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AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION.




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By OABEOLL D. WEIGHT,







AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION.



THE STUDY



OF



STATISTICS IN COLLEGES



BY

CARROLL D. WRIGHT.



A PAPER READ BEFORE THE JOINT SESSION OF THE AMERICAN

ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION AND THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL

ASSOCIATION, AT SANDERS THEATRE, HARVARD

UNIVERSITY, MAY 24, 1887.



BOSTON :

WRIGHT & POTTER PRINTING COMPANY,

18 POST OFFICE SQUARE.

1887.



THE



STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES,



BY CARROLL D. WRIGHT.



America has no counterpart to the continental school of sta-
tisticians, whose members have entered their particular field of
science after special training by a systematic course of instruc-
tion. We have our statisticians, to be sure, but they have
taken up their work accidentally, and not as a profession. Men
engaged in the practice of law or of medicine, or in the other
learned professions, enter them only after careful preparation.
Our government trains its soldiers and sailors ; our colleges and
higher institutions of learning fit men for various special scien-
tific and professional labors, but we have not yet reached the
advanced stage of educational work in this country which com-
prehends administration in its broadest terms. The European
has an advantage over those engaged in statistical work in this
country. Many of the leading colleges and universities of the
continent make special effort to fit men to adopt statistical sci-
ence as a branch of administration, or as a profession.

Korosi, Neumann-Spallart, Ernst Engel, Block, Bohmert,
Mayr, Levasseur, and their score or more of peers, may well
excite our envy, but more deeply stimulate the regret that one
of their number, from his brilliant training and his scientific
attainments, can not present to you today the necessity of copy-
ing into the curricula of our American colleges the statistical
features of the foreign school. For magnificent achievement
the American statistician need not blush in the presence of the
trained European, for, without conceit, we can place the name
of our own Walker along with the names of those eminent men



4 THE STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES.

I have enumerated. With all the training of the schools, the
European statistician lacks the grand opportunities which are
open to the American. Nowhere has the former been able to
project and carry out a Census involving points beyond the
simple enumeration of the people, embracing a few inquiries
relating to social conditions : such inquiries rarely extending
beyond those necessary to learn the ages, places of birth, and
occupations of the population. Such a Census, compared with
the ninth and tenth Federal enumerations of the United States,
appears but child's play.

Dr. Engel once said to me that he would gladly exchange
the training of the Prussian Bureau of Statistics for the oppor-
tunity to accomplish what could be done in our country. For
with it all, he could not carry out what might be done with
comparative ease under our government. The European sta-
tistician is constantly cramped by his government ; the Ameri-
can government is constantly forced by the people. The Par-
liament of Great Britain will not consent to an industrial
Census, the proposition that the features of United States
Census taking be incorporated in the British Census being de-
feated as regularly as offered. Nor does any continental power
yet dare to make extensive inquiries into the condition of the
people, or relative to the progress of their industries. The
continental school of statisticians, therefore, is obliged to urge
its government to accomplish results familiar to our people.
The statistics of births, deaths, and marriages, and other
purely conventional statistics, are substantially all that come
to the hands of the official statisticians abroad. In this coun-
try, the popular demand for statistical information is usually
far in advance of the governments, either State or Federal, and
so our American statisticians have been blessed with opportu-
nities which have given them an experience, wider in its scope,
and of a far more reaching character than has attended the ef-
forts of the continental school. Notwithstanding these oppor-
tunities which surround official statistics in this country, the
need of special scientific training for men in the administration
of statistical work is great indeed. This necessity I hope to
show before I close.

