Bernardo Maria Colombo
Olginate, Lecco, 24/2/1919 - Padova, 26/4/2012
Commemoration – Bernardo Maria Colombo died earlier this year on 26 April 2012. Born in Olginate (Italy) on 24 February 1919, he had been a member of this Pontifical Academy for 20 years, since 18 September 1992. The scope of his scientific research is evident by his long list of publications visible in his Curriculum vitae in the Academy’s Yearbook and on its website. His career began with an Economics Degree from the Catholic University of Milan, followed by an assistant position to the Chair of Statistics at the University of Venice. He then becameVisiting Fellow at Princeton, Statistics Professor at the University of Venice and Chair of Demography at the University of Padua where he finished as Professor Emeritus.The mere mention of these disciplines indicates the breadth of interests that characterized Bernardo Colombo’s research, from economics to statistics and demographics. It was in this latter area that he gave his greatest contribution as a scholar and teacher. Indeed, the Faculty of Statistical, Demographical and Actuarial Sciences at the University of Padua, the first faculty of its kind in Italy, was established thanks to him.
But despite reaching the highest levels internationally, made evident by his numerous awards from Italy and abroad, scientific research was only one aspect of his job and merits. He was also an expert consultant to major public institutions, at both the national and international level, in the field of population policy. Convinced that demographic studies, while having to meet the most rigorous scientific criteria, are not ends in themselves, but should contribute to social utility, highlighting issues of public interest and suggesting solutions of a political nature, Bernardo Colombo never hesitated to strengthen his commitment towards institutional organizations devoted to the implementation of social policies. For this reason the volume published by the University of Padua on his 90th birthday, titled Bernardo Colombo. Una vita per la scienza (A Life in Science) (Padua, 2009), while including a valuable interview with him by two of his students, does not do justice to his work, because Colombo’s life was not solely devoted to science, or rather it was devoted to science in view of the services that it can render to life.
The first important evidence of his social commitment was his participation in the School Survey Commission, established in 1962 by the Italian government, which produced the School Development Plan of 1962. His reputation as an expert in statistics and demography first and foremost at the national level, led Bernardo Colombo to be part of several ISTAT (National Statistics Institute) committees on various subjects such as the Italian population censuses, the revision of the Statistics Yearbook, the respect for the confidentiality of statistics and the sampling distribution of data.Thanks to his reputation, which soon became international, he was included in Committees belonging to the UNESCO, UIESP (International Union for the Scientific Study of Population), and the United Nations, as well as in associations such as the International Statistical Institute and the International Association for Official Statistics.
However, the most remarkable testimony of his human commitment was certainly his involvement as an “expert” in the works of the Second Vatican Council, which later led him to join the Pontifical Commission for the Study of Population, Family and Births. In this capacity, Bernardo Colombo contributed to the drafting of paragraphs 47-52 and 87 of Gaudium et Spes, devoted to “Fostering the Nobility of Marriage and the Family” and “International cooperation in the field of population growth”. He then published an extremely interesting account of this experience, titled Discussioni sulla regolazione della sterilità (Discussions on the regulation of infertility), in the journal Teologia of the Theological Faculty of Northern Italy (2003/1).
Having thus achieved an international reputation, both in the relations between States and in the life of the Catholic Church, Colombo continued and expanded his commitment to social institutions as an expert on population issues. Further evidence of this was the report he wrote for the closing session of the plenary of the International Population Conference, organized by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population in Mexico City in August 1977, on the theme “Human rights, ideology and population policies” (the other rapporteur was Simone Veil, the French Minister at the time).The topic demonstrates the breadth and diversity of Colombo’s interests, ranging from the concept of ideology to the meaning of human rights, the need for population policies on international migration, internal migration, mortality, marriage, fertility and related problems. He also stressed the importance of demography for the development of these policies in his inaugural speech for the 1977-1978 academic year of the University of Padua.
