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A predictable pattern of murder?

Violence in London attracts headlines. After four people were murdered in separate incidents in London on 10th July 2008, BBC correspondent Andy Tighe said "To have four fatal stabbings in one day could be a statistical freak". But could it?

What was the probability that Barack Obama would win the US election?

On the face of it this seems an odd question. After all, he won. But before the election it was uncertain whether Obama would win, and probability is the way that uncertainty is quantified, so maybe it is reasonable to ask what that probability was.

Nightingale's 'Coxcombs'

Nightingale's coxcombsThrough her work as a nurse in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in establishing the importance of sanitation in hospitals. She meticulously gathered data on relating death tolls in hospitals to cleanliness, and, because of her novel methods of communicating this data, she was also a pioneer in applied statistics. We explore the work of Nightingale, and in particular focus on her use of certain graphs which, following misreading of her work, are now commonly known as 'coxcombs'.

What is Probability?

diceWe use phrases like "the probability of this coin coming up heads is 1/2", and "the odds on Manchester United winning their match are 2 to 1", and "the chance of dying of cancer is 30%". But what do these numbers actually mean? There are fundamentally different views about this, which can lead to very different ideas about how to deal with uncertainty.

How long are you going to live?

red manNone of us are going to last for ever. Our prospects depend on our sex, our age, our lifestyle, our genes, and many other personal factors both known and unknown. Even with all this information we're all uncertain about the exact date of our death, but by looking at large groups of people who are like us, we can count how many die each year and so get an idea of the risks we face and how long we might live. Our risks can be summarised in different ways which are shown in the animation below.

Risk in the media

Why risk in the media?

headlines from newspaperNo-one can be an expert in every subject. We may have left formal science teaching behind at school, or have continued through university. We may keep up to date by reading scientific periodicals and websites - or just wish we had the time to do so! But as news breaks of yet another scientific discovery, we all start with what the media have made of the story, and how they present it to us.

Coincidences

Who's birthday...You bump into an old friend you haven't seen for years.
You find that you share a birthday with not just one but two other people in your office.
You win the lottery!

Football Leagues

cartoon football playerThe Premier League is the main English football league, with 20 teams each playing a home and away against each other team making, 38 matches for each team in a season, and 380 matches altogether. Teams are awarded 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for losing, and the league position is decided on total points, with equal points decided by goal difference (goals for minus goals against). At the end of the season the bottom 3 teams are relegated.

National Lottery

LotteryThe UK National Lottery began on 19th November 1994 and there had been 1240 draws up to 20th October 2007. The jackpot prize is won by choosing in advance the 6 numbers that will be drawn from a set of balls numbered from 1 to 49. We can use the history of the lottery to illustrate many aspects of the theory of probability: how each draw is individually unpredictable, and yet the overall history shows predictable patterns; how a `league table' of numbers can be created that appears to show some numbers are preferentially drawn, and yet the table is completely spurious; how to test whether the balls are truly being drawn at random; how extremely unlikely events will occur if you wait long enough, and so on.

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