Reindeer herding statistics in Russia: issues of reliability, interpretation, and political effect

Kirill V. Istomin, Roza I. Laptander, Joachim Otto Habeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Official reindeer herding statistics are an invaluable source of data for both social and natural scientists wishing to understand and model ecological systems in the Arctic. However, as with all official statistics, reindeer herding statistics are subject to certain distortions emerging from the way they are collected and processed as well as from a priori assumptions. In this article, we analyse Soviet/Russian reindeer herding statistics in order to reveal these distortions and assumptions and show how these statistics should be interpreted. Particularly, we analyse reindeer ownership categories and reindeer age/sex categories, spatial organization of the data, so-called magical numbers (statistical parameters used by the state to assess the quality of reindeer herding management), and the manner of collecting statistics. We show that official Soviet/Russian statistics reflected the world as the state wanted to see it, even if it obviously did not completely correspond to the world ‘out there’. In Soviet times, the state even made systematic attempts to change this world to better correspond to the statistics, which, however, was never fully achieved. On the basis of this analysis, we offer some recommendations for how an interested researcher should read and understand Russian reindeer herding statistics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Magical numbers
  • Reindeer
  • Russia
  • Soviet Union
  • Statistics

Field of science

  • Sociology
  • Other agricultural sciences


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