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

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.

Risks and uncertainties top page

This is the top page for the "Risks and uncertainties" work I have been doing. There is currently an article about the risk of drugs and the associated difficulties with finding the risk, an article on Transport risks and a shorter article on the RoSPA accident database (this could stay internal).

Transport risks and uncertainties

We hear a lot about risks of transport. Hardly a week passes without a dramatic story about a plane or train crash, and many people change their travel arrangements based on stories read in the media. Why is this, and what are the true figures?

Drug risks and uncertainties

Reliable drug use figures are very difficult to find, and it is more difficult still to estimate accurately the associated risks. Some indication can be provided by drug use surveys combined with mortality figures, but there are many limitations to such data.

Postscript: What happened next

After a couple of days of fairly intensive discussion the news inevitably moved on to other topics, but a fairly clear message had been sent to NICE that the media will rapidly pick up on any divergence from the advice of the Department of Health.

Pending Content

Content in preparation

Clone of Bacon Sandwiches and Cancer - the issues

What evidence is being used?

The report itself is a review of all the available evidence on the influences of various foods and activities on the development of cancer, as judged by a panel of internationally distinguished scientists.

Sociological theories of risk

Sociologically oriented research has been asking questions on what uses the talk of risks fulfils: why are risks talked about as they are, what roles do they play in society? Since "risk" is a relatively modern concept, what are the features of modern life that make thinking about risk so distictively modern? What other concepts used to fulfil the role played nowadays by risk?


Risk has been studied from a variety of perspectives, which can most easily be categorised as the psychological approaches to risk and the social scientific approaches to risk [link - to come]. Both traditions are concerned with finding out more about how people percieve and understand risk, and how they react towards it, though they differ in their interpretations of what risk actually is, and in their ideas of what if anything should be done about their insights to risk.

The psychology of risk

Psychology of Risk and the “public perception of risk” research

“A statement such as 'the annual risk from living near a nuclear power plant is equivalent to the risk of riding an extra 3 miles in an automobile' fails to consider how these two technologies differ on the many qualities that people believe to be important. As a result, such statements are likely to produce anger rather than enlightenment and they are not likely to be convincing in the face of criticism” (Slovic, p.271 Slovic2000)


Issues Surrounding Uncertainty

UncertaintyThe fundamental concepts that underlie any discussion of risk and uncertainty are themselves subjects of numerous academic debates and further research. In fact even the activity of communicating risk and uncertainty itself is, as is science communication generally, an active area of research with no clear expert opinion of how it should best be done - or even if it should be done at all.


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