Inventing the Right Numbers: Social Statistics, Commercial Reason, and the Public Good

A session led by Mátyás Erdélyi

The present seminar session investigates how social statistics were created, comprehended, and used for commercial and public purposes in Dualist Hungary. It explores different modes of quantification, the inter- or pre-disciplinary sights of scientific production, and power relations between competing expert and nascent professions. Central to this line of inquiry is the investigation of relations between statisticians and other notables (i.e. every person worth of attention and involved in the debate, be it a politician, businessman, any type of scholar) inclined to claim authority over the creation and political/economic use of social statistics. This session contributes to the overall discussions on the nature of interdisciplinarity by describing primeval workshops on interdisciplinarity and by showing how the search for timeless truths and objectivity can be deviated by political and economic interests amidst disciplinary competition.


  • Theodore M. Porter. ‘Life Insurance, Medical Testing, and the Management of Mortality.’ In Lorraine Daston (ed). Biographies of Scientific Objects. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 226-246.
  • Alain Desrosières. La Politique des Grands Nombres: Histoire de la Raison Statistique. Paris: La Découverte, 1993.