Rice, Stuart

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Rice, Stuart


Stuart Arthur Rice is distinguished for his contributions to the growth of behavioral approaches in social science, to the progress of the United States government’s statistical activities, and to bettering the relations between government and business. In particular, he improved statistical reporting, the organization of international statistics, and the collection of statistics in various foreign countries.

Rice received his ph.d. in 1924 from Columbia University, where he studied primarily under Franklin H. Giddings. Sociological training at Columbia emphasized quantitative research, and Rice produced in the 1920s a series of pioneer studies (e.g., 1924; 1928) which used quantitative methods to test a number of hypotheses regarding political behavior. He hoped his studies would be models for an objective, empirical, value-free science of politics. One hypothesis he investigated was that political behavior may be primarily the resultant of attitudes. He assumed that attitudes are normally distributed: abnormal distributions result from disturbing factors. He implied that political attitudes lie, for the most part, along one basic continuum of radicalism-conservatism. Along with William F. Ogburn and others, Rice used election statistics to analyze differences between various subgroups, thus anticipating later ecological voting studies. Following the leadership of A. Lawrence Lowell, he also used roll calls to detect differences between particular legislators and legislative blocs.

Another topic which Rice investigated in his early studies was the change over time in such political behavior as voter turnout and party preferences. He pioneered in the use of panel techniques to show the impact of observed stimuli upon the political attitudes of students, as measured by simple questionnaires.

At the time that Rice made his studies of political behavior, empirical research in social psychology was just beginning. L. L. Thurstone had not yet perfected his attitude-measurement techniques. Rice’s use of the normal curve as a model of political behavior was soon outdated. More recently, social scientists commanding new data have elaborated his analysis of the areal distribution of political preferences. Again, the sample survey of the general population has replaced Rice’s indirect inferences with the direct measurement of both actual voting and the individual characteristics of citizens. Yet, considering the tools available in the 1920s, Rice made a notable attempt to show the possibilities of an empirical approach to the study of political behavior.

Rice compiled, under the auspices of the Social Science Research Council, a critical review of the methods employed in the social sciences (1931). Case studies of the methods employed in outstanding contributions to social science were arranged in a theoretical setting designed to portray different methodological approaches, without regard to traditional boundaries in subject matter. The basic classification of methods was devised by Rice, as chief investigator and editor, with the assistance of Harold D. Lasswell.

Rice then turned from research and teaching to administrative work in the federal government. Here he did much to professionalize the activities of the Bureau of the Census. He also made notable contributions to the development of social statistics in the United States, the study of the effects of unemployment, the analysis of world standards of living, the establishment of a rationalized system of federal statistics, and the projecting of the statistical needs of the United Nations.

Rice was born in northern Minnesota in 1889. He attended the University of Washington, obtaining his b.a. there in 1912 and his m.a. in 1915, and was employed for some years in welfare administration at the local, state, and regional level. After an unsuccessful venture into minor party politics in 1920, he became interested in exploring the rational character of social movements and pursued the objective analysis of sociological data at Columbia University. He taught at Dartmouth College from 1923 to 1926 and at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce of the University of Pennsylvania from 1926 to 1933.

His first appointment in Washington was as assistant director of the Bureau of the Census, a position he held until 1936. As president of the American Statistical Association in 1933, he was influential in creating the advisory services which in turn produced the central administrative structure for the development and coordination of the federal statistical system. For nearly two decades he was director of the Office of Statistical Standards of the Bureau of the Budget, charged by law with control of statistical work within the government. He won wide praise from the business community for his successful endeavors to reduce the reporting burdens imposed by federal questionnaires. At the beginning of World War n, Rice instigated the creation of the Inter-American Statistical Institute, which supplies the statistical staff of the Pan American Union. At the end of the war, he was active in the establishment of the Statistical Office of the United Nations and served as the first chairman of the UN Statistical Commission, where he displayed skill and ingenuity in working toward greater adequacy and comparability of world statistics.

As president of the International Statistical Institute from 1947 to 1953, he promoted collaboration among the world’s statisticians and at the same time pointed out that the conceptions of statistics in the Soviet Union were an impediment to the growth of international statistics. As head of the Statistical Mission to Japan, he helped develop the statistical services of that country. Upon retiring from federal service in 1954, Rice organized and became president of the Surveys & Research Corporation, a consulting firm offering economic, statistical, and management services to United States and foreign governmental agencies, as well as to private industry and nonprofit organizations.

Harold F. Gosnell

[For the historical context of Rice’s work, see the biographies ofGiddings; Ogburn; Lowell; for discussion of the subsequent development of Rice’s ideas, seeGovernment statistics; Politicalbehavior.]


1923 The Effect of Unemployment Upon the Worker and His Family. Pages 99–109 in Business Cycles and Unemployment: Report and Recommendations of a Committee of the President’s Conference on Unemployment. New York: McGraw-Hill.

1924 Farmers and Workers in American Politics. Columbia University Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, Vol. 113, No. 2. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

1928 Quantitative Methods in Politics. New York: Knopf.

1930 American Statistical Association, Committee on Social Statistics Statistics in Social Studies. Edited by Stuart A. Rice. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

1931 Social Science Research Council, Committee On Scientific Methodinthe Social SciencesMethods in Social Science: A Case Book … Edited by Stuart A. Rice. Univ. of Chicago Press.

1932 The Field of the Social Sciences. Pages 613–632 in James H. S. Bossard (editor), Man and His World. New York: Harper. → Bossard’s book includes three other articles by Stuart Rice, on pages 633–669.

1933 Rice, Stuart et al. Next Steps in the Development of Social Statistics. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards.

1933 Willey, Malcolm M.; and Rice, StuartCommunication Agencies and Social Life. New York: McGraw-Hill.