Kićr and the Rebirth of the Representative Method: a case-study in controversy management at the International Statistical Institute (1895-1903)

Abstract: Anders N. Kićr (1838-1919), the director of Norway’s Central Bureau of Statistics between 1877 and 1913, was the foremost promoter, at the turn of the 20th century, of the rebirth of what came to be known as the “representative method” or sample survey. His advocacy of a methodology that had been abandoned at the beginning of the 19th century in favor of complete enumeration (the census) provoked a controversy at the International Statistical Institute (ISI) when he first presented it in 1895. Yet, it was ‘recommended’ in fairly short order, by 1903. This was the result of a convergence of factors that prevented the dispute from degenerating into a full-blown conflict and facilitated continuing the discussion while preventing a potential break-up of the association. To understand how this came about, the paper examines 1) the role of the historical background from which the ISI emerged; 2) the epistemic beliefs that informed the ISI members in their daily professional practice; 3) the social structure of the ISI and its “ethos”; 4) the professional standing Kićr enjoyed within the international statistical community. This is a case-study in the sociology of how and why some scientific practices initially seen as ‘dangerous’ gain acceptance and become part of science’s lore.

KEYWORDS : International Statistical Institute; epistemic beliefs; representative method; census; scientific controversy

Paper available upon request.

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