It is not essential, in addressing an audience of this charac-
ter, to spend a moment even upon definitions. The importance



THE STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES. 5

of statistics must be granted : the uses of the science admitted.
But it may be well, before urging specifically the needs of this
country for statistical training, to give a few facts relative to
such work in European schools.*

The best school for statistical science in Europe is connected
with the Prussian statistical bureau, and was established a
quarter of a century ago by Dr. Ernst Engel, the late head of
the bureau, probably the ablest living statistician in the old
world. The seminary of this statistical bureau is a training
school, for university graduates of the highest ability, in the
art of administration, and in the conduct of statistical and other
economic inquiries that are of interest and importance to the
government. The practical work is done in connection with
the government offices, among which advanced students are
distributed with specific tasks. Systematic instruction is given
by lectures, and by the seminary or laboratory method, under
a general director. Government officers and university pro-
fessors are engaged to give regular courses to these advanced
students. It is considered one of the greatest student honors
in Berlin for a university graduate to be admitted to the Sta-
tistical Seminary. One graduate of the Johns Hopkins Uni-
versity, a doctor of philosophy, is already under a course of
instruction in the Prussian laboratory of political science.

The work of taking the Census of the Prussian population
and resources is entrusted to educated men, many of them
trained to scientific accuracy by long discipline in the Statistical
Seminary, and by practical experience. (Circulars of Infor-
mation, U. S. Bureau of Education. No. 1, 1887, by H. B.
Adams.)

In this seminary there are practical exercises under the sta-
tistical bureau during the day time, with occasional excursions
to public institutions, in addition to lectures held mostly in
the evening. A recent programme of the seminary compre-
hends :

1. Theory, technique, and encyclopaedia : once a week.

2. Statistics of population and of dwellings : once a week.

* President Walker, of the Institute of Technology ; Dr. Ely, of Johns Hopkins ;
Prof. Smith, of Columbia College; Dr. Dewey, of the Institute of Technology; and Dr.
E. R. L. Gould, of Washington, have very kindly placed at my disposal information
supplemental to that which was at hand.



h THE STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES.

3. Medical statistics : once a week.

4. Applied mathematical statistics : once a week.

5. Agrarian statistics : once a week.

6. Exercises in political economy, finance, and financial

statistics : 2 hours a week.

The students assist in the work of the statistical bureau with-
out compensation. This is a part of their training, and by it
theory and practice are most successfully combined.

I believe there are courses in statistics in nearly all the
universities in Germany, certainly in the more prominent
institutions of that country, but there are no distinct chairs of
statistics. Statistical science is considered a part of political
economy, and professors of the latter science give the instruc-
tion in statistics.

The most prominent announcements for the leading European
universities, for the year 1886-7, are as follows :

University of Leipzig : Professor W. Roscher lectures on agricultural

statistics, this branch being a part of one course, taking one or

two hours a week. One hour a week is also given to political

economy and statistical exercises by Dr. K. Walker.
University of Tubingen : Professor Gustav von Riimelin devotes three

hours a week to social statistics, while Professor Lorey includes

in his lectures a treatment of the statistics of forests.
University of Wurzburg : Professor G. Schanz devotes four hours a

week to general statistics.
University of Dorpat (a German institution in Russia) : Professor

Al. v. Oettingen teaches ethical statistics two hours each week.
University of Breslau : Professor W. Lexis uses one hour a week on

the statistics of population.
University of Halle : Professor Conrad has a seminary of five hours

a week, in which statistical subjects, among others, are carefully

treated.
University of Kiel : Professor W. Seelig devotes four hours a week to

general statistics, and statistics of Germany.
University of Konigsberg : Professor L. Elster lectures two hours a

week on the theory of statistics.
University of Munich : Dr. Neuberg has a course of one to two hours

a week on statistics.
University of Strasburg : Professor G. F. Knapp teaches the theory

and practice of statistics three hours a week, and with Professor

Brentano has a seminary two hours a week, in which, among

other matters, they treat statistical subjects.



THE STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES. 7

University of Prague : Professor Surnegg-Marburg teaches the statis-
tics of European States three hours each week.

University of Vienna : Professor von Inama-Sternegg devotes two
hours each week in a statistical seminary.

