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Pastimes of Statisticians: What Do Statisticians Like to Do When They Are Not Being Statisticians?

1 February 2017 663 views One Comment
Susan Spruill

    We all know statisticians are often considered a little cerebral and somewhat introverted. We tend to be the ones stating facts and figures to other guests at dinner parties. This became painfully apparent to me when, during my 50th birthday party, friends gently and humorously reminded me that I often start sentences with “well, actually,” followed by some obscure statistic I came across and managed to retain. But I knew, deep down, I was more than a retainer for facts and figures. I enjoy much beyond statistics. So, I wondered, what do other statisticians like to do for fun?

    Susan Spruill

    Susan Spruill

    I decided to post this question on the ASA Statistical Consulting Section forum. The response was overwhelming! Apparently, many statisticians have been waiting for just this question to be posed to them. I quickly realized our profession includes as many diverse leisure time interests as any other profession … perhaps even more. But what I also discovered is that we want to let others know about these pastimes. So, with the help of ASA Communications Manager Megan Murphy, we are launching this new series: Pastimes of Statisticians. I am honored to take the first turn. I hope you enjoy it!

    Who are you, and what is your statistics position?

    My name is Susan Spruill and I am an independent statistical consultant doing business as Applied Statistics and Consulting.

    Tell us about what you like to do for fun when you are not being a statistician.

    I am a beekeeper. I started keeping honeybees (Apis mellifera) about nine years ago. I had moved to a small farm in western North Carolina and was interested in organic farming and thought honey bees might be a nice addition. My neighbor had kept bees until the 1980s, when a Varroa mite infestation killed all her hives. She gave me her equipment: hive boxes, tools, and veil. All I needed were the bees.

    I purchased three nucleuses (small starter hives), bought a book (Beekeeping for Dummies), and joined the local beekeeping association. The learning curve was steep.

    For the next three years, I killed every bee hive I started. Then, one of the hives survived the winter and all the education started to click. Hives were growing and producing new bees and honey. I was hooked! Now I manage a small apiary of five to eight hives and I’m the secretary of our local beekeeper’s association.

    What drew you to this hobby, and what keeps you interested?

    Being a statistician often means being indoors and at a desk for many hours a day, so I am drawn to things that get me outside. I like gardening, and I have always been fascinated by insects, especially beneficial insects. Honeybees are essential pollinator insects, so beekeeping seemed a logical step.

    What I like most about keeping bees is their resourcefulness. Honeybees have a very strict colony structure that is infinitely fascinating. Understanding their natural structure and working with them to optimize it is what it means to be a beekeeper. And then there’s the data! Here are some fun facts:

    • One hive houses about 50,000 bees
    • One bee will visit 50 to 100 flowers each trip from the hive
    • Twelve bees will make about 1 teaspoon of honey in their lifetime
    • More than 2 million flowers will be pollinated in the making of 1 pound of honey
    • Bees are directly responsible for one-third of our food supply

    If you have a hobby or would like to share with members of the ASA something you like to do when you are not being a statistician, contact Susan Spruill or Megan Murphy.

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    One Comment »

    • Granville Tunnicliffe Wilson said:

      I was pleased to hear of your success with bees. I am a retired academic statistician who has kept a couple of hives of bees for half my life and have grown garden vegetables and soft fruit for longer than that. As a statistician I am interested in the variability of my harvests. My average annual honey yield is 40 lbs, but it varies from zero (in several years) to as much as 200lbs in one year. The same can be true of vegetable and fruit harvests, and the challenge is to learn by experience, and the advice of neighbours, how one can improve harvests under ones own local conditions. Planned experimentation in ones garden is limited, though I have tried it, but trial and (lots of) error has lead to increased reliability of harvests. There are many factors not under ones control. I live in a fairly rainy corner of north west England, but we can have three weeks of hot dry weather in early summer that would seriously affect seed germination without regular watering. Pests can badly affect crops, but I gave up pesticides and sprays decades ago, and though, for example, aphids can be prolific in one year, they disappear the next and for many years following, because their natural predators thrive. I do, however, fence against deer and rabbits and net the soft fruit against birds during the harvest season. These activities can be character forming. They teach you that coping with adversity does lead to rewards, and I am glad that you persevered with your bee keeping, though I know several who gave up the struggle after a few years discouragement. As to the main bee pest, varroa, there is evidence that in some areas of the UK bees are now surving quite well with infestation falling to relativly harmless levels after many years without treatment. See C and S Hudson, ‘Varroa has lost its sting’, BBKA News, December 2016.

      As to other activies, a do-it-yourself rural community project has brought gigabit broadband to all the houses in our village (see B4RN.org.uk) over the last two years with the benefit of working with and getting to know our neighbours. The winter years are occupied with performing in the village pantomime and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

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