Another significant milestone in Bernardo Colombo’s social commitment was his coordination of the 1992 study week organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Resources and Population. The work ended with a Report prepared by Colombo himself in collaboration with Georges M.M. Cottier, theologian of the Pontifical Household, Ugo Farinelli, scientific adviser of ENEA, Antonio Golini, demography professor, and Alberto Quadrio Curzio, a professor of political economy. The proceedings of that study week were published in 1996 by Clarendon Press, Oxford under the title Resources and Population. Natural, Institutional, and Demographic Dimensions of Development, edited by Colombo, P. Demeny and M.E. Perutz, with an Address by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. The Final Report em phasizes the urgency of the problems created by the enormous increase in world population and provides information and guidance to political and religious authorities to solve these problems in compliance with human dignity and mutual solidarity.
Throughout the course of his life Bernardo Colombo took part in both Italian and Vatican delegations at international conferences, such as UNESCO’s International Conference on Education (Paris 1968), the Council of Europe’s European Demographic Conference (Strasbourg 1968), the World Population Conference (Bucharest 1974), the World Conference on Population and Development(Cairo 1994), and the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (Oslo 1999).The President of the Italian Republic appointed him as member and later chairman of the Commission for the Protection of Statistical Information of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (1990-1996).
Bernardo Colombo never included any of these roles in his Curriculum Vitae for our Yearbook, because his modest, shy, sober nature, far from any form of exhibitionism, prevented him from doing so. His nature dictated his lifestyle, as witnessed by those who knew him personally, in the outside world and even in our Academy. He would generously offer scientific guidance to all who came to him, first of all his students, for whom he created a school of demographic sciences in Padua that was appreciated everywhere. At the same time, in terms of moral guidance he was reserved and respectful of the autonomy of others, and largely limited himself to setting a good example, as one of his pupils said in a speech during the funeral ceremony that was held at the university in his honour. As a scientist and as a man he also demanded scientific rigour in his own research and in that of others, and was critical and at times scathing in the face of undeserved merit. He was also ironic about himself and with those who deserved it, but also extraordinarily willing and kind when it came to listening to what others had to say, trying to understand their reasons and helping them find a common solution to their various problems. Last but not least, he was sincere, quiet and open in testifying to his Christian faith every day. His very long and extraordinarily intense career is an honour for his university, for his country’s culture and also for the international prestige of this Academy.
Principali premi, riconoscimenti e accademie
Premi: Medaglia d’Oro al merito per l’educazione, la cultura e le arti. Accademie: Società Italiana di Statistica; Unione Internazionale per lo Studio Scientifico della Popolazione; Istituto Internazionale di Statistica; Associazione Internazionale per le Statistiche Ufficiali; Socio effettivo, Accademia Patavina di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti; Socio effettivo, Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti; Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze.
Riassunto dell’attività scientifica
A partire da una preparazione di base in statistica, il Prof. Colombo, durante una lunga carriera, ha seguito vari rami di ricerca. Dopo un lavoro iniziale sulla teoria dell’esame delle ipotesi e contributi originali alle tecniche dell’analisi sequenziale si è interessato ai problemi demografici. In questo campo è stato coinvolto sia nella metodologia delle misurazioni della fertilità e della nuzialità e nell’analisi dei fatti, con particolare riferimento al sorprendente fenomeno della ripresa del tasso di natalità in vari paesi durante l’ultima guerra mondiale e all’incidenza degli aborti illegali in Italia. Questo tipo di ricerche è andato di pari passo con la sua continua attenzione per gli aspetti fondamentali delle politiche demografiche per trovare linee di intervento ragionevoli che rispettano i diritti umani fondamentali e conducono a soluzioni accettabili creando un equilibrio tra decisioni individuali libere e bisogni e obiettivi collettivi. Fortemente impegnato nel campo delle consulenze per le autorità civili, il suo contributo principale è stato quello di fornire suggerimenti sull’organizzazione del sistema scolastico e sulla metodologia di produzione di statistiche ufficiali ottimizzate. Ha inoltre condotto ricerche biometriche, a partire da uno studio approfondito sulle proporzioni primarie e secondarie tra i sessi nell’uomo. Le sue attività più recenti e coinvolgenti, con la responsabilità di coordinare grandi imprese a livello internazionale e nazionale, sono incentrate su di un soggetto – la biometria del ciclo mestruale e soprattutto della fecondabilità – che sono al centro dell’interazione dei componenti biologici e comportamentali della riproduzione, ovvero della storia degli individui e delle popolazioni umane.
