July 17, 2022

Professor David Spiegelhalter on Communicating Risk

Professor David Spiegelhalter on Communicating Risk

How can we make sense of what we're told about risk? We're bombarded with messages on subjects ranging from COVID to the economy from people that range from genuine experts to those with no expertise but strong opinions. On this episode, I'm speaking...


How can we make sense of what we're told about risk? We're bombarded with messages on subjects ranging from COVID to the economy from people that range from genuine experts to those with no expertise but strong opinions. On this episode, I'm speaking to Professor David Spiegelhalter.

David is Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication within the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics at Cambridge University. The Centre is dedicated to improving the way that quantitative evidence is used in society.

Listeners in the UK will almost certainly have seen or heard Davidsince the start of the pandemic he’s been a regular fixture on TV and radio, helping to make sense of the things we're being told about the virus. In a world of self-appointed experts whose only qualification is from the University of YouTube and untrustworthy politicians telling us they’re "following the science", he’s been a voice of clarity and common sense.

In our discussion, we explore what drives David’s interest in statistics, why we like to see connections between things that might not actually be there, why the mantra of “following the science” is nonsensical and whether there is such a thing as coincidence. David also provides plenty of practical tips for communicating and interpreting messages about risk.

As you might expect for someone who specialises in risk communication, David is really good at getting his message across in ways we can all understand. My huge thanks to long-time friend of the show Roger Miles, who helped to make this conversation possible.

To find out more about David, visit his academic website: https://wintoncentre.maths.cam.ac.uk/about/people/professor-sir-david-spiegelhalter/

or his personal website: https://www.statslab.cam.ac.uk/~david/

You'll find his books in all good bookstores. For more information, visit:
The Art of Statistics — https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/294857/the-art-of-statistics-by-spiegelhalter-david/9780241258767
COVID by Numbers — https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/126755/david-spiegelhalter

For video content, I recommend:
Communicating statistics in the time of COVID — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW9plVfanjo
False Positives — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmiEzi54lBI
Be Prepared To Show Your Working — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E12_F4xeOHw

In our discussion, we also refer to the episode featuring Tim Harford on using Data to Make Smarter Decisions.  You can hear that here: https://www.humanriskpodcast.com/tim-harford-on-using-data/