Skip to main content

Full text of "Present Status of Statistical Work and How it Needs to be Developed in the Service of the States"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 

13] Statistics in the Service of the State. 97 


By Adna F. Webeb, Chief Statistician of New York Public Service Com- 
mission for the First District. 

It would be easy and perhaps natural to draw misleading 
inferences from a merely superficial examination of the avail- 
able statistics descriptive of the status and progress of civiliza- 
tion in the several commonwealths of the United States. 
Much of the material is widely scattered and might not be 
discovered by the casual inquirer. Certain information could 
be found only in Federal reports; additional information is 
hidden away in departmental reports and seldom cited in 
bibliographies, and still other data are published only in legis- 
lative documents that go to a very small number of libraries 
and consequently escape the notice of all but a few special 
students or investigators. And yet so abundant is the statis- 
tical material in many of the more important commonwealths, 
that a competent investigator or compiler would find no serious 
difficulty in preparing a statistical abstract that would at 
least equal in extent and comprehensiveness, if not in accuracy, 
the statistical year-book of the German Empire or other 
manuals that are as favorably known. The researches of the 
Carnegie Institution have brought to light the great mass of 
economic materials existent in the public documents of com- 
monwealths like New York and other Eastern states.f This 
material, gathered by the state departments and commissions 
and by legislative investigating committees, is almost as 
abundant if not so valuable as that contained in the British 
bluebooks, — the remarkable series of historical documents 
that justified Gustav Schmoller of the German historical 
school of economists in ranking England as one of the leaders 
of his school of thought. While important investigations are 

* Paper presented at the seventy-fifth anniversary meeting of the American Statistical Association, 
Boston, Mass., February 14, 1914. 

f Index of Economic Material in Documents of the States of the United States: New York, 
17S9-1904. Prepared by Adelaide It. Hasse, 1907. 

98 American Statistical Association. [14 

not likely to escape the attention of the journals of the Sta- 
tistical and Economic Associations, it remains true that much 
valuable work is not fully utilized or appreciated, because it 
remains unknown. Even the index of reports of bureaus of 
labor prepared and published by the Federal Bureau in 1892 
and 1902 has been discontinued. 

The most obvious if not the most important need of statis- 
tical work in the commonwealths would therefore seem to be 
a central bureau of statistics and information to collate and 
compile the statistical information already available, but at 
present more or less inaccessible. A step in the direction of a 
commonwealth statistical abstract may perhaps be recognized 
in the Legislative Manual prepared by the Secretary of the 
State or other officer for the use of the members of the Legis- 
lature and other state officials. Such a manual usually con- 
tains statistics of population, wealth (for purposes of taxation), 
and elections, and might readily be expanded so as to be made 
a complete statistical year-book, which would embody the 
final results of statistical research of the several state author- 
ities, and also of the Federal bureaus so far as needed to 
supplement state activities. The movement toward such a 
central office of compilation and coordination must be ini- 
tiated by the learned societies, libraries, and educational 
institutions, representing the individual consumers of the 
product. The legislature itself can command information 
on a special subject from the appropriate state department, 
and where such information is insufficient, can initiate a special 
inquiry of its own and for that reason can hardly be expected 
to take the necessary action unless pressed to it by public 

This conception of a state bureau of statistics differs from 
the European idea of a central bureau in which is concentrated 
a large part of the statistical work of the state. The 
European idea does not commend itself to Americans, who 
believe that statistics of a special field should be prepared by 
the authority constituted to supervise that particular field. 
But it can hardly be doubted that a well organized and equipped 
office in charge of a general statistical abstract would have a 
stimulating effect upon the statistical work of the several 

15] Statistics in the Service of the State. 99 

state departments. Above all, it would reveal the most serious 
gaps that might exist in the more general statistical informa- 
tion of the individual states. 

A survey of the statistical activities of some of the principal 
commonwealths indicates that large portions of the field of 
economic statistics are already well cultivated. In Massa- 
chusetts, New York, Wisconsin, and other states we find much 
progress in the statistics of manufactures, mining, transporta- 
tion, banking, and insurance. In the field of social statistics 
we also find much of encouragement in the work of depart- 
ments of education, health, and charities, including hospitals 
for the insane. In all of these departments there are now to 
be found statistical offices that offer permanent careers to 
trained civil servants. The rapid spread of the movement 
for workmen's compensation acts also promises needed devel- 
opment in the long neglected field of industrial accidents and 