Colombo, B., La recente inversione nella tendenza della natalità, CEDAM, Padova (1951); Colombo, B., Sulla misura della fertilità matrimoniale e sulla determinazione della sua dinamica, Riv. Intern. di Scienze Soc., 61, pp. 40-58 (1953); Colombo, B., Intorno all'estrapolazione della dinamica della nuzialità, Statistica, 14, pp. 747-75 (1954); Colombo, B., On the sex ratio in man, Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 22, pp. 193-202 (1957); Colombo, B., Appunti di metodologia sequenziale, Mem. Acc. Patav. di Sc., Lett. ed Arti, 71, pp. 113-40 (1959); Colombo, B., Prospettive per la scuola dopo l'obbligo, Il Mulino, Bologna (1971); Colombo, B., La diffusione degli aborti illegali in Italia, Vita e Pensiero, Milano (1977); Colombo, B., Droits de l'homme, idéologies et politiques démographiques, Actes, Congrès International de la Population, Mexico 1977, Union Intern. pour l'Et. Scient. de la Pop., Liège, pp. 541-90 (1978); Colombo, B., Le statistiche demografiche, ISTAT, Annali di Stat., Serie IX, 1, pp. 19-53 (1981); Colombo, B., Riflessioni sullo sfruttamento intensivo dei risultati censuari, Statistica, 42, 4, pp. 455-76 (1982); Colombo, B., La qualità dei dati statistici, Atti del convegno di Trieste, Vol. I, Soc. Ital. di Stat., pp. 25-65 (1983); Colombo, B., Politiche demografiche e politiche sociali: possibilità e opportunità d'intervento, Secondo rapporto sulla situazione demografica italiana, Ist. di Ric. sulla Popol., CNR, Roma, pp. 327-47 (1988); Colombo, B., Biometrical research on some parameters of the menstrual cycle, Intern. Jl. of Gynec. and Obst., Suppl. 1, pp. 13-18 (1989); Colombo, B., Resources and Population: Natural, Institutional and Demographic Dimensions of Development (a cura di Bernardo Colombo, Paul Demeny e Max Perutz), Clarendon Press, Oxford (1996); Colombo, B. and Scarpa, B., Calendar Methods of Fertility Regulation: a rule of thumb, Statistica, 56, 1, pp. 3-14 (1996); Colombo, B., Evaluation of fertility predictors and comparison of different rules, Genus, 54, 3-4, pp. 153-67 (1998); Colombo, B. and Masarotto, G., Daily Fecundability: First Results from a New Data Base, www.demographic-research.org/Volumes/Vol3/5/ (2000); Dunson, D.B., Baird, D.D. and Colombo, B., Changes with age in the level and duration of fertility in the menstrual cycle,Human Reproduction, 17, 5, pp. 1399-403 (2002); Dunson, D.B. and Colombo, B., Bayesian Modelling of Markers of Day-Specific Fertility, Jl. of the Amer. Stat. Ass., 98, 461, pp. 28-37 (2003); Colombo, B., Mion, A., Passarin, K. and Scarpa, B., Cervical mucus symptom and daily fecundability: first results from a new database, Stat. Meth. in Medical Research, 15, 2, pp. 161-80 (2006).
Reflections on the Demographic Question and on Pastoral Guidance (PDF) 2010
Paths of Discovery: Personal Experiences in a Social Science (PDF) 2004
The Different Paces of Development of Science and Culture: The Considerations of a Demographer (PDF) 2002
Choice, Responsibility, and Problems of Population (PDF) 1999