What we do
‘Our vision is a world where data are at the heart of understanding and decision-making.’
Established in 1834, we are one of the world’s leading organizations advocating for the significance of statistics and data. We’re a professional body for all statisticians and data analysts – wherever they may live. We have more than 10,000 members in the UK and across the world. As a charity, we advocate for the key role of statistics and data in society and work to provide that policy formulation and decision-making are informed by evidence for the public good. Everything we do is guided by our Strategic Plan 2018-22, which has six aims at its heart. You can also view our annual Activity Plan for 2021, which outlines how we are working to achieve our aims. The Society has a long and distinguished history as one of the prominent statistical organizations in the world. From its beginnings in 1834 to the current day we have made sure statistics continues to be promoted and applied for the public good.
In 1833, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) created a statistical section, following a presentation by the Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet to its fellows. This proved so popular that a year later, a Statistical Society was founded by Charles Babbage, Thomas Malthus, and Richard Jones with the Marquis of Lansdowne as President. During 1834, 411 fellows joined, representing politics, the army, law, history, physical science, philosophy, the church, art, journalism, medicine, and philanthropy as well as economists and statisticians. The founding aims were ‘the collection and classification of all facts illustrative of the present condition and prospects of society, especially as it exists in the British Dominions’. The early committee structure and work illustrate our basis in social issues rather than mathematics. Early priorities were defined as:
- The investigation of various areas of statistics and compile reliable data
- Establishment of a library of statistical works – the end of the committee structure enabled fellows to concentrate on the library
- Publication of papers – ‘Proceedings’ was our first publication and was replaced by the ‘Journal’ in 1838
- Monthly meetings for fellows and their guests to read and discuss papers
- The development of an efficient census system is one of our continuing concerns.
Expansion in the 1900s
During this time, the Society improved its activities and expanded its influence by:
- Setting up study groups and sections
- Publication of our journal series
- Founding medals and awards
- Delivering professional qualifications and accreditation
- In 1954 we moved to our own premises.
In 1993 we merged with the Institute of Statisticians (IoS) but retained the title of the Royal Statistical Society.
Relevance and diversity in the 2000s
Our work to promote the relevance of statistics to a large audience is highlighted by the publication of our magazine, Significance, and the launch of our Data Manifesto.
We’ve always been an inclusive Society: Florence Nightingale was our first female member in 1858, Stella Cunliffe our first female president in 1975. Our first overseas member was one of our founders Adolphe Quetelet from Belgium – now, around a quarter of our members are based internationally. Our Young Statisticians’ Section, launched in 2009, assists and brings together career-young statisticians during their first ten years in the profession. We have an increasing number of data analysts attending our events and joining our membership. With data as a key driver for prosperity in the 21st century, we can only see our role and influence increasing.
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