ISC as UNSC’s ancestor and the role of ISI in its creation

Exactly one hundred years ago, from 11 to 18 October 1920, an International Statistical Commission (ISC) met for the first time in Paris. This commission was set up within the framework of the League of Nations (Société des Nations, SdN) created one year earlier following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. This first meeting of the ISC was chaired by Luigi Bodio and Albert Delatour; Lucien March was its reporter.

… the ISI played an important role in the creation of this Commission and in the conduct of its first meeting.

Through these three eminent statisticians, the ISI played an important role in the creation of this Commission and in the conduct of its first meeting. Luigi Bodio (1840-1920) was one of the “founding fathers” of the ISI and chaired it since 1909. At the time of the first meeting of the ISC, he was president of the Italian Superior Statistical Council and a senator. Albert Delatour (1858-1938) was elected as a member of the ISI in 1891; he succeeded Luigi Bodio as president when the latter died in November 1920, less than one month after the ISC meeting. In 920 he was director of the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations in Paris. Lucien March (1859-1933) was elected as ISI member in 1901;  he was a demographer and statistical engineer and director of the Statistique Générale de la France at the time of the first meeting of the ISC. He invented the “classi-counter” used in France and in some other countries for the processing of population censuses from 1895 and until 1945.

The ISC was a subsidiary body of the Economic and Financial Organization (EFO) under the Council of the SdN. A meeting held in Rome in June 1920 decided to create the ISC following a preliminary study carried out by a group of experts convened at the initiative of the SdN Secretary General. The unanimous opinion of these experts was that:

It would be a great advantage to organize on a uniform and central basis the work in the statistical field, the accomplishment of which is a necessity in the political life of nations.

They also believed that this goal could not be achieved without the help of a permanent staff, composed of both statisticians and users of statistics.

The weaknesses of the League of Nations did not allow this Commission to be very active, but it nevertheless adopted in 1928 an international convention on economic statistics, a convention which the UN adopted by amending it in December 1947.

The ISC was in a way the ancestor of the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) created in 1947.

After the creation of the United Nations in October 1945, it was decided to create the UN Statistical Division (UNSD) at the UN Headquarters, then the UNSC as a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Prof. Stuart Arthur Rice played a very important role in the formation. He played a leading role in reactivating the ISI from 1945 onwards after six inactive years and his invaluable efforts were recognized by his election as ISI President in 1947. At the same time, he chaired the UN nuclear session held in October 1946 at Hunter College in New York which made recommendations for the composition and objectives of the UNSC. And for those who are not aware,  the ISI has a consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations since 1949.

This post is written by an author or authors in their personal capacity and in no way represent the view of the organisations, universities, governments, or agencies where they are employed or with which they are associated, or the views of the International Statistical Institute (ISI).

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