Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter OBE FRS

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Public Understanding of Risk, Cambridge

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Synopsis

‘Professor Risk’ is a distinguished statistician and a born communicator, as seen in the BBC’s Tails You Win: The Science of Chance. Just as Daniel Kahneman distinguishes between emotional and analytic decision-making, David focuses on the difference between how we think and how we feel about risk. Numbers don’t speak for themselves; we are influenced by how they’re expressed - in relation to anything from healthy eating to climate change. David explains how to weigh up the real risk.

Biography

David Spiegelhalter is Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, and Professor of Biostatistics, at the University of Cambridge. His background is in medical statistics, particularly the use of Bayesian methods in clinical trials, health technology assessment and drug safety.

In his post David leads a small team (UnderstandingUncertainty.org) that attempts to improve the way in which the quantitative aspects of risk and uncertainty are discussed in society. He works closely with the Millennium Mathematics Project in Cambridge in trying to develop an exciting treatment of probability and risk for mathematics education. He gives many presentations to schools and others, advises organisations and government agencies on risk communication, and is a regular commentator on current risk issues. He presented the BBC4 documentary Tails you Win: the Science of Chance, and competed in Winter Wipeout (under the name 'Professor Risk') on BBC One.

In presentations David examines the intersection between trust, data and power, looking at how statistics are more often used to persuade and manipulate as opposed to inform. He focuses on trustworthy communication in an era of misinformation and discusses the importance of communicating uncertainty without losing credibility. David also debunks myths and reveals how statistics are used to ‘prove’ the spurious and the scandalous. He explains what the numbers really mean and just how likely it really is that you’ll be the victim of terrorism, a road accident or the latest cancer-causing food.

David has over 190 refereed publications and is author and co-author of a number of academic and popular books, including The Norm Chronicles: Stories and numbers about danger and The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data which examines the use and abuse of statistics, when they help and when they mislead. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute for Risk Management, and of the Royal College of Physicians, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.

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