In addition to the university work outlined, much work is
done in the technical schools, as, for instance, at the technical
school in Vienna there are given regularly two courses of sta-
tistics :

First, "General comparative statistics of European States;" their
surface ; population ; industries, commerce, education, etc.

Second, "Industrial statistics of European States;" methods and
" technik" of industrial statistics.

These courses are given by Dr. von Brachelli, who is offi-
cially connected with the Government Bureau of Statistics.

At Dresden, Dr. Bohmert lectures at the Polytechnic on
"The elements of statistics," and has a statistical seminary.
Bohmert is the director of the statistical bureau in the depart-
ment of the interior. Part of the instruction is given at the
bureau. Courses are also given at Zurich on the elements of
statistics.

Some of the more important announcements connected with
the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques, of Paris, for the year
1886-7, are as follows :

1. By Professor Levasseur, the theory of statistics, and the move-
ment of population, one hour a week for the first quarter.

2. By M. de Foville, Chief of the Bureau of Statistics, one hour a
week in the second quarter upon statistics, commerce, and statis-
tics of foreign commerce.

3. By Professor Pigeonneau, one exercise each week, in which he
treats, among other subjects, of commercial statistics.

In the programme of the University of Brussels, for 1878
and 1879, an announcement for a course of political economy
and statistics twice each week, by Professor A. Orts, was
made.

Something is being done in Italy, but how much I am not
at present able to learn.

These courses, it will be seen, are devised for the special
training in the practical statistics of the countries named.



THE STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES.

A great deal of effort has been expended in Europe through
statistical congresses since 1853 to secure uniform inquiries
in Census taking, and it is to be regretted that the Congresses
have not accomplished the results sought. It was unfortunate
that the attention of the statisticians of the world, as brought
together in the congresses, was given to the form of inquiry
to the exclusion of the form of presentation. In tracing
the discussions and deliberations of these congresses, the
absence of the intelligent treatment of the presentation of
facts, even when drawn out by uniform inquiries, becomes
apparent. The art of the statistician in his administrative
work found but little encouragement in the long discussions
on forms of inquiry, and less was accomplished by these
congresses, which are not now held, than has been ac-
complished through training in the universities of Europe.
The great statistical societies abroad have done much in stimu-
lating statistical science, and out of these societies there has
now been organized the International Statistical Institute, the
first session of which was held in Rome during last month ;
much is to be hoped from the labors of this Institute, for the
men who compose it bring both training and experience to the
great task of unifying statistical inquiries and presentations, so
far as leading generic facts are concerned, for the great coun-
tries comprehended under the broad term, "the civilized
world." For this great array of work, the outlines of which I
have briefly and imperfectly given as carried on in Europe,
America has no parallel.

Our colleges are beginning to feel that they have some duty
to perform, in the work of fitting men for the field of admin-
istration, and specifically in statistical science. Dr. Ely is
doing something at Johns Hopkins, giving some time, in one of
his courses on political economy, to the subject of statistics,
explaining its theory, tracing the history of the art or science,
and describing the literature of the subject. He attempts, in
brief, to point out the vast importance of statistics to the stu-
dent of social science and to put his student in such a position
that he can practically continue his study. Johns Hopkins, as
soon as circumstances will admit, will probably secure teachers
of statistics and administration, in addition to its present corps
of instructors.



THE STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES. 9

Dr. Davis R. Dewey, of the Massachusetts Institute of Tech-
nology, is also devoting some time, in connection with his other
work, to statistical science. He has two courses :

First, A course of statistics and graphic methods of illus-
trating statistics in which attention is chiefly given to the uses
of official statistics of the United States. Students are directed
to the limitations there are in this respect, what compilations
have been and are made, and to the possible reconciliation of
discrepancies which appear in official reports. This course is
taken in connection with a course in United States finance, and
the student is trained to find and use the statistics which will
illustrate the points taken up, and to present them graphically.

