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Willem van Zwet, President of the International Statistical Institute

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my duty, honour and pleasure to thank the Government of Finland for inviting the International Statistical Institute to hold its 52nd Session in Helsinki and to welcome all of you here on behalf of ISI.

Organising an ISI Session does not only take considerable dedication to the cause of statistics, but also a great deal of work over a long period of time. Among the many who have exerted themselves to arrange this excellent Session, thanks go in particular to

The Chairman, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, and members of the Honorary Committee;

The Chairman, Timo Relander, and members of the National Organising Committee and Statistics Finland;

The Secretary General of the Executive Secretariat, Ilkka Mellin and his assistant Raija Löfgren;

The Chairman, Hannu Niemi, the members of the Local Programme Committee and its secretary Ilkka Mellin;

The Chairman, Jon Rao, and members of the ISI Programme and Programme Co-ordinating Committees; and finally,

The members of many committees of ISI and its Sections as well as the many individual members and section members who have contributed to the success of the Session.

At the end of 1997, ISI director Zoltan Kenessey, resigned after six years of dedicated and exemplary service to the Institute. A few months later the sad news reached us that he had passed away. I am sure we shall all remember Zoltan with fondness and appreciation. The new Director Marcel van den Broecke and Assistant Director Daniel Berze took over the multifaceted business of ISI without any break of continuity. ISI is deeply indebted to both of them.

I also wish to express my great appreciation for the work done by the Permanent Office of ISI in the past two years. The ISI staff has many and complex duties to perform, yet I found them always willing to consider new solutions to problems old and new.

The ISI Sessions mark the end of one ISI administration and the beginning of another. At this time, it is fitting to review very briefly some of the advances we have made in the past two years. After many years of discussion, the General Assembly at the previous Session in Istanbul decided to change the format of the ISI Sessions. We had already experimented with the new format at Istanbul, but the Helsinki Session is the first where it is fully implemented. The duration of the Session has become somewhat shorter and the coverage of all aspects of statistics has become considerably broader by greatly increasing the number of invited papers presented at the Session. We have also invited a limited number of scientific societies in areas related to statistics to organise a meeting at the Session and acquaint us with statistical problems in their area of expertise. We believe that these changes will emphasise the unity and breadth of statistics and indicate our willingness to enter new fields of application. I encourage you all to attend the meetings organised by our guest societies.

The ISI Session is an ideal occasion to learn about advances in all areas of statistics and increase one's network of professional colleagues. This is especially useful for statisticians from developing countries who have few opportunities for such interaction. Over the years ISI has provided financial support for a small number of statisticians from the developing world to attend ISI Sessions. Clearly we have not done enough and a proposal for a significant increase of our efforts will be discussed during this Session.

Institutional subscription prices of many commercially published scientific journals are rising exponentially. In some cases the libraries of the institutes where we work are unable to afford the journals in which we publish our research results. This is an unpalatable situation. We do the research, write the papers, referee and edit them for a journal free of charge and when all the work is done, a commercial publisher sets a margin of profit so that our institutes can't buy the journal any more. Journals run entirely by scientific societies have far lower prices for institutional subscribers and often have a far larger circulation too. In view of all this, it seems that scientific societies should play an important role in publishing journals as a service to the science they represent. ISI is willing to consider publishing statistical journals jointly with its Sections if there is a sufficient demand and it is economically viable. As a first example, ISI and the Bernoulli Society have jointly taken over the publication of the journal Bernoulli from its initial publisher.

ISI wishes to unite all statisticians and prevent a fragmentation of the science of statistics. However, it would be foolish to deny that there are many different directions in statistics and that those working in any of these directions should have an opportunity to discuss technical matters among each other. To achieve the latter, ISI has its Sections dealing with subject matter as diverse as sampling theory, probability and theoretical statistics, computational statistics, official statistics and statistical education. Sections have open membership which substantially increases the scientific constituency of ISI. Of late a number of new groups representing different areas in statistics are preparing to apply for Section status and many more will probably want to follow in their tracks. Some thought about the desirability of this is long overdue. On the one hand specialisation is a fact to be recognised, but on the other ISI should not become merely a union of diverse Sections each going its own way independent of the others. It seems to me that at the very least, a requirement for Section status should be that there is a demand for an international organisation in an area of statistics and that a sufficient number of statisticians, both inside and outside ISI, should want to join. I trust the next administration will have the wisdom to deal with this problem.

On a more pedestrian level, the executive committee will propose to Council, General Assembly and Sections to rationalise the dues structure of ISI and its Sections. In trying to do away with certain inconsistencies in the present system, we propose to move towards a so called cafeteria-system where members pay separately for each of the publications they receive apart from their basic membership.

Let me end by expressing the hope that you will not only participate in an excellent scientific meeting here in Helsinki, but also find time to enjoy the charm and beauty of the land of a thousand lakes, its history and its culture. Once again, many thanks to those who made this possible.


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