statistics

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.

As the Wimbledon 2011 Championships hove into view, memories will be reawakened of the match of epic proportions that took place last year between the American John Isner and the Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. So just how freaky was their titanic fifth set and what odds might a bookmaker offer for a repeat?

Insurance companies offer protection against rare but catastrophic events like hurricanes or earthquakes. But how do they work out the financial risks associated to these disasters? Shane Latchman investigates.

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.

By cleverly cross-referencing different databases it can be possible for evil adversaries to reveal intimate information about individuals. Given that it's hard these days to keep your details off these databases, what can be done to protect privacy? We talk to Cynthia Dwork from Microsoft, whose talk at the ICM showcases some mathematical tools to keep our details safe.

How do you judge the risks and benefits of new medical treatments, or of lifestyle choices? With a finite health care budget, how do you decide which treatments should be made freely available on the NHS? Historically, decisions like these have been made on the basis of doctors' individual experiences with how these treatments perform, but over recent decades the approach to answering these questions has become increasingly rational.

Helen Joyce is a former editor of Plus magazine who now works as a journalist for The Economist. In August she's off to Brazil to be the paper's Brazil Bureau Chief. In between packing and learning Portuguese she has found time to tell Plus all about her varied career and the role maths has played in it.

"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.

Tonight, in the final televised debate ahead of the election, the three main party leaders will talk about the economy, the recession, public sector debt, spending or cuts, and more. All will use statistics to back up their points or to pull apart their opponents' arguments. But how can we work out whether to believe the figures and what do they really mean?

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