Second, An advanced course is given in statistics of sociology,
in which social, moral, and physiological statistics are con-
sidered, in short, all those facts of life which admit of mathemati-
cal determination to express the "average man." Some of
Dr. Dewey 's actual problems may serve to illustrate the prac-
tical work of his course. Samples of the problems which he
gives to his students are as follows :

Are the Indians increasing or decreasing in numbers ?

Criticize by illustrations the statement that the value of the products
of manufactures of the United States in 1880 was $5,369,325,442.

What margin of error would you allow, if called upon to test the
accuracy of the returns of population under one year of age in the
Federal Census returns ?

Can you devise a method to determine from the Census reports on
population, Table XXI., which is the healthier state, Massachusetts
or Connecticut ?

Is it true that Massachusetts has more crime per capita than Ala-
bama or Georgia ? Can you offer any explanation or facts modifying
such a statistical conclusion ? Do the Census reports afford informa-
tion as to the increase or decrease in crime ?

Perhaps the most systematic teaching of the science of statis-
tics in America is given at Columbia College, under the direction
of Professor Richmond M. Smith. He has lectured on the sub-
ject of statistical science in the Columbia College School of
Political Science since the year 1882. His course is an advanced
one for the students of the second or third year of that school.
In the first year of the work there were but three students of sta-



10 THE STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES.

tistical science ; at present there are about twenty-five. Profes-
sor Smith gives them lectures two hours per week through the
greater part of the year. The theoretical lectures cover a brief
history of statistics ; a consideration of statistical methods ; of
the connection of statistical science with political and social
science ; of the attempt to establish social laws from statistical
induction; the doctrine of probabilities, etc., this part of the
course being based on German and French writers, princi-
pally Mayr, Engel, Wagner, Knapp, Oettingen, Quetelet,
Block, and others. The practical part of the Columbia course
covers the ordinary topics of statistical investigation, and the
statistics are taken, as far as possible, from official publications.
These latter lectures are of course comments on the tables and
diagrams themselves. Wall tables are used to a certain extent,
but experience has found it more convenient to lithograph the
tables and diagrams, giving a copy to each student, which he
can place in his note-book, and thus save the labor of copying.
From a circular of information from the Columbia College
School of Political Science I find the following, relating to the
teaching of statistical science :

" Statistical science: methods and results. This course is intended
to furnish a basis for a social science by supplementing the histor-
ical, legal, and economic knowledge already gained, by such a
knowledge of social phenomena as can be gained only by statistical
observation. Under the head of statistics of population are con-
sidered: race and ethnological distinctions, nationality, density,
city and country, sex, age, occupation, religion, education, births,
deaths, marriages, mortality tables, emigration, etc. Under economic
statistics : land, production of food, raw material, labor, wages,
capital, means of transportation, shipping, prices, etc. Under the
head of moral statistics are considered : statistics of suicide, vice,
crime of all kinds, causes of crime, condition of crimmals r repression
of crime, penalties and effect of penalties, etc. Finally is considered
the method of statistical observations, the value of the results ob-
tained, the doctrine of free will, and the possibility of discovering
social laws."

There may be other instances of the teaching of statistical
science in American colleges, but those given are all that have
come to my knowledge. At Harvard, Yale, and other institu-
tions the theory and importance of statistics are incidentally




THE STUDY OP STATISTICS IN



impressed upon the students in political economy. It will be
seen, therefore, that if there is any necessity for such a course
as has been cited, the necessity is being met only in slight
degree.

Is there such a necessity? Speaking from experience I
answer emphatically, Yes. There has not been a single day in
the fourteen years that I have devoted to practical statistics
that I have not felt the need, not only in myself, but in the
offices where my work has been carried on, of statistical train-
ing. Trained not only in the sense of school training, but in
the sense of that training which has come to our American sta-
tisticians only through experience. My great regret on this
occasion is that I can only address you with the statistical
bureau as my alma mater, but perhaps the lack I have seen and
felt of a different alma mater may give force to my suggestions.

