THE REAL NUMBERS: Pali Lehohla is the Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa
JOHANNESBURG - Ian Hacking opines that “The quiet statisticians have changed our world, not by discovering new facts or technical developments, but by changing the ways we reason, experiment and form our opinions.”

This reasoning is consistent with Ecclesiastes 1:14-11 asserting that there is nothing new under the sun.

In this assertion, Ecclesiastes argues that unless there is God at the centre of our thinking, generations come and generations go and will live a life that is worthless.

The discipline of official statistics is governed by the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.

There are ten of these principles and peers often refer to them as the Ten Commandments, which draws heavily on the Biblical parallel of the Ten Commandments that were handed down to Moses on clay tablets.

The UN Fundamental Principles for Official Statistics were adopted by the UN General Assembly and in March 2017 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the UN Statistics Commission.

We celebrated this moral code as a key that informs our actions as a community of practice.


Without this moral code, states and people will come and states and people will go without realising that there are fundamental drivers to changing the ways we reason, experiment, and form our opinions - and this, for the better of nations.

Yet paradoxically, this community that shines light to darkness so that societies thrive better continues to be persecuted in modern-day society - just as Galileo Galilei was more than three-and-a-half centuries ago for claiming a fact of science about the solar system.

“Eppur si muove” - “Albeit it moves", so said Galilei after being sentenced. This retort meant "it does not matter what you believe; these are the facts”.

It is against this background that as of January 10, 2018, we as 40 institutions and 651 professionals in statistics from across the globe signed up a letter to the Greek government, appealing that they halt the harassment they have ceaselessly meted against the former Greek statistician.

The letter reads as follows:

“We, the undersigned organisations and individuals, call on Greek authorities to halt the legal proceedings against Andreas Georgiou, the former president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (Elstat), and other senior Elstat officials for their Elstat work under Georgiou’s leadership 2010-2015.

"The government deficit and debt figures, produced by Elstat under Dr Georgiou’s stewardship, have been validated numerous times by Eurostat as complying with the highest international standards.

“Further, Dr Georgiou during his tenure leading Elstat, strictly followed the best practice statistical principles enshrined in EU and Greek law.

"The continued prosecutions of Dr Georgiou for his work, many times after findings of innocence - amounting to double or even potentially triple jeopardy - are troubling on multiple levels.

"The prosecutions undermine the current production of Greek statistical figures, which in turn undermines Greece’s efforts to end its cycles of economic crises, and attract foreign investment.

"Trusted, credible statistical data are a cornerstone of a well-functioning democracy and a healthy economy.

“The prosecutions also violate the scientific freedom and human rights of Dr Georgiou and his colleagues to present their scientifically derived statistical data without interference and to 'extend and disseminate knowledge for the good of humanity.'

"In summary, we call on the Greek authorities to drop their prosecutions of Dr Georgiou and his colleagues, exonerate them of past convictions, and drop ongoing investigations relating to their official Elstat work."

Appalling treatment

Further, "the Greek Government should apologise on behalf of the Greek State to Dr Georgiou for the appalling treatment he and his colleagues have endured over a protracted period at the hands of the Greek State for essentially doing their duty to the highest standards.”

For reasons of space, I cite only organisational signatories and not the list of names of individuals.

These are American Association for Public Opinion Research, American Educational Research Association, American Sociological Association, American Statistical Association, Association of Public Data Users, Bernoulli Society for Mathematical Statistics and Probability, Center for Human Rights Science, Carnegie Mellon University 1,, Center for Liberal Studies, Markos Dragoumis Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies, Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, Danish Society for Theoretical Statistics, Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Statistik (DAGStat), Dimiourgia Xana, Eastern North American Region (Enar) of the International Biometric Society, Finances Publiques et Economie (Fipeco), German Statistical Society, Groupe des Ecoles Nationales d’Economie et Statistique (Genes), Haver Analytics, Human Rights Data Analysis Group, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, Inter-American Statistical Institute, International Association for Statistical Education, International Association for Official Statistics, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, International Association of Survey Statisticians, International Statistical Institute, Irish Statistical Association, Israel Statistical Association. Kent Consultancy (UK), Korean International Statistical Society, McDougall Scientific, National Association for Business Economics New Zealand Statistical Association, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Royal Statistical Society of Belgium, Statistical Society of Australia, Statistical Society of Canada/Société statistique du Canada, Statistics Iceland, The International Environmetrics Society, Western North American Region (WNAR) of the International Biometric Society.

As a professional committed to the practice of statistics for transparency, accountability, results and transformation - like Galileo, Georgiou is being persecuted - I joined my colleagues in saying “Eppur si muove” - ”Albeit it moves”- this time around directed at the Greek deficit as reflected by the quiet statisticians.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.