The Population Investigation Committee: its history and influence over the last 75 years

The Population Investigation Committee, a small independent research group, was founded in 1936 and since World War II has been housed at the London School of Economics. Prof. Sir Tony Wrigley, Chairman of the Population Investigation Committee 1984-1991 chaired an afternoon symposium to celebrate the launch of the historical archives of the PIC at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre on Friday 18 February 2011. Abstracts and recordings of the presentations can be found below;


Dr Edmund Ramsden, Centre for Medical History, University of Exeter
From eugenics to political arithmetic: The early history of the PIC

The Population Investigation Committee (PIC) was founded amid considerable controversy surrounding eugenics, birth control, and even the study of population itself. Through the study of demography, its founders, A. M. Carr-Saunders and C. P. Blacker, sought to realise a means of improving the human race that was more consistent with contemporary scientific, social and political values. In their appointment of David Glass, however, the work of the PIC would also reflect the 'political arithmetic' of the great critic of eugenics, Lancelot Hogben. In this paper I will explore this tension between the ideals of social justice, efficiency and improvement as reflected in the demographic surveys of the PIC.


Christopher Langford, London School of Economics and Political Science
David Glass and the PIC

David Glass' early life and work. His political and scientific viewpoint. His work for the Positive Eugenics Committee and the early PIC. The Royal Commission on Population, and later research. The journal Population Studies. The IPU and the IUSSP. His undergraduate and graduate teaching; the MSc. in Demography.


Prof. Michael Wadsworth, Honorary Senior Scientist, MRC Unit for Life Long Health and Ageing
Setting up the 1946 national Birth Cohort Study

The Population Investigation Committee (PIC) was influential in establishing the Royal Commission on Population, and having piloted a study of maternity in the late 1930s, the PIC undertook a national study in 1946. The PIC appointed Dr JWB Douglas to direct the study, and in 1948 they jointly published their influential findings in Maternity in Great Britain (Oxford University Press). Douglas began a follow-up of the babies born in 1946, and the sample selected for that purpose became the first national birth cohort study. The interests of both its director James Douglas and of the PIC's chairman, David Glass, are evident in the study's concern with development in terms of health, growth, cognition and educational attainment. Data from those early years have continued to be of great value in understanding the subsequent life of the sample, in particular health and the processes of ageing, currently being measured at ages 60 to 65 years in over 80 percent of the sample members who are alive and resident in Britain.


Prof. Ian Deary, University of Edinburgh
The Scottish Mental Surveys of 1932 and 1947

The origins (rationales and aims) of the Scottish Mental Surveys of 1932 and 1947 are described. The resulting data and findings are summarised. Relationships with the Population Investigation Committee are discussed. The subsequent, including present-day, uses of the Scottish Mental Surveys are described. The latter include work on cognitive ageing and cognitive epidemiology. Surviving members of both Surveys are still being followed up in the Lothian and Aberdeen Birth Cohorts of 1921 and 1936, and some findings from these programmes are presented.


Prof. Richard Smith, University of Cambridge
Revisiting the Demography of the British Peerage

Tom Hollingsworth published his famous demographic study of the British Peerage as a supplement to Population Studies in 1964. The data set which was created in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a particularly early case of computerisation of an historical data set. Since this work was done a half-century ago there have been formidable advances in computing power and techniques for the measurement of mortality from incomplete data have emerged. This paper will report on some of the work done at the Cambridge Group for the History of Population that has enabled significant revisions to Tom Hollingsworth's earlier demographic findings to be made.


Dr Lesley Hall, Wellcome Library
Placing the PIC in the context of the archival record

The PIC archive is not just an important collection in itself, it has strong ties with other archival collections in the Wellcome Library and elsewhere, revealing wide-reaching personal and institutional connections. Its synergistic relationships with these other collections will be explored.

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