Articles

Florence Nightingale died a hundred years ago, in August 1910. She survives in our imaginations as an inspired nurse, who cared passionately for injured and dying soldiers during the Crimean war, and then radically reformed professional nursing as a result of the horrors she witnessed. But the "lady with the lamp" was also a pioneering and passionate statistician. She understood the influential role of statistics and used them to support her convictions. So to commemorate her on the centenary of her death, we'll have a look at her life and work as a statistician.

England's performance in the World Cup last summer was thankfully overshadowed by the attention given to Paul the octopus, who was reported as making an unbroken series of correct predictions of match winners. David Spiegelhalter looks at Paul's performance in an attempt to answer the question that (briefly) gripped the world: was Paul psychic?

The human brain faces a difficult trade-off. On the one hand it needs to be complex to ensure high performance, and on the other it needs to minimise "wiring cost" — the sum of the length of all the connections — because communication over distance takes a lot of energy. It's a problem well-known to computer scientists. And it seems that market driven human invention and natural selection have come up with similar solutions.
Comparing and communicating small lethal risks is a tricky business, yet this is what many of us are faced with in our daily lives. One way of measuring these risks is to use a quantity called the micromort. David Spiegelhalter and Mike Pearson investigate.

The human genome is represented by a sequence of 3 billion As, Cs, Gs, and Ts. With such large numbers, sequencing the entire genome of a complex organism isn't just a challenge in biochemistry. It's a logistical nightmare, which can only be solved with clever algorithms.

"It's a match!" cries the CSI. At first glance it might seem that if the police have matched a suspect's DNA to evidence from the crime scene, then the case is closed. But some statistical thinking is required to understand exactly what a match is, and importantly, how juries should assess this as part of the evidence in a trial.

Martino Barenco and Mike Hubank shed light on suicidal cells and a mathematical model that could help fight cancer.
Genes normally evolve by tiny mutations, but every now and then something more radical occurs and entire genes along a chromosome get flipped. Understanding gene flipping boils down to solving a problem from pure maths. Colva Roney-Dougal and Vincent Vatter explain, taking us on a journey from waiters sorting pancakes, via one of the richest men in the world, to the genetic similarities of mice and humans.