The German Statistical Society was founded in 1911 as a section of the German Sociological Society, which had previously broken away from the Associations for Social Politics, an association of the most renowned German national economists, sociologists, and statisticians. This history indicates that the German Statistical Society in its early days was entirely focused on the application field of economics and society.
The first Chairman was the head of the Royal Bavarian Statistical Office, Georg von Mayr, who was also a professor of economics, finance, and statistics at the University of Munich. The Society’s publications were the “Allgemeines Statistisches Archiv” (General Statistical Archive), founded by von Mayr in 1890 and still in existence today, and the “Deutsches Statistisches Zentralblatt” (German Central Statistical Bulletin), published from 1914 to 1944. Annual meetings were introduced as a forum for discussing scientific and organizational issues. Since 1928, they have been part of the “Statistical Week” organized in cooperation with the Association of German Urban Statisticians.
Very early on, the German Statistical Society devoted special attention to statistical university education. In addition, the annual meetings dealt mainly with population statistics, but also with methodological, institutional, and economic statistics, and other topics.
After v. Mayr’s death, Friedrich Zahn, president of the Bavarian State Statistical Office and professor in Munich, became his successor in 1925 and remained so until 1943. Zahn was a professionally renowned statistician, recognized both nationally and internationally. From 1931 to 1936, he was both president and then honorary president of the International Statistical Institute (ISI). During his term of office, the membership of the German Statistical Society grew rapidly from 160 to 280, and the field of topics dealt with expanded considerably: short-term statistical, business management and epistemological issues as well as selected aspects of a census were added. Problems of the “representative method” and the relationship between statistics and mathematics were also taken up; however, German statisticians maintained a critical distance from them. Representatives of mathematical-statistical theory gained little influence during this period. The German Statistical Society finally broke away from the German Sociological Society in 1929.
After the National Socialists seized power, all associations were unconditionally brought into line unless they dissolved themselves. Zahn personally supported the new government without reservation and saw new tasks for statistics, but at the same time declared that the free scientific activity of the individual members would not be affected. It is noteworthy that between 1933 and 1938 more than a third of the members resigned or were “deleted,” and the loss, including those who died, was compensated by the entry of new members.
As far as the substantive orientation during this period is concerned, an adaptation to the interests of the National Socialist government is conspicuous. Economic planning, population policy, the introduction of compulsory military service, and hereditary and racial research gave rise to statistical investigations. They are, however, by no means all ideologically influenced, but some of them are to a frightening degree. In addition, methodological research on statistics as a means of knowledge continued in the social sciences (Zizek, Flaskämper, Blind), statistics and induction (Peter), and in mathematics and statistics (Burkhardt). A consistent feature of all these activities, however, was their almost total isolation from international developments.
After Zahn’s resignation, his long-time deputy Johannes Müller, who had been president of the Thuringian Statistical Office since the early 1920s and a professor in Jena, succeeded him until the end of the war.
In order to rebuild the state order and to support economic development in Germany after World War II, official statistics were very early re-established in a functional way. Once again, it was a president of the Bavarian Statistical Office who revived the German Statistical Society: Karl Wagner. It was his initiative that led to its reestablishment in 1948. Building on the society’s tradition of economic and social statistics, Wagner strove to overcome its international isolation, to catch up in research, and to include statistics with a stronger mathematical orientation. Particular support was given to the theory, technique, and practical application of sampling methods. Committees or working groups were also established for “Sampling Methods,” “Training Issues,” the “Application of Statistical Methods in Industry” (with two subcommittees), and “Regional Statistics.” A working group for “Statistical Quality Control” had only a short life. However, the number of members quickly shot up to more than 400 after the new formation.
The topics of the annual meetings now included sampling methods and national accounts in addition to the traditional areas (university education, official statistics, macroeconomic and business statistics). Hotly debated were also questions of statistical methodology in the social sciences.
When Wagner did not stand for re-election in 1960 after a long illness Gerhard Fürst, President of the Federal Statistical Office, was elected Chairman, and the office was moved to Wiesbaden. His term of office also lasted 12 years. There were a number of expansions and consolidations in the committee’s work. Fürst also introduced annual training courses, six of which he himself led during and after his term.
