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Quantifying the World

UN Ideas and Statistics

Michael Ward

Publication Year: 2004

Good data, Michael Ward argues, serve to enhance a perception about life as well as to deepen an understanding of reality. This history of the UN's role in fostering international statistics in the postwar period demonstrates how statistics have shaped our understanding of the world. Drawing on well over 40 years of experience working as a statistician and economist in more than two dozen countries around the world, Ward traces the evolution of statistical ideas and how they have responded to the needs of policy while unraveling the question of why certain data were considered important and why other data and concerns were not. The book explores the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of the UN's statistical work and how each dimension has provided opportunities for describing the well-being of the world community. Quantifying the World also reveals some of the missed opportunities for pursuing alternative models.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: United Nations Intellectual History Project Series

Title page copyright page

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Boxes, Tables, Charts, and Figures

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pp. vii-viii

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p. xi-xi

It is surprising that there is no comprehensive history of the United Nations family of organizations. True, a few of the UN funds and specialized agencies have or are in the process of writing their institutional histories. But this is mostly a recent endeavor and, indeed, it is no more than what should be expected of all public organizations, especially internationally accountable ...

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pp. xiii-xv

... Some critical interviews of leading figures in the UN Statistics Division were conducted by Makiko Harrison at the beginning of the project. She also carried out similar interviews with four distinguished Japanese statisticians who have had a strong association with the work of the UN; Professor Y. Kurabayashi, a former Director of the UN Statistics Office; Professor Kimio Uno, who contributed particularly to UN activities in environmental ...


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pp. xvii-xx

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pp. 1-22

How should policymakers and ordinary people look at the world? What perspective do they get when they see a conventional set of official numbers? How might their views change if they were to be presented with a different range of information relating to the same issues? This book is about the way the field of international statistics, which was developed in the postwar period, has shaped our understanding of the world. It provides contemporary ...

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1 Ideas and Statistics: An Introduction

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pp. 23-62

Claude Monet, the nineteenth-century grand master of French impressionist painting, stunned the art world on more than one occasion with his interpretations of the unfolding relationship between events and physical objects as he saw them. His pictures expressed an urge to represent a truer understanding of reality. Unlike any other artist before him, he often painted the same scene many times. Most famously, he painted the imposing stone ...

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2 The Economic Dimension

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pp. 63-139

Behind any attempt to measure the world in a particular way lies a decision that reflects a particular paradigm. This paradigm pursued the need for certain definitions and classifications. Whatever perspective is taken, it needs to be located within an internationally accepted data framework. The framework must be rooted in a recognized conceptual model of socioeconomic dynamics if it is to be readily understood and serve as a practical, meaningful ...

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3 The Social Dimension

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pp. 140-203

The debt society and culture owes the field of statistics for its work in unifying ideas about the human condition is incalculable. Many aspects of life that affect its quality, however, are not directly measurable and their significance remains difficult to assess. Statistics make an important contribution to the essential structural framework around which the building blocks ...

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4 The Environmental Dimension

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pp. 204-226

Only in the last few decades has the important intersection between the economy and the environment been studied in any detail. For much of the past century and even before it, the resources that nature provides were treated as free goods. Although natural resources have been used to benefit humankind (or particular privileged sections of it), they have also been used indiscriminately ...

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5 Other Statistical Dimensions

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pp. 227-259

There are as many unanswered questions as there are unquestioned answers related to the coverage of data activities by the UN system and UNSO in particular. The reason for this is part conceptual, part political, and part budgetary. This chapter is mostly about what ground has not been tilled by UNSO and proposes some topics for its pending agenda. ...

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Epilogue: Success, Missed Opportunities, and the Continuing Agenda in Statistics

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pp. 260-271

The main concern of the previous chapters has been how statistics have helped people to understand the vital questions and powerful ideas that have influenced intellectual tradition in the social sciences. This book has reviewed some of the main ideas that have mattered in the realm of measuring human progress. Space and time have not permitted a thorough documentation of ...


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pp. 273-280


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pp. 281-309


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pp. 311-326

About the Author

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pp. 327

About the Project

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pp. 329

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110848
E-ISBN-10: 025311084X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253343970

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 3 figures, 1 index
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: United Nations Intellectual History Project Series