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Haberdasher of small wares

posted Feb 27, 2014, 9:41 AM by Tim Riffe   [ updated Feb 28, 2014, 8:46 AM ]
In February 1662 (352 years ago!), John Graunt presented 50 copies of his Natural and Political Observations on the London Bills of Mortality to the Royal Society, and was inducted forthwith. I'm not sure about the exact date, but it represents the approximate birthday of modern demography. Here's an indexed  html conversion of that document. Apparently this was printed on Jan. 25th of that year (maybe that's the birthday?), which means that poor John Graunt was toiling away in the preceding months, and possibly would have noticed the male-biased sex ratio at birth the summer before (is that the birthday?). Working out the first lifetable ever sounds like nasty fall work to me.
(Come on, let me imagine that that's how it went down!)

The cover page to citizen Graunt's momentous treatise:
The cover to the annual Bills of Mortality (London death stats) that he based it on was pretty awesome back then:
Anyway, we (Berkeley Demography) are going to pretend it's modern demography's birthday today and have called a tea time. Well done, says I!

During today's dreary walk to work I cooked up a little drinking song in memoriam (for some demography happy hour somewhere):

we stand upon John Graunt's head

we drink to the Bills of the Dead!

raise a glass in poor John Graunt's stead

raise a glass in poor John Graunt's stead!

It's short, I know, but with a barrel voice it could be cool.

[[Edit, Friday Feb 28]]
Ken Wachter informed us that Graunt may not have been the original author of his 'observations', and that the work may have been lifted from Graunt's boyhood friend, William Petty. Hervé le Bras has done some digging and he comes to some conclusions on the matter in this book
(possibly soon to be published in English?).