Alex Mackie, a third-year double major in math and applied statistics, was sitting in class last spring when Dr. Rui Hu, assistant professor of statistics, asked her students if anyone wanted to take on a summer project. Alex jumped at her suggestion to apply spatial statistics – a relatively new field of study – to the city’s homicide data.
“The fifth homicide in my data set was right across the hallway from where I once used to live. I’m really glad I moved out of that place,” says Alex.
Alex combed through newspapers to determine geographical coordinates for each homicide in the city since 2015, creating his own data set, and looking for autocorrelation – a trend where violence in one neighbourhood affects the neighbourhoods nearest to them.
It wasn’t simple work. Finding one statistic in Edmonton’s 391 neighbourhoods required 50 million calculations.
The research was exploratory, and Alex’s findings are not set in stone, as his project solely focused on location. There are a number of other factors to be considered when interpreting the data, but his work suggested that in the downtown core, a number of connected neighbourhoods have experienced higher homicide rates compared to other parts of the city.
“There seems to be a pocket in the centre of our city, where 13 or 14 neighbourhoods are stuck in a feedback loop,” explains Alex.
Alex is presenting his work on April 23 at Student Research Day, and looks forward to sharing his view that statistics, a class that’s often dreaded by students, is actually fascinating. He says he’s always been interested in probability – whether he’s working on a large-scale project or calculating the odds of being dealt a winning poker hand.
“Some people think statistics is ‘fake math.’ But even though you can’t predict anything 100 per cent accurately, you can get closer and closer,” he says. “I hope people see that statistics is actually about using numbers to explain the world around us.”
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