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Blackett Memorial Lecture


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The Lecture was given by

David Spiegelhalter FRS OBE

Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, at the University of Cambridge

Communicating risk and deeper uncertainty

We all have to juggle ‘rational’ and ‘emotional’ responses to risk and uncertainty, and good communication should mean that audiences are more immune to misleading anecdotes.  When we are fairly happy about putting numbers on risks, then there are established methods for using words, numbers and graphics, and I shall talk about recent work in various fields, including communicating the benefits and harms of cancer screening, as well as more speculative measures such as the ‘micromort’ and ‘microlife’. 

Things get trickier when we acknowledge we don’t really understand what is going on, and have qualms about a formal analysis.  I will compare about how different groups - in security, toxicology, health care, climate change, finance and so on - have come up with different strategies for communicating these deeper uncertainties. 

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 he leads a small team ( 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 in 2011 competed in Winter Wipeout on BBC1.

He has over 190 refereed publications and is co-author of 6 textbooks. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute for Risk Management, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2005 and awarded an OBE in 2006 for services to medical statistics.
He is @d_spiegel on Twitter, and his home page is


For further information about the history of Operational Research, please see History of O.R.
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