Get under the table?

The remnants of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) are due to hit the earth later today and NASA have put up some details of their risk assessment. But this doesn't say where their '1 in 3200 chance of anyone being hit' comes from, and so can we get this figure from a back-of-an-envelope calculation?

Lottery league tables

The Daily Mail and other media sources have featured league tables for the 'luckiest parts of the country' based on the proportion of the population that have become millionaires by winning the lottery. Straight Statistics have done a nice demolition job on this absurd story, pointing out that any comparison should be based on the number of tickets sold, not the population.

Visualising uncertainty about the future

A great use of a 'spaghetti plot' of multiple model predictions for Hurricane Katia in this NBC news bulletin .


possible hurricane paths

Spotting a hoax using statistics

A report claiming that users of the Internet Explorer browser had lower IQs than users of other browsers has been revealed to be a hoax. I had been asked to comment on the report by BBC Technology and had got suspicious about the figures. The perpetrators of the hoax, which had received extensive coverage, have listed the reasons why they should have been detected, but did not include 'dubious statistics' in their list.

When does a single vote count?

1,362 Cambridge academics recently voted on ‘no confidence’ in the universities minister David Willetts, and this resulted in an exact draw with 681 voting each way: by the rules it meant the motion, or ‘Grace’, was not passed. A natural question to ask is: what was the chance of this happening?

Cats, cancer and confusion

If mobile phones don't cause brain tumours, what does? Well, according to stories today in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, it might be cats. Or at any rate a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, one of whose hosts is the domestic cat. But don't go exiling your kitties yet; the admirable Ed Yong has explained in his blog that the study in question doesn't establish anything of the sort.

Mobile phones: where did the story go?

This Friday's xkcd comic was about mobile phones and cancer. Regular readers of UU will know that I've shown an interest in that subject before, here, here and here. The main point of the comic was good, but what's this "another huge study" on phones and cancer in the first frame of the comic, and why hadn't I heard about it?

World cup cephalopod fever

World cup fever is again gripping the globe - well, perhaps not so strongly as last time, but the Women's World Cup football finals are about to begin in Germany. And as the excitement builds, the aquarium chain that brought us Paul the "psychic" octopus is rising to the new challenge. Paul himself has ascended to the great aquarium in the sky, so the search is on for a worthy successor

Another ghastly graphic in the TImes

The Times has got another classic graphic today, which manages to be hideous, misleading and incomprehensible all at the same time - quite a feat. Why is this a pie-chart? Never mind, it all provides fine material for getting laughs when giving talks.

hideous, misleading and incomprehensible all at the same time

Spinning mobile phones

When it comes to causing cancer in humans, is using a mobile phone as risky as talcum powder, or as risky as coffee, or as risky as the notorious insecticide DDT? Actually we don't know, as I explained in my previous blog entry on last week's IARC announcement on mobile phones and brain cancer. That didn't stop the media comparing the risk of mobile phone use with all these things and more. But why did different newspapers make different comparisons?