In my summer Statistics course that ended last week, my students encountered a strange set of results. When one variable was compared to a continuous variable representing the number of years spent in school, one type of result was obtained. However, when they used a different statistical test (as was required by the different type of data) to compare the same variable to another variable asking whether the respondent had a college degree, a completely different result was found. I left them with the question of why this might be the case. After some discussion, we arrived at the conclusion that moving from a continuous variable to a “yes/no” answer threw away some information, and could lead to a different result. It might be the case that two variables are highly correlated when comparing total number of years spent in school, but when one reduces that to a question of whether they simply obtained a college degree, all the information about the variable for years before and after obtaining a degree is disregarded. This could lead to very different statistical results when compared to the same other variable. I found myself thinking of this recently as I realized that this weekend is the summer solstice, a point at which we decide that summer starts. It is a “line in the sand” beyond which we declare summer to have begun.
Never mind that the air conditioning systems in this part of the country have already been humming along for several weeks, or that the pool has been our almost daily destination for many evenings. Never mind that we have been grilling and splashing, acting like summer is already here. Never mind that, for those of us who are professors, our spring classes ended weeks ago, and for those of us teaching summer school, some of those classes have now also ended. No, these past few weeks have been an illusion. Despite how it might feel, they have merely been days in “late spring” and summer is yet to arrive. If the joy we have felt these past few weeks is any indication, the arrival of summer is an event that we will all savor.
And so, as we welcome the arrival of summer, I wish my readers many wonderful weeks ahead. I wish you days of splashing in the pool, of playing baseball (or softball!) and of picnicking whenever possible. I wish you lazy days of reading and time to take a breath from the hurriedness of the school year. I wish you warm summer nights when you prop open a wooden window to smell the soft rain patter on the roof, and perhaps to hear the far off sound of thunder. If you live by water, I wish you nights of dropping off to sleep with the sound of foghorns in the distance, and if you have pets, I wish you playful times with them, for they truly are members of our families. I wish you time to create new memories with your children and families, and I wish you days of drinking deeply of life in ways that are not always possible when wind and snow take our breaths away. And I wish for you at least a few opportunities to wiggle your toes in the water, feeling the sand between your toes, sand on which an arbitrary line has been drawn declaring this weekend to be a beginning, the beginning of an experience known as “summer.”