Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/717

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VITAL STATISTICS.

VITAL STATISTICS.
By CHARLES P. RUSSEL, M. D.

NO subject of scientific research has within the present century received more earnest attention from thoughtful minds than that of statistics. None, moreover, is more worthy of investigation or fruitful of more satisfactory practical results to humanity. It must be confessed that careless or dishonest observers occasionally misconstrue or misinterpret the significance of statistics; but the same is equally the case with all facts. There can be no doubt that certain truths are demonstrable by figures, and that we must accept almost without qualification the old adage that "figures cannot lie." We should not confound with statistics themselves the erroneous deductions drawn from them so frequently.

Among the various divisions of statistics the one which relates more particularly to birth, marriage, and death, must always occupy the most prominent place in human interest. It is this to which the expression vital statistics has appropriately been applied, and as "self-preservation is the first law of Nature," so if by a study of this science we can, so to speak, grapple with Death himself and retard his course even for a time, we may assuredly congratulate mankind. This science, as its name implies, takes cognizance of the essential circumstances of human existence, while it must obviously possess inherent and intimate relations with other branches of statistical inquiry, viz., those of morals, industrial pursuits, customs and modes of life, material prosperity, peculiarities of soil and climate, domestic economy, and even political tendencies and events.

If the deductions gained from vital statistics are to be of value in the preservation of life, those facts which bear particularly upon the preventable causes of death must naturally claim our more immediate consideration. The subject of mortuary statistics is, indeed, one of profound interest. All civilized nations have finally recognized its importance, and have by more or less stringent legislative enactments enforced the collection, preservation, and proper arrangement and analysis, of those data which constitute its foundation. It must be acknowledged that even exact figures of mortality do not always indicate with positive accuracy prevailing conditions of the public health, especially in the case of affections subject to constant fluctuations of type. They are, however, indices which point unerringly in the right direction, and, as such, they are entitled to our most careful consideration. Moreover, they are our sole means at present for approximate investigation of national disease. We may trust that ere long the concerted action of the entire medical profession will furnish us with a constant knowledge of the comparative prevalence