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Inaugural Lectures
Research Visitors' Centre, School of Mathematics
University of Leeds
Wednesday 30 September 2009

School of Mathematics

Professor David Spiegelhalter
Statistical Laboratory, Centre for Mathematical Sciences,
University of Cambridge.

Analysing and visualising uncertainty

Abstract: Statisticians try to face up to uncertainty, but this term has many subtle shades of meaning. The classical paradigm deals with variability in observable random quantities, while a Bayesian approach extends our range to include formal expressions of epistemic uncertainty about unknown states of the world. More controversial is the use of probability statements that measure what we believe about how the world works, for example in climate change modelling. It has been argued, however, that all such quantitative approaches are rather restrictive and that more informal methods are needed to deal with the much deeper uncertainties and ambiguities in human affairs.

Honest communication of uncertainty seems an essential part of any statistical project. We can construct risk estimates, interval estimates for unknown quantities, various measures of evidence for and against hypotheses, and so on, but the way in which these are communicated can strongly influence the perception of the consumers of the analysis. I shall look at the different forms of text, numbers, and graphics that have been used in a variety of contexts to communicate uncertainty, whether to individual members of the public or those with responsibility for policy. I will suggest that the current possibility for interactive animations provide a fine opportunity for a more flexible and multi-layered approach, so there will be a lot of pictures, many of them moving.

David Spiegelhalter's webpage.

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Last updated: Wed 30 Jan 2008