Collage of researchers and their felt dummies

Collections Spring 2020

Puppets ... and the researchers who love them.

By Melissa Hartman • Photos by Chris Hartlove

The Johns Hopkins Data Science Lab has already brought data science to millions of people through MOOCs. They’ve published books and blogs and developed software and podcasts. Now they’re enlisting this cast of felt friends—some of whom bear a striking resemblance to certain Biostatistics faculty. The goal: Make “data science accessible to the entire world” (kids included). Their next project is a series of fun, short videos for the elementary school set.

Stay tuned. With the help of videographer, artist, and editor Jessica Crowell, they’ve created a pilot episode with more in the works—coming soon to YouTube. 

Researcher with a felt dummy

Brian Caffo, PhD, MS • The Puppet Master

It was Caffo’s idea to bring puppets into the Lab. Caffo stars as himself as he shows the puppets (including Francis, pictured above) how to use numbers and data to solve problems like catching runaway mice. Francis will soon make his first video appearance.

Researcher with a felt dummy

Elizabeth “Betsy” Ogburn, PhD, MS • The voice of Gertrude

Named for visionary statistician Gertrude Cox, whose legacy includes founding the journal Biometrics and helping establish the Research Triangle Institute, Gertrude is organized and focused on academics, and has abundant school spirit.

Researcher with a felt dummy

Roger Peng, PhD, MS • The voice of Aylmer

Named for British statistician Ronald Aylmer Fisher, who’s been described as “the single most important figure in 20th century statistics,” Aylmer is techy and loves spending time on his computer. And he is very afraid of mice.

Researcher with a felt dummy

Stephanie Hicks, PhD, MA • The inspiration for and voice of Stephanie

The newest cast member, Stephanie will make her first appearance in a future episode. Her personality is still developing—but our bet is that she’ll be as smart, funny, and outgoing as the statistician she’s named for.

Researcher with a felt dummy

Jeffrey Leek, PhD, MS • The inspiration for Egon

Voiced by Michael Orzekowski, a former member of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and named for statistician Egon Pearson, this puppet is the comic relief who creates the problems that he and the other puppets work together to solve. 

Researcher with a felt dummy

Elizabeth Colantuoni, PhD ’07, ScM • The voice of Florence

This puppet is the namesake of prominent statistician Florence Nightingale, who visualized data in charts and graphs, including the coxcomb design still used today. Florence plays on the soccer team and exemplifies girl power.