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Press release 4.10.2005

Erkki Liikanen, Governor of the Bank of Finland at Statistics Finland's 140th Anniversary Seminar

Description of economy and development of statistics must focus on productivity and simplified indicators

"All parties concerned with social policy should focus on the concept of productivity and on its depiction," Erkki Liikanen, Governor of the Bank of Finland said at the Anniversary Seminar of Statistics Finland in Helsinki today. In future, special thought should be given to the depiction of productivity and to the compilation of statistics describing it, for the connection between productivity and well-being is losing clarity in integrated economies. According to Liikanen, this must be taken into consideration in assessing the extent to which our economy can afford to pay wages and dividends, or become indebted. He would also like to see increasingly precise analyses and statistics concerning the productivity of the public sector, especially public administration and services.

According to Liikanen, official statistics of high quality are the prerequisite for decision-making of high standard. Finnish statistics are reliable, independent and impartial largely because the production of statistics and statistical authorities in Finland are independent and autonomous. Although the interpretation of statistics is always subject to reservations, according to Liikanen economic and financial development must always be interpreted against statistics: "An analysis that is not based on statistics is always mere guesswork."

"The shared anguish of both the compilers and users of statistics is that our world is becoming increasingly difficult to capture into statistics," Liikanen says. In his opinion, the development of statistics requires continuous co-operation and interaction between statistical authorities and the surrounding society. He also suggests that increasingly simplified indicators should be developed to describe the complex and often indiscernible relationship between economic development and economic conditions.

Teaching and education should put more emphasis on numerical literacy

In her address, Heli Jeskanen-Sundström, Director General of Statistics Finland cautioned against the threat of numerical illiteracy: "Today's increasingly superficial world is threatened by growing numerical illiteracy. Numerical and statistical literacy should be taught starting from comprehensive school. Without these skills, coping in today's society is difficult." In Jeskanen-Sundström's opinion, one of today's challenges is also finding a way of making the information conveyed by statistics stand out from the continuous overflow of other information. For the development of social research and statistics it would also be important to strengthen the status of empirical and quantitative research at our universities.

In her address, Dr Maija-Riitta Ollila brought up the data processing aspect of the compilation and use of statistics. Advancements in data collecting technologies have made the collecting of material for statistics increasingly easy. However, as the volumes of data grow there is a risk of observations transforming into noise. How can a distinction be made between noise and information, how can information be processed to knowledge? According to Ollila, the crucial task Statistics Finland will continue to have also in future is determination of the statistics concerning society that are essential.

Freely accessible statistics underpin democracy

In his address, Risto Uimonen, Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Kaleva, said that statistical data must be accessible and available for everybody. "Information must flow. Statistical data are vital to the media if they are to be able to manage the task reserved for them as the Fourth Estate in a democracy." If statistical data are not universally available, it is impossible to evaluate the reliability and accuracy of the information presented in the media or on political forums. In his address, Uimonen emphasised that media reporters are responsible for both criticism of the source and the presentation of information: precision and self-criticism are expected from the media.

A statistical office was established in Finland 140 years ago

On 4 October 1865, the Imperial Senate of the Grand Duchy of Finland made a decision to establish the Statistical Office of Finland. The decision was influenced by experiences gained in other countries and by the awareness of the highest public authorities and educated classes of the time about the importance of statistics depicting conditions in the country. It was stated at that time that "organised statistical activity and careful state management need each other". In other words, the engine behind the decision was the need to have information to support decision-making. This need continues to steer the development of official statistics even today.

At first, the Statistical Office concentrated on producing statistics on agriculture, foreign trade, shipping and population. As early as in the 1870s, statistics were also compiled on mining, rail transport, post and telegraph activity, banking and credit institutions, as well as on teaching, care of the poor and management of state finances.

In step with general development in society, the production of statistics has also developed and expanded. Today, Statistics Finland produces statistics on a couple of hundred topics that describe widely today's society and its phenomena. Statistics Finland also offers to the users of data a wide range of information products and services, as well as the service of its experts. The agency's expertise is in wide international demand. As the national statistical institute Statistics Finland is responsible for the co-ordination of the entire national statistical service and represents Finland in international statistical organisations and bodies.

Jussi Melkas, Director, Information Services, tel: +358 9 1734 3200
Heli Mikkelä, Chief Information Officer, tel: +358 9 1734 2235