Statistics as Service to Democracy: Experimental Design and the Dutiful American Scientist
Tiago Saraiva () and
Amy E. Slaton ()
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Tiago Saraiva: Drexel University
Amy E. Slaton: Drexel University
Chapter 9 in Technology and Globalisation, 2018, pp 217-255 from Palgrave Macmillan
Abstract Through the middle decades of the twentieth century, prominent American statisticians established new channels to carry their experimental field around the nation and the globe. Two figures, Henry A. Wallace and Gertrude M. Cox, emerging from the land-grant Iowa State University, achieved particular influence. Their efforts, which included involvement with federal and international state affairs from the 1930s onward and on United Nations initiatives after the Second World War, embodied not only a rigorous empiricism directed at social problems but a service rationale associated with their white, (Mid)Western, Methodist identity; lines between private ethics and public conduct, between scientific study and intervention, dissolved. The statisticians paired generous impulses with an ambivalent approach towards equity, however, bringing robust ideas of innate human differences – gender, race, sexuality and ethnic distinctions in particular – to a wide range of post-colonial development efforts. In both their taxonomic understanding of individual identity (their own and others’) and their ideas of optimized statistical labor as clearly divided between routine data handling and advanced theoretical work, Wallace, Cox and their audiences embedded American particular ideas of human welfare in technical expertise. As US statistical methods shaped worldwide economic, agricultural, health and educational planning, a complex and constrained model of democracy sought and often found global footholds.
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