# Math Geek Mom: Coulrophobia in Ohio

Faux clown mayhem.

## By

October 6, 2016

While some propose other ways to interact with data, the idea of “hypothesis testing” still plays a major role in the study of and teaching of Statistics. One concept that I stress when I teach this in my Statistics classes is that of approaching data with a hypothesis already in mind. Rather than searching through data for unusual relationships, I teach students to propose a test ahead of time. If this is not done, it is possible to find an anomaly and incorrectly build a hypothesis to fit that result. Such an approach leads to many finding erratic behavior on nights with a full moon, while ignoring such behavior in other phases of the moon. I thought of this recently when I became aware of an “outbreak” of clowns, both in Ohio and in other parts of the country. Indeed, while talking to my father recently, he asked me “what is this about the clowns?” To be honest, I didn’t have a good answer. And so, I did what any smart parent would do; I asked my teenage daughter about it.

It seems that this is something that started with what appeared to be actual threats, and then expanded onto social media, with people posting pictures of themselves dressed up as clowns. All of this built off of several incidents in which people or schools were threatened by people dressed up as clowns. Indeed, the phenomena have grown so much that some costume stores in our area are advising patrons to not dress up as clowns for this Halloween. Several incidents occurred in Ohio, including one in which young girls dressed up as clowns and posted threatening messages on Instagram.

While they apologized, they are probably lucky not to have been arrested. One woman said that she was approached by someone dressed up as a clown who threatened not only her, but also the safety of children in local schools, closing the schools for the day.

It is therefore not surprising that, when the lights flickered at my daughter’s school this week, turning off the power for a second due to high winds, the students suggested to each other that the cause of the power outage was “a clown.” Like the mysterious creatures that children believed lived in their closets or under their beds, this year clowns have taken on the role of being responsible for all that is frightening to otherwise perfectly safe teens. And, if I remember those years correctly, there was plenty that was frightening about being a teenager.

While this appears to be a basically new phenomenon, I was surprised to find an article from 2014 that discussed the causes of what must have been a similar “outbreak” of clowns in that year, and explained some of why it might be that clowns might frighten otherwise rational people. And, to pick up my train of thought from a few paragraphs ago, could it be that, like the flickering lights in my daughter’s school, people are just now noticing frightening things, and attributing them to the presence and evil motives of clowns, because of the rumors that are spreading throughout the country?

Once again, this all leads me back to the issue that I find to be central to being a parent. How do you protect an ever increasingly independent child from the things in the world that threaten to harm them?

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