News from the world of maths: The agony and ecstasy of risk statistics

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The agony and ecstasy of risk statistics

Last week the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs caused outrage by claiming that ecstasy was no more dangerous than horse riding. But what does "dangerous" really mean, and how is our perception of risk influenced by morality? David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, investigates in his guest column in the Times.

David Spiegelhalter runs the Understanding Uncertainty website, which explores matters of risks and uncertainty, and also has his very own column in Plus.


posted by Plus @ 5:19 PM


At 4:42 PM, Blogger Quantum_Flux said...

Yeah, but what about riding a horse that is on ectassy though? More dangerous?

At 5:24 PM, Blogger Quantum_Flux said...

This is such a vague claim to be made, that "horseriding is as dangerous as ecstasy"

(1) Hmmmm, maybe they should make horseriding illegal then, at least without a permit (I'm assuming the horseriding data reflects a representative sample within England, although for esctasy a representative sample should be tougher to come across due to the illegality and thereby unreporting of many harmful incidents).

(2) Perhaps this data doesn't reflect spacial-locale variation either, an 18th century American Cowboy population will have less horse related accidents per horseriding capita than perhaps a 20th century English population.

(3) How can we be sure that the ecstasy related data reflects only ecstassy use as opposed to eliminating the other contributive causes such as loud music, poor choices, and other drugs being taken in combination with ecstassy?

(4) Furthermore, does it make a difference if people are horseriding (or on ecstasy) at 10PM or 10AM, or if they're on an empty or full stomach, etc?

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