Fürst also pursued the goal of maintaining the Society as a meeting place for statisticians of all stripes. Nevertheless, it was inevitable that a personality like him, who had played a major role in shaping the development of German official statistics after the war and the system of national accounts, would also give his stamp to the activities of the Society. This was expressed in the preference given to economic and business topics at the annual meetings, which were wide-ranging in content and often of a fundamental nature. Nevertheless, efforts were made to accommodate the increasing number of members from universities, where more and more chairs in statistics were being established at the time. For example, the 1968 annual meeting was devoted to mathematical-statistical methods and their applications.
With the elecetion of Wolfgang Wetzel as Chairman of the Society in 1972, this orientation of statistics – cultivated mainly in the universities – gained increasing importance. It is Wetzel’s personal merit to have initiated and enforced this expansion of the range of topics and a corresponding change in the membership structure without curtailing the scientific and professional interests of practical statistics. Wetzel gave new impetus to the Society above all by founding a “Committee for Empirical Economic Research and Applied Econometrics” and introducing the Whitsun Conferences, which very soon became an attractive forum for lectures and discussions for Society members coming from the universities. The annual conferences, on the other hand, remained dedicated to important economic and social statistical topics.
With Wetzel, however, a new phase in the Society also began insofar as from then on, every Chairman did not run again after their four-year term of office, but was usually available again as a board member. These were: Hildegard Bartels, Karl-August Schäffer, Heinz Grohmann, Siegfried Heiler, Joachim Frohn, Peter-Th. Wilrich, Reiner Stäglin. This regular change, which has now become the norm, has given the Society considerable flexibility in terms of continuity. New ideas could be introduced and realized without immediately neglecting the proven traditions. The number of members rose to over 800 during this period.
With the exception of Hildegard Bartels, President of the Federal Statistical Office from 1972 to 1979, all of them were or are university professors; Reiner Stäglin also works full-time at an economic research institute. This has permanently consolidated the anchoring of statistical theory and econometrics in the Society’s field of work. The topics of the annual conferences during this period, which were often of great social importance at the same time, clearly demonstrate this. The cultivation of theoretical statistics and econometrics is preferably carried out in the committees responsible for it and at the Whitsun meetings.
In the last two decades, there have been a number of noteworthy innovations and activities. For example, the office was moved from the Federal Statistical Office to the location of the respective Chairman and a computerized administration was introduced. For the first time, an information publication of the Society was made available, which is here in its 4th edition. Newly established were a “Committee for Technical Statistics”, which was later expanded to one for “Statistics in Science and Technology”, and a “Committee for the Methodology of Statistical Surveys”, which thematically links universities and official statistics to a special extent. Also newly created is an annual workshop for young scientists with high-ranking lecturers as discussants. Since 2000, the German Statistical Society has been represented on the Internet.
Other activities included a “Resolution on the Census” and a “Memorandum on the Development of Statistics as a Subject at Universities in the New Federal States and East Berlin” as well as a successful integration of statisticians working there into society. For several years, the German Society for Demography has participated in the Statistical Week. Furthermore, the links to foreign statistical societies have been further developed; in connection with this, the Statistical Week was held in Vienna in 1994. Finally, in recent years, the Society was instrumental in persuading the International Statistical Institute to hold its World Congress in Germany again in 2003, in Berlin, for the first time after a 100-year absence.
Not everything in the last three decades – as in the past – went without controversial discussions. Nevertheless, what cannot be taken for granted in a time of global scientific, economic, and social changes succeeded: all member groups, whether they come from official statistics, empirical economic and social research, universities, business enterprises or public authorities, see in the Society a forum that also takes their concerns into account. What’s more, mutual understanding and mutual respect have grown significantly. Nevertheless, it remains unmistakable that mutual intellectual cross-fertilization – insight into the framework conditions and problems of practical statistics in methodological research and the use of methods developed in research in economic and social statistical practice – will continue to be a task in the future.