Articles appearing in other places

This page contains the text of articles which have appeared in newspapers and magazines, as well as links to articles on other people's websites.


30 minutes
Acute risks, such as riding a motorbike or going skydiving, may result in an accident - a natural unit for comparing such risks is the Micromort, which is a 1-in-a-million chance of sudden death, for some defined activity.

Visualising uncertainty

We have had a review paper published in Science called Visualising uncertainty about the future, although it primarily focuses on probability forecasts.

You may access the full paper by following the links below.

ESP and the significance of significance

A controversy about experiments in extra-sensory perception throws some light, and maybe some confusion, on the idea of statistical significance. This article discusses a common misinterpretation of the results of significance tests, and investigates some criticisms of significance tests in general.

Pure Randomness in Art

Random glassThis article is based on a talk I gave at the recent John Cage exhibition in Kettles Yard gallery in Cambridge. Cage is perhaps best known for his avant-garde music, particularly his silent 1952 composition 4′33″ but also for his use of randomness in “aleatory music”.

The Maths of Paul the “Psychic” Octopus

England’s performance in the World-Cup last summer was thankfully overshadowed by the attention given to Paul the Octopus, who was reported as making an unbroken series of correct predictions of match winners. Here we present a mathematical analysis of Paul’s performance in an attempt to answer the question that (briefly) gripped the world: was Paul psychic?

What are the chances of successful fertility treatment?

iconThe Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) recently launched their ‘Choose a Fertility Clinic’ website which provides a huge range of information about each clinic licenced by the HFEA, with a lot of fairly complex statistics. The website carefully avoids direct comparisons and any hint of a ‘league table’, but here we look at whether we can draw statistically-valid conclusions about whether some clinics, for whatever reason, really do provide higher chances of success than others.

Survival Worldwide

Link to Survival AnimationOur Survival Worldwide animation visualises life table data from the Human Life Database maintained by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Rostock, Germany), the Department of Demography at the University of California (Berkeley, USA), and the Institut national d'études démographiques (Paris, France).

Screening for disease and dishonesty

A secret government agency has developed a scanner which determines whether a person is a terrorist. The scanner is fairly reliable; 95% of all scanned terrorists are identified as terrorists, and 95% of all upstanding citizens are identified as such. An informant tells the agency that exactly one passenger of 100 aboard an aeroplane in which in you are seated is a terrorist. The agency decide to scan each passenger, and the shifty looking man sitting next to you tests positive. Were you sitting next to a terrorist? What are the chances that this man really is a terrorist?

2845 ways to spin the Risk

In the animation below we show how risks can be ‘spun’ to look bigger or smaller, how medical treatments can be made to seem useless or to be wonder cures, and how lifestyle changes might look worthwhile or not worth bothering with. All by changing the words used, the way the numbers are expressed, and the particular graphics chosen.


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