Sometimes statistical models really can predict what will happen

I have just put an article up on the science blog on The Times website about the recent 'breakthrough' in screening for colorectal cancer. Not only was this, for once, a real breakthrough, but it was almost exactly as predicted in a publication 17 years ago.

Can we say whether a drug would have enabled someone to live longer? Sadly not.

In the first televised election debate last Thursday, David Cameron stated that “I have a man in my constituency … who had kidney cancer who came to see me with seven others. Tragically, two of them have died because they couldn't get the drug Sutent that they wanted..”. How reasonable was it to claim that two would not have died had they had access to Sutent? Some statistical analysis can give us an insight.

Going out in a blaze of glory?

I got a mention on last Sunday’s Broadcasting House on Radio 4 as suggesting it was reasonable that older people should take more risks in their lives.

"Nothing ventured: balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors"

Do you think that kids are being over-protected and need more risk in their lives? If so, you may be surprised to find that the Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) agree with you.

The English Outdoor Council has just released a fine report by Tim Gill,
"Nothing ventured: balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors" which "explodes the myths about safety on school visits and gives real reassurance to teachers"

Egg-gate: an update

I got an article in the Times about scientific uncertainty, and managed to squeeze in the 'six double-yolked eggs in a box' story as an example of 'unknown unknowns'. When the whole world was discussing the rarity of this event, it never even crossed my mind that I would walk into my local Cambridge Waitrose and buy, for £2.49, six double-egged yolked eggs in a box. But here's the proof!

Quantifying the Risk of Natural Catastrophes

Shane LatchmanHow do companies prepare for the financial impact of natural catastrophes? How can they possibly have an idea of what the potential cost can be for events that haven't yet happened? Shane Latchman explains the way companies in the insurance industry are using catastrophe models to help make sense of a very uncertain future...

Monkeys and Shakespeare

I was lucky enough to get included in the Horizon programme on Infinity last night, talking about the old monkey-Shakespeare issue. Of course most of my rambling contribution was (rightly) cut, so here’s a few background details for anyone interested.

The risks of Eggstasy

There has been extensive coverage of a box of 6 eggs found to be all double-yoked:an event that was given odds of a trillion to 1 against. This was based on the British Egg Information Service saying 0.1% ( 1 in 1000) eggs were double-yoked, and so getting six of these required these odds to be multiplied 6 times. In fact this gives 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, but which was reported as a trillion (now usually taken as 1,000,000,000,000).

The Daily Mail did a good demolition of this story, and it is a good example of what can go wrong when people try and work out chances.

Darwin College 2010 lecture series on Risk

Quantifying UncertaintyThe Darwin College lecture series this year is on the subject of Risk. The lectures are being filmed and are accessible either through the University Video Server or via a search on iTunes.

Professor Risk

Sluice Gates BeckonDavid Spiegelhalter's proper title is Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk. He is in two minds (literally) about playing it safe or chucking caution to the wind. Decisions, decisions!? Are bacon sandwiches really that dangerous and is it wise to drive when you love cycling? David shows us how to use statistics to face up to life's major risks.

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