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Can a pet tortoise predict when it’s about to rain? An article that sets out to investigate this question was today named the winner of the 2021 Statistical Excellence Award for Early Career Writing.

The full title of the winning article is “Pietro the Weather Tortoise and the Pursuit of Soggy Bun Prevention”. It was written by Conner Jackson, a research instructor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and it will be published in the October 2021 issue of Significance.

Judges from Significance and the Royal Statistical Society’s Young Statisticians Section (YSS) praised Conner’s article for its humour and originality. The story begins with an off-the-cuff remark made during a work meeting, about how a colleagues’ pet tortoise always knows when it’s about to rain, and it then describes Conner’s attempt to investigate the claim.

The story is well structured and told, walking readers step-by-step through the statistical investigative process and introducing some basic statistical concepts along the way. But what stood out to judges most was that, through his writing, Conner effectively conveys the fun and joy of data – of finding an interesting question, figuring out how to answer it, designing a data collection procedure, and then analysing the resulting data.

Conner’s enthusiasm for data and statistics came through clearly in the article, and the hope of the judges is that this enthusiasm will inspire anyone who reads the article to want to discover the joy of data for themselves.

So, congratulations to Conner for winning the 2021 early-career writing award. And congratulations also to our two runners-up:

  • Anna Beukenhorst, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and an honorary research associate at the University of Manchester, for the article “Are professors and football stars just lucky?”
  • Nicola Rennie, a PhD student at Lancaster University, for the article, “We’re not getting any younger! Or should that be older?”

Thank you to our judges: Mario Cortina Borja, Carlos Grajales and Kelly H. Zou for Significance, and Daniella Cuba, Emily Granger and Ryan Jessop for the YSS. And thanks finally to all the early-career statisticians and data scientists who entered this year’s award. It was a pleasure to read all the submitted articles.

Information about next year’s award is due to be published in February 2022.


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