The Consumption of Statistics


    IN his inaugural address on November 18 as president of the Royal Statistical Society, Lord Kennet urged the necessity for a more effective consumption of statistics. He affirmed that statistics in the broad sense of the collection and methodical arrangement of factsprovide the one indispensable food from which the organs of Government can derive the motive power for the right conduct of the business of governing the nation. Decisions made without adequate statistical study on questions of the magnitude and complexity with which modern Governments have to deal, are not in the least likely to be even approximately correct, and the resulting policies and measures would be little better than the medicine-man's sympathetic magic carried out by incantation. Without doubt, then, the Government ought to be the most substantial consumers of statistics. If the Government consumes statistics and it undoubtedly does to some extent both consume and digest themthe results of Government action seem to show that the metabolism is defective. What part of the organism is at fault? Lord Kennet classified the effective organs of Government as the Press, the wireless, the Civil Service, the Cabinet, the House of Commons, the voters at election time, the local authorities. Which of these is to blame? The fault must be directly attributed to the executive government, but the blame lies fundamentally with their masters, the people, whose national predilection is for ‘muddling through’, and who believe that scientific study has little practical value. Theory and practice are in reality not opposed but complementary to one another, and the widespread belief to the contrary is responsible for much of the mental lethargy which makes our conduct of affairs what it istoo often a fortuitous muddle.

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    The Consumption of Statistics. Nature 138, 876 (1936).

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