The problems which the statistician must solve, if they are
solved at all, are pressing upon the world. Many chapters
of political economy must be rewritten, for the study of
political economy is now brought under the historical and
comparative method and statistical science constitutes the
greatest auxiliary of such a method. There is so much that is
false that creeps into the popular mind, which can only be recti-
fied through the most trustworthy statistical knowledge, that
the removal of apprehension alone by it creates a necessity
sufficient to command the attention of college authorities. The
great questions of the day, the labor question, temperance,
tariff reform, all great topics, demand the auxiliary aid of sci-
entific statistics, and a thorough training is essential for their
proper use. But in the first place there should be a clear under-
standing of what is necessary to be taught. We read many
chapters on the theory and practice of statistics. What is the
theory of statistics? The use of the word theory, in connec-
tion with statistical science, is to my mind unfortunate, for the
word theory, when used in connection with positive informa
tion, antagonizes the public mind. W T hen you speak of the
theory of statistics, the word theory meaning speculation, the
popular feeling is that theoretical statistics are not wanted,
but facts. Theory may be fact ; statistics may substantiate
theory or controvert it. All this we know, and yet I feel that
the word is used unfortunately in this connection. If I under-



12 THE STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES.

stand it correctly, the theory of statistics is simply a statement
of what it is desired to accomplish by statistics.

Every branch of social science desires to explain the facts of
human life. There are some facts which can be explained
only by statistics. For instance, it is asserted that there is an
alarming amount of illiteracy in Massachusetts. Statistical
inquiry shows that by far the greater number of these illiterates
are of foreign birth, so that the fault is not with the public
school system, but the evil is due to a temporary cause, namely,
immigration.

Again, it has been freely asserted that in the United States
women of native birth do not have as many children as women
of foreign birth, and that thereby the real American popula-
tion is steadily losing ground. The Census of Massachusetts
will show that although American women do have a less num-
ber of children, on the average, yet a larger number survive,
so that the alarm is needless. Common observation would
never have shown these things, or would not have shown them
accurately.

So everywhere statistics attempt to explain the facts of
human life, which can be explained in no other way, as for
instance, the effect of scarcity of food on births, on marriages,
or crime ; the effect of marriage laws on the frequency of
divorce, etc. The theory of statistics points out where the
statistical method is applicable, and what it can and cannot
accomplish. In my opinion, however, it would be better to
avoid the use of the word theory entirely, and adopt a concrete
term like statistical science, which has three branches : collec-
tion, presentation, and analysis. Statistics is a science in its
nature, and practical in its working.

The science of statistics, practically considered, compre-
hends the gathering of original data in the most complete and
accurate manner ; the tabulation of the information gathered
by the most approved methods, and the presentation of the
results in compact and easily understood tables, with the neces-
sary text explanations. It is the application of statistics which
gives them their chief popular value, and this application may,
therefore, legitimately be called a part of the science of statis-
tics. The theoretical statistician is satisfied if his truth is the
Jesuit of statistical investigation, or if his theory is sustained.



THE STUDY OF STATISTICS IN COLLEGES. 13

The practical statistician is only satisfied when the absolute
truth is shown, or, if this is impossible, when the nearest
approximation to it is reached. But the belief that theory
must be sustained by the statistics collected, or else the statis-
tics be condemned, is an idea which gets into the popular mind
when the expression, theory of statistics, is used. I would,
therefore, avoid it, and I hope that should our colleges adopt
courses in statistical science, they will agree upon a nomencla-
ture which shall be expressive, easily understood, and compre-
hensive in its nature.

The necessity of the study of statistical science would not
be so thoroughly apparent if the science was confined to the
simple enumeration and presentation of things, or primitive
facts, like the number of the people ; to tables showing crops,


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Online LibraryCarroll Davidson WrightThe study of statistics in colleges → online text (page 1 of 2)