Lies, damn lies and the chequered history of mineral statistics

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From: Wilson, H.E. Down to earth - one hundred and fifty years of the British Geological Survey. Edinburgh:Scottish Academic Press, 1985.
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XV Lies, damn lies and the chequered history of mineral statistics. Chapter-head sketch by Robery Geary.

XV Lies, damn lies and the chequered history of mineral statistics[edit]

As we have seen (p.11) the Geological Survey had included a Mining Records Office from 1839 to 1883 and published 'Mineral Statistics', records of mine outputs for all minerals, until 1881, when responsibility passed to the Home Office.

The Imperial Institute from its inception in 1893 included a Commerical Intelligence Department which collected details of imports and exports, including minerals, to and from the UK, the colonies and foreign countries. It published a yearly 'Statistical Record of the Trade and Resources of the Colonial and Indian Possessions of the British Empire'.

Though this Department was taken over by the Board of Trade in 1903, the pressures of World War I produced from the Imperial Institute a series of monographs on the mineral resources of the Empire and a Technical Information Bureau which, when the Institute was transferred to the Department of Overseas Trade in 1925, was amalgamated with the Imperial Mineral Resources Bureau as the Mineral Resources Department.

Mineral and metal statistics were published again by the Institute in 1925 in its Bulletin but after 1928 this was discontinued until 1936. The monograph series, started in 1916, continued, however, until 1940 and 'Reports on the Mineral Industry of the British Empire and Foreign Countries' appeared regularly until 1940, including issues on 'Summary Statistics' and Mining Laws.

On the outbreak of World War II a large part of the Mineral Resources Department was lost as a complete unit to the new Ministry of Economic Warfare, but only six months later they were back at the Institute, described as 'most efficient and quite indispensible'. Presumably they were more useful in South Kensington than in Whitehall.

In 1949 the complete Department became the Mineral Resources Division of Overseas Geological Surveys and the Bulletin of the Imperial Institute became, in part, the annual 'Colonial [later Overseas] Geology and Mineral Resources'. The Statistical Section of the Division continued to produce the annual 'Statistical Summary of the Mineral Industry', the post-war continuation of the 'Reports on the Mineral Industry etc' which had been published up to 1940 by the Imperial Institute. The scope of this Compendium increased to cover world production, exports and imports and it is now an international source book, retitled World Mineral Statistics. A second annual digest of statistics on domestic mineral production and use, United Kingdom Mineral Statistics, was started in 1973.

With the amalgamation of Overseas Geological Survey and the home Survey to form the Institute of Geological Sciences in 1965 the Intelligence Statistics Section formed the core of the new Mineral Resources Division, being divided into a Mineral Intelligence Unit (including the Mineral Index and Mining Law Sections) and a Mineral Statistics (later the Mineral Statistics and Economics) Unit.

The third unit in the new division was the Mineral Assessment Unit, formed expressly to work on the sand and gravel resources in South-east England on behalf of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, to which its first head, A A Archer, had been seconded for some years. This was the first I.G.S. unit, with the exception of the Atomic Energy Division, to be formed expressly as a totally funded group working entirely for an outside department.

With the implementation of the Rothschild reforms in 1973, responsibility for the support of the Intelligence and Statistics work was assumed by the Department of Industry, while the Mineral Assessment Unit, working exclusively for the Department of the Environment (successors to Housing and Local Government) expanded dramatically to vie with the Hydrogeology Unit for the role of the largest Unit in IGS. It was renamed Industrial Minerals Assessment Unit in 1977 when, having demonstrated its versatility with reports on Limestone and Celestite, there were hopes that it would be able to break out of its 'sand and gravel' image and become an authoritative centre of expertise on all non-metallic minerals.

Unfortunately the financial stringency of the early 1980's and the attitude of the principal source of commissioned work, the Department of the Environment, caused major problems to all these units. The Mineral Intelligence Unit and Mineral Statistics and Economic Units were combined as the Mineral Strategy and Economics Research Unit in 1981 and the 'Mineral Index', the long surviving (1916) bibliographic database of the M.I.U. was renamed the Mineral Information Section. In the face of decreasing funds from the Department of Industry the increasingly successful efforts of this Section to sell its unique expertise and archive was of prime importance. With the reorganisation of 1983 the Unit became for a few brief months part of the Programme Directorate largely concerned with overseas work as the 'Mineral Statistics and Economics Research Programme' and, in a sense, returned to its original home! However, after further reorganisation the Programme, now named Mineral Intelligence, Statistics and Economics, became part of a new Mineral Resources and Applied Geochemistry Research Group under the Chief Geochemist.

The Industrial Minerals Assessment Unit which, in 1977, had been moved to the ephemeral Special Surveys Division, was even more drastically affected by the events of the early 1980s. The very considerable funding from the Department of the Environment (over £1 million per year) collapsed dramatically in 1983, when 'competitive tendering' opened the mineral assessment programme to anyone who chose to offer an alternative approach. Within a year, this Unit, which had been able to produce up to 25 Resource Reports in twelve months, was effectively wound up, with its staff dispersed among the Field Divisions and, under the 1983 reorganisation, the Unit disappeared.