the production of statistical facts. This arrangement effectively depreciated first-hand observation in statistics and allowed statisticians to rely on the statistical facts collected by other people. It prompted the SSL to launch the Journal of the Statistical Society of London to serve as a virtual storage of observed facts where one could share their data for further aggregation and retrieve that of others for their analysis. The statisticians also engaged in contemporaneous discussion on the best mode of a statistical office with a view towards producing complete and internationally comparable statistical facts. The SSL's endorsement of the Belgian Central Statistical Commission model and the International Statistical Congress was intended to support the introduction of uniformity into statistical data at both the national and international levels. The last two chapters of this thesis discuss how the SSL's activities contributed to the historical formation of human sciences and the emergence of social scientists. Statisticians demanded the recognition of a scientific field which, independent from natural science, studied people as social beings and whose discourses moulded the treatment of the people they studied. The SSL's activities helped statisticians not only establish their scientific expertise but also develop their unique scientific ethos. Statisticians learnt not to trust their personal observations since individuals could see only a partial, and potentially distorted, picture of society. Instead, statisticians disciplined themselves to patiently wait for the accumulation of statistical facts and analyse data in their entirety because this was the only way, they believed, to truly understand the complex relationships people had with each other. The SSL's activities assisted statisticians' conception of statistical fact and produced a new kind of intellectual inquirer who patiently collected statistical facts as the basis of knowing and intervening in people's lives.
Supervisor: Szreter, Simon Sponsor: Heiwa Nakajima Foundation ; Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: History of Science ; Statistical Society of London ; William Farr ; William Guy ; Statistics ; Data ; Observation