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Understanding Uncertainty's Blog


Visualising uncertainty about the future

September 12, 2011 Comments (0)

A great use of a 'spaghetti plot' of multiple model predictions for Hurricane Katia . This seems to communicate essential unpredictability well through the metaphor of 'multiple possible futures', even though what is being portrayed is between-model disagreement rather than within-model uncertainty. We have just had a review paper published in Science called Visualising uncertainty about the future, although it primarily focuses on probability forecasts. Sadly it's sitting behind a paywall....

Japan nuclear threat: The tsunami is the bigger tragedy

August 25, 2011 Comments (0)

This article on the perception of the risks of radiation appeared on the BBC News website: here is the original version with more links and corrections. The apocalyptic visions of destruction brought by the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami have been largely replaced in the media by reports of the struggle to control radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. This provides a gripping narrative – a brave team battling to contain the threat, warnings of catastrophe and claims...

"Official": it does matter how risk statistics are presented

August 25, 2011 Comments (0)

The respected and influential Cochrane Collaboration has just published a systematic review of research on different ways of presenting risks and reductions in risk in a health context. It won't come as a surprise to regular readers of this website that they concluded that some aspects of the presentation really do make a difference. But maybe there are a few surprises in their detailed findings. The Cochrane Collaboration is an independent international organisation that prepares and publishes...

Car insurance? How big are your feet?

August 25, 2011 Comments (0)

Did an article in the Times [paywall] today on the forthcoming EU Court of Justice ruling on whether gender can be taken into account when setting insurance premiums. I think this is an important and interesting topic, but articles in the financial pages have been very dull and so tried to make this a bit lighter in tone. Text of article is here. Free tags: insuranceLevels: level 1

Odd odds

August 25, 2011 Comments (0)

Ben McGarry pointed out this blog entry about an article published in Sexually Transmitted Infections Online that says some rather odd things. The article says that men sent text messages to remind them to have HIV tests had double the testing rate compared to men not sent messages, and after statistical adjustment for difference between the groups "re-testing was 4.4 times more likely". But since the testing rate was 30% in the group not sent text messages, how could testing be 4 times more...

Daily Mail gets odds right shock

August 25, 2011 Comments (0)

The Daily Mail and other papers carried the story about the Banwell family whose third child shares a birthday, February 5th, with two older siblings, and this time they got the odds right at 133,000 to 1! This example on February 5th was preceded by the Allali family on October 7th 2010, where the Mail got the odds wrong, and the MacKriell family on January 29th 2008 where they got the odds right - see our previous blog. As Ben Goldacre has discussed, around 167,000 third or higher...

Crime maps: how useful?

August 25, 2011 Comments (0)

New online crime maps for England and Wales have just been published. They seem to show numbers of crimes for single streets. If you're in England or Wales, you'll probably have seen all the fuss about them in the media. But what do they actually tell us about the risks of crime? The new maps certainly aren't perfect. One issue is that the data aren't actually for single streets; they are for crimes "on or near" the street in question, and you aren't told how near. Where I live, all the...

Spotting a hoax using statistics

August 25, 2011 Comments (0)

A report claiming that users of the Internet Explorer browser had lower IQs than users of other browsers has been revealed to be a hoax. I had been asked to comment on the report by BBC Technology and had got suspicious about the figures. The perpetrators of the hoax, which had received extensive coverage, have listed the reasons why they should have been detected, but did not include 'dubious statistics' in their list. When I was asked to comment on this 'survey of 100,000 people', my...

When does a single vote count?

August 25, 2011 Comments (0)

1,362 Cambridge academics recently voted on ‘no confidence’ in the universities minister David Willetts, and this resulted in an exact draw with 681 voting each way: by the rules it meant the motion, or ‘Grace’, was not passed. A natural question to ask is: what was the chance of this happening? It is always tricky to say something about the chance of events that have happened. What does this mean? One interpretation is the odds would have been given in advance for an exact draw, given what...

Cats, cancer and confusion

August 25, 2011 Comments (0)

If mobile phones don't cause brain tumours, what does? Well, according to stories today in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, it might be cats. Or at any rate a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, one of whose hosts is the domestic cat. But don't go exiling your kitties yet; the admirable Ed Yong has explained in his blog that the study in question doesn't establish anything of the sort. Yong points out that the study (abstract here, article behind a paywall) is ecological. That is, it...