This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Census and Insanity--Is This Nuts, or What?

This month marks the publication by the American Psychiatric Association of the latest version of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5(TM))." This is a particularly controversial revision because, among other things, it will no longer treat Asperger's as a distinct diagnosis, but rather will push it into autism spectrum disorder. But what do mental health diagnoses have to do with the census? Well you might ask, and a book review in the Smithsonian magazine this month offered a clue. Even before that new manual has been published, a critique of it has been put out by Gary Greenberg. Full disclosure--I have not yet read the book, but the Smithsonian (May 2013 issue, page 99--not available for free on the internet) reports that "the manual originated in the 19th-century needs of the U.S. Census--the government wanted to know just how many people were 'insane.'" 

Now, this comment seemed to me to be a bit slanderous toward the census which, in and of itself, does not need to know about insanity. However, a quick check of the US Census Bureau's website turned up a page of history in which they report the following with respect to the 1900 Census:
In the act authorizing the 1900 census, Congress limited census content to questions dealing with population, mortality, agriculture, and manufacturing. Reports on these topics, called "Census Reports," were to be published by June 30, 1902. The act also authorized special census agents to collect statistics relating to incidents of deafness, blindness, insanity, juvenile delinquency, and the like; as well as on religious bodies; utilities; mining; and transportation, among others. These statistics were to be collected following the completion of the regular census. The preparation of the special reports developed from these statistics was to be accomplished in such a way so as to not interfere with the completion of the Census Reports.
So, we can see that the census itself was not concerned about insanity. Rather, it was Congress that was pushing its agenda through the census survey. This is, of course, a familiar enough story...

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