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The Locks. Photo: Jennifer McCluskey
The Locks. Photo: Jennifer McCluskey

Five-statistician family writes improbable textbook

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Statistics isn't exactly the sexiest subject in school--for people who aren't mathematically inclined, taking a statistics class usually means doing a lot of equations that don't seem to have any relevance to your life, and then then forgetting everything you learned almost immediately.

Now, a family of statisticians has written a new text book that's looking to change that reputation, by teaching statistics in a different way.

Patti Fraser Lock and her husband, Robin Lock, are both professors at St. Lawrence University--and their three grown children are also statisticians. Their book is called "Statistics: Unlocking the Power of Data"--A little nod to the five co-authors. It focuses on how statistics plays out in real life situations, not just on paper.

The five Locks wrote the book over a few years, including a summer spent working in the family home in Hannawa Falls. Nora Flaherty asked Patti Lock what it was like having all her kids back home and working together.

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Nora Flaherty
Digital Editor, News

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The book is out November 7, and available for pre-order from <a href=""></a>.
The book is out November 7, and available for pre-order from
It was fantastic! We get along, we've always gotten along even during the teenage years we've all gotten along exceptionally well. They like each other a lot, which helps enormously, and we have a big enough house that we could spread out, and it worked great, it worked just great.

When we spoke before, you mentioned using the example of mosquitoes and beer to explain statistsics. Can you tell me what that means?

One of the funnest parts about the project, and one of the things that's been really helpful to have five of us working on it, is just searching all the time for fun data sets. We really want the students to care about the results of the experiments as well as learning about the statistical processes.

So one of the studies we found…is about whether drinking beer attracts mosquitoes. It was actually a well done randomized experiment, there were some beer drinkers and some water drinkers, and they counted the mosquitoes that approached them, and they found that more mosquitoes approached the beer drinkers. So you look at that and in fact it was an average of four more mosquitoes approaching the beer drinkers, and it's hard to process that, we don't know if four more mosquitoes tell us that the beer is causing that, or whether that's just random.

And what we found out [is] that beer in fact does attract mosquitoes.
So what we do is we pool together all of the numbers of mosquitoes for the beer and the water drinkers, and then we deal them out…assuming there's no difference between the beer and the water. And what we found out when we did that is that almost none of those random simulations were as far apart as four mosquitoes, which tells us that there is something going on, and so you just learned that beer in fact does attract mosquitoes.

Can you tell me about some of the other data sets you used in this book? You seem excited about them.

 Oh, absolutely. We have another unfortunately alcohol-related one, does sexual frustration increase interest in alcohol. It turns out that's absolutely true, the study was done on fruit flies, not humans, and fruit flies were either given many mating opportunities or none, and then put in a place where they had access to alcohol, and it turned out the ones who had the opportunity to mate frequently didn't really care about the alcohol, and the ones who'd been sexually frustrated for several days went at the alcohol like crazy.

We also learned that crows and pigeons…recognize people's faces and remember them. So if someone for example traps a crow, they're labeled a bad guy, the crows communicate to other crows that this is a bad person.  And even two years later and even a full kilometer away, crows will scold this person when he is around. So crows remember faces.

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