uncertainty

How many people died? It's one of the first questions asked in a war or violent conflict, but it's one of the hardest to answer. In the chaos of war many deaths go unrecorded and all sides have an interest in distorting the figures. The best we can do is come up with estimates, but the trouble is that different statistical methods for doing this can produce vastly different results . So how do we know how different methods compare?

Probabilities and statistics: they are everywhere, but they are hard to understand and can be counter-intuitive. So what's the best way of communicating them to an audience that doesn't have the time, desire, or background to get stuck into the numbers? This article explores modern visualisation techniques and finds that the right picture really can be worth a thousand words.

Why does a financial mathematician think about birds when trying to understand the grounding of aeroplanes after the Icelandic volcano eruption?

Stats, damn stats and genetics

Well, no-one knows exactly, but using stats you can make a good guess. This article tells you how and has an interactive life expectancy calculator. Do you dare to find out?

Chuck Gill caught the space bug as a child when watching Alan Shepherd launch into space. Since then he's worked as a US Air Force navigator, a satellite operator, and in the US intelligence service. These days he's busy reducing carbon emissions and preparing London for the 2012 Olympics. Plus went to see him to find out more about his career.

This is the second part of our new column on risk and uncertainty. David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, continues examining league tables using the Premier League as an example. Find out just how much — or how little — these simple rankings can tell you.

Rupa Patel never wanted to be a financial engineer — she wanted to be a maths teacher. However, her skills in conveying difficult mathematical concepts to others, as well as a love of maths, enticed her into the exciting field of financial mathematics. Now she models risk, travels Europe and occasionally finds time to herself to examine the maths of her job in detail.

League tables are controversial and for good reason. Few things are simple enough to be measured by a single outcome like, for example, the number of exam passes or successful heart operations. But even if we do accept a single yardstick, we haven't yet reckoned with chance, which by itself can produce apparent patterns to delight any tabloid editor.

A biologist has developed a blood test for detecting a certain minor abnormality in infants. Obviously if you have blood samples from 100 children, you could find out which children are affected by running 100 separate tests. But mathematicians are never satisfied by the obvious answer. Keith Ball uses information theory to explain how to cut down the number of tests significantly, by pooling samples of blood.
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