By Alexey Ponomarenko
On August 19, 1872, the headlines of St. Petersburg newspapers focused on the outcomes of one large-scale international meeting that had just concluded in the then-Russian capital: the 8th International Statistical Congress.
The conference’s key outcomes were worth discussing. Participants had finally agreed, among other things, to set up a permanent commission that would implement the resolutions of the congress and to produce an international publication on comparative statistics. The reviewers also praised the contribution of Russian statisticians to the proceedings.
This meeting generated unprecedented interest in Russia. The St. Petersburg News (No. 213 dated August 6, 1872) declared that the Congress was “the first international celebration of science in our homeland”. Indeed, the Congress that lasted from August 7 to 18, 1872 was the first international meeting of scholars ever held in Russia, so the selection of St. Petersburg as its venue was a great honour. There were 126 foreign participants from 25 countries. The programme of the congress required 70 printed pages and full verbatim reports from all sessions were published by local newspapers.
The 1872 Congress helped align the development of statistics in Russia with the efforts of the international statistical community. The newly established International Statistical Institute held its session in St. Petersburg again in 1897. Statistics then thrived as a science and profession in Russia.
An interesting fact is that Russian statisticians, notwithstanding the growing interest in statistics at home, have never formally set up a professional society. We addressed this shortcoming by establishing the Russian Association of Statisticians (RASt) in 2014. RASt is a membership-based, nongovernmental, nonprofit organisation with the mission to advocate for statistics, promote statistical literacy and statistical education in Russia, and foster international cooperation in statistics.
In October this year, RASt will hold its flagship event, the Open Russian Statistical Congress. It will kick off October 20, a date that coincides with the UN’s World Statistics Day, and will last for two days in Novosibirsk city. The co-organisers include the Russian statistical office—Russian Federal State Statistics Service—and the Novosibirsk State University of Economics and Management. The congress has been conceived as an open event for professionals and those interested in statistics.
Do we intend to emulate the success of the 1872 Congress in St. Petersburg? Well, I shall acknowledge that it comes to mind when we discuss the upcoming event at RASt. I would say that we—rather—strive to adhere to the open mindedness of our 19th century colleagues. Since then, statistics has become a routine part of our lives. However, there is still room for enhancing statistical literacy and raising awareness of statistics as a universal language of knowledge.
We look forward to an engaging event and expect contributions from everyone who is interested in the advocacy of statistics!
Alexey Ponomarenko is a professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and chairman of the Russian Association of Statisticians