Data are available on some social phenomena that are relevant to the human dimensions of global change: for example, trends in population growth, dispersion, and mortality, per capita energy use by nation and region, health and disease statistics, agricultural productivity for nations and regions, various indices of economic and industrial growth and decline, and political events related to the stability of governments. In fact, there is so much statistical information that it was beyond the capacity of the committee to judge its quality or its adequacy for the study of global change. Few if any scholars have a clear sense of the full range of data that are available.
Since the conclusion of World War II, many aspects of social science have been revolutionized by the increasing availability of quantitative data about social phenomena throughout the world and of computers that permit large quantities of data to be analyzed quickly and easily. Traditional administrative and census techniques have been used more intensively to gather more and more fine-grained data and more extensively throughout all areas of the world, and huge archives have been built. The sample survey, which has been greatly refined in the last 50 years, has made it possible to generalize to entire populations from a relatively small, carefully drawn sample and can therefore supplement censuses. Surveys also make it possible to gather data about issues that can be explored only through interviews.
Massive data collection efforts, beginning in the 1930s in the Western countries, have aided in the development of social theory. In some cases, data were collected because theories demonstrated that they would be useful to understanding how social phenomena interacted. National income accounts are a prime example of this interaction between the development of theory and the collection of data. In other cases, theory has allowed exploratory data analysis and the building of inductive theory.
The national-level data sets published by the United Nations and other international agencies are global data on human phenomena. After World War II, these agencies developed standards for gathering data, trained statisticians throughout the world, and inaugurated a vast array of serial publications of statistical data. The United Nations and most of its related agencies such as the