david's blog

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?

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

Paul the Octopus: soon to hit the silver screen

Just up on Youtube is the trailer for the forthcoming feature film about Paul the 'Psychic' Octopus (RIP): not only does it feature DJS explaining the mathematics of Paul, but it includes Bayes theorem. And it is in Tentacular 2D!

Time to cut down on the booze?

The recent study on alcohol and cancer published in the British Medical Journal is a fine piece of epidemiology and attracted a lot of coverage of the estimate that 10% of male cancers and 3% of female cancers could be attributed to alcohol. But while it is useful as a description of what happens in populations, as usual when translated to an individual it stops looking so impressive.

A disastrous piece of risk communication?

Yesterday’s announcement that the Fukushima accident was now upgraded to a Level 7 was greeted with some consternation, since this is not only the same level as Chernobyl but as high as the scale can go – there is no Level 8. But is this scale really fit for its purpose?

Car insurance? How big are your feet?

Did an article in the Times [paywall] today on the forthcoming EU Court of Justice ruling on whether gender can be taken into account when setting insurance premiums. I think this is an important and interesting topic, but articles in the financial pages have been very dull and so tried to make this a bit lighter in tone. Text of article is here.

Odd odds

Ben McGarry pointed out this blog entry about an article published in Sexually Transmitted Infections Online that says some rather odd things.

Daily Mail gets odds right shock

The Daily Mail and other papers carried the story about the Banwell family whose third child shares a birthday, February 5th, with two older siblings, and this time they got the odds right at 133,000 to 1!

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