# Blogs

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

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.

I recently tweeted a link to this problem drawn on a blackboard, which got a lot of retweets.

Multiple Choice: If you choose an answer to this question at random, what is the chance you will be correct? A) 25% B) 50% C) 60% D) 25%

This is a fun question whose paradoxical, self-referential nature quickly reveals itself – A) seems to be fine until one realizes the D) option is also 25%.

## Some risk announcements!

Some items to watch

## Slightly embarrassing video

A video has gone on Youtube called Professor Risk as part of a series made for the Cambridge 800 years anniversary. To be honest it's a bit lightweight when it comes to risk, and all the subtle bits got cut. We filmed a whole lot more including my GP taking my blood, discussing statins and screening for prostate cancer. All on the cutting-room floor. Good point: Stephen Fry does the intro voiceover. Bad point: me in my jim-jams.

## Ecstasy and equasy, heroin and hang-gliding

This appeared in the Times on November 3rd and is based on the excellent lecture that got David Nutt sacked as chair of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (although he might still be in post if he had only added that it was delivered in his personal capacity). Nutt has suffered the consequences of repeatedly breaking the taboo of comparing the risks of the legal and wholesome (horse-riding) or long-established (alcohol and smoking), with the illegal and "impure" Ecstasy and cannabis.
The version below contains links to sources and a few comments and corrections.

## What's the chance you've slept with a celebrity?

Brits three romps from celeb sex” headlined the Sun on Friday, adding that “boffins at Cambridge University have calculated every person in the UK is linked to a star through their sexual partners — with just three steps separating the average person from a steamy celeb romp”.

## Some recent coverage

Random events tend to cluster, and just to illustrate this we've suddenly got a burst of coverage of our work:

## Chance in football

To coincide with the kick off of the football Premier League 2009–2010 we have updated our articles on the role of chance in football, and we have updated our animation to include leagues from across Europe over the past twenty years.

## Screening for disease and dishonesty

This is a rather late announcement of pages we have put up on the use of screening tests. Using lie detectors, breast cancer and HIV screening as examples, we show how an apparently accurate test, when applied to a group of people in which only a small proportion have the thing you are trying to detect, will generate many false positives.

## Homo heuristicus

An event we are co-hosting with the Department of Social and Developmental Psychology "Homo heuristicus: Why biased minds make better inferences" by Professor Gerd Gigerenzer has once again got us wondering how we can make decisions in an ever uncertain world.

## One game to go!

The final matches of the Premier League will be played this weekend. On One game to play! we've put an animation of the season so far, an analysis of whether Manchester United really is the best team, and some predictions for the weekend based on a statistical analysis of the season so far.

So how will Hull do against Man U on Sunday?

## A Worrier's Guide to Risk

The Worrier’s Guide to Risk is intended to be a one-page check-list to help people make more sense of the seemingly unending series of stories on risk. This is a first draft, that has been produced in association with the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council, which is an independent advisory group which aims to improve the understanding of public risk and how best to respond to it in making and implementing policy.

## Spinning risks

We've got a new animation showing all the ways we could think of for communicating a risk message. In particular, have a look what you can do when using absolute risks, expressed in natural frequencies, and using icons. The photos option is rather good, and we are planning to make it possible for anyone to put in their own examples, their own images, and embed the animation on their website.

## We're nearly all at increased risk!!

Monday's headline in the Daily Telegraph: Nine in 10 people carry gene which increases chance of high blood pressure sounds shocking. Next thing they will be telling us that we are all going to die.

## Does street lighting really reduce fatal road crashes by 2/3 ?

Cochrane Reviews are usually taken as the gold standard in putting the evidence together to check whether a treatment works. But a new Cochrane Review that examines how much the ‘treatment’ of putting in street lights prevents injuries and saves lives seems to suffer from some major flaws which could mean the claimed benefits from street lighting are greatly exaggerated.

## Probability lessons may teach children how to weigh life’s odds and be winners

You might be interested to read this article in the Times on page 14 and an associated editorial on page 2. Also in the Times Online.

## Survival back to 1845

We've added a version of our Survival animation that goes all the way back to 1845 in How long did we live?.
Can you spot the influence of the internal combustion engine in this data?

## Florence Nightingale was a statistician!

Florence Nightingale is well known for her selfless nursing of the sick, and her pioneering reform of healthcare. Less well known is that she was also an accomplished statistician! We take a look at some of her finest work.

## Nightingale's 'Coxcombs'

Through her work as a nurse in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in establishing the importance of sanitation in hospitals. She meticulously gathered data on relating death tolls in hospitals to cleanliness, and, because of her novel methods of communicating this data, she was also a pioneer in applied statistics. We explore the work of Nightingale, and in particular focus on her use of certain graphs which, following misreading of her work, are now commonly known as Nightingale's coxcombs.

## Does it all add up?

Looks like another great talk for anyone interested in the public understanding of risk. Coming up on October 30th, by Professor Stephen Senn, as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

## Manifesto for a statistically literate public

A great resource is now available online: Helping Doctors and Patients Make Sense of Health Statistics

## A Public Misunderstanding of Science Event

This should be entertaining and enlightening...

"How the media promote the public misunderstanding of science" on Tuesday 21 October at 5.30pm in the Babbage Lecture Theatre, New Museums Site, Cambridge.

All are welcome to this free event, hope to see you there!

The Babbage lecture theatre is on the New Museums Site in Cambridge, which you can find here.

## Time to hug a tree?

The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council (RRAC) is trying to stimulate public interest in a debate about how to manage the 'risk' posed by trees. Apparently around 6 people a year are killed by falling trees or branches, which does not seem a major problem, but nevertheless the British Standards Institute has produced a draft standard (BS 8516) for inspection of trees on a regular basis.

## Risk in the media

One of our aims is to look at how the mass media portray risk stories, and what we might learn from that experience. The only way most people (including us) hear about potential risks is through the media, and understanding how they are reported may give us a better understanding of risk and uncertainty.

## Day one

Hello, and welcome to the first blog entry from the Understanding Uncertainty team!

We hope you enjoy the site: it's only got a bit of content so far but there's lots more in the pipeline.

David S