On 8 October 2020, the RSS History of Statistics Section held an online meeting on 'The History of Market Research in Great Britain: The Marriage of the Art of Asking Questions and the Science of Sampling' with guest speaker, Sir Robert Worcester.
Sir Robert Worcester is the doyen of British public opinion pollsters. Arriving from the United States in 1969, he founded the company MORI (Market & Opinion Research International. Since 2005 it has operated as Ipsos MORI. In the same year Robert Worcester was knighted.
His lecture, 'The History of Market Research in Great Britain' was a wide-ranging survey of the nature of public opinion and the means of researching it, drawing both on the results of scholarship and his own experience of British politics and politicians. The scholarship ranged from Cicero in Ancient Rome to Walter Lippmann in 20th century America and the contemporary material was seasoned with anecdotes illustrating the difficulties in getting his work understood— 'Sir Bernard Ingham once told me that the boss (PM Margaret Thatcher) had dismissed one of my poll's results out of hand, saying I'd only asked a thousand people, and she had 13 million behind her!'
The talk was a defence of polling, with Sir Robert insisting, 'I am convinced that as a tree falling in the forest makes a noise whether anybody is there to hear it or not, so public opinion exists, perhaps unheard until someone listens. Message to the Government, to Parliament, to Businesses, to Bankers: are you listening?'
The virtual lecture, which had an average of 51 participans, was followed by a lively Q&A session.
John Aldrich, chair of the History Section and Emeritus Fellow, University of Southampton.
Watch the lecture here (starts 5.12 in following the Section's AGM).