As of the 23rd May 2022 this website is archived and will receive no further updates.

https://understandinguncertainty.org was produced by the Winton programme for the public understanding of risk based in the Statistical Laboratory in the University of Cambridge. The aim was to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining.

Many of the animations were produced using Flash and will no longer work.

Women listen and men look? How to best communicate risk to support decision making

Verena Rieser

When my family plans a trip to the beach in Scotland, there is always a high chance of rain. So I always pack everything: from sunscreen to waterproofs. But would I have reached the same conclusion listening to the weather forecast on the radio or when checking the weather app on my phone? And would my husband have done the same?

Exploring the language of chance in a sensitive context

What words are appropriate when describing the unavoidable unpredictability of real life – what we might casually call ‘chance’?

The risks of Big Data – or why I am not worried about brain tumours.

In a careful study published last week, Socioeconomic position and the risk of brain tumour: a Swedish national population-based cohort study, the authors examined the association between the socio-economic status of men and women in Sweden with diagnosis of brain tumours over 18 years. One of the main findings is shown below.

The risks of trying to be funny

I’ve had a lot of publicity over the last few days, but none of it was welcome. It arose from the story below from the Daily Telegraph of June 6 with the headline “Britons are having less sex, and Game of Thrones could be to blame, says Cambridge professor

game-thrones-telegraph.jpg

The importance of what you don’t see

Remember all those autism stories over the last few weeks? You don’t? There’s a reason for that.

Medicine, poison, poison, poison, ……

Yesterday the Chief Medical Officer announced new guidelines for alcohol consumption. The Summary says,

The proposed guidelines and the expert group report that underpins them, have been developed on the basis of the following principles:

Jeremy Hunt, the Guardian, and the importance of getting the stats right

On Thursday November 19th the printed version of the Guardian had the headline “Experts dispute Hunt's claim on weekend hospital treatment“ [online version here]. But it was not only Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt who gave a misleading statement – the Guardian also made a serious error about statistics.

HRT, breast cancer, and the framing of risks

The way that risks are 'framed' can make a big impression on their apparent magnitude. The controversy following the recent report by NICE on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) provides a fine example.

Is it fair that a single bad outcome should label a surgeon as an outlier?

Surgeons are increasingly subject to statistical monitoring, and named results may be made publicly available. But consider a surgeon in a low-risk specialty who has had a successful and blameless career, until a combination of circumstances, possibly beyond their control, contribute to a single patient dying. They then find they are officially labeled as an ‘outlier’ and subject to formal investigation, all because of a purely statistical criterion. Is this fair?

A visualisation of the information in NHS Breast Cancer Screening leaflet

breast-leaflet.jpg

The current NHS Breast Screening leaflet contains some fairly complex information which can be summarised using the graphic below.

Pages

Subscribe to Front page feed