The essay that became a drama

During a conference in Milan they were given the assignment to write a scientific essay. In the end they came up with a real drama. A play that was such a success that the statisticians from Groningen had to perform it again last Thursday.

‘This time it was in honour of the famous American statistician Andrew Gelman, who was visiting the University. PhD candidates Ivan Vujacic and Javier Gonzales were asked by their supervisor Eric Wit to perform the play again at a ‘mini-conference’ – specially organized for the arrival of Gelman. ‘Of course, I heard of their performance in Milan, a kind of hilarious Socratic dialogue, with which they won the prize for the best essay. And yes, I also wanted to see the play myself.’

The piece, called ‘Lemma’, revolves around the future of statistics, the subject of the Milan conference. Laura, the main character, is unable to write an article on the topic. She tries to make a few calculations and talks to her father, her mother and her brother. They all give her a different opinion which leads more than once to hilarity in the room – not least because of Laura’s responses, played out on the stage.

Satisfied smile

Laura manages to hand in her essay on time and falls asleep with a satisfied smile on her face. But while it is finished, it only fills one page: if you know almost nothing about the past and you don’t know enough about the present, how can you say something about the future?

Vujacic and Gonzalez wanted to show the diversity of ideas about the future of statistics and make it clear that it isn’t easy to describe them in an essay. ‘We tried to narrow it down and tried to show how important statistics is to any kind of science’, Vujacic says. In Italy they totally agreed with the play, but special guest Andrew Gelman pointed out just one small detail: ‘I don’t know anyone who is working three full days on that kind of simple calculations, as Laura is doing.’