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Airdate: May 29, 2020
Scientist: Eric Vance

Unsung Heroes of Science

Unsung Heroes of Science
Understanding what evidence and data really mean.

Statistics - Unsung Heroesambience: African water wellStatisticians are among the unsung heroes of science, gathering and understanding the hard evidence that forms the backbone of much scientific research. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Statistician Eric Vance and his students traveled to Mozambique to find out whether hand pumps at wells would improve the lives of local villagers.Vance: Ours is the first study to do a large scale quantification of the impacts of hand pumps, and we found that, as expected, yes, there are significant time savings, but there aren't significant health benefits. One of the issues is that the water is clean coming out of the hand pump, but it goes into a dirty container. The water's contaminated before they even bring it into their household. So we've found that more attention needs to be paid to the containers that families use water and store their water in and also investing more money in having a pipe that goes directly into a person's house. That also could have a lot more health impacts. Another impact of our study is that we actually showed for the first time, how beneficial having a statistician on the ground who could ensure that high-quality data were collected Sometimes it takes a bit of investigation to uncover just what the data gathered means. Vance: One instance was there was a family that said that they spent 24 hours collecting water, My student asked them, "Is this true? Does this mean 2 hour or 4 hours?"The family said, "No. It's 24 hours." They spent 8 hours walking to the water source, they fill up their buckets, and sleep overnight for 8 hours, and then, they walk back 8 hours, and they do it 3 times a week. So we weren't just analyzing numbers. We actually knew what those numbers meant.Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research.