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.

Data overload?

30 minutesThe government announced last week that it would be greatly expanding the amount of data which it shares with the rest of us. Its white paper spells out the detailed principles of the new approach, and there is much in it to commend. It addresses many of the hideous features of government data at the moment, such as departments' habit of publishing in proprietary formats (usually Excel); the fact that data cannot necessarily be re-used without obtaining explicit permission; and the lack of coherence between different datasets on essentially the same topic.

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.

insert alternate text

Looking deranged at the prospect of the Big Balls

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

BBC website headline wrong shock horror

Bowel cancer screening 'does cut deaths', said the BBC News website today, in a report on a study using data from the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in England, published in the magnificently named journal Gut. Wow, I thought, that was quick, the programme has been going only since 2006 and didn't cover the whole country till 2010. Have they really found clear evidence of an effect on death rates already?

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