But in most of the states of smaller resources, statistical 
work is still in a backward condition, and the same statement 
applies to certain of the states of large resources. Civil 
service reform has not yet taken root in all of the common- 
wealths and needs now, as much as it ever has needed, the 
support of members of the Statistical Association and other 
citizens interested in good statistical work. Permanency of 
tenure for civil servants seems to me perhaps the greatest 
single need of the states in the development of good statistical 
work as of other technical work. When we examine condi- 
tions underlying the statistical output of a leading state like 
Massachusetts, we are likely to find the largest single factor 
to be the long-continued service of bureau or division chiefs. 
These men may have entered the service without having 
qualified in competitive examinations, but they have retained 
their positions through successive administrations despite 
party changes and have acquired in office the necessary statis- 
tical training. To insist upon extensive statistical training 
as a prerequisite to employment in the statistical service does 
not seem to me to be necessary. While I have always favored 
a high standard of education and have in fact sometimes 
endeavored to set the standard as regards scholastic attain- 

100 American Statistical Association. [16 

ments higher than the Civil Service Commission was willing 
to establish it, I have always sought to obtain men who had 
had indeed a good academic training, especially in economics, 
but had also demonstrated their ability to do original work, 
whether in statistics or any other field. A very considerable 
number of young men who entered the civil service of New 
York through such examinations in the past fifteen years now 
hold responsible positions in the statistical offices of the various 
state departments or of private corporations. It may be of 
interest incidentally to note that in this period the average 
salary of a statistician in the state service has increased 30 or 
40 per cent. The time seems to be near at hand when the 
statistical service can offer as attractive inducements to 
young men of promise as does the law or engineering. This 
is especially true of work that combines accounting with sta- 
tistics, for such a combination of experience is coming to be 
highly appreciated by the large corporations. 

The movement for "efficiency and economy" in public 
business may be explained in part as an outgrowth of the 
efficiency engineering idea developed in private business, but 
it owes its origin in part at least to the work of organizations 
like the Bureau of Municipal Research, which is carried on by 
investigators trained in statistical as well as accounting meth- 
ods. The movement is therefore to be recognized as one 
that should react favorably upon the statistical work of the 
commonwealths relating not to the transaction of public 
business (e. g., the "budget") but to the recording of social 
and industrial phenomena of the entire body politic. 

If accountancy is to be regarded as a branch of statistics, 
we must also grant recognition to the statistical work done by 
engineers, not only in the development of business efficiency 
but also in the development of public policy concerned with 
public service corporations. In the past decade, engineering 
firms have been called upon to make exhaustive studies of the 
street railway situation in several of our large cities and in 
their reports they have to a large extent applied the statistical 
method. An excellent example of such statistical work is af- 
forded in the recent report of the Rapid Transit Commissioner 
of the City of Philadelphia. If work of like character has not 

17] Statistics in the Service of the State. 101 

already been done for commonwealth governments, it may be 
looked for as a development of the early future. The need for 
special investigations of broader scope than those carried on 
by permanent bureaus or departments will from time to time 
bring about the establishment of special commissions that will 
require expert investigators, and it will be the duty of members 
of the Statistical Association to use their influence in favor 
of the adoption of the best methods of investigation on the 
part of such commissions. Three recent New York reports — 
on Industrial Accidents, Unemployment, and Factories — are 
excellent illustrations of the results that may be achieved by 
the combination of the regular staff of state bureaus and a 
staff of special investigators temporarily employed by the 
commissions. Such results would not have been attained had 
not members of this Association and similar societies, like the 
Economic Association and the Association for Labor Legis- 
lation, taken an active part in the movement for the estab- 
lishment and organization of the commissions. 

In the next few years there will in all probability be move- 
ments started in the different commonwealths for the reor- 
ganization of state departments which carry on more or less 
statistical work, and the statistical societies, it seems to me, 
should at such times cooperate actively with the profession 
most directly interested in such reorganizations. The New 
York City branch of the Association at a recent meeting voted 
to memorialize the city government in favor of the adoption 
of the recommendations of a special committee of medical 
men for a reorganization of the department of health, designed, 
among other things, to secure an improved system of regis- 
tration of vital statistics. The lawyers in many states are 
now actively supporting a revision of judicial procedure, 
including among other things, better records of crimes and 
torts. The defects of our judicial statistics are nearly every- 
where so serious that a reform movement of this kind should 
also enlist the cooperation of members of the statistical society. 

It seems unnecessary to continue further in the enumeration 
of the special subjects that most need improved statistical 
methods. It should suffice to refer to the continued existence 
of a need, in the commonwealths as elsewhere, for the occa- 

102 American Statistical Association [18 

sional special commission as well as the permanent bureau, 
and the interdependence of the one upon the other. If the 
special commission can obtain from the permanent bureau 
statistical material of a high degree of accuracy and compre- 
hensiveness, it will be able to carry its pioneer work along new 
lines so much the farther. And the higher its achievements 
in advancing the limits of our knowledge, the greater will be 
the effort of the permanent bureau to hold and maintain the