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De macht van het getal: een statistische kritiek van de bevolkingsstatistieken in België (1801-1976)

Sven Vrielinck (UGent)
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Abstract
One of the most important problems in critical research involving official statistics is the question of the reliability of the source. Studies suggest that the reliability of data has improved over time, but we lack absolute certainty and understanding of how this process occurs and develops. In the absence of appropriate techniques for evaluating a large quantity of data, there must always be a certain amount of doubt about the reliability of the material. This article investigates how the reliability of the most basic tables from censuses and official statistics on demographic development evolved throughout the 19th and much of the 20th centuries. After a general presentation of the sources and relevant critical literature (parts I and II), the author compares the population figures of municipalities with the projected distribution according to Benford’s Law (part III). This technique proves to be effective in tracking data irregularities, as long as the anomalies exhibit a pattern of systematic deviation. Our analysis shows that the detected bias in sets of data can be largely attributed to errors in processing of results of individual countings. This is demonstrated by comparing several examples. In general terms, this study shows a slow but gradual improvement of the quality of data gathered during this period, except for a relapse from the middle to penultimate decades of the 19th century. The decline was halted when the central government began to more closely scrutinise statistical collection in its municipalities.
Keywords
censuses, source criticism, Benford, History, statistics

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Citation

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Chicago
Vrielinck, Sven. 2013. “De Macht Van Het Getal: Een Statistische Kritiek Van De Bevolkingsstatistieken in België (1801-1976).” Journal of Belgian History-revue Belge D Histoire Contemporaine-belgisch Tijdschrift Voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis 43 (2-3): 74–113.
APA
Vrielinck, S. (2013). De macht van het getal: een statistische kritiek van de bevolkingsstatistieken in België (1801-1976). JOURNAL OF BELGIAN HISTORY-REVUE BELGE D HISTOIRE CONTEMPORAINE-BELGISCH TIJDSCHRIFT VOOR NIEUWSTE GESCHIEDENIS, 43(2-3), 74–113.
Vancouver
1.
Vrielinck S. De macht van het getal: een statistische kritiek van de bevolkingsstatistieken in België (1801-1976). JOURNAL OF BELGIAN HISTORY-REVUE BELGE D HISTOIRE CONTEMPORAINE-BELGISCH TIJDSCHRIFT VOOR NIEUWSTE GESCHIEDENIS. 2013;43(2-3):74–113.
MLA
Vrielinck, Sven. “De Macht Van Het Getal: Een Statistische Kritiek Van De Bevolkingsstatistieken in België (1801-1976).” JOURNAL OF BELGIAN HISTORY-REVUE BELGE D HISTOIRE CONTEMPORAINE-BELGISCH TIJDSCHRIFT VOOR NIEUWSTE GESCHIEDENIS 43.2-3 (2013): 74–113. Print.
@article{4190773,
  abstract     = {One of the most important problems in critical research involving official statistics is the question of the reliability of the source. Studies suggest that the reliability of data has improved over time, but we lack absolute certainty and understanding of how this process occurs and develops. In the absence of appropriate techniques for evaluating a large quantity of data, there must always be a certain amount of doubt about the reliability of the material. This article investigates how the reliability of the most basic tables from censuses and official statistics on demographic development evolved throughout the 19th and much of the 20th centuries. After a general presentation of the sources and relevant critical literature (parts I and II), the author compares the population figures of municipalities with the projected distribution according to Benford{\textquoteright}s Law (part III). This technique proves to be effective in tracking data irregularities, as long as the anomalies exhibit a pattern of systematic deviation. Our analysis shows that the detected bias in sets of data can be largely attributed to errors in processing of results of individual countings. This is demonstrated by comparing several examples. In general terms, this study shows a slow but gradual improvement of the quality of data gathered during this period, except for a relapse from the middle to penultimate decades of the 19th century. The decline was halted when the central government began to more closely scrutinise statistical collection in its municipalities.},
  author       = {Vrielinck, Sven},
  issn         = {0035-0869},
  journal      = {JOURNAL OF BELGIAN HISTORY-REVUE BELGE D HISTOIRE CONTEMPORAINE-BELGISCH TIJDSCHRIFT VOOR NIEUWSTE GESCHIEDENIS},
  language     = {dut},
  number       = {2-3},
  pages        = {74--113},
  title        = {De macht van het getal: een statistische kritiek van de bevolkingsstatistieken in Belgi{\"e} (1801-1976)},
  volume       = {43},
  year         = {2013},
}

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