david's blog

More lessons from L'Aquila

The L’Aquila story gets even murkier.

The Continuing Tragedy of L’Aquila

As in ‘Boffins jailed for not predicting earthquake’, the 6-year sentences and massive fines handed out to the Italian seismologists have been largely portrayed by the media and commentators outside Italy as an attack on science, and the prosecution ridiculed as expecting the scientists to have been able to predict the earthquake.

Rats and GM

With others, I made some comments for the press about the recent paper (abstract, figures and tables freely available here) on cancer in rats fed GM maize and Monsanto's Roundup pesticide.
[ Full paper should also be available here].

Explaining 5-sigma for the Higgs: how well did they do?

Warning, this is for statistical pedants only.

Higgs: is it one-sided or two-sided?

Announcements about the Higgs Boson are invariably framed in terms of the number of sigmas, with 5-sigmas needed for a ‘discovery’. Media outlets helpfully explain what this means by translating 5-sigmas to a probability, which is almost invariably misreported as a probability of the hypothesis that it is all just statistical error e.g.

Drinking again

Alcohol can cause very serious problems, both for individuals, their families and society. But the Daily Mail’s story yesterday with the headline “Don't drink more than THREE glasses of wine a week: Oxford study claims slashing the official alcohol limit would save 4,500 lives a year” almost universally aroused derision among its many commenters.

Meat and dying

After all the recent coverage of the possible harms of red meat, I've done an article explaining how, if we believe the figures, eating quite a lot of extra red meat each week will take, on average, a year off our life.

Wiped Out

Appearing on Winter Wipeout today. Enough said.

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Looking deranged at the prospect of the Big Balls

Wrote an article for the Times, which appeared as this.

Why it’s important to be pedantic about sigmas and commas

The BBC reported last week that evidence for the Higgs Boson is “around the two-sigma level of certainty” and provides further explanation:

Particle physics has an accepted definition for a "discovery": a five-sigma level of certainty. The number of standard deviations, or sigmas, is a measure of how unlikely it is that an experimental result is simply down to chance rather than a real effect”

This is nice and clear, but it is also wrong, as we have pointed out before in a previous blog by Kevin McConway.

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