Bo Sundgren – An intellectual biography – No. 4 ARKSY

So, Bo finished his doctorial thesis in 1973. In it he predicted a unified theory of databases and that the relational model would not be able to solve the bulk of database needs. Then what?

On his blog we find a number of internal reports from Statistics Sweden, from 1974. That is all until 1991!

(I rely on my Swedish informant, so there may be one or two errors of translation. If so, let me know and I can correct them!)

The key acronym for these activities in 1974 seems to have been “ARKSY”. What on earth was that? And why was that the only thing Bo produced for eighteen years?

(At least produced, that was R & D, and that is now possible to publish on his blog. If you know of any other R & D publication by Bo between 1975 and 1990, please send me an e-mail!)

So, ARKSY was an acronym for “archive statistical system”. The purpose of this project was to increase reuse and recombination of statistical data within Statistics Sweden. In its graphical form, the vision was the classical attempt to transcend the stove-pipe organisation. An “input data warehouse”, if you will.

The background for ARKSY was described as changed external circumstances and it was envisioned that ARKSY would have a general influence on the way that statistics was produced. Have we heard this before? Or, better, how many times have we heard the same thing since then?

It gets better! One of the first steps was to propose a “frame” as a basis for a more strict theory of the production of statistics. Wow! Does that not sound a bit like the GSBPM?

In the description of chapter seven in the report there was further mention of “conceptual systems”, “frame models” and “standards” that were of importance to the realisation of the ARKSY. Does this sound familiar?

As concrete systems the vision was that the project would result in a variable and file catalogue, a database management system, and a record (or file) linkage system. Go, figure!

But, what about the surveys and standardization? The hard core content basis of standardisation!

Do you remember my posts about statistics as art or science? I mentioned that the case for standardization must be made by being specific about individual surveys. It must also be specific regarding different aspects of a survey. I specifically mentioned the statistical unit.

In 1974, the ARKSY project provided a full analytical model for this! Wow! There is very little new under the sun.

This analytical model included: (1) statistical units, (2) populations, (3) samples, (4) variables (including classifications), (5) time and (6) (physical?) access to data!

I wonder when this comprehensive analytical scheme was lost to the international metadata circuit? The exact same rethoric about standardization can now be found in international fora, via HLG-BAS. Yet, one searches in vain for an analytical model of this sort.

On the other hand, if the Swedes have been thinking about and trying to do this since 1974, what are the chances that the international community will be successful in the 2010s?

Clearly, something is wrong here. I think that it is easy to see that with as many as six parameters, the probability that each survey will be unique enough to make reuse difficult is very high. If it is not the definition of the object type, it is the sample, or the time, etc.

Then the report goes slipshod. It claims that there is some reuse and recombination at Statistics Sweden, but that the potential is much higher than the current practice. Really!? How did they know that for a fact?

Maybe they did not, but they later found out they were wrong? The report actually suggested that a next step was for the subject matter departments to suggest “new archival statistical products”. What happened with that?

What are the conclusions of this?

– That the same abstract visions have been around for over three decades, without achieving their goals.

– Initial claims are made without being been substantiated by concrete examples.

– If it is true that there was an attempt to find concrete examples at Statistics Sweden, already in the 1970s, then we would like to know why there never was an ARKSY system.

Of course, what this suggests is that there was no real empirical basis for these visions. Worse than that, it also suggests that Bo realised this already thirty years ago.

My suggestion is that everyone who has contact with Bo should ask him what happened with the ARKSY project and the attempts to standardize and define “new archive statistical products” (and a frame, and standards, and theory, and a variable and file catalogue, etc).

If he cannot give a straight answer, we must conclude that he is a fraud.


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