chapter  1
31 Pages

The 'Torrent of Numbers': Statistics and the Public Sphere in Britain, c. 1800-2000

Modern political life would be unthinkable without statistics. Politicians use statistics to track public opinion; numbers proliferate in the media; academics, state bureaucrats, and corporations provide an ‘informed pub­ lic’ with a steady stream of facts and figures. The public thus defi nes itself and its fortunes in terms of statistics and statistical norms: among others, growth rates, house prices, and crime indices. As the historian Adam Tooze has observed, ‘a torrent of numbers accompanies both the bureaucratic com­ munication and the public discourses that are characteristic of modernity’.1